Synthesis Essay

Synthesis Essay

Purpose: to arrive at a clearer understanding of Colson Whitehead’s fiction by examining a single idea across multiple texts.

Prompt: In a synthesis essay, you take multiple texts or sources and bring them together in a way that leads to a clearer understanding of some feature they share or conversation they take part in. For the purposes of this essay, you’ll do that with regards to two of the Whitehead novels. You are also welcome, but by no means required, to refer to his other writing (essays, articles, tweets, etc.) as you develop your point.

(Side note: If you felt so inclined, you could substitute one of his longform essays—e.g. “Hard Times in the Uncanny Valley” or “Occasional Dispatches from the Republic of Anhedonia”—for a novel).

So one way to think about the synthesis prompt is as an equation: “X [topic/idea/pattern] in A & B” (Gender roles in Intuitionist and Apex; frontier history in Apex and Underground; notions of progress in Intuitionist and Underground; etc.).

Another way to think about: “Colson Whitehead’s idea of X” (Whitehead on technology; Whitehead on communication; Whitehead’s isolated narrators . . .)

Here are the caveats to keep in mind:

1. Although [X] is up to you, it behooves you to make it something reasonably focused. Within a 6 page paper, it’s probably best to look at something more specific than Love, History, Human Nature, etc. In that respect, some of my examples above are not very good (e.g. communication, etc.)

2. This is NOT a compare and contrast paper. You’re not looking at how Apex is similar/different from Underground with regards to [X], but rather how, if you put them together, a clearer picture of [X] emerges. So if you’re talking about similarities, the focus should be on the idea that both share (not on the fact that they’re similar). And if you’re talking about differences, do it in terms of how one text modifies, corrects, or elaborates on the other (not in terms of the fact that they’re different).

Specifics: Give your paper an interesting and accurate title. Format your paper in the standard ways (12 point font, 1 inch margins, double spaced, etc.). You should have an introduction which lays out the issue you’ll consider and clearly states your main idea. Then a number of body paragraphs (not 3!) which develop that main idea with subordinate points, evidence, explanation, etc; and a conclusion which broaches the matter of Why It Matters.

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