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Wolfsong Essay: Identity And Nature In Wolfsong - With A Free Essay Review

K. L. Hunt; J. Peters

Native American Literature/American Indian Literature 1 Apr 2012

Wolfsong is ingrained in events of real life, as Owens wrote it in response to the government allowing companies to come in and mine in areas that were within Native American reservations. A young Native American Tom Joseph, returns from college to his home located in the Northern Cascades to attend his uncle’s funeral and suddenly he is involved in a series of complicated events. This thesis focuses on the view of nature through the eyes of a Native American and with the idea of coming within the reach of nature, which is shown in this novel where a Native American hero is searching for his identity.

What starts out as an opposition against a mine in a wilderness area, soon joins where Tom is searching for his lost Indian identity. In this valley Tom’s family is the last family of Indians in this area. Tom goes through a lot of events where his mother is dying, his uncle Jim has died and his brother Jimmy is almost fully crossed over into a dominant white culture and Tom feels that with all this going on, there is a loss of connection to his past. His pursuit for an identity also turns out to be a revelation pursuit as his uncle’s spirit seems to be guiding Tom. He must overcome his own imaginings of what an Indian is, and also the prevailing culture’s view of the “real” Indian as missing. Wolfsong describes how familiarity to the land and to nature are important in recovering an identity, and since Tom only appears to have small fragments of understanding what his ancestors once had. However, by walking in their footprints and living close to the same setting as they did, and by becoming familiar with the little known knowledge he has of them, Tom seems able to be able to visualize how they were formed through their association with the land.

Thus he appears capable of recovering fragments that he uses in order to create his own imagined self. Tom’s reliance on the place in order to find himself, underscores the importance of nature in the novel.

As this novel progresses, Tom Joseph is drawn more and more to the many facets of the valley and the peaks that surround it, which he calls home. Unfortunately, Tom has mixed feelings about his girlfriend who is a mixed blood Cherokee and the fact that she becomes involved with a prominent white family. His girlfriend becomes engaged to one of the members of the white family and this family attack Tom and his brother after there is a meeting on the development of the land for mining purposes. A fight pursues during this meeting and Tom severely injures the girlfriend’s fiancé.

It is interesting that Owens shows two important points in this novel, one being that I is filled with violence and shows that Indians are victims of violence. However, the Indian characters in this novel show that they give more than they get. It should be said that none of the characters can be classified as victims unless they forget their tribal identity. Tom is not portrayed as a saint or an outlaw but simply shows that all the characters have motivations that seem to cause great conflict. The white men are disturbed about the development of the project and what the tribe has experienced. It seems that whites take progress as development as it is their way of life and means of support and some of the Indians give in to the development of the land and the valley and adamantly resist.

This is an interesting novel and focuses on the view of nature through the eyes of a Native American. In today’s society, this scenario still continues to a certain degree between not only Indians and whites but other cultural persons whether or not it may be over land. It seems that more and more cultures are trying to continue in their quest to show the world what their true identity is.



I've deleted your teacher's comment which you included with your original submission in case you don't have permission to publish that (If you do have permission, you can use the comment section to add it again). It won't hurt to say, however, that your teacher wants you to work on "organization" and means thereby to suggest that you should develop your argument about how Tom recovers his identity in a methodical fashion and in a way that is rooted in textual analysis. Your teacher also wants you to use sources.

So, let's begin with some of the obvious problem areas.

First, your thesis is unclear. You say "the thesis [i.e., the essay?] focuses on the view of nature through the eyes of a Native American." I'm not sure what that means. Perhaps you mean that the essay focuses on a character's view of nature, which would be okay if you went on to specify, in the thesis, what is interesting about that view of nature. Perhaps again you mean to do that - to specify - when you refer next to "the idea of coming within the reach of nature," but I don't really know what that means either. Do you mean "become exposed to the joys and dangers of nature"? Or do you mean "experience nature in a way not mediated by modern technology or modern civilization"? Or do you mean "achieve a spiritual connection with nature"? Now whatever you mean here, you go on to say that it is "shown in this novel where a Native American hero is searching for his identity." Obviously that is going to be difficult to understand if I don't understand what is being shown, but even if I did understand that, I would still not have even a vague idea of how "coming within the reach of nature" might be related to the process of "searching for ... identity." So the thesis as a whole is much too vague.

A thesis statement is an opportunity to clarify for your reader what exactly your essay will argue, so it is important to get it right. Tell us precisely what you will argue. You can even tell us how your argument will unfold (which will force you to clarify how you want to organize your essay). Here's a rough template for this kind of (admittedly crude, but effective) thesis:

"In this essay I argue X. X is true because A, B, C. First I will prove A. Then I will prove B. Then I will prove C."

Here's an arbitrary example of what that might look like in an essay about coal mining:

"In this essay, I argue that coal mining should be abolished. Specifically, I argue that it should be abolished because it is dangerous for the workers, because it is harmful to the environment in which coal mining takes place, and because it contributes significantly to climate change. Accordingly, the first part of my essay deals with the continuing problem of coal-mining accidents; the second part examines the impact of coal-mining on the local environment; and the final part demonstrates that climate change cannot be adequately addressed without ending the use of coal."

Of course it is easy and more fitting to write this type of thesis for an "issue" essay, but you can do it for a literature essay too. What I want to demonstrate here mostly, however, is how the thesis can impose an organizational structure on your essay. Ultimately, you will reach the point where you can write a well organized essay without the aid of such an inelegant type of thesis, but for now you don't need to worry about elegance.

Clarity is more important than elegance because, when reading subsequent paragraphs, readers refer to the thesis to judge the relevance of the paragraph they are reading. It follows that when you are writing, you should be thinking about the same thing, asking yourself how relevant your paragraphs are to the development of the argument articulated in your thesis. Some paragraphs, it is accepted, will be only indirectly relevant; you sometimes need to provide context for your reader in the form of a brief synopsis of relevant parts of the novel you are reading. Your focus, however, should be on clarifying, elaborating, and demonstrating the truth of your argument.

Moreover, every paragraph should have a single, readily identifiable purpose. A paragraph that tries to accomplish more than one thing, usually ends up an organizational mess. Your second paragraph is an example of an organizational mess! It is trying to accomplish too much and ends up accomplishing too little. In other words, you are making too many interpretive claims: a) "Tom is searching for his lost Indian identity"; b) "there is a loss of connection to his past"; c) "[there's] a revelation pursuit [whatever that is]"; d) Tom must overcome false "imaginings of what an Indian is"; e) "land and nature are important in recovering an identity"; f) something about Tom learning "to visualize" how his ancestors (this seems to be what "they" refers to, though it doesn't quite make sense) "were formed through their association with the land."

All of these claims indicate to me that you have a sophisticated and complex understanding of what is going on in the novel. That's great, but a complex understanding is one that is necessarily difficult to articulate clearly. You need to organize these claims into manageable groups. Note that the first part of the paragraph focuses on what Tom lacks: a sense of identity, a sense of connection with the past, a proper sense of what an Indian is. The second part of the paragraph focuses on the solution to the problem: familiarity with [not "to"] land and nature is [not "are"] important in recovering identity. Perhaps it would be enough, then, to divide the paragraph into two paragraphs. But that will depend on how much textual citation, reference, and analysis you include to justify your claims.

The general absence of such citation, reference, and analysis is, of course, the other problem with the paragraph. There is no point in making a series of great interpretive claims about a novel if you are not going to justify those claims. You want something that looks like this;

"Tom suffers from an identity crisis. We can see this from the following event(s): [Event A]. This event demonstrates that what Tom specifically lacks is a connection to his Indian identity. This lack is confirmed in 'Passage X.' This passage shows [explain how it shows this] that Tom's identity crisis stems from his loss of connection to his past."

That's ugly as hell, and of course I've left out all the hard work (the actual analysis of events and cited passages) but you can see, I hope, that it has the form of a single, coherent paragraph.

Now once you've done that, once you’ve got your first, coherent body paragraph, you need a transition to another issue to be dealt with in the next paragraph. Something, again very roughly, like this (I'm making a blind guess about what the actual argument might be): "The novel shows us, however, that connecting to the past requires connecting to nature.” [And here you refer again to, and analyse, and explain how specific events or cited passages demonstrate the claim made in this topic sentence]. Note that that transition sentence refers to the previous paragraph ("connecting to the past") while announcing at the same time the topic of the present paragraph ("connecting to the past requires connecting to nature"). Generally, that's what transitional statements must do. They are also guideposts for your reader, reminding them of what you've said, and clarifying what you are about to argue.

Your third paragraph of the current draft ("Thus he appears etc.") has a topic sentence and a concluding sentence, which are two good things for a paragraph to have. The middle of the paragraph, however, is missing [again: reference to and analysis of events or specific passages]. Note also that the concluding sentence seems to cover only half of your thesis. It's exactly the right kind of sentence with which to conclude, but presumably what you ought to have shown, if you keep your thesis in mind, is the importance of nature specifically in the recovery of identity, not just the general “importance of nature in the novel.” Keeping your thesis in minds at crucial points like this in your essay (i.e., those points where you are making argumentative conclusions) will contribute significantly to the coherence of the essay and will make it appear to be very well organized, which is what your teacher, rightly, wants!

Your fourth paragraph ("As this novel progresses"), by contrast, has no transitional or topic sentence and no conclusion. It, in effect, only has a middle, and, frankly, not a very good one: you refer to events in the novel, but don't explain their significance. Either make this paragraph explicitly relevant to your thesis, or delete it.

Your fifth paragraph introduces new interpretive claims, but like the references in the fourth paragraph, the claims in this one are not in any explicit way related to your thesis. The same advice therefore applies.

Finally, your conclusion introduces more new claims, this time very vague ones about "this scenario" in "today's society." Writers can get away with a lot in a conclusion, because there's no good consensus about what to put in the final paragraph, but I strongly recommend avoiding claims that are vague or banal. Perhaps you could just summarize what the novel teaches us or what you think its importance is, or repeat, if you're desperate, a differently worded version of your thesis.

I've not addressed your need to include sources. I'm getting tired now, so I'm just going to assume that you know how to incorporate sentences that look like, "As Whatshisname argues, Wolfsong alerts us to the ‘something or other related in some way to my claim about Tom or nature or identity’.” The best use of sources, though, is the kind that generates disagreement: "Whatshisname argues that Tom is X, but we can only credit that view if we ignore passages like the following, which demonstrate that Tom is not X..."

Okay, I don't quite know how this review turned into such a monstrosity. My blessings if you got this far. Feel free to come back and share your revision with us, especially if it is the kind of substantial revision that comes at the cost of blood-sweating and tears!

Best wishes, EJ.
Submitted by: klh022

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