The wonderful thing about how the arguments are presented in Civil War is that it reflects the way that we most often encounter argument in our daily lives. While we occasionally may sit down and read (or write) an extended, well-reasoned, cohesive argument for one side of an issue, we are more likely to get pieces of an argument in short bursts from a variety of sources. Especially with the rise of the internet and social media, abbreviated arguments come at us in Tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts, memes, political ads, sound bites, Vines, and a number of other ways. And while these pieces of argument typically lack the cohesive, thesis-driven argument we are so fond of in academe, there is always a central idea or two that control the how the arguments are formed and presented on any given side of an issue—even if it’s not always clearly expressed. Good critical thinkers are aware of the central ideas because it allows them to understand the unstated assumptions that underpin the arguments presented.
Let’s look at an example. Think about the debate surrounding abortion. I would be surprised if any of you have sat down and read or listened to a single, cohesive argument on one side or the other. I would be surprised also to discover that I have done that at some point in the past. But we can probably all recite the most common arguments on either side of the issue because we get them in little bits, here and there. And we even have an idea about the central arguments because of the terms associated with the two sides: pro-life and pro-choice. The central argument behind most arguments against abortion is that a fetus constitutes a life, and therefore abortion is essentially murder. The central argument behind most arguments for abortion is that women should have the right to choose what happens with their bodies. However, those central ideas usually go unstated in the little pieces of arguments we see and hear and read. As critical thinkers, our job is to consider how these little bursts of argument contribute to the larger argument at work.
That’s what we’re doing with the Civil War analysis. We’re looking at the bits and pieces of arguments made by various characters in a variety of ways and determining how they contribute to the larger argument for one side or the other. How do the little bits of arguments contribute to the overall argument and appeal to the audience? What kinds of evidence are used?
The main questions here are what is the argument and how is it made?
Remember that while you may choose to point out flaws in the argument, your objective is to analyze rather than argue for or against a side.
Here are the top three questions I advise you to consider as you revise your paper and give feedback to your classmates:
- Does this essay identify the main argument of one side of the issue? Is this stated as a thesis in the introduction? (Remember that one of the learning objectives for this paper is to think critically about a loose argument)
- Does this essay show how that argument is developed? (Learning objective: to analyze the details of how arguments are made)
- Does the essay include both textual and visual evidence? (Learning objective: to understand how the different modes used in these multimodal texts are used to develop an argument)
Think also about the quality of the composition–does the intro effectively catch the reader’s attention and communicate what the essay will focus on? Does the organization make sense? Can you follow the argument throughout the essay? Are ideas fully developed and supported with evidence from the text? Is the writing clear, interesting, and concise?
But as you think about those other things, remember the the three numbered questions above are the most important.