Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sample Definition Paper

Below appears an example of a definition paper as discussed here.  It treats a type of hero that is forbidden from consideration in student papers, so that it can serve as a model while not actually doing the students' work for them.  Please note both that it is an early draft, and so can stand to be improved, and that it is on the short end of acceptable length for student papers, when formatted according to stated submission guidelines here.

One of the primary narratives, if not the primary narrative, is that in which a person overcomes substantial opposition to emerge into some position of greatness; that person is typically referred to as a hero.  Just as there are many stories, and many people to tell them, there are many types of hero; one that has become increasingly popular in the mainstream culture of the United States is the anti-hero.  Such characters as Túrin Turambar and Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever do fulfill such traditionally heroic functions as being the focus of the texts in which they appear and triumphing over significant opposition to come to greatness.  They do so, however, by way of carrying out actions that are in themselves evil; that accomplishment of fair ends by foul means typifies the anti-hero.

Túrin Turambar, for example, initially appears as a conventional hero.  As J.R.R. Tolkien puts it in The Silmarillion, the young Túrin is a son of all three of the great houses of humankind in the earliest days (381-82), which marks him as a focal character in the dynastic conflicts that appear throughout the text.  Specifically, Túrin is the son of Húrin, "the mightiest of the warriors of mortal Men" (286), so that he comes from the kind of ennobled pedigree often associated in stories with heroism.  And he does rise up to that standard, vowing to fight solely against those bound in service to the evil powers of the world (245).  He even slays a dragon, and indeed the first of dragons (273-75), a deed archetypally heroic.

As he acts the hero, though, he also does much that usually calls for a hero to kill the doer.  For one, he commits an assault at the dinner table of his foster-father, later running the person he assailed to death (244); neither is particularly heroic, and they spur him to live as an outlaw (244), which is also not commonly associated with high heroism.  Worse, he slays his long-time best friend (255).  Worst of all, he ends up marrying and impregnating his own sister (271, 275).  Neither killing one's own comrades nor committing incest is aligned with high ideals; rather, both are considered despicable acts worthy of execration.  Túrin evidently feels this, turning his blade upon himself to end his own life (278)--and suicide is not seldom considered an evil action.  Clearly, then, Túrin Turambar partakes of the evil, making him an anti-hero.

Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is even clearer an example of an anti-hero than Túrin.  Certainly, he does stand in the focal place of a hero; the series of books in which he appears is named after him, which hardly indicates that he is an ancillary character.  And he does overcome significant opposition in the text.  For one, he is a leper, subject to a disease that threatens to rob him of all sensation (2-8); it is a catastrophic, destructive illness, so that all of his actions are themselves triumphs over it.  For another, he is presented with what he perceives as an impossible situation (38-44)--hence his title "the Unbeliever" (65); his perseverance in it is a surmounting of challenge.  And he does come to hold a position of importance; he is accepted as a member of the ruling body of the milieu in which he finds himself, treated as a messianic figure (257-59).  Clearly, then, Covenant is set up to take the part of a hero.

Even so, he is marked as evil.  Aside from his disease, which both traditionally and in the text is taken as a sign of abomination and reason to exclude him from the community (1-8), he is repeatedly described as closed to the forces of the milieu in which he finds himself (107, 257), and being closed-off is taken as a sign of malicious intent.  It is not entirely unjust; he is brought to the milieu at the behest of its version of Satan (32-37).  That evil power sends him with a message, so that Covenant functions as a servant of the devil, clearly an evil role.  Also, early in the text, Covenant rapes a sixteen-year-old girl who had previously offered him hospitality and medical care (90-92); not only is the host-guest relationship violated in this, which has long been a sin, a young woman is violated, which is inexcusably reprehensible.  It is manifest, then, that Covenant is far removed from the typically heroic, even though he comes to fill a number of its functions; he, too, is an anti-hero.

There are other examples that can be considered to aid in supporting a definition of an anti-hero as a character who accomplishes fair ends by foul means, not only within the literary genre in which Túrin and Covenant appear, but in other genres and other media.  That there are so many anti-heroes calls for an accurate assessment of what makes them fit into that type of (nominally) heroic character; having a fitting definition of the type is the first step in doing so.

Works Cited
Donaldson, Stephen R. Lord Foul's Bane. New York: Del Rey, 2004. Print.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982. Print.

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