Essay Topic for Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose:
Analyze and interpret the character of Josef. Who is Josef and what is his role in the story? Why is he important to the novel? What is his importance in terms of educating Yolen’s readers? In an interview with Yolen, the interviewer said, “Portions of Briar Rose containing homosexual content are one of the reasons it’s on the banned books lists.” Yolen replied, “The homosexual content is slight compared to ‘homosexual’ books. That is, there are no real sex scenes, and one bedroom scene that is really about politics, not sex. But I did not make up the pink triangle camps. Briar Rose deals pretty directly in one section with the infamous ‘Pink Triangle camps’ in which the Nazis’ incarcerated known or suspected homosexuals. In fact the “Prince” character is a gay man . . . . Because there is a homosexual character in the book, the novel has been banned in some places, and actually burned in Kansas City on the steps of the Board of Education by a right-wing religious group. I do not believe they read the book.” (Given that the Nazis burned books, the Kansas group’s actions are pretty ironic.) Your discussion of Josef’s importance in the novel could also involve a discussion of book censorship. Remember that a thesis statement asserts a debatable point–it doesn’t merely state a fact or factoid.
This essay must be a minimum of 1,000 words. There is no maximum limit on words or sources.
See the Grading Rubric for information on how your essay will be evaluated.
The essay must be in MLA format, with in-text citations and a works cited page. All sources must be on the works cited page, including the novel itself. You don’t need in-text citations for summaries or paraphrases from works of fiction. All you need in the citations for direct quotations from the novel are the page numbers since it is a given that Yolen is the author. I want you to base this essay on your own ideas and interpretations, but be sure to cite any outside sources if you use them and include them on your works cited page.
Be sure to use reputable information sources, and use scholarly sources if you cite experts.
You must submit this essay to Turnitin before you submit it for grading. Do so enough in advance that you can catch and fix any potential plagiarism or attribution problems.
Be sure to refer to specific passages in the novel. You need to demonstrate that you have read, thought about, and understood Briar Rose. Don’t assume that a few quotations here and there will suffice. Integrate discussion of the novel into the points that you make. As the Basic Paper Guidelines state, “Always keep your imagined audience in mind. Don’t imagine only your instructor or classmates; imagine the general public. Don’t assume that your audience is familiar with all of your examples or sources. When writing about a source, do not assume that everyone has read it. Ask yourself what your readers will need to know to understand the points that you are making. When we write something, we know what we mean to say. Therefore, it seems clear to us when we read it over—after all, we’ve just digested our own source material. But the people we should be imagining haven’t read everything that we have.”
When you refer to passages in the novel and use quotations from the novel, be sure to give context. Your imagined audience is a diverse group of people, most of whom have probably never read the novel. Your essay must be clear to them. You need to introduce the characters to your audience and give everything you write enough detail to make it understandable. Some of the general audience may also not know much about the Holocaust. Tell your readers what they would need to know to understand the arguments that you are making. Every semester I get a few essays that have only vague, and often random seeming, quotations and references to events in the novel, with most of the rest of the essay not drawing upon the novel at all. These give the impression of students who haven’t read the book but feel that by reading the cover notes, the study questions, and bits and pieces in the book, they can fake it. These essays simply aren’t any good, and the grades they earn reflect that.
Inspiration for the novel:
In an interview, Jane Yolen was asked, “What inspired you to write the story as a novel/fairy tale about the Holocaust? She replied,
I had thought about doing a book on the Holocaust for a long time, but quite frankly the idea overwhelmed me. Finally one of my editors, who was a rabbi’s wife, persuaded me the time had come to confront the task. Writers and storytellers are the memory of a civilization, and we who are alive now really must not forget what happened in that awful time or else we may be doomed to repeat it.
I ended up writing a young adult novel called The Devil’s Arithmetic (another Holocaust novel). The research and writing of The Devil’s Arithmetic took me several years. When I was done, I swore to myself I would never write another book on the Holocaust because it was such an emotionally difficult task.
However, I did!
The idea for an adult novel on the subject [of] “Briar Rose” had come to me when I was watching the documentary Shoah, in which the concentration camp Chelmno was described—a camp in a castle. Castle, barbed wire, and the gassing of innocent folk. It suggested the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” in a horrible way. Yet I did not want to get into that awful world once again. It took another editor to persuade me this book needed to be written.
Helpful Hints and Reminders:
Briar Rose is a novel. Don’t refer to it as a “story.” “Short story” is the technical term for a short work of fiction. A novel is a book-length work of fiction. (Anything too short to be a novel and too long to be called a short story is categorized as a “novella.”)
Write about the ongoing events in a work of fiction in present tense. Write about historical events in past tense.
Use an author’s entire name the first time you mention him or her, and simply use the last name after that. Do not refer to authors by their first names. Do not add titles like “Mrs.” or “Mr.” in front of people’s surnames.
Introduce expert sources, but don’t introduce them by naming the titles of their articles or books in the body of a paper. That information is on the Works Cited page and it does not tell your audience why these people are experts whose assertions can be trusted. Tell you readers what an expert’s credentials and areas of expertise are.
Discussion of Briar Rose must be an important part of your essay, no matter which of the topics you choose. Don’t just make a couple of passing references and spent the rest of the time talking about current or other historical events. Demonstrate that you have read and understood the novel.
Always keep your imagined audience in mind. Don’t imagine only your instructor or classmates; imagine the general public. Think of a diverse group of people with different experiences and values—most of whom probably have never read Briar Rose. Not all of them may even be familiar with the motifs of the classic “Sleeping Beauty.” Don’t assume that your audience is familiar with all of your examples or sources. When writing about a source, do not assume that everyone has read it. Ask yourself what your readers will need to know to understand the points that you are making. When we write something, we know what we mean to say. Therefore, it seems clear to us when we read it over—after all, we’ve just digested our own source material. But the people we should be imagining haven’t read everything that we have. Don’t simply start talking about Gemma, Becca, Josef, the Avenger, and others as if your readers have any idea of what you are talking about. Don’t say things like “In chapter 9 . . . .” This means nothing to the general audience. Explain. Identify. Give context. Don’t assume your readers know what Chelmno is, and remember–it was not typical camp–victims didn’t “live” there. And give all of your quotations context, as well.
Don’t refer to yourself, your experiences, or your feelings. Don’t use first person singular (I, me) unless you are quoting someone.
Don’t use second person (you, your). Use first person plural (we, us, our) or third person (they, them, their) instead.
Try to come up with an interesting title, not simply Essay Two or Briar Rose Essay. Keep a general audience in mind. Have an informative title.
Avoid “empty adjectives.” These are words like “interesting,” great,” “wonderful,” “good,” “brilliant,” “entertaining,” “amazing,” and so on. All these words mean different things to different people. What is wonderful to you could be boring or even awful to someone else. Use concrete adjectives–words that have specific meanings, no matter who the reader is. Adjectives like “controversial,” for example, are specific–“controversial” means that something has caused controversy. It is a concrete term–it refers to something factual that can be verified.
Avoid informal language and slang. Avoid terms like “kids,” “moms,” dads,” and so on–even if some of your sources use them. We all know how to be informal–being formal (without being pompous) in writing is a skill most students need to develop for this and future classes–and even for the workplace, depending on the profession. Don’t use the abbreviation “etc.”
Avoid exclusionary language like “mankind.” Use “people,” “society,” “human beings”, and so on. Don’t refer to all people as “he” or “him.”
Avoid slashes in academic and other formal writing. For example, don’t write “and/or”; use either “and” or “or,” as appropriate.