Critical Contextualization

For the unit of Critical Contextualization, we were tasked with placing our own understanding of The Tempest in a conversation with other literary critics. To do this, we needed to read, understand, and summarize another scholar’s work, and then respond to them using our own critical analysis.

I came to my topic through my interest in the treatment of both Caliban and Ariel. What fascinates me about these two characters is that Ariel is incredibly obedient to Prospero, while Caliban is defiant. The question is whether it is in their nature or Prospero’s treatment of them.

This was the first essay of the semester in which I realized writing out my thoughts helps me to organize my paper. My outline focuses on my first impressions.

From this outline, I wrote my first draft. This initial attempt was a little unorganized and unfocused, but the peer review helped me to concentrate on the differences between Prospero’s treatment of Caliban and Ariel, and Ariel and Caliban’s treatment of Prospero, rather than on the power dynamic between Prospero and Caliban.

The first draft set up Caliban in one paragraph- both how he treats Prospero and how Prospero treats him, and then the Ariel in the second paragraph. However, upon looking at it closer over the weekend, I thought it would make more sense if I set up in one paragraph how Caliban and Ariel react to Prospero differently, and in the next paragraph set up how Prospero treats Ariel and Caliban based on their respect, or lack thereof. I also revised my summary of the two literary critics I was responding to in my second draft for grading.

After this second draft, I received feedback from my professor. Through this feedback, I  reorganized my paper entirely; instead of focusing on Caliban and Prospero’s treatment of Prospero in one paragraph, and then addressing Prospero’s treatment of Caliban and Ariel (which made for some long paragraphs), I ended up splitting up the paragraphs so that Ariel and Caliban were discussed separately instead of together.

You can see this restructuring in the third draft of my essay, in addition to the editing of the summary of the two literary critics. Then, I took advantage of another round of feedback from my professor.

This feedback helped my to realize that my evidence did not entirely match up with my claim. I was pretty disappointed about that because my thesis sounded so smart and insightful, but I also knew the evidence and thesis needed to match up. Because of this realization, I focused more on how nature and nurture affect Caliban and Ariel. My understanding of the two critics was not quite there yet in the third draft either, so I took another look at their analyses and revised for a fourth draft.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, our professor was not able to come to class one day, so he offered a peer review session instead. I decided to hand in my Critical Contextualization essay for another round of peer review. This was really helpful for me in terms of organization and summary of the two critics. With this peer review, I was able to hone my essay into a more concise and thorough reading of nature versus nurture in The Tempest.

I guess the fifth time’s the charm, because the fifth draft is where I ended my revisions.

Wow. That was a lot of revision. I think this was my longest process because I was most interested in the difference in dynamic between Caliban and Prospero and Ariel and Prospero. The most trouble for me in this unit was understanding the other critics and providing a valuable response to their arguments, because at times it seemed like every analysis that could ever be written was already written. Often, I felt like I was stepping on the toes of other critics. I quickly found that I was wrong; there can always be more contributions.

Throughout this unit, our professor kept repeating that other people do not need to be wrong for you to be right. And I think that is the most important lesson I learned from Critical Contextualization. There are so many complexities in literature that a plethora of people can be right as long as they back it up with evidence. Another lesson I learned is that responding to other critics should be a conversation, not an undercutting or attack of their ideas. You should pretend like you are having a lively discussion with the person, rather than a stagnant back and forth that does not accomplish anything.

The numerous revisions I made also taught me that sometimes, you have to give up a line you really like because it does not fit with your evidence. I was pretty proud of the extensive revisions that I did, because truthfully before this class I tried to avoid revisions at all costs, like the plague or a kid’s mysteriously sticky hands.

You can read more about this particular essay in the Presentation Portfolio.