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Example of an English Response PaperWriter's Web

Titled "Family Values in The Pinhoe Egg," this response paper was written by Kathleen Lietzau (WC 2010) for a junior/senior seminar on children's literature and theology, and received an "A" grade. The full text of the paper is below, with commentary from Kathleen and Dr. Elisabeth Gruner, the professor for the class. Remarks in green are by Dr. Joe Essid.

The Prompt from Dr. Elisabeth Gruner

These responses are designed to open up the work under consideration for discussion. You should not need to do any outside research for them. Select a technique, theme, or passage from the text for close reading and discussion (the general themes for each work will give you some suggestions, and I will make other suggestions in class). Your paper should be a 2-3 page analysis of your selected topic; on the day in question, you will turn in the paper to me at the beginning of class, and use your knowledge of the subject to make a 5-10 minute oral presentation and to lead discussion on the topic. Your presentation should not be read, though you may consult notes. You will receive a grade for your discussion leadership and another one for your paper.

Family Values in The Pinhoe Egg

An apparent requirement in children’s literature is for the child protagonist(s) to be separated from their family in some way in order that they might come into their own without encumbrances. Usually, this is achieved through the author killing off either one or both of the protagonist’s parents, or making them absent in some other fashion. However, in The Pinhoe Egg, not only are Marianne’s parents present, but her entire extended family is as well, forming a tight-knit family unit where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. Thus, the separation comes in the form of “disappointment” expressed by the entire family. However, in the end, this “disappointment” only serves to highlight the failures of the family and their closed-mindedness.

We are introduced to the first of these disappointments, Joe, at the very beginning of the book, except at the same time we learn that it is because “Joe worked [hard] at being disappointing… Joe’s heart was in machines. He had no patience with the traditional sort of witchcraft or the way magic was done by the Pinhoes…. As far as that kind of magic went, Joe wanted to be a failure. They left him in peace then” (316). This is the first hint we get that being a “disappointment” in the Pinhoe family isn’t necessarily a bad thing to those who bear the label. Next is Marianne’s Uncle Charles, “And Uncle Charles had a humorous twitch to his thin face, quite unlike the rest. He was held to be ‘a disappointment,’ just like Joe. Knowing Joe, Marianne suspected that Uncle Charles had worked at being disappointing, just as hard as Joe did” (328). Meanwhile, at the beginning of the novel, Marianne is far from being disappointing, as she is in line to be the next Gammer, and she works hard to please her family. However, in the end, she works just as hard as her brother and uncle to be a disappointment, but unknowingly: all she tries to do is tell the truth in spite of her family’s negative reaction to it. Her own father exclaims, “Look what you brought us to, Marianne! This is all your fault for thinking you know better than the rest of us. The good old ways are not good enough for you” (652). Finally, the crux of the disappointment is revealed.

The Pinhoes are steeped in tradition, as Chrestomanci explains at the end. They have no real reason for their beliefs or traditions, except for the fact that they are based in the past. When these traditions are challenged in some way, however apparently small, as with Joe and Uncle Charles, they express disappointment. However, when someone threatens the entire belief system, drastic measures are taken. Gaffer Pinhoe had to be dealt with because he started going against the grain: “That did it, see. Gaffer said it like a prophecy, and Gammer couldn’t have that. Gammer’s the only one that’s allowed to prophesy, we all know that. So she told her brothers Gaffer was quite out of hand and ordered them to kill him” (638). The fact that Gammer is willing to kill her own husband because he infringed on her traditional role, as well as the fact that the other men in the family went along with it (for the most part) shows the dangers of such deep-seated beliefs, leading to such effects as the Briggs and Briggs article describes.

Additional challenges to Western mores spring from the novel’s representations of family and the individual’s relationship with it. Since Marianne, and perhaps even Cat’s, situations—i.e. having a present, if not always fully supportive, family around—are most likely more recognizable to the average reader of Jones’s books, there seems to be a definite message that it is ok to be a “disappointment,” breaking with tradition isn’t always bad, questions are good, and, most importantly, believe in yourself, trust yourself, as Cat tells Marianne. Yet there also seems to be an undertone that perhaps undermines traditional family values, in that Western society has high regard for a complete family unit, believing that is the key to happiness. Indeed, even other outcasts or disappointments in other children’s books still hold family in high regard, despite, or perhaps because, of the distinct lack of one. The Harry Potter series, despite the
Dursleys, keeps the family unit as the ultimate prize in life, as shown most strongly in the series’ epilogue. The Penvensies, the Murrys, and even the sisters in “Goblin Market,” also uphold the key idea of the family unit as paramount.
In The Pinhoe Egg, though, personal integrity is considered the most important thing for the individual. Yes, family is important, but so is questioning the assumptions that come with being born into a world, reinforcing the discussion in the Briggs article. This is almost certainly a reflection of the more modern context of the writing of the novel, with the advancements in feminism and encouragements of individualism rampant
in the Western world today.

Notes & Commentary

The author begins by placing this book and her argument in the context of a larger theme discussed in the class

The thesis refers to the theme required by the prompt, as well as the beginning of an analysis of that theme

The author takes a step back, and starts at the beginning, using this first paragraph to set up the support for the thesis. This paragraph is not simply an "info dump" in terms of quotations, nor is it a summary of the book. The quotations are chosen to support the thesis, and the author includes pieces of analysis with each quotation, building up to the main point of the paper.

The author includes a number of references to various characters in the novel, without explanation. As this is a short response paper, it is safe to assume the reader has familiarity with the text to save space for further analysis.

I like how Kathleen begins her paragraph. Not every topic sentence need be all-inclusive. This one achieves some variety.

The author links the book to the secondary article the professor assigned, again assuming familiarity.







The author refers to various other books read in the same class, again linking her analysis to class discussions.

The author ends the paper by placing this novel in the larger context of modern society, resisting the urge to simply restate her thesis. As in the other example of Brittany's paper, here we see more of the "extrapolation" (or "so what") that can make a humanities essay end strongly.

Works Cited

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