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Essay Two: Presenting an Argument about Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette or Zadie Smith’s On Beauty

As Diana Hacker notes, “All good writing about literature attempts to answer a question, spoken or unspoken, about the text” (646): “Why is ‘Araby’ a story of initiation?” “In what ways does Raymond Carver’s ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’ explore different concepts of love?” A concise and insightful literature paper should answer such questions with a “meaningful interpretation, presented forcefully and persuasively” (646).

Purpose and Skills:  

To analyze a play or novel. Relying on close reading and theme, you will explore structure and patterns and formulate an argument about the text under scrutiny. How do form and content interact to reinforce a theme?

To integrate definitions into a paper about literature.

To formulate an original, thought-provoking thesis with an argument that goes beyond the obvious. Maybe select a “friction-rich” relationship of patterns and structures to focus on in your thesis. 

To develop, present, complicate, and advance your argument.

To support your thesis with convincing reasons. Imagine you were a lawyer defending your case in court.

To provide textual evidence and support for your ideas to substantiate your argument in the thesis.

To address and refute a counterargument based on the possible contradictions or gaps in the primary text and/or secondary literature.

To demonstrate your understanding of the analysis of a literary text by applying relevant literary terms.

To integrate secondary literature in a meaningful way.

Knowledge:  The assignment will help you to become familiar with the following important content knowledge in this discipline:

1. The elements of a play and a novel.

2. Relevant historical context.

3. Critical Theory

4. Reading, analyzing, and critical thinking.

5. Writing: Formulating an argument.

Readings: Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette or Zadie Smith’s On Beauty

Background and Writing Task: 

This assignment requires you to reflect on, analyze, and present an argument about our play or novel by the authors we discussed in class. Bear in mind, instead of just dumping information on the reader, make your central argument the center of gravity of your paper. Avoid merely summarizing the text. Instead, organize your paper around YOUR argument.

To help you develop ideas and prepare the background section of your paper, reread the text you would like to write about and go over the questions in our PowerPoint presentations and your notes from class. Please make sure to include specific evidence from the texts you are analyzing to support your points.

Maybe ponder our class discussions? Maybe brainstorm before you create your outline? Maybe look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication in the text? Maybe include secondary literature.

The final draft of your paper should be a 5- to 6-page essay (12 point font, 1” margins, double-spaced) that analyzes in depth and presents an original argument about Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette or Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.


Please choose one of the following topics:

1. In his book, The Location of Culture. Homi K. Bhabha argues

Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition. The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation. The ‘right’ to signify from the periphery of authorized power and privilege does not depend on the persistence of tradition; it is resourced by the power of tradition to be reinscribed through the conditions of contingency and contradictoriness that attend upon the lives who are ‘in the minority.’ (2)

Reflecting on Bhabha’s definition of cultural hybridity, please create an argument about how the main characters in My Beautiful Laundrette navigate their identity in terms of race, class, and gender, sexual orientation, and the way they deal with trauma.

2. Please discuss the extent to which My Beautiful Laundrette challenges monolithic identities and nationalism through the “difference-within” (Barbara Johnson) and heterogeneity.

3. Please compare and contrast Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette and Stephen Frears’s movie adaptation.

4. Pondering our discussions, please analyze On Beauty as a multicultural university novel. How does the novel negotiate transnational black identities?

5. Please discuss the representation of femininity in On Beauty. How do the female characters challenge the masculine sphere, and what is the implication of female intervention in the novel?

6. You are also very welcome to choose your own topic, but please discuss your angle of the paper with me.

Key Features:

  1. An introduction that establishes the      essay’s shared context and your point of entry (see our online outline handouts).      What is the shared context and the nature of the controversy concerning      your topic? What is your angle? To what extent is your paper going to      intervene in a discussion?
  2. A “friction-rich” thesis. You should      concentrate in a nutshell what you wish to emphasize – your central idea,      the point you want to make about your topic. Try to go beyond the obvious.      Imagine your reader is educated and might come up with the same claim you      are positing, which might be a reason why you might want to rephrase your      thesis. Go back to your notes and try to look for tensions, ambiguities,      gaps, complexities, and complications in the text. Try to use your      insights to formulate a thesis. Since your thesis is an argument about the      text, it should be debatable and as specific as possible (compare our      handout on how to formulate a compelling thesis). Your thesis is the      jumping-off point for the main body.
  3. The body should develop, complicate,      and advance the argument in your thesis, providing evidence in form of      textual support. The body paragraphs should be appropriately organized,      including the use of clear topic sentences or signposting. The paragraphs      should be in logical order and use transitions to show links between      ideas. Remember, your body paragraphs should reinforce your thesis.
  4. Three scholarly outside sources      (peer reviewed; print and/or online from Canvas, and/or CSUN database      (e.g. MLA, Project Muse, JSTOR))
  5. Address a possible counterargument      to your claim and refute it.
  6. A conclusion that provides closure      to the essay and considers the implication of your argument.
  7. MLA Style (heading, margins, title,      line spacing, page numbering, parenthetical citation, and a Works Cited      Page); see our MLA 2016 handout on Canvas.
  8. Observance of the conventions of      standard written English.



Create a detailed outline of your essay that contains the shared context (critical theory), a thesis with an argument, topic sentences for your body paragraphs and textual evidence to support your points, as well as analysis and explanations.  Please compose a conclusion.

Rough Draft Due: 5/1

Please bring 4 copies of your rough draft (minimum 3 pages) to class. After the peer editing session, you are also very welcome to discuss your paper with a tutor in the Learning Resource Center in The Oviatt Library.

Final Draft Due: 5/10

Submit your final draft in Turnitin and please turn in a hard copy with your peer edited rough drafts and outline to me.


In-text Citation

EXAMPLE: Neely argues that Desdemona, like Emilia, is “indifferent to reputation” (Neely 224).


Short quotations from the novel (shorter than four lines) or secondary literature should be incorporated into your paper in the following way:

EXAMPLE: It may be true that “in the appreciation of medieval art the attitude of the observer is of primary importance” (Robertson 136).

Use longer quotations (more than four lines) when you are going to analyze the passage in detail; otherwise, paraphrase the background information, and quote only the significant portions. If you use long quotations, make sure that you discuss them after you introduce them. Longer verse quotations should be laid out in the following way: 

EXAMPLE: Besides depicting the immense power of survivorship, David Dabydeen is interested in the intersection of race, history, and sexuality, as well as the effect of  trauma—caused by colonialism—on the slaveholders’ and slaves’ bodies and sexuality:

Well I [Dabydeen] think that the Empire has been looked at from the perspective of sociology, history, political economy etcetera; but the Empire was also an enormous erotic project. What I was interested in was bringing to the surface the latent eroticism of the encounter between black and white, because it seemed to me that that would be revealing a relatively unexplored aspect of imperial relations. (Birbalsingh 184-185)

Please consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 2016 edition for formatting, citations, your list of Works Cited. Please check our updated MLA style sheet 2016 on Canvas.


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