The thing is, teachers aren't so different from you. You know how, when you're writing a paper, you suddenly start impersonating an English duke? And instead of saying, "Hawthorne writes about the dullness of office life," you feel obligated to say, "Hawthorne interrogates the liminal state of wage workers and their—too justified—impatience with the sameness of their everyday tasks"? Well, the same thing happens to teachers. Check out this email from a Sparkler:
We have a prompt - "In her New York Times book review, "A Designated Crazy" Susan Cheever observes, "When women are angry at men, they call them heartless. When men are angry at women, they call them crazy." In what ways is Girl Interrupted a book about the sexual constructs of madness? What role does the narrator's gender appear to have played in her diagnosis and treatment? How do gender relations inside McLean mirror those in the outside world? Further, how do gender attitudes impact the power structure of a cultural system that defines "sanity"?
Can you explain the question to me and what it wants?
I'll be forever in your debt.
This is a terrible piece of writing. At least two of the sentences could be interpreted six different ways, the language is vague throughout, and no clear direction is provided.
When you get an assignment like this, the first step is to uncross your eyes. Then, try to reword each sentence.
Original: In what ways is Girl Interrupted a book about the sexual constructs of madness?
Translation: Society says that being a really sexual girl means you're nuts. How does the book prove this point?
Original: What role does the narrator's gender appear to have played in her diagnosis and treatment?
Translation: Do you agree with me that the narrator is accused of being crazy just because she's a girl?
Original: How do gender relations inside McLean mirror those in the outside world?
Translation: Do men and women treat each other the same way in McLean as they do in the real world?
Original: Further, how do gender attitudes impact the power structure of a cultural system that defines "sanity"?
Translation: [The original makes no sense, but I'll try to translate anyway] Do you agree with me that because men are in charge, they're the ones who get to define sane and insane?
Here's the biggest problem with this prompt: it's not only badly written, but it's also telling you what argument to make. Your teacher wants your thesis to be something like, "In our patriarchal society, men control the definitions of sanity and insanity—and as a result, women such as the ones in Girl, Interrupted are unjustly committed to asylums." It's not that I disagree with that analysis; it's just that I don't think your teacher is encouraging independent thought, much less clear writing.
Sparklers? Do you think my translation is on point? If not, feel free to improve it!
To contact me, email firstname.lastname@example.org.