The Summary/Response Essay
Overview of the Assignment
In this assignment you will choose one of four short stories listed below, and after taking notes on the story in your Journal, write a two-part essay that includes
1) A one-page summary of the story, and
2) A response to the story
Story List (Write only about one)
“Eveline,” by James Joyce, pp. 201-205
“The Red Convertible,” by Louise Erdrich, pp. 241-247
“Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway, pp. 688-692
“Reunion,” by John Cheever, pp. 254-256.
The Richland Writing Program Guidelines and Objectives document includes the Summary/Response paper, partly because this assignment is common across the curriculum in college. In courses such as psychology, sociology, and government, students are often asked to read one or more articles, summarize them, and then respond from their own point of view. In sophomore literature courses, the plot summary often precedes analysis of a literary text.
The three skills this assignment focuses on, summary, inference, and interpretation, are all important reading skills and are basic skills in each of the assignments you will write this semester in this class. Developing these skills is the purpose of the assignment.
The assignment has two parts, each with a heading. In a one-page “Plot Summary” section, summarize what happens in the story, leaving out opinion, evaluation, and any use of first person or reference to yourself. In writing your plot summary, you have only one page (about 300 words) to proportionately cover the entire story, so there will be no room for detail, dialogue or description—or any quotations from the story. Focus on who did what, when, where and why. Remember also that a plot summary is not a list or bulleted account of an event. Write it as a continuous, flowing narrative, a miniature of the story itself. Use appropriate transitions to help your reader follow the sequence of events, like “Ten years later,” or “After the Queen died….”
In your plot summary, refer to what happens in the story, tying the narrative together with reasonable inferences you make when you read the story. In In Tandem,David and Dianne Spears identify inference as a vital part of all reading:
To make an inference means to read between the lines of a text to draw meaning from
what the writer does not directly say but surely intends to suggest. Therefore, making
inferences means going beyond and underneath the surface meaning to extract a deeper level of understanding. The inference process thus reinforces the thinking process, allowing you to gain insights into the subject and to extend your understanding of that subject.
The necessity of reader inference comes from the nature of fiction. The author of a short story doesn’t spell everything out for the reader. To do so would be considered clumsy in fiction, in which the art is often in what is left unsaid.
Part Twoshifts focus to you as interpreter of the story. Part One focuses on what happens and what the author wants us to see, while Part Two focuses on the meaning the reader ascribes to the story. The key interpretive question is “What does the story mean to me?” Each reader has to answer this question for him or herself. Much depends on what the reader brings to the story—on the values, life experiences and readings specific to the reader. In a particular story, a sad ending to one reader can bring tears, to another laughter—especially if the reader sees the ending coming well before the end of the story. Part Two can include connections between the story and things outside the story, and any interpretive framework the reader wants to set up, from analysis of story elements, to evaluation, tomoral or ethical criticism.
If the goal of Part One of the paper is to be objective (to describe the story as it is), Part Two requires the reader to be subjective, describing his or her unique take on the story.
Interpretation is most effective when the student writer owns his or her interpretation, showing the reader how it was conceived or discovered. In your own Part Two, aim for a balance between the story and yourself. Part Two should be about 500 words, or a page and a half.
WRITE THIS PAPER IN TWO CLEARLY LABELLED PARTS, “PART ONE” AND “PART TWO.”
Suggested Writing ProcessTo prepare to write, read each story carefully. They are short and won’t take you much time. Read the story you choose to write about more than once, taking notes in your Journal.For Part One, the Plot Summary, you may find it helpful to make a list of events as they happen in the story.Add inferences that help tie the story together and reveal the author’s intentions.Next turn your list into prose, reading your own writing aloud to ensure that it flows.Write Part Two by outlining your ideas or by free writing (writing in timed sessions without stopping). Use your own favorite way of getting ideas on paper—“brainstorming,” my students call it. In this stage, you don’t have to put your thoughts in final order. Some call this the “discovery draft.” You don’t have to start with a thesis (main idea) but be sure to include one. The key is to get something down on paper, something to work with.Next read your entire paper in this draft stage. (Many students skip this, and failing to read your own paper hurts the final product). Read as objectively as you can. Are you clearly stating your ideas? Have you explained and supported your view of the story in Part Two?My recommendation for revision is to make a list of questions in the margin of your draft. These are the questions a reader would ask—and questions you can easily anticipate. Make sure you address each of these questions in your revision.Continue to read your draft and revise as necessary. There is no certain number of times a draft should be revised. My favorite quote on the revision process is worth thinking about: “In our view, a “C” paper is often an “A” paper turned in too early.”—Ramage and Bean from Writing Arguments.The last stage is proofreading. This step should also be done aloud. Check for errors in grammar, usage, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
Grading CriteriaUnderstands the assignment and purpose of each of the two parts.Summary is accurate and covers the story proportionately.Avoids subjectivity in Part One.Inferences in Part One are implicit in the story—likely assumptions based on what’s given.Part Two expresses the student writer’s unique response to the story.The student writer connects his or her response directly to the story, referring to specific aspects of plot, character, setting, etc.Prose is clear, concise, and correct.Overall the paper is well-written and reader friendly.
Due Dates are presented in the “Announcements” on the first page of Blackboard.
Resources for this Assignment
Note: Resources are supplemental to the textbook, not a replacement for the assigned reading.
http://www.pearsonhighered.com/samplechapter/0205734367_ch10.pdf. This chapter on inference has especially useful information in the first few pages, including an example of how we use inferences to read literature. A good example is from the Stephen Crane short story, “The Open Boat.”
Chapter Five in the textbook, In Tandem,begins with a section on “Making Inferences and Seeing Connections.” I have made a copy of this book available in the English Corner. (See information on the Corner in the Course Syllabus.