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ERH 203: Ways of Reading, Lt. Col. Hodde

This course research guide is created for Lt. Col. Hodde's ERH 203 class.

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Your Assignment

Close and Critical: Two Lenses for a Short Story


Life can appear to be a ‘hot mess’, but the mess of life also bears fruit for short fiction. In “Why I Write Short Stories," John Cheever claims the short form is a ‘literature of the nomad’ for narrating our journeys through intense episodes. By conjuring fictional worlds, characters, and points of view, story writers hope to make sense of what’s wonderful or bewildering about the human experience. They achieve this through a kind of ‘unity of effect', the economic use of literary techniques that immerse readers in accumulating details during a brief encounter. But as we become enchanted with these unifying effects, how might we also consider outside lenses to fully leverage a story’s power?

Your Stories

  • Shirley Jackson (The Lottery)
  • Alice Walker (Everyday Use)
  • James Baldwin (Sonny's Blues)
  • Raymond Carver (Cathedral)
  • John Cheever (The Swimmer)

Your Assignment

  • Choose one story to read for class.
  • Compose a close reading (1000+ words) that illustrates and interprets how that author achieves a ‘unified effect’ using two formal elements.
  • Drawing on initial formal reading, then argue for whether your sense of story’s meaning might change or develop by exploring another theoretical lens (new historicism, structuralism, psychoanalytic, etc.) by researching and citing 1 article of literary criticism.
  • Choose one that provides context beyond the text itself (an additional 400–500 words).
  • Your thesis should forecast and conclude by acknowledging which approach and reading discoveries seem more valuable to you as a contemporary reader.

Draft Schedule

  • Thursday, 2/29: Preston Library Research
  • Thursday, 3/7: PEER REVIEW Essay Drafts (1,000 words minimum in class; -5 if no draft)
  • Sun, 3/10 TAPS: Essays Due (1500 words; -5 points per day late)


MLA. Cite directly from one of the four stories we’ve discussed. Be sure to use proper MLA format to cite within the essay (author pg.) and in Works Cited.