As before, you’ll want to consider this a thinking problem before you consider it a writing problem. Brainstorm, outline, re-read, take notes, talk to friends and classmates: consider your subject matter and what you’d like to investigate or to say about it. Please remember to introduce author and novel title in your essay introduction, and also please as part of your thesis address the “So What?” question—why is what you’re writing and telling your readers about important? What’s at stake in this subject matter and by extension, in your paper? (Doing this will help you avoid writing an essay that sounds like a book report).
Also towards the ends above, strive consciously to craft topic sentences of sufficient heft that they will lead immediately to evidence—quotes, events, paraphrases of texts—which you will then go on to discuss. (Ideas swiftly exemplified by evidence constitutes a kind of evidentiary rule of academic writing).
Your thesis, which need not be limited to one sentence but which must stand out as your main point, will reflect your governing angle or focus, your “way in” to the story, and normally should express a focused generalization about the major meaning you feel the story offers (with respect to the topic you choose below). But don’t expect to know what that thesis is right away; be alert to possibilities for ‘growing’ it, for shaping, slicing and dicing, as necessary, as you refine your thoughts about the text(s).
Finally, remember your audience: someone who has a passing familiarity with your texts but needs to be reminded of the key events and details even as you make your analysis. You want to reach the general reader.
1. Examine in depth one or more (up to four) significant trends, practices, ideas, and/or values in our current world that the novel asks us to consider by exaggerating them or perhaps extending them to a logical (or illogical) conclusion. Your subject(s) should be significant enough to develop an essay about. If you write about two or more of them, you’ll need to offer some unifying idea, bringing them into the same frame of reference in your introduction.
Ultimately, this paper will be implicitly about values—about our sense of the good, the right, the true—with respect to the subjects etc. you choose to focus on.
2. Write an essay in which you offer your own values, your normative sense of right v. wrong, and contrast them to the values suggested in this novel. Make sure your reader can see the outrageous contrasts between what you consider good, right, true, and/or decent, and the values implicit in the world of this novel. Make what’s implicit, explicit–what might we fail to fully appreciate about the “values-shortage” in this world as we’re reading and perhaps enjoying the exotic bizarreness of it all? Consider one main value contrast per paragraph; introduce all your relevant values in the introduction bring them into some common frame of reference.
3. Diaspora: a diaspora is defined as “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland” or simply as “people settled far from their ancestral homelands.” This novel explores the history and lives of the both the recent European Russian or Jewish diaspora in metropolitan New York/New Jersey, as well as the Korean, but there are lots of other diasporas, too (to pick just one example, the overseas Chinese community has a rich history in southeast Asia and the U.S., as well as elsewhere.) Examine in detail the experiences of the Parks and/or the Abramovs in the States and compare them, in a point-based way, to a diasporic community you know well. (That is, each body paragraph should talk about common features among two or more groups—the Korean and/or Russian/Jewish and/or yours. What conclusions can you reach—expressed in your thesis and in your topic sentences of your body paragraphs—of the kind of experience that diasporic communities and its members face that can help your reader better understand them? What do members of one or both of these diasporas and other diasporas share?
Sample topic sentence from an essay written about topic #3 above: “Diasporic families are usually more flexible than other families in moving back-and-forth between two (or more) countries. This provides multiple opportunities for deciding whether or not the native country is a better place to belong.”
4. Write an essay in which you compare the downtown Manhattan protests in the novel to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Focus the body of your paper and key differences OR key similarities; in other words, you’re mainly going to be writing about surprising things in common, or about glaring differences. If the latter, you can concede some superficial similarities in your introduction, but focus on differences in your body; if writing about things in common, you can acknowledge how they’re not exactly the same but focus on what the two protests share. See pages 145-6, 156-163, 174-175, parts of 232-248, and 262-265.
Be advised that early in the novel there are reports of armed veterans marching on the capitol mall in Washington D.C., protesting for health benefits.
5. The three big career choices in the novel involve Retail/Media
/Credit. What kind of economy does the U.S. have in the world of this novel? What kinds of careers are available, and which not—and why? Relation to the present day?
6A. Examine this book as a specific account of a widely shared experience, growing up as the child of an immigrant parent or parents. See #9 below for organizing principles.
6B. Examine the novel with respect to its accounts of growing up bi-cultural. For organizing principles, be sure to create topic ideas such that you’ll be offering evidence from multiple sources that fit those ideas—sources which are limited to Lenny’s background, Eunice’s, and your own. You may be able to combine this with topic 6A.
7. Analyze in the novel the evolution of our present-time youth culture—and what it says about the ways in which youth culture is trending today. (examples: in fashion, communication, career, etc.). You could, for instance, probably write an entire essay considering different kinds of fashion.
8. Examine the novel with the theme of “youth-worship” and the cult of youth: in what respects does the book portray in wildly exaggerated form trends and values that we know in our society today? What’s the relationship between this and the desire for “immortality” in the novel?
9. “People today know the price of everything and the value of nothing” – Oscar Wilde. Analyze which values are most important in the world of this novel, and whether they suggest a difference merely in degree from present day values or a difference in kind.
10. Contrast an ideal or multi-dimensional definition of citizenship with the depiction of the rights and obligations of citizenship as depicted in the novel. To what extent does the novel’s definition/depiction overlap with our current one?
11. Considering ALL the passages about Lenny’s workplace, analyze the novel as a meaningful satire or parody of the modern high-tech startup we know form our own time. Be sure to offer a well-defined point-based set of comparisons or contrasts.
13. Write an essay in which you advocate or argue for some of the features of this near-future. That is, without necessarily endorsing ALL the ‘evolutions’ of this near-future world, you’ll make the case that some of the practices, trends, technologies, etc, could be considered in a favorable light—being very specific about which and why. Essentially, you’ll be playing ‘devil’s advocate’, assuming a readership for your essay that hadn’t entertained these thoughts before. Warning: you’ll have to be very careful about making your point of view very clear, which is to say, this is a serious paper, and that facetiousness hardly ever translates in print. (A too casual, haphazard, or off-the-cuff approach will lead your readers to wonder about what points you’re trying to make)