RUSS 4831: Contemporary Russian Literature
RUSS 4831: Contemporary Russian Literature
Midterm Paper – Guidelines
You may write about one of the following topics, or you may come up with your own, provided it deals
with any of the texts we’ve read in class. If you want to develop your own topic, you need to first get my
I cannot emphasize this enough: You MUST develop a thesis (argument) that relates to your topic, and
your entire paper should be devoted to exploring, supporting, and ultimately proving that thesis through
textual analysis and close readings.
• Evaluate the nature of violence in one of the texts we’ve studied. Some questions to consider: What are
the causes of violence? How does the author represent it? What literary strategies are employed to
narrate violence? What role does violence play in the story? Where’s the line between the perpetrator
and the victim (is there a line)? What point or idea is made through the depiction of violence?
• Explore the role of “estrangement” (Shklovsky’s term) in one of the texts we’ve studied. Consider:
Where do we see examples of estrangement in the text? How do you interpret those examples of
estrangement – what point do they make, or what idea do they put forward? What does estrangement
have the power to do in the text (and why is this important)? How can estrangement function as a
possible strategy of resistance (to the State, to ideology, etc.)?
• Analyze the struggle between the individual and society (or the collective, the State) in one of the
stories we’ve read. Consider: How does society function to make individuals obedient? How do certain
individuals submit to society’s will? In contrast, how do certain individuals maintain their sense of self
in opposition to society (e.g. strategies of resistance)? Who wins – the individual or society (or either)?
How does society alienate the individual, and why? How does society demand the annihilation of
individuals, and why?
• Examine the dehumanizing effects of society in one of the texts we’ve studied. Consider: how does
society turn people into something “other than” human? What are the means or the mechanism by
which society accomplishes this? How are these “dehumanized” people presented – how do they appear
in the text, and how are they described?
• Analyze the relationship between literature and crime, or the writer as criminal, in one of the texts
we’ve studied. How is the writer made into a criminal? What do literature and crime have in common
in the Soviet context? What role does the writer play in the story? What is significant about that role?
• Analyze the relationship between the spectacle (performance, representation, etc.) and reality in one of
the texts we’ve studied. Questions to consider: In exploring the relationship between the spectacle and
reality, how do some of these texts problematize or even reaffirm the principles of Socialist Realism?
Where does power reside – in reality, or in the spectacle? What happens when the spectacle does not
match up with reality?
Guidelines and Checklist
Your subject should be narrow in focus. Do not attempt to analyze or “solve” the entire text; rather,
focus on one aspect of the text (a single theme, symbol, recurring motif, problem, etc.), and build an
argument upon a close examination of that one aspect.
Whatever you write about, your goal must be to go beyond what we discussed in class. Do not just
reiterate what we talked about as a group; expand your discussion beyond what was said in class.
Title: Give your paper an interesting title that clearly indicates the subject and concerns of your
Introduction-Thesis Paragraph: Your first paragraph must (1) introduce the subject of your paper,
and (2) present your thesis regarding that subject. In other words, in this opening paragraph you
must clearly establish the problem that your paper will explore, and the argument that your paper will
attempt prove. Get right into the specific topic that your paper will address, and tell me what you are
going to argue and what you will prove. (See the “Dos and Don’ts of Thesis Writing” at the end of this
document for further clarification).
The body paragraphs
1. Each body paragraph should be focused on developing and establishing only one point in support
of your thesis/argument.
2. Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main point/idea you will
develop in that particular paragraph, and how that information will support your larger argument.
3. Each body paragraph should present textual evidence, and close reading/interpretation of that
evidence, in support of its main point/idea. Always support your claims using textual evidence.
Analyzing Quotations: When you quote from the text, be sure to (1) select quotations that demand
interpretation (are rich in meaning that needs to be explained), (2) lead into your quotations (that is, set
them up or introduce them in some way), and (3) interpret at length those quotations for your
reader. Do not assume that your reader automatically understands the implications of whatever
quotation you include; you need to always explain how you read and interpret those quotations.
Do not allow your quotations to replace or take over your argument. If you can paraphrase a quote in
your own words, then you probably don’t need to cite it. Instead, you should only include quotations
that demand your interpretation and analysis, and that support your argument.
Remember to use the present tense when writing about works of literature (e.g. Matryona tells the
narrator about her husband; Tolya decides to go out on Public Murder Day).
Keep in mind that your audience is familiar with the text, and therefore you should refrain from
retelling. Focus primarily on explaining your own ideas. If your paper reads like a book report, then
you are not engaging in literary analysis.
The conclusion: Do not retell your entire paper in an abbreviated form in the concluding paragraph.
Rather, the conclusion should leave the reader with a clear idea regarding the importance or relevance
of what was discussed. For instance, you can address why your idea is important to understanding the
text, or how it relates to other themes of the text, etc. While summing up some main points, the
conclusion should nevertheless provide a fuller understanding of the text by touching on some new
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