Interpretation Essay (1200 Words)
Draft Due DatesThick Description: 3/1Final Draft: 3/15
Overview:In this paper, you will learn to apply your new analytical skills to a piece of media, specifically the musical Caroline or Change. In order to do so, you will need to become familiar with this musical (either watch the bootleg recording on YouTube, listen to the cast recording on Spotify, or read through the libretto). As you do, you should pay attention to the various ways that race, gender, and class are represented in the text.
Next, review the questions below and chose which prompt you will address in your analysis. Please note two things:
This is an analysis paper, not an opinion piece. Rather than describing what you like or don’t like and instead of deciding what is or isn’t good representation, you will want to ask HOW the representation in the piece works, what does it help us understand about race, gender, and class in the United states.
This paper requires a thesis. In other words, you are responsible for making a claim about this piece and its representation. (Hint: You should phrase this as explicitly as possible. Stating “In this paper, I will argue” help you focus on making a claim rather than an stating your aim)
Your analysis should help shed light on a particular aspect of the selected prompt. Please note you need 3 sources for this paper, 2 of which may come from the course readings/the recommended sources for the selected prompt.
Purpose:This assignment is aimed to help develop skills for recognizing and interpreting the representation of race, gender, and class in media in the following ways:
Encouraging critical practices when observing media by asking you to attend to the way representation works in this text
Encouraging engagement with key concepts in critical race studies and women of color feminisms
Encouraging information literacy by requiring students provide their own peer reviewed source
Prompt 1: The (Black) Family
Both the Thibodeaux and the Gellman family exist outside of the model of the nuclear family. What is more, each family seems defined by the breakdown in the relationship between mother and child(ren). And yet, the central relationship of the text seems to exist between Caroline and Noah.
For this prompt, you will analyze any particular aspect of how kinship is represented in this text. Identify what scenes, lines, musical motifs, or staging details offer us insight into that particular aspect. Drawing on this analysis, make a claim that allows your reader to better understand the way(s) Caroline or Change represents kinship.
Key Ideas from class: Intersectionality, social construction, controlling images.
Suggested secondary sources: Lose Your Mother Saidiya Hartman; “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” Hortense Spillers; In the Wake Christina Sharpe
Prompt 2: Transforming Identities
Caroline, or Change is set during the rise of the civil rights moment and, arguably, at the start of contemporary identity politics. And yet, Identity, in the play is something that seems mutable. In fact, the difference between “colored” and “Black,” along with the regional difference in jewish identity are baked into the plot.
For this prompt, you should consider how Caroline, or Change reaffirms or contests identity as a stable matter. Find moments where identity seems either naturalize or contested. How does this help us understand the claims the musical is making about identity (and) politics.
Key Ideas from class: Social Construction, Genre as World building, Intersectionality
Suggested secondary sources: Sister Outsider Audre Lorde; Twilight of Equality Lisa Duggan; Anarcho-Blackness Marquis Bey
Prompt 3: Social Death
Caroline or Change is notable for its use of innamate objects as characters throughout the musical, from appliance like the radio, washer and drier to natural features like the moon. But in what ways is Caroline herself rendered an object? In other words, why does Caroline feel more at home in the world of appliances and objects than among other people? In order to explain this, one might turn to afropessimism, and particularly the concept of social death—or the theory of how Black people in America are denied their personhood.
In this prompt, you should assess whether Caroline or Change accepts or challenges the theory of social death and/or how this concept helps us understand how the musical imagines Black life in America.
Key Ideas from class: Hegemony, Mass culture
Suggested secondary sources: Black and Blur Fred Moten; Slavery and Social Death Orlando Patterson; “The Possessive Individual and Social Death: The Complex Bind of National Subjectivity.” Grace Kyungwon Hong; “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism” Jared Sexton
Thick DescriptionIn preparation for this essay, you will be asked to produce a 300 word description of a single scene in the musical. For this assignment, you will describe in careful detail the music, text, and staging. You will not attempt interpretation yet. Rather, you will try to represent the richness of the particular scene so that even readers who are unfamiliar with the musical can understand the scene.
Although you will not likely use such rich descriptions in your paper (or if you do, no more than once), it is useful to practice really describing the art you are observing in careful detail. Not only will this improve your skill as a writer, but it will also let you practice slowing down and really thinking about the media you are trying to analyze.
Final DraftA full, proofread paper of no less that 1200 words that demonstrates not only your analysis but also your research practice. Includes 3 sources with proper MLA intext citations and a work cited page.
RubricA strong project will…
Demonstrate a clear understanding of the key concept of the chosen prompt
Demonstrate thoughtful analysis of Caroline, or Change
Utilize 3 sources in a way that demonstrates the strong influence those texts had on the development of you analysis
Well written, following all conventions.
A weak project will…
Fails to address the question raised by the prompt
Misunderstands, or fails to demonstrate engagement with, Caroline, or Change
Does not use enough sources, or uses sources only in passing, or fails to cite sources
Poorly written, excessive typographical errors to the point that it impedes comprehension.
Interpretation Essay (1200 Words)