Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

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by Tom Kane and John Unsworth

From the LibGuide for 20th-Century American Bestsellers for a list of sources that may be useful in research for this assignment. As always, remember that you need to keep a list of all sources consulted, with an indication of their usefulness for your assignment. Useful sources should be listed at the end of your entry (using the form of citation described in the MLA Handbook, available at Alderman Reference, or on Amazon). The entire list of sources consulted (useful and useless) needs to be submitted via Collab when the assignment is turned in. Also, please review the Honor system's documentation on Plagiarism.

For this assignment, you need to produce an essay of about 2000-2500 words (8-10 typed, double-spaced pages), analyzing the book you've chosen. Do not recapitulate your biographical essay and/or your reception history here, and do not succumb to the temptation to review the book yourself. This is an analytical assignment: you need to have an argument to make, and that argument should not be something like "This is a good book." A strong essay will have a thesis supported by substantial evidence from within and outside the text. It is also important that the essay be carefully written, free of careless grammatical and punctuation errors, clear and accurate in its use of language. Remember that your essay will become a permanent and public part of the bestsellers database, and that in the future you may have many readers.

The general question you are trying to answer in this essay is "What do we learn about bestsellers from this book?" In answering that question, you might first consider whether you discovered anything in your research for previous assignments that might be the focus of an interesting argument about the book, or you could address a number of general topics including but not limited to:

  • "What qualities did reviewers praise in this book? What does that tell you about the reviewers, the era, or the book?",
  • "What was or is the public persona of the book's author? Does this book help to create that persona or does it problematize it in any way?",
  • "What contemporaneous events might help to explain this book's popularity? What social, political, historical, or cultural controversies that inform this book?",
  • "What other (fiction or non-fiction) best-sellers might be usefully compared or contrasted to this book?",
  • "What undeclared or unrecognized reasons might there have been for this book's popularity? "How long did this book remain popular? What factors might explain its lifespan?",
  • "If this book had a performance in another medium, what effect did that performance have on the book's popularity?")

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