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Remember that the primary question readers ask of writers is “What do you think?” Because claims are specific and debatable, however, writers cannot simply state their claim. They must anticipate their readers’ new questions: “Why do you think that?” and “How do you know?” To explain why she thinks as she does about “Sleepy Hollow,” Monica begins each section of her paper with a subclaim, which is a specific, debatable statement that supports the global claim from the introduction. Let’s pull the subclaims out of the body of Monica’s paper so we can look at them more closely:
Each of these subclaims advances one aspect of the global claim, helping round out the ideas that Monica broaches in her introduction. Monica believes that Irving’s story “is an allegory for the goals, the problems, and the livelihood of an adolescent America” because “the description of [Ichabod] does not conform to one of a strong favorite, but to that of an underdog.” She also believes as she does because “Katrina Van Tassel…is the prize, the treasure coveted by each nation—she represents power, honor, respect, and abundant resources.” We could say the same thing about Monica’s other subclaims. None of these statements is self-evidently true; like the global claim in the paper’s introduction, the subclaims are debatable statements.
Now that Monica has answered her readers’ questions, “What do you think?” and “Why do you think that?” she must explain how she knows her ideas are true. To answer “How do you know?” Monica supports each of her subclaims with a range of evidence, both primary evidence (quotations from “Sleepy Hollow” itself) and secondary evidence (quotations from scholars writing about the story or its historical period). To demonstrate Ichabod’s “ambition,” for instance, Monica quotes from Irving’s story directly: “‘In his devouring mind’s eye, he pictured to himself every roasting pig running about with a pudding in its belly, and an apple in its mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes’” (Irving 971). This textual evidence grounds Monica’s claims, helping readers see why she thinks what she thinks about Irving’s tale.
You should think carefully about how the evidence you quote supports the subclaims you make. While the connections between your claims and evidence may seem self-evident to you they may not be evident to your readers. Imagine, for instance, if a report came out saying students from a particular school were underperforming on their standardized tests. One person might see the report as evidence the school needs more funding. Another person might see the same report as evidence the school should be closed and its students sent elsewhere. Still another might see the report as evidence that the system of standardized testing doesn’t fairly evaluate students and should be changed. Readers interpret evidence in light of their social, political, religious, and cultural values and assumptions. Writing scholars call these underlying values and assumptions warrantsWarrants are the (often unspoken) values and assumptions that shape how readers understand evidence and the claims they believe that evidence will support. Warrants will be discussed later in the chapter.. When you use evidence, you should consider how different readers might interpret it, and if you foresee dramatic differences, you should carefully explain how you arrived at the connections you’ve drawn.
The following is one example that will show you how warrants provide the logical connection between claim and evidence. Most warrants are not directly stated but implied, which makes it useful for you to articulate your warrants so that you can concretely see the logical connection between claim and evidence:
Thesis Claim: “…Ichabod Crane and Brom Van Brunt are meant to be more than just two characters with a rivalry—they are actually representations of the young American nation and its ‘motherland,’ Great Britain. When these allegories are understood, and these opposing forces are revealed, readers will finally be able to understand a central message behind Irving’s tale—it is an allegory for the goals, the problems, and the livelihood of an adolescent America.”
In addition, Monica supplements her direct textual evidence in her paper with insights from other scholars, which also become counterclaims to her argument: “Lloyd Daigrepont states that ‘Ichabod [also] represents the modern debasement of imagination by materialism, a pious utilitarianism, and the idea of progress, particularly as these were supported in early 19th-century America’ and goes so far as to call Crane himself ‘a representative of progress’ (72, 73).” Secondary evidence grants authority to Monica’s argument, demonstrating that she has studied scholarly conversations around this work and is now engaging in those conversations in her own writing.
The word “conversation” tells us quite a bit about why Monica’s argument works so well. She maintains a tone of engagement with other scholars throughout the paper, even when she disagrees with their ideas. In short, she answers yet another question readers are likely to ask of writers: “Have you considered this other point of view?” Note the way Monica explains potential objections to her argument, anticipating her readers’ skepticism about her argument.
While it appears clear that Irving’s tale is an allegory for a budding America and the rivalry between this underdog and its stronger, older relative Great Britain, some would disagree. Many critics, in fact, depict the rivalry as one between the regions and cultures in New England, and label Ichabod as the “threat,” or the bully. Donald Ringe boldly claims that “Ichabod Crane is clearly a Connecticut Yankee invading—and threatening—a New York Dutch society” (455). Following suit, Daniel Hoffman calls Brom Bones Irving’s “realistic Dutch frontiersman, who meets and bests a Yankee” (427). Their idea of Irving’s tale is summed up by Lloyd Daigrepont, who argues that “Brom is no musclebound bully, but rather a vigorous youth with a puckish spirit and a joyful exuberance for life,” who simply “wishes to rid Sleepy Hollow of the threat of Ichabod Crane” (75, 76–77).
As in her introduction, Monica outlines an alternative argument carefully and fairly. She quotes directly from scholars she disagrees with. Doing this doesn’t undermine the points Monica wants to make about “Sleepy Hollow.” Instead, by demonstrating her awareness of other possibilities, Monica demonstrates that her argument comes from close consideration of the story and many potential interpretations. Because Monica demonstrates her thorough research in the paragraph just quoted, her rebuttal of those opinions in the following paragraph has more force and authority.
This claim that Brom Bones is the story’s hero and Crane the threatening force, while intriguing, seems misguided, especially as Irving himself described Bones as Crane’s “formidable rival” (973), as previously mentioned. In addition, Jeffrey Insko points out that Irving’s “body of work includes ‘serious’ histories (notably, biographies of George Washington and Christopher Columbus) and fictional sketches—among them ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’—that are themselves deeply concerned with matters historiographical” (609). Regional conflicts in an adolescent America’s New England were much more recent and current for Irving’s time than conflicts between America and Great Britain. Levine and Krupat note these concerns:
There was a sense during the 1790s and early 1800s … that American nationalism was provisional, vulnerable, fragile. The War of 1812, which emerged from trade disputes with England, can therefore be seen as a war that, at least in part, spoke to Americans’ desires to put an end to such anxiety by in effect reenacting the American Revolution against England and winning a victory once and for all. (931)
Although the rivalry between America and its overseas lineage was indeed current and ongoing, it extended a bit farther back into history. Before there could be conflict between regions of the American nation, it had to become a nation. The first major conflict was between America and Great Britain.
An effective academic writer considers multiple points of view in his or her writing. Such writers persuade their readers to follow their opinions about literature through carefully considered, well-organized claims, subclaims, and evidence.