First Essay Assignment

“What Will Be Done?”

It is September 1917. Taking a break from the turmoil in St. Petersburg, I assemble my revolutionary reading group. There are four people in our group. One member, Jesse, is not a particularly educated guy and he has seen his share of trouble. Still, Jesse’s a good-hearted young man who consistently looks for the positive in life.  In contrast, another member, Walt, has an inflated ego—indeed, he is a genius who was part of a team that won the Nobel Prize!—and he has become profoundly cynical with age. I have to be on guard when Jesse and Walt get together. Although they ran a lucrative business together before they became revolutionaries (of course, Walt has a business degree), they have an on-again, off-again turbulent relationship.  Fortunately, I also have you, our fourth member, to rely upon.  As someone who is smart, insightful, and uncannily diplomatic, you will know how to calm the room if Walt and Jesse come to blows.

Tonight, we are discussing two of V. I. Lenin’s greatest revolutionary tracts, “What is to be Done?” and “State and Revolution.”  At first, the discussion seems to be going well. However, when we come to the topic below, the tension rises perceptibly between Jesse and Walt.

Jesse says:  “Yo, I found ‘State and Revolution” to be surprisingly reassuring. When I read “What is to be Done?” I was totally bummed out, you know, like dictatorily!  Yet, Comrade Lenin’s work from this past summer has convinced me that the sacrifices we all make for the revolution now will pay off big-time for everyone down the road.

Walt listens in stony silence, squints his eyes, and then replies indignantly:  “Jesse, you’re just as ignorant as when we first met in my chemistry class!  The same dictatorial spirit that you saw in “What is to be Done?” is equally present in “State and Revolution.” It will be present in the revolution forever!”

I can see where this exchange is going, and it will not end well.  Rather than risk alienating my two friends, I turn to you and ask: “Who is right, Jesse or Walt?  And please don’t waffle.  The revolution is coming.  I want a firm and unequivocal answer, and I want it now!”

With whom do you side, Jesse or Walt?

Essay assignment:

Please write an essay of no more than 5 typed, double-spaced pages (12 point font) in which you respond clearly and cogently to this question. Your essay should have a carefully-chosen title.

In writing this essay, your challenge is to defend one position against the other. Using only your assigned readings up to this point in our seminar to support your argument, commit yourself firmly to either Jesse’s or Walt’s position.  Just as in our class debate, you should state both your argument and the argument an opponent will likely use against you. Your job is to convince your reader that you are right and the other person is wrong.

NOTE:  You are writing one paper, not two papers. Make sure you are answering this question and not some other question you would rather answer.  Use evidence from your readings.  Yet be concise and to the point.

When referring to your readings, feel free to use any simple citation form (e.g., author and page).  When you use quotations, remember this rule: Quotations do not speak for themselves!

Finally, don’t forget the Shaker hymn: “ ‘tis a joy to be simple . . .”  State your argument boldly; justify it in a logical fashion; when you are done, stop.

The Honor Code applies! It is fine with me if you discuss this assignment with your classmates. However, please do not ask them or anyone else (outside of the Writing Center) to read or critique your work. Your essay and argument must be absolutely, completely, and unmistakably your own work.  I strongly encourage you to seek the assistance of an advisor in the Writing Center.  If you like, feel free to send me a draft of your introductory paragraph in the coming week. I will be glad to comment on it.

This assignment is both straightforward and challenging. I strongly recommend that you begin it immediately. The sooner you begin, the easier it will be to write a coherent argument. My expectations are not unreasonable. I merely expect you to compose the five best pages of prose that you have ever written in your life.

Please observe the following rules without exceptionIf you tend to forget things, as I do, re-read these rules and internalize them:

Your essay should be in Word format (no Google Doc, PDF, or any other mysterious format). Please use the following structure to name your document: [put your name here].firstessay.doc

Your essay is due by 9:00 a.m. next Tuesday, February 25. (Yes, you may send it earlier.)  Please send the essay as a simple email attachment that I can easily open.