Due: Wednesday, September 21
Format: leave a comment on this post
Length: two or three paragraphs
This assignment will ask you to start forming a sense of Maira Kalman’s purpose, audience, and context in her visual-verbal essay “Back to the Land.” First, re-read the essay. For this second reading, try to develop your observant stance into a more advanced, critical stance. To help you read critically, look for the following in “Back to the Land”:
- A pitch. Kalman’s essay is an argument; it presents information to make some sort of case, even if that argument or case is never stated explicitly. As you read, look for language that reveals the position or positions the essay seems interested in having you adopt.
- A complaint. Her essay is also a reaction to some situation, some set of circumstances that she has set out to address. To help you understand another person’s writing, it can be useful to figure out what caused the person to write the piece in the first place. Look for language that reveals the writer’s starting point. If you can find the position or situation he or she is worried about and possibly trying to correct, you will find it much easier to locate the argument (or the position the essay is asking you to accept).
- A moment. Lastly, Kalman’s essay (like all pieces of writing) is a response to the world conditioned by the writer’s particular moment in time. In your attempt to figure out not only what a piece says but where it is coming from, history is significant. When was the piece written? (Nov. 26, 2009) Where? (The New York Times blog in the “Opinion Pages” section) What else was going on at the time that might have shaped the writer’s ideas and attitudes? You don’t have to do hours of research for every essay you read, but on the other hand you don’t want to ignore the context of a writer’s moment.
Now, write two or three paragraphs explaining your sense of what Kalman’s purpose, audience, and context (her rhetorical situation) might be. Your post could address some of the following questions, which might resonate with the critical reading guidelines above.
- What in the world around her is motivating Kalman to create this piece?
- What is it about the time she is living in? What historical events or changes are shaping how she sees the world?
- How does the way she sees the world fit with the ways she sees/imagines her readers? Does she want to draw their attention to some issue or problem they might not be noticing?
- How does Kalman relate to her readers? Is she confrontational, caring, friendly, or… ? How do you get a sense of her personality or attitude towards the audience?
- What do you know about Kalman’s audience? Do they need any special knowledge to understand what she is saying? Do they come from a certain area or country, share certain values, or subscribe to particular beliefs?
- Why does Kalman try to accomplish her purpose through this combination of handwriting and photography?
- How do the photographs add to or take away from the effectiveness of Kalman’s text? Do the visual elements of the text help her accomplish her purpose? How?
- What thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors might Kalman wish to change in her audience? How would she like to see her readers respond to the piece?
- What other kinds of changes might she be seeking?
Keep pushing yourself to find and cite specific evidence from the text as you write this post. Avoid unsupported claims.
It is always possible that Kalman did not consciously choose to do some of the things you observe in her essay, but for now assume that she did and consider how this helps you understand her text.
“The Victory Garden movement began in 1917 in response to World War I food shortages. Since food had to be sent abroad to troops, families were encouraged to grow their own fruits, vegetable, and herbs.” — from Everyday Health