Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Complete Short Sample Essay: Adapted from Sheridan Baker

The following is a very short sample adapted from an essay on pages 128 through 129 of Sheridan Baker, The Complete Stylist and Handbook (New York: Harper and Row, 1980):
For most Americans, the stock-market crash was not the worst thing about the Depression. True, it carried away billions of dollars of investors' money, but relatively few felt directly affected. Few owned stock, and for most, the market collapse was something that happened to other people. Of course, the stock-market collapse was only the trigger, and more and more Americans soon found their lives directly affected. By 1932, twenty-five percent of the workers had no jobs. Yet, for many Americans, the worst thing about the Depression was not the bank closures, or being out of work, or even shortages of food and clothing. For many, the worst thing about the Depression was it lasted so long they almost gave up hoping times would ever get better.

George Harris of Wellsburg, West Virginia, is a good example of how the Depression hit most Americans. In 1931, Mr. Harris had a job with the Green Coal Company working on a boat that pushed coal barges up and down the Ohio River. His income was generally pretty good, and Mr. Harris had managed to buy a small farm just outside of town. But cutbacks in industrial production, particularly in the production of steel, soon forced cutbacks in coal mining as well. And in August of 1931, Mr. Harris was laid off. The next year, in 1932, the McLain County Bank closed, and with it went the only savings the Harrises had, $400, although he did later manage to collect ten percent of his lost savings. And so for the next seven years, Mr. Harris bounced from job to job, whatever he could get: a few days here, a few days there. He was thus able to hold onto his small farm, and he raised most of the food on it for the Harris family for the next seven years. Mrs. Harris, too, helped to economize by making most of the family's clothes and by repairing things when they wore out. In this way, taking one day at a time and living as simply and frugally as possible, the Harrises managed to survive until, in 1938, Mr. Harris once again got a secure and well-paying job, this time with the County Road Commission. The Harris family is therefore a good example of how the Depression hit a lot of people.

As with the Harrises, for many Americans, the worst thing about the Depression was not the deprivation; it was simply that the Depression went on year after year. As Mr. Harris observed, "Seven years is a long time to keep hoping. It just went on so long." Like the Harrises, many lost some savings, lost their jobs, and had to tighten their belts, but also managed to survive. The stock-market collapse had initially seemed far away, but its shock waves reverberated through the entire economy for so long that a great number of Americans came to fear that the Depression would never end. Toward the end of the 1930s, however, it did begin to ease, though full recovery occurred only in the wartime economy of the early 1940s, when Americans' worst fears turned to worries other than the economy.

Note the three types of paragraphs: an introductory paragraph beginning broadly and narrowing down to its final sentence as thesis statement; a body paragraph with initial topic sentence, several supporting sentences, and final concluding sentence; and a concluding paragraph opening narrowly focused on its initial sentence as restated thesis statement before broadening out.

I'll offer this to my summer students for the purpose of analyzing essay structure.

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At 5:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope your summer essay class is a success. The examples you have listed should be very useful, however; I have seen more than one case of the "that-that's". For example from this short essay - "For many, the worst thing about the Depression was that it lasted so long that they almost gave up hoping that times would ever get better.". What is the use of the three "that's" in this sentence?

It would have the same message without them - "For many, the worst thing about the Depression was it lasted so long they almost gave up hoping times would ever get better."

This one of my pet peeves with a lot of the written dcumentation my associate put together. Not sure how academia looks at it though.


At 7:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good point, Jay. I'll edit 'that' for my class.

Jeffery Hodges

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