Essay #3: Constructive Ambiguity (or “less is more”)

Background:

We read three short stories as part of the Constructive Ambiguity unit. The plots of these stories contain central ambiguities that are left unresolved. The authors hold back from indicating one way or another a single definitive interpretation. In “super-frog saves tokyo,” the reader is challenged in determining whether or not Frog is real or just part of Katagiri’s imagination within the context of the story. In “The Laughing Man,” we never know what happens between the Chief and Mary Hudson and why the Chief ends his Laughing Man story-cycle so suddenly. Finally, in “Chango,” Bony never actually figures out where the monkey’s head came from.

This may seem frustrating at first (“just tell us what happens!”) but it is a plot device commonly used by authors to paradoxically achieve a deeper level of meaning. For this essay think about how each author is engaging in constructive ambiguity, or how establishing a central ambiguity can conversely heighten the reading experience.

Readings:

  • “Chango,” by Oscar Cásares, from Brownsville (2003)
  • “super-frog saves tokyo,” by Haruki Murakami, from After the Quake (2002)
  • “Laughing Man,” by J.D. Salinger, from Nine Stories (1953)

Task:

Write an essay based on your own opinions about the short stories, what we’ve discussed in groups during class, your double entry journals, and the results of your group work that answers the following question:

  • How does the author of each story establish and maintain a central ambiguity in a constructive way? In other words, what “new insight” can we experience as readers when we’re paradoxically not given complete information?

Part 1 Requirements:

  • Your piece should have an introduction that presents your argument (thesis) and provides context for your discussion of the essay topic. You should introduce the concept of constructive ambiguity––or a central ambiguity that is functioning in a constructive way––or that “less is more.”
  • Your body paragraphs should develop smoothly from one paragraph to the next (and may vary in structure).
  • Your essay should correctly quote and analyze all three of the short stories from the unitYour analysis should clearly include 1) what information each author is leaving out of their story and why this presents challenges for the reader, but also 2) how this lack of complete information paradoxically creates more meaning and “new insight” much like how the metaphors we’ve examined in class act upon our imaginations.
  • Your piece should have a conclusion that clarifies and discusses the significance of your overall argument and does not simply restate or summarize what you have previous written. What is some final remark you’d like to give to your reader? How can you relate to the stories? How can you relate to having a lack of information?
  • Your piece should be 4-5 pages long (between 1500-2000 words) and formatted in MLA style.
  • All Work/Labor and writing needs to meet the following conditions (quoted from our Grading Contract):
  • Complete and On Time. You agree to turn in on time and in the appropriate manner complete essays, writing, or other labor assigned that meet all of our agreed upon expectations. (See Late/Incomplete Work for details on late assignments). This means you’ll be honest about completing labor that asks particular time commitments of you (for example, “write for 20 minutes,” etc.).
  • Copy Editing. When the job is for the final publication of a draft, your work must be well copy edited—that is, you must spend significant time in your labor process to look just at spelling and grammar. It’s fine to get help in copy editing. (Copy editing doesn’t count on drafts before the portfolios or first drafts).

Characteristics of a strong paper:

  • Be organized: The paper contains a clear hypothesis and accurate supporting evidence, has a logical flow, includes transitional phrases or transitions, and provides clear topic sentences.
  • Shows originality: The paper is neither formulaic nor perfunctory. It displays some creativity, offers an interesting angle on the question, takes some risks in content or structure, and/or offers new insights.
  • Demonstrates control of language and style: The grammar and vocabulary is appropriate for college writing, the language is descriptive and precise, the sentences are varied in structure, the paper has few errors that interfere with readability, etc. Note: even though I require a high level of expressive language that can communicate nuanced arguments, please feel free to use whatever “language” or “dialect” or “voice” you feel you can best express your ideas.
  • Uses a variety of sentence combining strategies, including the use of coordinators, subordinators, noun-phrase appositives, and relative clauses.
  • Part 2: deep dive into one of the three stories. Perhaps there’s a particular story from the unit you just absolutely fell in love with and so want to delve deeper into its interpretative possibilities and layers of metaphorical meanings. The prompt for you basically remains the same as the regular-labor essay, but now you’re just going to analyze just ONE story, not all three. Additionally, you will need to quote from at least TWO outside sources. Here again, I highly recommend going to the library and corralling the help of a librarian to help you find valuable information. And like the previous essays, please let me know what sources you’ve found… I just want to make sure they’re good to go. The sources can be, for example, articles or interviews with your author or academic essays pertaining to your author or the book the story came from. Ideally, you could find something directly pertaining to your story, but it’s okay if you don’t. Be sure to include a Works Cited page. (And again, please limit your extra reading labor to around 10,000-15,000 extra words. Don’t go too crazy!) Finally, the essay itself must be at least 2,400 words (or at least 8 pages). Keep in mind you will still need to read all three short stories in the unit and your double-entry journal will be the regular labor

 

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