A terrific 3-part thesis statement

Here is the introductory paragraph in a 5-paragraph English paper by Illinois Valley Community College student Jamie Fast:

In the short story “Miss Brill,” penned by Katherine Mansfield in 1922, a Sunday afternoon is spent with an elderly woman during her weekly ritual of visiting a seaside park. The woman, Miss Brill, enjoys her habitual outing to hear the band play and soak in the atmosphere, but most of all she relishes the chance to sit in on the lives of others by listening and watching. Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” illustrates the old woman’s attempt to alleviate loneliness by creating an alternate reality for herself, yet she is ultimately forced to face the self-deception for what it truly is.


1. Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” illustrates the old woman’s attempt to alleviate loneliness   2. by creating an alternate reality for herself,   3. yet she is ultimately forced to face the self-deception for what it truly is.


  1.  “Miss Brill” is trying to feel less lonely…
  2.  …by creating an alternate reality for herself,
  3. yet she is ultimately forced to face the self-deception…

The topic sentences used by this student:

  1. Miss Brill’s ritual of visiting the park every Sunday helps her to cope with loneliness.
  2. Miss Brill alters her perception of reality to avoid facing unpleasant aspects of her life.
  3. A series of events leads to Miss Brill’s illusion being shattered and forces her to realize the self-deception.

This student’s paper, along with her instructor’s comments, have been posted here by Randy Rambo, an instructor at Illinois Valley Community College.

This is the most useful exemplar I’ve come across thus far. Wonderful.

Well worth your time to read the story, the paper, and the comments. (To see the comments, click on numbers 1 – 12 inside the text.)

How the Greeks saw their gods

For the Greeks, the gods were a species of being superior to humans in three main ways: they were immortal; they lived lives of ease and abundance; and they were extremely powerful. By contrast, human life, even that of the rulers, was short and hard, plagued by disease, famine, and natural calamity. The gods were primarily involved in their own world, with their own affairs; only rarely did they intersect with the human world. They did not create human beings and did not particularly care what happened to them. Sometimes they took humans as lovers, but humans were simply not interesting enough to hold the gods” attention for very long; the gods were partial to their children and sought to advance their interests.

The most serious fault–we would probably use the term “‘sin”–of human beings was to forget their limitations as mortals. As superior beings, the gods demanded honor and respect from humans; they (usually) rewarded those who honored them and punished slights, even inadvertent ones, severely. As immortals, the gods had long “memories,” and often punished or rewarded humans for acts of long-dead ancestors. Justice was important, especially to Zeus, and would be done, but not necessarily in the lifetime of the victim.

Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths by Paula L. Reimers
review of: Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths. By Mary Lefkowitz. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003.304 pp. $30.00.

What is a fairy tale?

Posted to SurLaLune:

I think that “fairy tale” has always carried the connotation of “improbable fiction,” for as long as the term has been around. That’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of a fairy tale, as opposed to a myth or a legend — the listeners understand it as a fiction crafted for entertainment purposes. Legends carry some semblance of belief — they’re usually told in a manner that suggests that somebody, somewhere, believes this to be true, even if the teller doesn’t. Myths are understood to be true on some level, at least in the culture that adheres to them. Of course, none of those categories can be absolutely fixed either, and there’s a lot of overlap. Too, as fairy tales became adapted for children, and then came to be seen as fit ONLY for children, the term became more derogatory. It’s linked, i think, to Andrew Lang and the cultural evolutionists; peasants (the folk) are sort of in the childhood of civilization, and therefore their products are on the same level as those of upper-class “civilized” children. All primitives, think alike, see. This theory died out, rightfully, in the 20th century, but the use of “fairy tale” to mean something juvenile stuck.

Fairy tales differ from more realistic folktales chiefly in the construction of the tale world. In a fairy tale/Zaubermarchen/wonder tale, magic is absolutely taken for granted. Nobody stops and says “Frogs don’t talk!” Strange things happen, and nobody bats an eye; that’s the major difference between a fairy tale and a realistic folktale. The main characters are generally human, as opposed to gods or demigods, and are of stock types. The fairy tale world is amorphous, unconnected to a time more specific than “Once upon a time” or a place more specific than “a faraway kingdom.” Legends, by contrast, take place in our own world — if not the here and now, than some specific time or place.

That’s the definition that I give to my students, and it seems to work well; there are, of course many others, but I’ve found this one the most useful. How’s that for a start?


Hansel and Gretel and the present tense

There is a problem with tense consistency in the paragraph below. Can you find it?


Hansel and Gretel live on the edge of a huge, dark, forest with their mother and father. It was the worst of times and there was not enough to eat. Hansel and Gretel’s mother makes a plan to abandon the children in the forest. The father does not want to do it but his wife forces him. Hansel and Gretel overhear the plan. Hansel goes outside and fills his pockets with shiny pebbles.
Hansel and Gretel Plot Summary