How to Write an Essay to Kill a Mockingbird

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Text response

General points

• All questions are essentially asking you HOW MUCH you agree or disagree with a topic. In the introduction, you MUST have a contention that states exactly how much you agree or disagree. Therefore, a text response essay is basically a PERSUASIVE essay, so you have the responsibility to provide evidence for your claims and consider alternative viewpoints to strengthen your own case (like a “rebuttal”).

• There is no predetermined way to attack a question or organise a structure for particular questions, but obviously if a character or concept appears in a topic then it should probably take up most of your response.

• Sometimes you may need to qualify that answer in the introduction.

For example: if the question is: ‘To kill a Mockingbird demonstrates the dangers of following trends’, then you might think: ‘Certainly, Harper Lee shows that if we do not challenge unfair and discriminatory actions, people will suffer’, but you might also add that ‘when people do show courage to resist injustice and unfairness, there is hope for a better future’, so in your introduction, your contention will include both of these points.

Note that when you have a qualified contention, you’ll probably need two or three sentences to tease it out in the introduction – otherwise your contention won’t be clear. This has a double function, of course, of listing the focus points of your paragraphs – which every text response introduction needs to do.

• You MUST return to the ideas of the topic in every paragraph; you may repeat the words of the topic and your contention as often as you like (but try to say it slightly differently so we don’t get bored). When you see a topic, brainstorm some synonyms to ensure you are still working with the topic but don’t repeat yourself too much.

• There should be some indication of the direction that you are going from reading your introduction, so if you have characters or ideas as the focus of paragraphs, some allusion to these needs to be made in the intro (see my essay sample for Mockingbird).

• Underline text titles when referring to them, and mention the author in the introduction and conclusion. The text is a brainchild of the author so there is sure to be a message that the author conveys. Think about details like: language style, and inclusion of certain aspects like date set, place set, events that happen and why they are there. Explicitly refer to the author and the message that he/she is trying to send us.

• There must be some explicit mentioning of the impact of the writer’s choices on the reader. What were the intended effects of certain portrayals?

• On that point, it is a requirement of text response essays that somewhere in the essay you consider the “world” created by the text’s writer. Describe and exemplify the world depicted by the text, and analyse why the writer created it this way; what point is she making about small-minded, conservative Southern American towns in the 1930s through her depiction of settings, characters and events?

• In all essays, in all subjects, leave a full line of space between paragraphs.

• Synthesise! The basis of each paragraph should be linked to the given topic. Use examples from different parts of the text to prove that that idea or character is typically like that as presented in the text. Don’t attack a question by giving a chronological list of events; draw examples together from all over the text. The organising principle of your paragraphs is ideas/themes or character types, not stories, scenes or parts of texts. In essence, no storytelling of the text.

• Avoid appraising the text; it’s not a book/film review. You are not being asked to say how well the writer or director managed to create characters or produce a text, so none of this: ‘an excellent film’, ‘a wonderful book’ etc.

• Every sentence must be linked to the...
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