Short Papers

Short Papers: Reading Analysis

#1: The Diary of Lady Murasaki (Due Wednesday, 9/5)

Was Lady Murasaki a typical or unusual woman for her time and class? How can you tell?

Other topics for consideration:

  • Is Murasaki aware of her class status; does she discuss lower classes?
  • What is friendship? What is romantic? What is an ideal male in this society?
  • Is Murasaki involved in politics or government? Could she be? Can you separate personal and political in an aristocratic society?

#2: The Confessions of Lady Nijo (Due Friday, 9/18)

To what extent did Lady Nijo have choices about her life, and to what extent was she constrained by her status and relationships?

Other topics for consideration:

  • Have things changed since Murasaki’s time for women at this level of society?
  • How is the author involved in or affected by politics?
  • Did the author consider herself a success or a failure? How did others see her?

#3: Women of the Mito Domain (Due Monday, 10/5)

How are Mito samurai women different from samurai women elsewhere?

Other topics for consideration:

  • What is childhood like?
  • Are Mito samurai women involved in politics or merely subject to it?
  • How are economic issues handled within the family?

#4: Women of Suye Mura (Due Monday, 10/26)

What makes a good wife? What makes a good husband?

Other topics for consideration:

  • Are Smith and Wiswell observing, investigating, evaluating or judging? How does their outsider status affect what they see, understand or write?
  • How much freedom do Suye Mura women have? Do they use the freedom they have?

#5: Reflections on the Way to the Gallows (Due Friday, 11/6)

Picking one or two women as examples, discuss how these obviously extraordinary women can be useful in studying norms and normal lives in Japan?

Other topics for consideration:

  • How do these womens’ relationships with men affect their politics? How does their politics affect their relationships with men?
  • How has the government shaped their lives?
  • Do they see their activism as successful or important? Do you?

#6: The Secrets of Mariko (Due Wednesday, 11/18)

Is Mariko completely defined by her gender roles (daughter, wife, mother) or is there something more there? If there is, how does it affect her relationships?

Other topics for consideration:

  • How does Bumiller’s personal perspective and status affect her work?
  • Will Mariko’s children be more or less like their parents?
  • How has technology affected Mariko, and Japanese women generally?

These are short papers intended to give you the opportunity to reflect on the book and come to some conclusions about the experience of Japanese women at various points in history. They will serve as a springboard for discussion, and you will have a chance to revise them towards the end of the semester.

For each of these books I will also include some other questions to think about. They are not part of the writing assignment, but will almost certainly come up in our class discussions.


  • Length: 500-750 words. If you use standard double-spaced pages, that’s 2-3 pages. I do not penalize for shorter essays, if it really answers the questions well; I do not penalize for longer essays, if it really is on topic and substantive. I do penalize for missing important questions and for excessive verbiage.
  • No Title Page. Include your name, the course, and the assignment at the top. You may also include a title for your essay.
  • Double-spacing is not required. Reasonable font, however, is: something standard and readable and a nice size. Normal margins are also a must: 1-1.5 inches.
  • Don’t try to make the paper look longer or shorter by playing with font and margins.
  • Spellcheck and grammarcheck your work. Don’t assume the computer is right, however: read it over yourself. I don’t take off points for grammatical or spelling errors unless they are so numerous as to distract from the message of the paper. That doesn’t mean that I enjoy reading papers with errors, or that I won’t mark them when I notice them.

Plagiarism and citations

Plagiarism is the use of the words or ideas of another without proper attribution and will not be tolerated. For details see the plagiarism page on the website, or ask. If you cite material from this book, you only need to note page number; for outside sources you must include bibliographic information, either in a note or in a works cited section. You shouldn’t need outside sources to answer any of these questions, however: that’s not the point.


The grade will be based primarily on whether the assignment shows clearly that you read and thought about the book. Some elements of that judgement include: use of evidence from the text; specificity; an argument leading to a conclusion, however tentative; clarity of thought (if not writing).


You may revise any or all of these assignments for extra credit. Revisions are due in class, Tuesday, November 14th. To qualify for extra credit, revisions must be substantial, not cosmetic: editing a paper is not revising it; real re-vision involves re-thinking core arguments and evidence.

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