Huma 1780a—book/film analytical essay assignment


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For your first assignment, you will be writing an essay of approximately 3-5 pages (minimum of 750 words and maximum of 1300  words) that explores the ways that a book or film reflects a combination of elements (agent, scene, act, agency, purpose) from Burke’s pentad.  The major focus of the assignment will be on the ways that these elements work in concert and contrast to produce meaning within a particular work of fiction.  Steps to completing the assignment:

1.       Select a film or novel that you wish to analyze.   “Novel,” for the purposes of the assignment, is a fictional literary work longer than 100 pages.  The film or novel you choose must meet the following criteria:

a.       It must have been released (if a film) or published (if a novel) before 1980.  This can be easily verified by looking at the copyright page of a novel (remember to check for original publication date) or checking IMDB (internet movie database) or other, similar resources for movie release year. 

b.      It must be a work of fiction: no documentaries, (auto)biographies, self-help books, etc.  It can be based on a true story or describe real people and places but it must be a work of fiction. 

c.       It should be primarily aimed at an adult audience.  “Family friendly” work is fine but no books or films obviously aimed at children and/or adolescents (e.g, Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, Where the Wild Things Are,  etc.) are acceptable.  Ask your tutorial leader if you are uncertain as to whether your book/film meets this requirement.  This is not intended to tightly limit choices but rather to encourage students to engage material that has a greater degree of sophistication and avoid choosing a book or film simply out of familiarity or childhood experience.

York has a well-stocked library including tens of thousands of excellent novels and SMIL (Sound and Moving Image Library) has thousands of films available for borrowing and/or viewing. 

2.      Before the first paragraph, please include a bibliographic entry for the work you will be analyzing, using an established citation system (MLA, APA).

3.      The first section of the essay, after a brief introduction, should provide a short synopsis of the plot of the novel or film.  Please limit the synopsis to one paragraph, as the essay is short and space should be reserved for analysis of the structures of meaning-making within the film/novel.

4.      The next section (several paragraphs) of the essay should analyze the elements of the pentad as they are relevant to the work in question, exploring which elements are dominant and which are less important, how the importance of a given element is communicated, and how the particular medium (film or literature) assists in emphasizing particular elements of the work in question.  You should also consider how these creative decisions impact the message that work is communicating—what is the larger theme or are the larger themes of the film/novel and how is the thematic structure of the work related to the combination of pentadic elements?

5.      The final section (again, limited to one paragraph) should provide an evaluation of the overall quality of the work, supported by reasons for this opinion.  You should think of this as an opportunity to review the work in question and that your review should be informed by the analysis that precedes it.  In other words, how is the quality of the film/novel related to its structure as revealed through pentadic analysis?


1.      Your essay should be approximately 3-4 pages (750-1200 words), double-spaced.  This is very brief for a scholarly essay so you will need to be concise; a thoughtful revision and editing process is important here.

2.      Remember to stay focused on the film or novel and try to include as many details as possible to support your analysis.  A fundamental question should be: How is the film or novel creating meaning through the use of the five elements of the pentad?

3.      No external sources are required but you are welcome to consult scholarly work in the process of writing the essay.  Please cite any work that you use in accordance with proper academic practice.  Any systematic citation system (MLA, APA) is fine.

4.      Do not hesitate to contact your tutorial leader or the course director if you have questions or would like feedback on ideas.  Usually, in person meetings are best for extensive consultation (check with tutorial leader for individual preferences). 

5.      Late penalty: 2% per day (14% per week) penalty in the case of late work without documentation regarding illness or personal circumstances making timely completion impossible.

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