Writing a Comparative Essay
Tegan explains about Writing a Comparative Essay
What is the point of a Comparative Essay?
A comparative essay makes intertextual connections in order to reveal something more about each text than would have been apparent if each text had been studied individually. This might be because you notice various small similarities between the texts that make you think more, or because the texts are talking about the same idea or problem but have very different points of view.
This difference reveals the ways in which context – the historical time and place a person lives – affects their personal values and beliefs. In this course you will think about how contextual values influence the characters in your texts, but also the composers of your texts, and even the way you respond to the text in the present moment.
Today we will plan your essay talking points – the contextual values you will compare and look at the general structure of comparative essays. You will also have the opportunity to read over some samples of comparative essays to become more familiar with this new ‘What Why Fact How’ structure.
Preparing the Core Essay
- A core essay is like a blueprint of your best argument.
- A core essay is a good place to start, but be aware that you will have to learn to write essays from scratch that respond directly to the question – NOT just memorise your core essay.
- Edit your essays over time and keep track of variations you have used to answer different questions on your computer.
Creating a Table to Plan your Comparative Essay – Elective 1
- Connection: Depiction of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice.
- Implicit or explicit?: Explicit
- Type of connection? (structure, theme): Characterisation
- Link to Contextual Value in Text One (technique & quote): Mrs Bennet is vulgar and silly reflecting the gentry’s view of the merchant classes and nouveau riche.
e.g. “My poor nerves.”
- Link to Contextual Value in Text Two (technique & quote): Mrs Bennet is understandably frantic that her daughters will die in poverty, reflecting 2nd Wave feminism. e.g. “Women only inherited through their husbands.”
Creating a Table to Plan your Comparative Essay – Elective 2
- Parallel: Depiction of women’s deaths in Frankenstein and Bladerunner.
- Type of parallel? (structure, theme): motif
- Link to Contextual Value in Text One (technique & quote): Elizabeth and Justine both die as innocents, their voices silenced as they are hanged or strangled. This reflects the 1800s notion of women as weak and passive.e.g. “ever since I was condemned, my confessor has beseiged me; he threatened and menaced.”
- Link to Contextual Value in Text Two (technique & quote): Pris and Zhora are not innocents, but quite sexual and dangerous. Their deaths are violent, one shattering glass and the other writhing on the ground, reflecting the women as assertive individuals.
What is the structure of a Comparative Essay? Introduction
- Address the comparative essay question using keywords and use some words of your thesis to answer it.
- Name Text One, with the year it was published in brackets after it.
- Indicate the genre, text type and composer of the text.
- Give a brief summary of Text One’s cultural context – no more than a sentence.
- Name Text Two, with the year it was published in brackets after it.
- Indicate the genre, text type and composer of the text.
- Give a brief summary of Text Two’s cultural context – no more than a sentence.
- Identify why the two texts are to be studied together – mention the idea that links them or the genre they come from etc.
- Identify the main ideas you are going to discuss and introduce them in the order they will appear in the body of your comparative essay.
A comparative essay takes a little more ‘setting up’ than a thematic essay. In your introduction, you should justify the comparative study and explain the major link between your texts which makes them suitable for intertextual studies. For example, a comparative study might reveal more about each text and create a synergistic understanding of the connections or perspectives being examined. Or, through contrasting the texts, the effect contextual values on each may be better understood. You should mesh ideas from the module and elective rubrics here.
Then, your thesis should explain whatever the best or most important thing that comparative study of these two texts reveals. Try not to simply go for a theme, like ‘attitudes to love’ as this is not a thematic study, and you want your thesis to be broadly appealing for different types of question. You might talk about how considering contextual values is important because it makes the responder wonder how much the time and place they live in shapes their own opinions.
What is the structure of a Comparative Essay? One Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence: introduce the connection/perspective which is in both texts.
- What Why and Fact of Text One, explaining how contextual values shape this connection/perspective.
- Name a technique and a long quote from Text One to support this.
- What Why and Fact of Text Two, explaining how contextual values shape this connection/perspective.
- Name a technique and a long quote from Text Two to support this.
- Comment on the similarity or difference between the texts, and what has been revealed.
- Conclusion sentence: Thus, link that revelation to your question and thesis.
It is best for a comparative study to have integrated paragraphs – meaning, that you discuss one connection/perspective, but both texts in the one paragraph. However, sometimes teachers don’t insist on this, or they complain if paragraphs become too long, so this has to be managed by not waffling and using economy of language.
You really want each paragraph to discuss not only the texts, but an historical fact from each of their respective time periods too. The topic sentence will always name the connection/perspective, and link it to the comparative essay question. Then, the older text’s ‘What Why Fact How’, meaning:
- What is the contextual value about this connection/perspective held by this time period?
- Why does this society hold this contextual value?
- What fact, historical event, publication, or influential leader can you cite as evidence of this value?
- How is this value evident in the text – provide a lengthy quote, perhaps a sentence or two, and a language technique.
Then, a comment about whether this is similar or different to Text Two. The younger text’s ‘What Why Fact How’ should follow, then a sentence about what this comparison reveals. This should be followed by a conclusion sentence that links this revelation to the essay question, and your thesis.
What is the structure of a Comparative Essay? Conclusion
- Use some words such as ‘finally’ or ‘ultimately’ to create a tone of finality. Don’t use “In conclusion.”
- Refer back to the question using keywords, and make sure you’ve answered it.
- Explain the ultimate message of each text.
- Explain the texts’ continued effect or influence on today’s audience or literature.
- Identify the continuing significance of the connections/perspectives.
- Confirm why the texts should be studied together – their synergistic value.
- Give a mature comment on the consequences of the social issues of these texts for society, and leave your marker with something deep to think about – a ‘beard stroking’ moment.
The conclusion should discuss the significance or consequences of this information you have gathered by making these comparisons. You should be able to discover an ‘ultimate message’ that each text has about an issue that still matters today – usually something that each author thought should change about their society – which is probably relevant to our society too.
Why do I have to integrate?
- In order to compare one text to another, you must discuss both in one paragraph.
- You will also find that you forget to discuss shaping and reshaping if you don’t integrate.
- For some, integrating leads to waffling, so stick closely to the paragraph structure!
How You should think about Historical Context and Values
- WHAT is the value? e.g. The gentry disliked the merchant classes / nouveau riche.
- WHY does the value exist? The merchants were getting richer than the gentry and aspiring to titles, which threated the static social order.
- Cite a Fact: It was thought that each person staying decorously in their place provided England with stability – something much needed when King George III was mad and the Prince Regent was a spendthrift.
- How is it shown in the text? Merchant class characters are portrayed as ignorant, embarrassing and obsessed with money. Mrs Bennet is a Merchant class character. e.g. “She [Mrs. Bennet] was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.”