Conversing With a Source

Conversing With a Source

One of the most important aspects of the research paper is the “conversation” you will be having with your sources — both the original sources (the text, film, show, or other work you’ll be writing on) and the critical articles you’ll be reading and agreeing or disagreeing with. A “conversation” implies give and take. In a good conversation with your source, you introduce the source to your reader, let them have their say, and then you respond in detail to what they said.

Here’s an example of having a conversation with the source:

Original Source: The Merchant of Venice, IV. i.
Duke:We all expect a gentle answer, Jew.

The Context: Shakespeare demonstrates the harsh reality and bitter injustice of Venetian anti-Semitism in the pivotal court trial scene in The Merchant of Venice. In this scene, the Duke of Venice acts as moderator for the trial of Antonio, a Christian, vs. the Jewish moneylender Shylock. In this statement, the Duke essentially attempts to strong-arm Shylock into foregoing the penalty of “a pound of flesh” (IV. i) Antonio owes him for a loan of three thousand ducats — a loan Antonio finds himself unable to repay. Moreover, the Duke adds, Shylock should also relinquish his claim to “a moiety of the principal,” having pity on Antonio’s financial “losses” (IV. i.), concluding his speech with the line, “We all expect a gentle answer, Jew” (IV.i).

The Conversation: The Duke begins this statement by drawing a sharp line between Shylock and the rest of the Venetian court — in fact, the entirety of Christian Venice — by defining a very sharp “us-versus-you” division separating “We” from Shylock — a “we” the Duke emphasizes with theword “all.” That “all” creates the sense that Shylock is not only alienated, but utterly isolated, one lone man against “all” of the court, “all” of Venice, “all” of whom “expect” Shylock to give a “gentle answer” — or is that a “gentile” answe? — to the Duke’s thinly-veiled command to reduce Antonio’s penalty to nothing. However isolating and alienating the Duke’s statement has been up to this point, the final pause before the word “Jew” not only audibly sets Shylock off from the rest of the sentence, but the placement of that word itself ensures the greatest possible physical separation between “us” and “him,” between “we” and “Jew.” Shakespeare clearly demonstrates the bitter injustice of the anti-Semitism Shylock faces in what, theoretically at least, should be an unbiased court.

You see how you’re basically putting what the source said on “pause” and going through it word by word, “talking back” to the source and responding to it? THAT is having a conversation.

At this point, you might want to have another person enter the dialogue — a critic or commentator who’s done a scholarly article or review of the text who can either come in on your side as a homie or against you as an enemy, and in the same way, have a conversation with her or him.  

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