Utopian Thought and Literature:  Essay 1

Due in class on Friday, October 10

I list some ideas for paper topics almost reluctantly, because it is my belief that the very best papers are likely to come from ideas you develop yourself.  Good essays emerge from your sensitivity to moments in a text which seem unusual or initially unclear, which seem to demand further explanation.  In the case of utopian literature, many of the texts are open-ended and demand participatory interpretation from the reader.  Our analysis of Plato's Cave, for example, merely scratched the surface of possible interpretations.

My fundamental recommendation is that you allow yourself to look for similar moments in the utopian texts and that you allow your own thinking processes to lead you to a coherent, provable position on what such moments might mean.  That is to say (in a roundabout way), you may certainly reject the paper topics found at the bottom of this sheet in favor of one that you develop yourself.  (And one other warning:  the topics as I list them are not thesis statements, but require further work to be developed into thesis statements.  They are merely general topics.)  

More generally, I believe a good interpretive essay should contain the following things:
1) a good thesis statement of what you are going to prove in the paper.  The criteria for a good thesis statement are two:

2) good use of quoted material.  A good paper discusses specific aspects of the language of the text, often telling me things about that language that I wouldn't otherwise have noticed.  A very good method for incorporating quoted material is as follows:

3) a clear and well-developed structure.  Structure is a matter of how an essay is put together.  Each paragraph should treat a separate idea, each dedicated to proving the thesis.  Paragraph should follow paragraph logically, so that the argument is developed over the course of the entire paper.  Each paragraph should be internally well-developed, so that it doesn't leave an aspect of the idea unstated (beware of short paragraphs comprised of only a few sentences).  Paragraphs should not wander from the general topic of the thesis statement, nor should they wander from the particular idea of that paragraph.

4) clear and grammatical sentences.  Good ideas can only be understood when expressed in clear and grammatical language, so I will also be considering these aspects of your paper in grading it.

Le Guin, "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas"

1.  At the end of Le Guin's story, those who walk away from Omelas are not labeled as either utopians or anti-utopians.  Make a case for viewing those who walk away as one type or another.

2.  In many ways, Le Guin's story is concrete application of the principles of utopia in a short, fictional form.  Using the story, develop a definition of utopia and provide examples from the text that support this definition.

Plato, Selection from The Republic

1.  The Allegory of the Cave is Plato's final presentation of the principles of the utopian community he proposes.  Using the group exercise that we began in class, continue the detailed analysis of the elements of the cave allegory, linking each feature Plato describes to a component of the proposed utopia.  What do these components suggest about the nature of Plato's Republic?

2.  The Noble Lie exists at the heart of Plato's Republic.  Discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of a lie functioning as the heart of a utopia.  What does the lie reveal about the nature of utopia itself.

3.  The Republic may be defined using the three definitions of utopian we discussed in class:  utopian content (portrayal of a good society); utopian form (a utopian blueprint); or utopian function (a way of processing material in order to reach the goal of utopia).  Discuss the ways in which Plato's text employs these three definitions.

More, Utopia

1.  More employs several narrative frames in Utopia, removing himself from the center of his narrative.  Discuss the use of framing techniques in the text and their purposes.  Why would an author need or wish to remove himself from his own utopian vision?

2.  Many of components of Utopia relate directly to elements of More's own society.  Select some of these components and discuss the function of More's treatment of them in the context of a social critique or social revision for More's own time. 

3.  The structure of Utopia may be considered as either beneficial or detrimental to women.  Make a case either for or against the improved status of women in Utopia.  If the utopian project is to provide for the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, does it meet this goal for the greatest number of women?

Pollan, Celebration

1.  Disney's Celebration was designed on five founding principles:  community, place, education, health, and technology.  Compare these founding principles to the other utopian principles the class has explored.  Do these represent a continuation, an improvement, or a perversion of the utopian project?

2.  Celebration invokes the rhetoric of community and place in much its advertising.  Using our class debate as a starting point, argue for or against the assertions of resident Hill and former mayor Kemmis regarding the status of Celebration as a community.

Bellamy, Looking Backward

1.  Bellamy begins his utopian novel with the allegory of the Prodigious Coach.  Discuss the elements of the allegory as they relate to social problems of Bellamy's time and consider the ways in which allegory functions as a critique in utopian literature.

2.  The romance between Julian and Edith has often been cited as a major weakness of the novel.  In many ways, however, Bellamy is experimenting with a new kind of fiction whose conventions must be devised even as they are implemented.  Discuss the elements of Bellamy's new genre of utopian fiction.

3.  Discuss the issue of surveillance in the novel.  The basis of your discussion should be a reading of the article "The Limits of Spatialized Form" by Nick Williams.