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Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 
Analyzing “The Five Bedroom, Six Figure Rootless Life”

You've worked on analyzing the Peter Kilborn New York Times article about the Link family, an upper-middle class family living in Alpharetta, Georgia. This family is profiled because they are typical of a “growing segment of the upper-middle class, executive gypsies.” (paragraph 6).  

Kilborn refers to the Links and other families like them as “relos” because they are continuously relocating, following the economic trade winds.  They are employees of large, powerful, rich, multinational corporations that merge and expand and contract and spin off in whatever direction profits dictate, and if they want to maintain their employment, or their status, they have to be prepared to move around the country wherever they might be needed.

Why should we be interested in the Link family?  They aren’t celebrities; they’re not famous; they haven’t achieved anything specifically.  What’s the appeal?  Why write a profile about them?

The Links are interesting to us because they are typical, representative—not because they are special.  They are representative of a particular lifestyle that many people in America want to have.  Observing them helps us understand something about ourselves, our aspirations.  This is a typical family from a particular social class living the latest installment of the American dream.  They’ve attained much that we  would like to attain.  (I’m using “we” loosely—you may not personally want what they have.)  

So now that they’re “living the dream” the next question is—well, what’s it like?  Are they free?  Are they happy?  Is it everything they hoped it would be?  Kilborn may not openly ask or answer these questions (they’re a poet’s questions, actually)—but the way he communicates his observations, the impressions he creates by the way he describes things, let us know his answers just the same.  He has his own impressions and those come through in the writing.  You might wonder if he’s being fair to the Link family; would you want your family to appear in this light in an article in the New York Times?  Did he betray their trust by painting them in a negative light, or did he do them (and us) a service by showing the truth about their struggles?

After reading an article like this, readers may be asking themselves the same questions Kilborn asked while he was observing the Links: Do they like their life?  Are they happy?  Is this a life worth striving for?  If Kilborn has done his job well—if he’s provided enough information and objective description, along with the subjective impressionistic description, then readers will be able to form their own opinions.  Yes, the Links are happy; no the Links are miserable.  

The profile writer’s job is to give us enough information, enough observation, that we can understand his attitude, his perspective, while also being free to form our own impressions.  This is what the writer thinks, we can say, and this is what I think.  If he’s done his job well, then he’s given us enough objective description and information so that we can form our  own impression of the Links as we observe them (via Kilborn’s description).  It’s not always easy to separate our own attitudes and impressions from those of the writer, but it’s possible, and sometimes necessary if you want to think for yourself.  

In your own responses to the analysis exercise on Wed., this room for a difference of opinion, the support for different impressions, became clear as some of you interpreted Kilborn’s attitude toward the Links as positive and some interpreted it as negative:

  • Some felt that the Links are materialistic, stuck-up, unstable, cut off from reality, living cookie cutter lives in a cookie cutter town.  They feel that Kilborn is showing how they live a warped lifestyle.  (This was the majority opinion.)
  • Some felt that the Links are a likable family and that Kilborn is showing them to be hardworking, active, wealthy, dedicated and loving people. (A small number of students felt this way.)
Is someone wrong here?  Not really.  But it does point to the fact that information and description create different impressions on different readers.  One more example.  Remember when it’s noted that one of the children scores a “78” on a Spanish test, and within a week that child has a tutor?  Kilborn doesn’t tell you what to think about that, but different readers may form different impressions:

  • Some might feel that this is an example of how involved Kathy Link is with her kids—she gets them help as soon as they need it.
  • Some might feel that this is an example of Kathy Link translating her own status anxiety into unnecessary pressure on her daughter to be perfect.  Money is always the answer. 
Tough to say which is impression is “right,” isn’t it?  We all have our own opinions about it, including the Kilborn whose disapproval is subtle, but there.

There’s much in this article to make readers feel like the Links are living the American dream—the big house, the big car, the attractive, safe neighborhood, the good schools, parks, sports, etc…the Links seem to have the best of practically everything.  But then, despite this, there’s much in this article to make the reader feel like the Links are living the American nightmare—the lack of individuality and freedom, the stress of being in relentless motion, the lost sense of community and friendship, the strained family (father is always away), and lots of status anxiety (kids call it peer pressure).

It’s a great article that gives us a lot to think about, and we have something to think about because this profile is so good at closely observing its subject and presenting those observations skillfully.

Profile essays above all closely observe their subjects. They give us an “insider’s view”—a close up perspective—and they ultimately offer readers, not only information about the subject but the writer’s impression of the subject, too.  They collect observations, gather information, and then select the material they hope will communicate to readers a coherent impression—what Trimbur refers to as the “dominant impression.”

That is why, when you recognize that you are reading a profile, you ought to know right off the bat that you are not reading purely objective reporting or objective analysis; because you have an awareness of the genre, you know the writer has been free to include (sometimes subtly, sometimes very obviously) his or her own subjective impressions as well.

The whole thing has the effect of putting a very human face on what might otherwise be very dry, abstract subject matter.  That’s why is such an appealing and popular kind of article to read, and to write.  In the case of this article and the next one, these writers are putting a human face on some very abstract cultural and demographic trends like the increasing appearance of a certain brand of affluent but transient suburbia; or the rise of the politicized “megachurch.”  The profile makes these issues more accessible, more understandable, to more people, and it is a genre frequently used in newspapers and magazines, and even on news broadcasts.

It’s an important critical thinking skill, not only as a reader and a writer and a listener, to develop the ability to separate what’s been fused in the profile—that subtle combination of fact and impression.  It’s only a small step to being able, later, when you’re evaluating the validity of arguments, to tell the difference between “fact” and “spin.”

The handout “Objective vs. Subjective Description” looks closely at two kinds of description, to give you an idea of this subtle difference between fact an impression.


ASSIGNMENT
 Analyze the article by Jeff Sharlet, “The Soldiers of Christ I” for Monday. 
Find three examples of objective description
and three examples of subjective description.





 

 

 

     

 


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