Critical Analysis of Letter as Essayshared by ISUComm on August 18, 2014
This activity is a look at critical analysis of a letter as essay by James Baldwin to his newphew. It should get students started thinking about tone, purpose, style, and context in their writing for the letters as essay
The Letter as Essay assignment introduces the class to place-based writing. It allows students to begin to analyze the places they find themselves most interested in on campus and take the analysis to written form. In writing their letters to people from home, people who perhaps have never been to Iowa State, the student can take a critical look at the campus and describe in a genre that may be less formal than the subsequent essays they will be writing.
- Ask students to get into five groups of four or more.
- Have students read the letter as essay by James Baldwin called “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew” on pages 112-115 in The Call to Write by John Trimbu.
- In their groups ask students to answer the questions for critical inquiry on page 116. Ask one student from each group to record the group’s answers.
- The groups will answer prompts according to the next five steps.
- Group One-Where in the letter does Baldwin first indicate his main point and reason for writing to his nephew? Mark this passage and explain why you think he locates his main point here.
- Group Two-A good deal of the long fifth paragraph involves Baldwin’s admonition to his nephew “to be clear…about the reality that lies behind the words acceptance and integration. What is the reality Baldwin alludes to here?
- Group Three-What does he see as the relation between “acceptance” and “integration”? What assumptions have led him to this view?
- Group Four-Baldwin wrote a number of essays concerning race relations in the United States. In this instance, however, he has chosen the more personal form of a family letter addressed directly to his nephew but published for all to read. How does this traditional letter of advice from an older family member to a younger one influence the way you read the letter? What advantages do you see in Baldwin’s strategy of addressing his nephew instead of the more anonymous audience of people who readThe Fire Next Time, in which “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew” appeared?
- Group Five-Are there things Baldwin can say to his nephew that he can’t say directly to this audience?
- Next, have each group report their answers to the class.
- As the instructor, you will tie the critical inquiry activity to Assignment #2, Letter as Essay. You can do this by identifying strategies Baldwin uses to talk to his nephew about important elements of life in America. You can tie this to a letter as essay for a student writing to a younger relative or friend telling them about life at Iowa State. You may also want to share with your students that students can use language or subject matter that their audience would be familiar with, maybe not others.
- Have students turn in their responses that would count as class participation.