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Sample Essay

Note: The following sample essay is color-coded (in the first half) to show SOME of the instances where the essay meets each criterion.  What can you see in the second half?

Traveling Through Hills: A Comparison

by Rebecca Eaker

Sacrifice often goes hand-in-hand (5) with decision-making.  One thing must often be given up for the benefit of something more desired.  It is difficult enough to make a decision, knowing that the outcome will affect those around you.  However, it must be more complicated still to make a decision that affects an unborn child that can neither voice its opinion nor fight back.  Both Jig in Hills like White Elephants and the speaker from Traveling through the Dark” (9) are faced with such a decision in two very different situations.  However, at the same time, the situations do, in some ways, overlap.  They share a striking conflict, the possibility of regret, and inevitable sacrifice. (1)

The speaker in “Traveling through the Dark” is pitted (5) in conflict with his own conscience.  Having spotted a dead doe, he stops his car to move it out of the narrow road.  His intention is to throw it into the river.  He aims to clear the way for other drivers because, as he says in line four, “to swerve might make more dead.” (7)  However, he discovers that the doe is “large in the belly” and “her side [is] warm.”  The doe is pregnant and the fawn she is carrying is still alive.  Only then does he hesitate; he is probably wondering if it is best to leave the doe where it is, to give the fawn a chance.  In line seventeen, as he is making his decision, he says, “I thought hard for us all- my only swerving.”  This refers back to line four, implying that his conscience is weighted (5) with the decision of choosing between the life of a helpless, unborn fawn or the possibility of a lost human life, unsuspecting of a deer in the road.

            Jig in “Hills Like White Elephants” is also struck with a dilemma in which she must decide between two things that are important to her.  The American, her lover or boyfriend, argues that she should get an abortion and terminate the life of the child she is carrying.  However, it is obvious that the child means something to her, or else she would have the operation without argument.  The American attempts to sway her by claiming the abortion is “perfectly simple,” “perfectly natural,” and “the best thing to do.”   Furthermore, he plays with her mind by saying he “[doesn’t] want [Jig] to do it if [she doesn’t] want to.” (6)  This makes it seem like he really does care about her; it is probably intended to make her feel as though she is being selfish, thereby influencing her to have the operation for his sake.  Jig is obviously worried about their relationship, concerned whether or not “things will be like they were.”  At first she submits to the idea of abortion, believing that after she has it “everything will be fine.”  Later, though, she tries to convince the American that if they have the child “they could get along.”  She must decide whether she will listen to the American or follow her own path. 

            The speaker in “Traveling through the Dark” undoubtedly knows that whichever path he follows, he will be faced with regret and sacrifice. (2)  The imagery of “the warm exhaust turning red” suggests that either way his conscience will be blood-stained by sacrificing a life.  By leaving the doe in the road (3), he will be assured that he did not kill an unborn, powerless fawn.  However, he will have to live with the thought that he may have caused a human death (3) by causing an unsuspecting driver to “swerve” to avoid hitting the deer.  Just the opposite (2), if he throws the doe into the river(3), he will regret having killed the fawn (3); however (2), he can sleep soundly knowing that he did what he could to prevent humans from having an accident (3)To save a life, he must sacrifice a life.  Either decision will sit heavy on his conscience.  The question he must ask is: which is more important?

      Similarly, Jig must choose which is more important: her man or her child.  She too faces sacrifice coupled with the possibility of regret.  When she asks the American if the child means anything to him, she is implying that she cares about it.  However, the American, declares that the child does not mean anything to him, he does not want anybody but Jig.   This signals that if Jig does decide to have the child then the American will be unhappy with the interference in their relationship.  Consequently, he might leave her.  Jig also states that “once they take it away, you can never get it back.”  This has double meaning.  It could be that once the abortion is done, she can never have the child back.  However, it could mean that once she has the child, she and the American can never go back to the way things were.  Jig struggles between sacrificing the child for her relationship or sacrificing her relationship for her child.  In either case, she might regret whatever decision she makes because in the process, she may loose one or the other. 

            The decisions faced by both Jig and the speaker in “Traveling through the Dark” are certainly not easy for them.  However, of the two, the speaker comes to a more obvious decision.  As he ponders the situation he “[stands] in the glare of the warm exhaust.”  This glare suggests that the right decision is not necessarily easy to see and that the outcome is unclear.  The tension mounts as the “wilderness [listens],” waiting to hear what decision the speaker will make.  In the last line of the poem he “pushed [the doe] over the edge into the river.”  Obviously, the speaker has chosen to save a human life, rather than a fawn that may not have had much hope of surviving on its own.   

            The decision Jig makes, however, is not as clear.  The American does move their luggage to the other, more fertile side of the tracks.  This suggests that he might be seeing things Jig’s way and that she, consequently, will keep the baby and they will stay together.  However, he “[looks] up the tracks but could not see the train.”  These words may imply that he is not seeing things her way and will leave if she keeps the baby.  This could influence Jig to get the abortion.  When he returns to her, she is smiling and she says, “I feel fine… there’s nothing wrong with me.  I feel fine.”  This response is somewhat ambiguous.  It seems to hint that she has made a decision at last, but exactly what is unclear.  Is she smiling because she is going to have her child with or without her man?  Or is it because she won’t have the child and will keep her man?

            Both “Hills like White Elephants” and “Traveling through the Dark” are about making a tough decision involving an unborn life.  The characters are faced with the prospect of sacrificing one ideal for another.  They must weigh their choices and judge which option they value most.  Without doubt they will encounter some regret or another.  However, in that respect, both are true to life.  No decision can ever be made without regret of some form.

Grading Criterion 1: Thesis:  This thesis embodies "unique insights" because neither I nor my students had ever held these two works together before, neither in class discussion nor in writing.  It isn't too much of a reach to compare and contrast two pregnancies--but this comparison-and-contrast ideas crosses species.

Grading Criterion 2: Organization: In this paragraph, the first sentence echoes the thesis, indicating that this essay follows a climactic order; that is, the previous concerns were preliminary to the ideas in this paragraph.  Within the paragraph, organization is signaled by overt transition words and phrases, such as "just the opposite," "however," and "either way" to discuss contrasting courses of action.

Grading Criterion 3: Coherence: The words "doe," "fawn," and "human" characterize the dilemma discussed in this paragraph, so phrases with those words oppose each other as the paragraph progresses.  Can you chart the dilemma discussed in the next paragraph about "Jig"?

Grading Criterion 4: Sentences:  A short sentence to highlight the quotation is followed by a longer, flowing sentence of explanation.  The phrase, "unsuspecting of a deer in the road," communicates its idea without having to be stated in a separate--and shorter--sentence.  That participial phrase is a "sophisticated . . . sentence structure."

Grading Criterion 5:  Vocabulary:  Sacrifice and conscience are personified, as if walking "hand in hand."  "Pitted" stands out in this brief topic sentence as a picturesque word.  Notice that two of the three examples highlighted are verbs; that's where to put the effort to use vivid words.

Grading Criterion 6: Evidence:  Rebecca includes four instances to suggest the American's tactics, not just one.  The following sentence adds the necessary explanation of the quotation, guiding readers to see what she sees--a hypocritical statement by the American.

Grading Criterion 7: Quoting:  Notice that this quotation and the next are fitted smoothly into sentences, not hung between sentences--and not introduced heavy-handedly with a formula, e.g. the lame "I have a quote."  The brackets in the quotation that follows adds a verb to make the quotation fit grammatically into the sentence.  That's what brackets mean--that the writer is stepping in to edit the quotation so it can be used in the writer's own sentence.

Grading Criterion 8: Research: No research was done for this essay, and none was absolutely necessary.  It would be interesting to know, however, how developed a fetal fawn has to be in order to survive; even though this poem doesn't suggest how old the fawn inside the doe is, the large belly and warmth could suggest the last trimester.  The poem would be more ironic if the speaker, ignorant of anatomy, dumps a viable fawn into the gully with its dead mother. 

Grading Criterion 9: Editing:  These two titles are CORRECTLY marked with quotation marks at each end because they are both short works that would have been collected with other short works (the title of the collection would be marked with italics).

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