First Writing Assignment

    This is a 2-page close reading of a passage from any one of the Mark Twain texts we've read so far, due in class WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16 (the first day back after "Reading Days"). This assignment has two main purposes: to give you and me a chance to discuss your writing before you write the long essay, and to give you practice in looking closely at a text — because I will be looking for this same analytical and expository trait when I read those long essays. Close reading is probably the most important skill you can practice, not just as a student of literature but as a citizen of the world. If there's one constant emphasis in Twain's own work, it's on looking closely at what is really there, and trying to make sense of it for yourself.

    Here's what to do: Start by taking a 8-12 line passage that interests you from a story, speech or novel. Then copy out the passage, word for word, at the start of your essay. I urge you not to use the copy-and-paste technological shortcut, but transcribe the passage yourself; let every word pass through your own nervous system rather than your computer's RAM. Then, follow the passage with about 400 words of your own. Discuss and analyze what you think the passage means. Be specific about what is in the passage (quote or name specific words, images, patterns, in your interpretation), and be clear about what you think these details signify. Your own prose should probably begin by briefly establishing the textual context for your passage (see below). And you can end by linking up what you found in the passage to the text it is from as a whole, but your focus should be almost entirely on the specific passage.


And then think of me!. It would get all around, that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again, I'd be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame. That's just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don't want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain't no disgrace. That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this, the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman's nigger that hadn't ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there's One that's always on the lookout, and ain't going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. (283)

  These are among Huck's first thoughts when, alone on the raft after learning that the King and Duke have sold Jim back into slavery, he tries to figure out what to do. . . .


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