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Definition Essay

For your first paper (2-3 pages following MLA guidelines, See syllabus) define a term that you see as significant to your understanding of or that you want to argue helps a reader better understand The Epic of Gilgamesh, the “mythological” section of Genesis (Genesis 1-11,) the story of Abraham, (Genesis 12-22) or the Euthyphro in The Trials of Socrates or that contributes to your/ your reader’s understanding of a theme, character, or idea within the text. In class, I’ve defined or plan to define the following terms: myth, legend, folklore, hero, hierodule, archetype, anima, id, ego, shadow, legacy, sidekick, the Other, liminal, hubris (you must take into account both definitions), temptation, mother, father, and melancholia vs mourning (all in relation to The Epic of Gilgamesh); moral responsibility, just, hubris, a covenant, history, faith. fear, grace (in relation to Genesis 1-22) ; the Socratic Method, elenchus, dialectic, Socratic irony, Plato’s Doctrine of Eternal Forms or Ideas, conscience (In relation to the Euthyphro)

In your paper, you can announce in your thesis and explain in your paper how you see one of these terms as significant to an understanding of the text. Or you can define a term not included in the list above and explain why you think it’s important to an understanding of the text. For example, to answer the question “Is Humbaba in The Epic of Gilgamesh evil? (To me a very interesting question), you would define evil in your introduction, announce how your definition does or does not apply to Humbaba and why Gilgamesh and his mother see him as evil, apply your definition to examples and quotations from the text and argue why/how the definition does or does not apply. (You might also define the term monster and develop how it does or does not apply to Humbaba [and/or even Gilgamesh!])

Here are the conventions of a definition essay (which I expect you to follow)

The introduction

Define the term important to your argument in your introduction. Use definitions from the class when I’ve defined the term or explain why you are offering a definition other than the one I’ve provided. If I haven’t provided a definition of a term, you can use a dictionary or provide a definition from your own understanding. Be careful if you choose this last option: if you provide your own definition you need to be sure that your audience (me) will agree with it. If you are not sure, then persuade your audience (either in your introduction or first body paragraph) why your definition is valid or significant.
Write a thesis (usually at the end of your introduction) that is argumentative; announces how the term applies to the text, or a theme, character or idea within the text; and answers the question “So what?” (Why should your reader care about your application of the term to the text, that is, what makes your opinion significant?) .
An effective thesis does these things (try to do these things in the thesis you write)
Identifies a specific issue and your opinion (Put your lively, intelligent, interesting human voice in your thesis and your paper! The thesis “The Epic of Gilgamesh is a myth” is not an effective thesis because it hardly expresses an opinion. “The myth of Shamhat’s seduction of Enkidu expresses men’s archetypal attitude toward female sexuality,” on the other hand, is an opinion and suggests a general direction for the argument (see below)
Provides a clear and logical statement of your argumentative claim
Suggests a general direction for your argument
Indicates any related claims or opinions
Answers the question “So what?” (why your reader should care about your thesis)

The body

Support your thesis by writing topic sentences for your paragraphs that reiterate some aspect of the thesis and announce the main point of each paragraph
Develop your topic sentences by using examples, quotations, comparisons, or other modes of development from the text you are analyzing. Don’t summarize the text but use the text to explain the point you make in your topic sentence.
Evaluate your evidence: explain how the details of your example, the words in the quotation, etc, illustrate, bear out or otherwise develop the point you announce in your topic sentence
Address counterarguments to your thesis either in your first body paragraph or in the paragraph before the conclusion If for example you argue that Gilgamesh’s decision to kill Humbaba is a “poor” choice, you’ll need to explain why he wants to slay Humbaba in the first place (he in part wants to leave a legacy) and either refute or concede this counterargument. You might, for example, argue that Gilgamesh’s desire for a legacy is understandable given the lack of a meaningful afterlife in ancient Mesopotamia but by killing Humbaba, he commits an act of hubris and gets his best friend killed. And there are other ways of leaving a legacy as he learns at the end of the epic. (I often bring up these counterarguments in class discussion so it’s important to take good notes in class so that you will be able to address these counterarguments in your paper)

The conclusion:

Restate your main ideas and remind your reader of the evidence you’ve provided in the body of your essay to support those ideas.
Leave your reader with a question or comment that makes your reader well disposed to your argument or makes your reader want to keep thinking about your argument. Don’t hide behind a quotation. Avoid sentimental or patriotic clichés and don’t merely summarize.

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