Writing the Analysis Essay for AP English Language (page 2)
The following paragraphs are from the opening of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. After carefully reading the excerpt, write a well-organized essay in which you characterize Capote’s view of Holcomb, Kansas, and analyze how Capote conveys this view. Your analysis may consider such stylistic elements as diction, imagery, syntax, structure, tone, and selection of detail.
Excerpt from the opening of In Cold Blood
Developing the Opening Paragraph
After you have marked your passage, review the prompt. Now, choose the elements you are able to identify and analyze those that support Capote's view. To demonstrate, we have chosen structure, tone, and selection of detail.
Now, it's time to write. Your opening statement is the one that catches the eye of the reader and sets the expectation and tone of your essay. Spend time on your first paragraph to maximize your score. A suggested approach is to relate a direct reference from the passage to the topic. Make certain that the topic is very clear to the reader. This re inforces the idea that you fully understand what is expected of you and what you will communicate to the reader. As always, identify both the text and its author in this first paragraph.
Now, you try it. Write your own first paragraph for this prompt. Write quickly, referring to your notes. Let's check what you've written:
- Have you included author, title?
- Have you addressed "Capote's view of Holcomb"?
- Have you specifically mentioned the elements you will refer to in your essay?
Here are four sample opening paragraphs that address each of the above criteria:
In the opening of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote presents a picture of the town of Holcomb, Kansas. Through structure, selection of detail, and a detached tone, he makes it clear that he views Holcomb as dull and ordinary.
Holcomb, Kansas. Holcomb, Kansas. Even the sound of the place is boring and uninteresting. Moreover, Truman Capote seems to agree with this in his opening to In Cold Blood. I, too, would be inclined to pass by this sleepy, bland, and undistinguished hamlet. This view is developed through the author's tone, structure, and selection of detail.
"Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Sante Fe tracks, drama in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped here." This is the town of Holcomb, Kansas. Using a reportorial tone, specific structure, and selection of detail, Capote introduces the reader to this unremarkable town in the opening of In Cold Blood.
In Cold Blood is a very appropriate title, because Capote presents a cold and unemotional view of Holcomb, Kansas. His tone, structure, and selection of detail create a distant and detached picture of this desolate farm community.
Each of these opening paragraphs is an acceptable beginning to this AP English Language and Composition exam essay. Look at what each of the paragraphs has in common:
- Each has identified the title and author.
- Each has stated which stylistic elements will be used.
- Each has stated the purpose of analyzing these elements.
- Sample A restates the question without elaborating. It is to the point and correct, but it does not really pique the reader's interest. (Use this type of opening if you feel unsure or uncomfortable with the prompt.)
- Sample B reflects a writer who really has a voice. He or she has already determined Capote's view and indicates that he or she understands how this view is created.
- Sample C immediately places the reader into the passage by referring specifically to it.
- Sample D reveals a mature, confident writer who is unafraid to make his or her own voice heard.
However, observe what is different about the opening paragraphs.
Note: There are many other types of opening paragraphs that could also do the job. Into which of the above samples could your opening paragraph be classified?
Writing the Body of the Essay
What Should I Include in the Body of This Analysis Essay?
- Obviously, this is where you present your analysis and the points you want to make that are related to the prompt.
- Adhere to the question.
- Use specific references and details from the passage.
- Don't always paraphrase the original. Refer directly to it.
- Place quotation marks around those words/phrases you extract from the passage.
- Use "connective tissue" in your essay to establish adherence to the question.
- Use the repetition of key ideas in the prompt and in your opening paragraph.
- Try using "echo words" (that is, synonyms: town/village/hamlet; bland/ordinary/undistinguished)
- Use transitions between paragraphs (see Chapter 8).
To understand the process, carefully read the sample paragraphs below. Each develops one of the elements asked for in the prompt. Notice the specific references and the "connective tissue." Details that do not apply to the prompt are ignored.
This paragraph develops tone.
Throughout the passage, Capote maintains a tone that resembles a detached reporter who is an observer of a scene. Although the impact of the passage is seeing Holcomb in a less than positive light, the author rarely uses judgmental terminology or statements. In describing the town, he uses words such as "float," "haphazard," "unnamed," "unshaded," "unpaved." Individuals are painted with an objective brush showing them in "denim," "Stetsons," and "cowboy boots." Capote maintains his panning camera angle when he writes of the buildings and the surrounding farmland. This matter-of-fact approach is slightly altered when he begins to portray the townspeople as a whole when he uses such words as "prosperous people," "comfortable interiors," and "have done well." His objective tone, interestingly enough, does exactly what he says the folks of Holcomb do. He "camouflages" his attitude toward the reality of the place and time.
This paragraph develops structure.
Capote organizes his passage spatially. He brings his reader from "great distances" to the periphery of the village with its borders of "main-line tracks" and roads, river and fields, to the heart of the town and its "unnamed, unshaded and unpaved streets." As the reader journeys through the stark village, he or she is led eventually from the outskirts to the town's seemingly one bright spot—the prosperous Holcomb school. Capote develops our interest in the school by contrasting it with the bleak and lonely aspects of the first three paragraphs. He shifts our view with the word "unless" and focuses on the positive aspects of the town. Holcomb "has done well" despite its forbidding description. The passage could end now, except that Capote chooses to develop his next paragraph with the words, "until one morning," thus taking the reader on another journey, one of foreshadowing and implication. Something other than wheat is on the horizon.
This paragraph develops selection of detail.
In selecting his details, Capote presents a multilayered Holcomb, Kansas. The town is first presented as stark and ordinary. It is a "lonesome area" with "hard blue skies," where "the land is flat" and the buildings are an "aimless congregation." The ordinary qualities of the village are reinforced by his references to the "unnamed" streets, "onestory frame houses" and the fact that "celebrated expresses never pause there" (i.e., the "Super Chief, Chief, and El Capitan"). Details portray the citizens of Holcomb in the same light. Ranch hands speak with "barbed" and nasal "twangs." They wear the stereotypical "cowboy" uniform and so does the "gaunt" post mistress in her "rawhide jacket." Once this description is established, the author contrasts it with an unexpected view of the town. He now deals with the appearance of Holcomb's "camouflages," the "modern" school, the "prosperous people," the "comfortable interiors" and the "swollen grain elevators." If Capote chooses to illuminate this contrast, does it indicate more to come?
We urge you to spend more time developing the body paragraphs rather than worrying about a concluding paragraph, especially one beginning with "In conclusion," or "In summary." To be honest, in such a brief essay, the reader can remember what you have already stated. It is not necessary to repeat yourself in a summary final paragraph.
If you want to make a final statement, try to link your ideas to a particularly effective line or image from the passage. (It's a good thing.)
DO THIS NOW.
Write the body of your essay. Time yourself.
When you write the body of your essay, take only 15–20 minutes.
Find a way to time yourself, and try your best to finish within that time frame.
Because this is practice, don't panic if you can't complete your essay within the given 20 minutes. You will become more and more comfortable with the tasks presented to you as you gain more experience with this type of question.
NOTE: Sharing your writing with members of your class or study group will allow you and all of the participants to gain more experience and more of a comfort zone with requirements and possibilities.
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