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Writing Prompt

Paper #4 Prompt and Proposal

We will be spending the remainder of this course working on your final research project (worth 25% of your grade). I say project, because you will not only be graded on the final, 6-7 page research paper, but also on all of the assignments and steps that lead up to it. The purpose of this research project is to gain a deeper understanding of the novella Passing by referring to outside sources, to learn to incorporate your voice/analysis with those of experts, and to practice employing MLA guidelines for citation and documentation. As with Paper #3, you are writing an argumentative, not an informative research paper.


Passing is the primary source for this project, which means you need to use it in a significant way (i.e., the novella should comprise, in some way, a third of your paper). Your paper needs to incorporate at least 3-4 outside secondary sources. You may use any type of source in your paper; however, as part of your 3-4 sources, you are required to find at least one of each of the following:

  • an article from the Rutgers library database, and

  • a reputable internet site.

  • (You may also use a video documentary, a book, published journal, or newspaper, but I won’t require these.)

In other words, you cannot find only 3-4 internet sources, or only 3-4 database articles. I want you to find a variety of sources, which will help improve the diversity and credibility of your paper. 


Your first step, then, is to decide upon a topic. As you are already aware, Passing is full of topic ideas. The key is choosing a topic that’s relevant to the novel and that interests you. Make sure to conduct some preliminary research to make certain that there actually is information on your topic. If you choose your own topic, you must make sure that this topic is researchable. You don’t want to get too far into your project before figuring out that you can’t find enough relevant sources. You may find your own topic, or you may choose from the following suggestions:

  • Passing was published in 1929. In what ways are the themes of racial passing still relevant today, and how have they changed? How might Nella Larsen view today’s attitudes toward skin color? You could also research how Irene and Clare’s story might look if it took place now, based on our cultures attitudes toward race.

  • How does Nella Larsen’s own autobiographical experiences as a light-skinned black woman in the 1920s come through in Passing?

  • Throughout the novella, Irene grapples with the morality of passing, which leads to mixed, complicated feelings toward Clare. How could the social factors in the 1920s shape Irene’s feelings on race and passing?

  • There are strong sexual undertones in Irene’s relationship with Clare. How could attitudes surrounding both sexuality and homosexuality in women in the 1920s shape Irene’s feelings about both herself and Clare?


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