Writing an Analytical Essay Using a Model: Forsyth's Hero Journey, "Whispering Wind"

Writing an Analytical Essay Using a Model: Forsyth's Hero Journey, "Whispering Wind"
Writing an essay that analyzes a piece of literature can be challenging for students in middle and high school unless they have a solid grip on organizing their ideas first. I have found that modeling the behavior I want from my students results in greater success in moving them from a blank sheet of paper to a potentially interesting piece of writing. One assignment that I give them, after studying a number of hero journey pieces of literature, is to write about the connection between the image of the inmost cave, or the belly of the whale, and the archetypal motif of life/death/rebirth. I then ask them to look at a sample essay I've written using a story they have not read or will not be examining in writing.
By the time students arrive in my class, they have already had an introduction to the basic five-plus paragraph theme, and so we turn to sharpening skills with practicing the logical fluency of paragraph development using point-example-commentary.

Below I've divided the essay into its components the way I offer it to students, explaining and modeling the contents of the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Before students prepare to write in class, I ask them to read the following explanations, paying close attention to each part of the essay that follows.

Title of Essay

Rebirth from the Inmost Cave: Frederick Forsyth's Whispering Wind

Organizational Outline

• Organization: The introduction contains several sentences that build to the thesis, which explains how something concrete can illustrate an abstract image or idea.

• Development of body paragraphs: Each paragraph moves from point to example to commentary. Although I have labeled the sentences point-example-commentary, you will not want to do that in your final draft essay. Keep sentences together in paragraph form. Notice that I often use more than one sentence to express the point, the example, and the commentary.

• Conclusion: The conclusion begins with the thesis reworded, a reminder to the reader of the focus of the paper. More than a summary, the final paragraph of this model closes with a generalization, an opportunity to see an extended truth about the ancient archetypal symbol of the cave and its connection to rebirth.

The Essay:

Introduction

1. The archetypal life/death/rebirth motif, so often observed in literature, illustrates and explains the journey of the hero.

2. As the hero is living his ordinary life in the world of common day, he is unexpectedly called to an adventure.

3. Having accepted the challenge, he crosses the threshold into a world unfamiliar and full of danger, using all his resources to survive the challenges and tests he must undergo.

4. One such character, Ben Craig in Frederick Forsyth's novella Whispering Wind, seeks a treasure, the woman he loves, even if it means sacrificing his life, perhaps an even greater treasure.

5. Finally, Ben Craig completes the hero journey through his own death and rebirth in a cave high in the mountains of Montana.

Body

Point 1: Ben's call to adventure, rescuing the daughter of Cheyenne Chief Tall Elk from Custer's plundering, marauding soldiers, becomes more complicated when he falls in love with her and they run away to a cave in the mountains.

Example: This cave will be the place of his rebirth twice.

Commentary: As Joseph Campbell points out, in the deepest part of the inmost cave, the hero symbolically and sometimes literally dies so that he may arise from the dead and be reborn.

Point 2: When a shaman, a holy man in the tribe, suddenly appears at the cave and tells Ben he must give up Whispering Wind because she is promised to another, she leaves and Ben goes to sleep for a hundred years.

Example: He must give up the only woman he has ever loved, but before his long death-like sleep, the shaman tells Ben they will be together again.

Commentary: This assurance hints of the promise of renewal, the rebirth of the hero.

Point 3: Ben's waking is the first incidence of rebirth, and he rides down the mountain to an historic simulation of a fort so authentic he believes it is still 1876.

Example: His life at the fort in what is now 1976 brings Whispering Wind, a school teacher named Linda Pickett, back to him when she accompanies her class to the fort for a field trip.

Commentary: New troubles emerge. Linda is engaged to be married to the son of the evil Braddock, whose power can ruin her family and emotionally blackmail Linda into going through with a marriage to his son, despite her love for Ben.

Point 4: Ben fights these demons, boldly rescues Linda from her dilemma, and takes her back to the cave as his wife.

Example: Ben, however, is not long meant for this world. A blizzard and snowy mountain avalanche bury the Braddock search party, and Linda, freezing and near death in the cave, is rescued by the sheriff.

Commentary: Having expected the reader to suspend disbelief, Forsyth makes Ben's death occur a hundred years prior, in 1876, and now the sheriff finds his remains outside the cave. Braddock and his men do not survive the storm, and Linda's family is free from the destructive power he held over her family. Linda reveals she is carrying Ben's child, the final boon of his heroism from the grave.

Conclusion

1. It is not by accident or random selection that Forsyth chooses a cave, the symbolic womb, as the setting for the hero Ben Craig's rebirth.

2. Not once, but twice Ben leaves the cave a changed man, the first time from a long sleep and the second through the child his beloved Whispering Wind-Linda Pickett-will bear. He loses his life each time, only to be reborn from the cave.

3. The life has been lived and the barriers and ogres destroyed. The sacrifices have been made, and as the hero earns new life, he brings it to others as well. Ben's reward is the elixir, the treasure of renewed life that he bestows on those who remain.

4. Once again, as even the classic stories of the past continue to remind us, Forsyth's Whispering Wind enables the reader to see the reflection of humanity, the inmost caves of our own trials of fear and desperation that, when consciously overcome in the end, can bring victory and a regeneration of the spirit.

Similar to the writing of fiction, the craft of essay writing depends on the writer making the reader see what she sees in her mind's eye. Before students spend time on diction or mechanics, I ask them to organize their thoughts, an essential step that will not only allow the reader to follow the path through the lines of thinking in the essay, but also enable the writer to communicate with greater ease and less anxiety.

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