Below is a sample of the kind of comments and corrections you can expect as a student at Sleight of Pen. A significant part of the feedback for this essay would of course be given vocally to our students during the lesson. (Feedback in this kind of detail in an entirely written form is given to students who only ask for essay review and marking. Please note also that feedback will vary depending on the tutor. Students are more than welcome to choose a tutor of their preference.) Click here to find out more about how essay or creative writing marking works with Sleight of Pen.
The essay was marked with a criteria of three expectations:
- The conceptual and logical strength of the essay’s arguments
- Whether the thesis was sustained throughout the essay
- Relevance and strength of textual evidence invoked to argue the thesis
- Clarity of expression
Feedback on the Essay
- The thesis needs clarification: if the American Dream is about individual freedom, then how can a desire to be free challenge it? You need to emphasise that the American Dream is only ostensibly about freedom – that is, the reality is that people need to conform in order to attain the dream.
- The introduction should also include an outline of the techniques you will discuss in each text. Nothing too specific, just something like ‘though a range of cinematic and dramatic techniques’ will suffice.
- ‘Competition’ within oneself is not a logically sound idea. ‘Conflict within oneself’ is more likely.
- The topic sentence of this paragraph suggests you will discuss materialism, but instead, competition is the focus. Competition and materialism are different issues – competition is timeless in human societies, but it takes a particular form in American society in the mid- twentieth century. It takes the form of competition for material wealth, and by extension, social standing. This is a point you need to make clear in your argument. Competition can involve competition for material wealth, but it is not in itself, materialism. The paragraph should either clearly start off with an indication that you will discuss competition itself, or competition for material wealth. If the latter, then you need to have more points about the characters’ pursuits to out-earn each other- that their judgments of one another revolve around each others’ levels of material wealth.
- The point about Willy leaving life insurance payouts to Biff is more a point about the tendency of these characters to equate personal happiness/fulfilment with material wealth. It is not directly connected to the theme of competition between individuals and conflict within oneself. So for this point to be relevant, you need to reshape your topic sentence so that it is about the consequences of an overly materialistic worldview/outlook, with conflict between and within individuals as one branch of the argument, and the equation of happiness with materialistic achievement as another branch.
- Your point, “American preoccupation with materialism and reputation leading to superficiality”, could be stronger. You need to point out what exactly is superficial. Superficial relationships, superficial ideas of self, superficial understanding of life’s purpose, etc, are all themes you can discuss.
- The relationship between these statistics on economic/job growth, and materialistic values needs to be established. Economic growth can entail greater consumer activity (more people buying more things) and higher earnings (which in turn is caused by greater consumption as business owners can afford to raise wages as their business make more profit). Job growth (increased ability to hire people) of course is again linked to greater consumption. If people in general are consuming more goods and services, then we can logically conclude that materialistic values have been sustained, if not heightened.
- A competitive nature is not the strongest point you can draw from Carolyn’s remark about image. Her remark is about materialistic values driving us to create superficial ideas of ourselves to sell to others.
- Again, in your topic sentence you need to make clear which aspects of reality are being distorted. Here it seems that the point is the distortion of one’s self-knowledge. In order to achieve society’s standards of success (The American Dream), one creates a false image of oneself as Willy has – a tenacious, ruthless man who never slows down. The reality is that human nature can never withstand the machine-like way in which The American Dream demands them to work. One of the reasons Willy gets depressed is that he mistakes what is natural and human as weakness and failure. It is those ideals of the American Dream – ruthless pragmatism and an unwavering drive to constantly beat one’s personal best and that of others, which have made him believe that guilt, doubt, and even compassion, are weaknesses which need to be weeded out of himself.
- As this is a comparative study, you should be highlighting points of difference between the texts. One of the major points of difference is the subplot of heterosexual conformity (the expectation that everyone forms relationships with people of the opposite sex) in American Beauty. No one is obviously gay in Miller’s play and that is because homosexuality was considered a taboo subject in his time, and was rarely made explicit, even in literary fiction. In the time of American Beauty, there were public debates about same-sex marriage in the 90s – it was no longer perceived as criminal or morally debased by most people, but there remained sections of society which continued to regard it as abominable – the colonel in the film who shoots Lester is of course an example of that. Important here is also the theme of conformity to standards of masculinity and how that is explored through the corporate success that the American Dream demands men to be, and the head of the nuclear family (family of a mother, father, and 2 or more children) which the Dream demands men to be. Lester fails to achieve this standard of masculinity, emasculated by his wife’s fierce ambition, and her obvious preference of successful businessmen over him (i.e., Buddy Kane). His murder at the hands of the colonel is both a literal and a symbolic one – on a symbolic level, the ending suggests that a man who fails to live up to society’s ideals of masculinity has no place in it.
Try to focus on symbols in the film, like the rose petals and the plastic bags. The rose petals which we first witness fly out from Angela Hayes’ jacket, and which later fill the bathtub she is in, represent a false, socially ingrained image of beauty. Its seductive power is reinforced by the way that the petals fly out and fill the shot, clouding both Lester and the viewer’s vision. The plastic bag and its perceived beauty presents a stark contrast to Lester and Carolyn’s notions of beauty (in the form of conventionally attractive women, elegant homes and perfectly trimmed lawns) Ricky, in believing the bag to be beautiful, relies entirely on his own intuitions of what is valuable rather than depending on society to tell him what is worth pursuing. And thus he finds beauty even in garbage.
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