Guidelines on the Seminar Paper


Project Timeline:

There will be no class on April 4 because I have to travel to a conference that week. That will give you time to finalize the paper proposal, which must be sent via email attachment to abbcoy at by 8:00 AM on April 8 at the latest. Begin conceptualizing your seminar paper before that time, however, so that you have the necessary secondary sources available before the due date.

On April 18, we will have individual conferences in my office instead of regular class as a group to confer about the paper and resolve any outstanding confusions. You will present a portion of the paper to the class on April 25. The essay itself is due by 8 AM on April 27 via email attachment.

The proposal must be at least 1,900 words in length and the seminar paper must be at least 5,700 words (respectively 7 and 16 pages, properly formatted).

Seminar Paper (40% of final grade)

The primary goal of the essay is to provide compelling support for an interpretation of Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things that is 1) innovative and unique to yourself; 2) informed by previous scholarship on the novel; and 3) illustrative of at least one theoretical approach covered in class, such as feminism, marxism, reader response, cultural studies, or deconstruction. So long as you fulfill the source requirements described below, you can employ a combination of critical approaches (for example, by using gender to elucidate a binary opposition while deconstructing the novel or using psychoanalysis to elucidate a latent class conflict)

Begin preparing for this essay just as you would for any other essay: identifying a topic most of interest to you, a topic that you most want to investigate closely and think through deeply. If you have difficulty deciding between theoretical approaches, consider specific concepts from specific theorists most helpful in conveying the importance or explaining the complexities of your topic (e.g. Lacan’s mirror stage, Jameson’s pastiche, Derrida’s différance, Freud’s uncanny, Marx’s alienation, or Kristeva’s abjection). You can also use the literary critical essays on God of Small Things required as course reading as a model or inspiration for your own essay, particularly those that use the same approach which you yourself will be using (Nandi for feminism, Lutz for marxism, Mullaney for postcolonial criticism, and so on).

You can recycle any of the work that you have generated through the homework assignments in the seminar paper itself: extending one of your responses into a more formal and organized essay, incorporating the theory that you have covered for optional readings into the paper, or using discussion questions that you wrote as a basis for further inquiry and investigation.

Paper Proposal (20%)

In the proposal, you will identify the main theoretical approach that you plan to take to God of Small Things, the primary topic on which you will be focusing, your provisional thesis about that topic, and most of the sources that you will be drawing on to support your claims. You can reuse portions of the proposal in the seminar paper itself, so long as you integrate the material appropriately into the flow of the essay.

The proposal is less a formal writing assignment than a way to guide the research, organization, and conceptualization of your paper, keeping the focus clear, consistent, and manageable throughout the project. The proposal will also assist in getting productive feedback specific to your particular essay well in advance of the due date.


All in all, the proposal entails the following:

1). A paragraph clarifying the main topic on which you will be focusing, its importance in the novel, and its significance beyond the novel in literary studies or in the larger world itself (you can reuse this paragraph as your introductory paragraph for the essay);

2). A clear sentence-length articulation of your provisional thesis, or main argument about the topic (any good thesis is subject to revision as you consider the issues in more depth, so articulate your main argument in a nutshell as best you can based on your current knowledge without fretting about wedding yourself to it forever);

3). A brief outline that indicates the way in which you will organize the essay by identifying the focus and main argument of separate sections of the essay in at least four topic sentences.  Each of these topic sentences should i) clearly express an argument, not just describe the phenomenon of interest; ii) be complete sentences, not fragments, yet no more than one sentence; iii) be listed in the order in which they will appear in the essay (to indicate how you will develop the overall argument); and iv) relate to your thesis, though of course be narrower in scope;

4). A paragraph-long account of how you will use one work of your main theorist listed as required reading on the course schedule (sch.pdf) with the following information:

a) A survey of 2-3 main concepts upon which you will drawing, each expressed in your own words with quotes beneath for comparison;

b) An explanation of how these concepts apply to the novel and inform your argument about it;

c) Finally, an indication of how you might subtly remodel these concepts for your own purposes, whether by adapting them to a new context or outright critiquing them in some fashion;

5). A paragraph-long account of how you will use a second work of your main theorist not required as course reading, with the same information above (4a-c):

6). A paragraph-long account of how you will use one of the theoretical works recommended as optional reading, with the same information above (4a-c);

6). A paragraph-long account of how you will use a work of literary criticism, with the same information above (4a-c);

7). A synopsis of how you will be using any two of the remaining sources required for the essay (listed below). Each synopsis should summarize a key concept, argument, or finding from the source and, in a second sentence, explain how you will be using it for support or, alternately, how and why you plan to take issue with it;

8). A brief list or, if you prefer, a synopsis of any other source that you are considering using, that you are still in search of, or that you would like to have recommended to satisfy the remaining requirements;

9). Note down at least one concern that you have about the seminar paper itself, especially confusions about the theory, the sources, the requirements, the historical context, or the potential (and perhaps conflicting) directions that your paper may take;

10). Append an MLA-formatted Works Cited page listing the sources mentioned in the proposal, especially those found independently (cite Electronic Reserves materials as webpages).

Required Sources:

No websites count towards the minimum source requirements, although you can supplement the required sources with internet sources if they are appropriate and credible. Altogether, you must engage with, and directly quote, the following eight sources:

____ 1. A work of a major theorist from your theoretical approach of choice covered in class, optionally or otherwise (e.g., Freud or Lacan for psychoanalysis; Marx, Jameson, or Althusser for marxism; Derrida for deconstruction; Mulvey or Rubin for feminism);

____ 2. A second work by the same theorist of at least chapter length found independently on your own (see the table of contents, headnotes, and indexes of the Critical Tradition or the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism on reserve at the library);

____ 3. A work of literary criticism using the same approach, focusing on Roy’s God of Small Things, of at least chapter length, and either read for class or found independently on your own (see the footnotes or bibliographies in the required literary criticism and, most importantly, the MLA Bibliography);

____ 4. One of the optional theoretical works listed on the schedule;

____ 5. A work of either theory or literary criticism recommended as reading on the syllabus, optionally or otherwise, or found independently on your own;

____ 6. A second work of either theory or literary criticism recommended as reading on the syllabus, optionally or otherwise, or found independently on your own;

____ 7. A third work of either theory or literary criticism recommended as reading on the syllabus, optionally or otherwise, or found independently on your own;

____ 8. One contextual source: either a peer-reviewed work by a historian or other social scientist about one of the topics that you will be discussing in the paper (see the Project Muse or JSTOR databases, the Halle library catalogue, or Google Scholar), or a play, novel, or other substantial literary work to which Roy alludes in the God of Small Things.

Note: Textbooks, book reviews, or cursory materials under 10 pages, as well as works not directly quoted in the essay, will not count towards the source requirements. Make sure to engage with specific passages from your sources rather than vaguely alluding to the general ideas found within them.

Research Presentation (5%)

On the last day of the term, April 25, you will give a conference-style presentation drawn from your seminar paper. You will only have 10 minutes to present, which is equivalent to reading 5 pages of text (2 minutes per page is the golden rule).

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all coursework on your own, is imperative. The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own. You must acknowledge when you make use of the concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether it be by drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration. When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to signal as such (e.g., “So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your own writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says “X”). Writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source. All instances of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; second instances will result in outright failure of the course. There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, so there will be no exceptions to this policy. Make sure that your work is plagiarism-free before turning it in.

Formatting the Proposal and Paper

You must make at least a decent attempt to format the paper according to MLA conventions—not obsessively so but generally so. For example, provide parenthetical citations at the end of sentences with the page number and author’s last name whenever necessary, e.g. (Marx 55), and include those same sources on Works Cited page listed alphabetically by the authors’ last name. You can model citations on the hypothetical ones that follow:



Gillespie, Paula. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn Press, 2000. Print.

Work from the Electronic Reserves (or Other Website):

Haffe, Joquest, and Melissa Smith.  “Bioethics: A Third World Issue.”  Eastern Michigan University Electronic Reserves.  15 Dec. 2007 <>. Web.

Chapters from an Anthology or Collection:

Harris, Muriel. “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers.” A Tutor’s Guide: Helping Writers One to One. Ed. Ben Rafoth. New York: Heinemann, 2000. 24-34.  Print.

Freud, Sigmund. “Medusa’s Head.” Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David Richter. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 1109-11.  Print.

Cross listing to the Anthology:

Kristeva, Julia. “Powers of Horror.” Richter 1666-78.

Richter, David H., ed. Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.


Duvall, John N. “The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Mediation in DeLillo’s White Noise.” Arizona Quarterly 50.3 (1994): 127-53. Print.

Journals Found through a Database:

Johnson, Kirk. “The Mountain Lions of Michigan.” Endangered Species Update 19.2 (2002): 27-45. Expanded Academic Index. Halle Lib., Ypsilanti, MI. 26 Nov. 2002. <>.  Web.