Midterm Literature and Labor

English 294
Literature & Labor: The Business of American Life
Upload to Canvas by Sunday, October 31, 2021 by 11:59pm
*No extensions will be granted, unless otherwise authorized by university protocols related to accommodation needs. Plan your writing schedule around this assignment accordingly.
Description & Directions
The midterm is an essay that you complete outside of class (i.e., a take-home essay) and will upload as a Word Doc or PDF to the appropriate folder under the “Assignments” tab on Canvas. You are required to answer only one of the prompts below. Make sure to clearly indicate the number of the prompt to which you are responding on your paper. A successful essay will make clear and concise arguments, integrate quotes from the texts as examples to justify your claims, provide close readings that analyze the significance of your examples in relationship to your argument and prompt topic, and engage with the critical concepts discussed in class. Be sure to write formal essays with a clear argumentative structure (i.e., introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion). Feel free use the “Writing Resources” folder on Canvas as well as the university’s writing center as resources. The midterm assesses your critical thinking, reading, and writing skills. As you write, consider a text’s genre, form, theme, and/or imagery, etc. in relation to its historical, social, political, economic, and/or cultural contexts. Do not conduct outside research on the authors or texts. Prioritize your own argumentative perspectives. Cite any references to texts with MLA citations using the Purdue Owl (https://tinyurl.com/y8nhea2y). Your essay should be between 5-6 double-spaced pages, not including works cited. Use 1-inch margins and 12 pt. Times New Roman font.
Essay Prompt Options
Pick only one prompt to respond to for your paper.

So far, we have seen many different kinds of labor being represented in the readings: physical labor, working-class labor, small business ownership, authorship, reproductive labor, emotional labor, academic labor, and white-collar office labor, among others. Each text narrates these forms of labor using different formal strategies. For this essay, identify one kind of labor that interests you most, explain how you are conceptualizing it, and build an original essay around its representation across multiple texts. To do this, pick 2-3 primary texts (i.e., only the literature and/or film) and show how each text uses a unique formal strategy (i.e., genre, narrative perspective, cinematic elements, imagery, etc.) to comment on the theme of labor, as you have conceived it. In other words, critically analyze the formal features of each text to show labor is being represented and critiqued. Since the literature and film are created around specific historical contexts, you should also consider how the texts strategically use formal features to comment on some social, political, economic, or cultural ideologies of the time. To help provide some context your arguments, you might reference one of the critical essays and/or keyword readings. Your engagement with a critical essay or keyword essay, though, will not take the place of one of the primary texts. Rather it will be used simply as a support text to justify your claims. Consider this prompt a thematic study focused on the formal representation of labor.


Throughout the first half of the semester, we have seen how an individual’s racial and gendered subject position affect their access to labor and labor opportunities (“labor” here is broadly conceived, and, following Bousquet, also includes hidden labors and various forms of unwaged labor). Pick 2-3 primary texts (i.e., only literature and/or film) and, in each, demonstrate how a character’s subject position affects their access to labor opportunities, the American Dream, financial success and stability, or etc. Along these lines, you should also explain how the restrictions that these characters face affect their access to social belonging—that is, being seen as an included member of the American citizenry. In short, your essay should describe how the characters’ senses of belonging are impacted by their identity positions in various labor industries and, in turn, how these limitations have lasting ramifications. Of course, as we have discussed, it is impossible to fully separate racial identity from gender identity, but, since you have a limited amount of space to write, try to keep your discussions oriented around one guiding subject position. Nevertheless, you might also gesture to or include another subject position. Consider this prompt a character study focused on racial and/or gender identity.


One underlying issue across our discussions and readings has been whether or not it is possible to imagine viable forms of resistance amid capitalist institutions, especially those that exploit its labor forces in various ways. Pick 2-3 primary texts (i.e., only literature and/or film). Illustrate how one character within each text is subject to conditions that hinder her/his ability to advance in her/his career and how these conditions affect the character’s identity. Then, identify potential moments of resistance and argue for how and why they are important or empowering to the character(s). That is, you should first establish how a character is experiences regulation or subjugation before explaining how they assert forms of resistance. Portrayals of resistance can be evident in the plot or present in the formal construction of the character’s narrative. Since resistance is a very broad idea, you must clearly explain what you mean by resistance both early on in your essay to help situate the reader and later in the body sections of the paper to justify your claims and examples. Consider this prompt a thematic study focused on notions of resistance.

List of Potential Texts to Discuss


Max Apple, “Business Talk” from Ed. Richard Ford, Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work (2011)
Nam Le, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” from The Boat (2010)
Annie Proulx, “Job History” from Ed. Richard Ford, Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work (2011)
Ann Beattie, “The Working Girl” from Ed. Richard Ford, Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work (2011)
Cristina Henríquez, “Everything is Far from Here” (2017)
Wendy Wasserstein, “Uncommon Women and Others,” from The Heidi Chronicles: Uncommon Women and Others & Isn’t it Romantic (1991)
Wendy Wasserstein, “Isn’t It Romantic,” from The Heidi Chronicles: Uncommon Women and Others & Isn’t it Romantic (1991)
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007)