Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sample Contrast Paper

Students, please find below a sample of a contrast paper, as discussed here.  As with earlier papers, please keep in mind that this is a draft and therefore likely could stand to be improved upon.  Also, keep in mind that when it is formatted for submission, as indicated here, it is at the higher end of acceptable paper length.

Unlike earlier examples of contrast papers I have posted, this example follows what the course textbook describes as the block pattern.

The anti-hero can be defined as a character who achieves heroic ends by carrying out actions that are themselves generally considered evil; they attain fair ends by foul means.  Both Wolverine, as depicted in Ultimate X-Men, and Hida Kisada of the Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying game can be regarded as anti-heroes.  Of the two, Hida Kisada is the superior example of the type.

That Wolverine of the Ultimate X-Men series of graphic novels is an iteration of the anti-hero is fairly obvious.  Certainly the "hero" part is widely acknowledged.  The fact that he is regarded as part of the heroic X-Men speaks to his heroic status.  There are other factors in his heroism, as well.  In Ultimate War, it is remarked that Wolverine had served with Allied forces in World War II.  As the Allies were allied against the clearly-evil Nazis, they must be regarded as protagonists, and so Wolverine's service to those powers casts him as a hero--and one of the "Greatest Generation."  In Absolute Power, Wolverine works to end the manufacture and distribution of a drug that has horrific effects on those who use it.  Acting to limit the contact people have with a dangerous substance, even at personal risk (Wolverine loses a leg at one point and is subjected to the immediate effects of a large chemical explosion in the course of eliminating the substance), is typically regarded as a helpful act of bravery--in brief, the act of a hero.  That Wolverine performs the act helps identify him as a hero.

He is also clearly given to evil actions.  When he is introduced in the Ultimate X-Men series, it is as a highly-ranked agent in the service of Magneto, the series' main antagonist.  That he is in such service (which takes the form of double-agency, with its overtones of necessarily evil betrayal) indicates early on that he is party to evil deeds, an indication reinforced by the initial graphic representation of Wolverine with hands still bloodied form killing a large reptile in close combat.  Soon after, he is described as "the most dangerous killer in the world," which is hardly a pleasant image.  Later in the series, in Return of the King, he leaves one of his comrades-in-arms for dead, not because of tactical necessity (which is suspect at best), but to eliminate him as a rival for the sexual attentions (not love, just carnal pleasure) of a young woman significantly his junior.  That the action takes place at all casts Wolverine's morality into doubt.  That it takes place to secure sexual favors clearly condemns him.  That it secures those favors from a decades-younger person--one who is, in fact, still a teenager--further blackens Wolverine's character, affirming the evil actions from which Wolverine goes on to carry out heroic deeds.  He is a solid example of an anti-hero.

Even so, Wolverine is not as prominent an example of an anti-hero as is Hida Kisada.  Certainly, Kisada's heroism is more pronounced than is Wolverine's.  As the Champion of the Crab Clan, Kisada occupies a key position in the defense of his homeland against actual demonic hordes.  In Way of the Crab, it is remarked that "Since the coming of Shinsei [a major religious event], the Crab have defended Rokugan's southern border against the unholy forces of Fu Leng [the Satan-analog of the game]," and Kisada is the linchpin of that defense (8).  This clearly marks him as a heroic figure, one whose every deed works to save the very souls of his countryfolk.  Even more pronounced a mark of his heroism, however, is his posthumous elevation to godhood.  The Vacant Throne notes that he "lived for two years with a wound that would have killed any other man instantly, and upon his death was declared the Fortune of Persistence," elevating him to the status of a minor deity as a reward for his aid in defeating Fu Leng (124).  Returning to mortal life for a time, he fought against a massively powerful evil sorcerer and died only after slaying "nearly two dozen of his attackers" in his last battle (124).  Upon his second death, he returned to his status as a minor god, clearly achieving a noble end to another life.  He far exceeds Wolverine's heroism in doing so, for the X-Man falls far short of either defeating or attaining godhood as Kisada does.

Kisada takes a dark road to reach his brilliant end, however.  Although he is sworn to fight against the forces of the underworld, he makes alliance with them during the uncertainties of civil war (Wulf, Carman, and Mason 8).  That he betrays his duty is an evil act whose evil is compounded by his alliance with literally demonic forces.  The evilness is further marked by Kisada's actions towards his own children in the name of that alliance.  The younger of his sons "is sacrificed and placed upon the Terrible Standard of Fu Leng," and the elder "is forced to lend his name to an oni," binding his soul to a demon from the darkest pits of hell (33).  It cannot be called good when a person slays one son and parades his body as a war-banner while selling the soul of the other son to a devil.  Although it is certain that Wolverine commits evil deeds, his failings are as nothing compared to the depravity in which Kisada indulges.  Because Hida Kisada exceeds Wolverine both in his degree of heroism and in the degree of evil he enacts before coming to that heroism, he stands as a superior example of an anti-hero.

That the lesser-known of the two characters is a clearer example of a character type than the better-known suggest that more widely disseminated ideas become less pronounced as they reach a larger audience.  If the suggestion is accurate--and it will take more study to verify or deny it--it will have some decidedly negative implications for mass media.

Works Cited
~Carman, Shawn, et al. The Vacant Throne. Alderac Entertainment Group, n.d. Print.
~Coleite, Aron E. Absolute Power. Ultimate X-Men 19. N. pag. New York: Marvel, 2008. Print.
~Millar, Mark. Return of the King. Ultimate X-Men 6. N. pag. New York: Marvel, 2005.
~---. Ultimate War. Ultimate X-Men 5. N. pag. New York: Marvel, 2005. Print.
~---. Ultimate X-Men 1.  N. pag. New York: Marvel, 2003. Print.
~Vaux, Rob. The Way of the Crab. Five Rings Publishing, 1999. Print.
~Wulf, Rich, Shawn Carman, and Seth Mason. Time of the Void. Alderac Entertainment Group, 2001. Print.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sample Classification Paper, Option 2

Below appears an example of a classification paper, second option, 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 a good length for student papers, when formatted according to stated submission guidelines here.

The anti-hero can be defined as a character who achieves heroic ends by carrying out actions that are themselves generally considered evil; they attain fair ends by foul means.  On first glance, Fëanor from Tolkien's Silmarillion appears to fit the definition.  In truth, he does not; he is not actually an anti-hero.

The misidentification of Fëanor as an anti-hero is unsurprising; the "hero" part of the term certainly seems easy enough to perceive at first.  He is born into a position of privilege, certainly, as the eldest son of the lord of one of the three major branches of the Elvish people (Silmarillion 67).  That position, the eldest son of a mighty ruler, is one usually reserved for heroes, as are the levels of skill and resolution that are attributed to him.  To illustrate, Tolkien calls him "of all the Noldor [the second of the great groups of Elf-kind], then or after, the most subtle in mind and the most skilled in hand" and notes that "Few ever changed his courses by counsel, none by force" (68); both descriptions portray Fëanor as exceptional in the ways that heroes are usually exceptional.  Also, his masterworks, the Silmarils, give their name to the text in which Fëanor himself is described in detail (27); that they do so seems to position Fëanor as the pivotal figure of the text, a position typically occupied by a hero.

Fëanor additionally operates by foul means, so that he appears to fulfill the "anti" portion of the term "anti-hero."  He draws a sword against his half-brother in the house of his father, threatening to kill him (76); the offer of kin-slaying is an offer of ancient evil widely recognized as being such.  That Fëanor makes such an offer is clearly an immoral act.  That he comes to be a kin-slayer only intensifies his foul-acting nature; in pursuing a single-minded course of action, Fëanor leads his people in the slaughter of other Elves, to which some of them are akin (97-98).  Leading people into iniquity is hardly a fair action, so that for Fëanor to perform it clearly situates him as undertaking an evil action.  The multiple sentences of exile which are imposed upon Fëanor serve a similar function (77, 95); being twice cast out from one's birthplace and, indeed, from a paradisaical realm are easily recognizable effects of evil actions, so that the eldest son of the lord of the Noldor is marked as having done evil by being made to suffer exile.

How Fëanor fails to fulfill the role of anti-hero is that he does not achieve a fair end; despite the initial promise of heroism attached to him, he dies in failure and disgrace.  That death comes as the result of a rash attempt to too-quickly fulfill a hastily sworn and poorly conceived oath.  Fëanor is, at one point before his second and final exile, summoned to the capital city of the paradisaical realm in which he was born; when he answers the summons, he leaves his masterworks, the Silmarils, behind in the place where he dwelled in his exile (83).  While he is in the capital city, the Satan-figure in Tolkien's work, Melkor/Morgoth, assails the exile-dwelling, slaying Fëanor's father and stealing the Silmarils as he does so (87-88).  In grief at the loss of his works and of his father, Fëanor and his seven sons swear to pursue with unending hatred those who would keep the Silmarils from them, whatever power or purpose should guide them (93).  Vows made in grief are not less binding, although they are usually less well planned, given the disruption of rational thought that deep sadness tends to create.  The oath Fëanor and his sons swear, then, is a bad idea to begin with; it is made worse in that it is cited as the reason for the second exile (95).

Following the fallacious vow, Fëanor leads his people into Middle-earth.  There, they are soon beset by the forces of Melkor/Morgoth.  Although they are outnumbered, however, they manage to defeat the armies sent against them, which would bode well for Fëanor but for his own continuing folly; "Fëanor, in his wrath against the Enemy [Melkor/Morgoth], would not halt [in pursuing the retreating forces], but pressed on" (124).  It is good tactics to pursue a retreating opponent when the reinforcements and fortifications toward which the retreat is headed are known and sufficient force is on hand to deal with them.  This was not the case for Fëanor, however; "he drew far ahead of the van of his host; and seeing this the servants of Morgoth turned to bay, and there issued from Angband [the enemy fortress] Balrogs [demons of fire and darkness] to aid them" (124).  The son of the lord of the Noldor is struck down in what should have been the moment of his victory, the victim twice-over of his own recklessness.  It is not a heroic end, and so the evils that Fëanor commits are not redeemed through final heroism.  Consequently, Fëanor is not an anti-hero.

There is a danger in being too eager to apply labels based on superficial readings.  In works of literature, doing so leads to failed understandings of texts.  In other works of art, doing so leads to other misunderstandings.  In real life, doing so promotes destructive stereotypes and ethnocentrism.  More attention to specific details is needed so as to prevent negative effects, which is as important as developing positive ones.
Work Cited
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982. Print.