Try It: Contestable and Supportable Claims

Nutshell<

Rank the claims from most to least supportable and contestable.


This is a strong claim for an undergraduate English paper. It is contestable< since another reader could assess the relationship between form and content differently in order to argue that the depictions of African American characters do not ultimately undermine the text’s message. It is also supportable< since the writer would not have to look outside the text itself for evidence. Furthermore, it is contestable< and supportable< within the constraints of the assignment; you could construct a strong argument through close attention to textual details such as the physical descriptions of the enslaved character Jim, Jim’s dialect, and Jim’s role in the important plot points of the novel.


This claim forecasts an argument with which another reader could reasonably disagree and draws upon information from the text to build that argument.

Try Again.


This claim is supportable< with evidence from the text, but it is more descriptive than argumentative. While you could fill a paper with specific examples of how the novel uses imagery, vernacular speech, and figurative language to represent slavery, such examples would not add up to an argument with a claim that a classmate involved in the same conversation about the text might disagree with. Rich literary evidence is irrelevant when your claim is not contestable<. After all, literature by definition tends to use inventive turns of phrase and vivid language in order to represent its subject


This argument does point to information drawn from the text, which means it’s supportable according to the terms of the assignment, but a classmate likely could not reasonably disagree with this claim.

Try Again.


This claim contains some important information about the novel; this information might prove relevant in the introduction to your paper, or in your analysis of the text. However, the claim itself is not even contestable<, since it is merely description rather than a point worth arguing. No one else in your class could disagree with the factual statement that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a historical novel written after the abolition of slavery, and contestability should be the first test of a successful claim for a literature class.


This claim largely contains information external to the text. In addition, a reader likely could not reasonably disagree with it.

Try Again.


While this claim is contestable< because another student in your class might disagree that the novel changes views on race and the history of slavery in the U.S., and while it does point to specific literary devices, it is not supportable< solely with evidence from the novel. In order to support a claim about “white Americans’ views on the legacy of slavery,” you would need to rely on primary and secondary sources like journals, letters, and historical periodicals that account for the novel’s reception.


Though a classmate could reasonably disagree with this claim, it forecasts an argument that will need to use evidence from outside the text to make its claim.

Try Again.

While Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is, overtly, an anti-racist text, the text’s characterization devices repeatedly draw on stereotypical assumptions about black Americans in ways that undermine its overall message.
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses imagery, vernacular language, and memorable figures of speech to make its point about slavery.
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a famous novel about slavery that was, nevertheless, written after slavery had been abolished in America.
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in contrast to the other novels about American slavery written by white authors, successfully uses a troubling plot and imagery in order to change white Americans’ views on the legacy of slavery.


Most Supportable and Contestable

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Reasonably Supportable or Contestable

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Not Very Supportable or Contestable

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Least Supportable and Contestable

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While Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is, overtly, an anti-racist text, the text’s characterization devices repeatedly draw on stereotypical assumptions about black Americans in ways that undermine its overall message.<
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses imagery, vernacular language, and memorable figures of speech to make its point about slavery.<
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a famous novel about slavery that was, nevertheless, written after slavery had been abolished in America.<
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in contrast to the other novels about American slavery written by white authors, successfully uses a troubling plot and imagery in order to change white Americans’ views on the legacy of slavery. <

2. Now imagine you are writing an 8-10 page paper about the speaker of Robert Hayden’s 1962 poem “Middle Passage” without any secondary sources. A representative excerpt drawn from early in the poem appears below, and your class has been discussing Hayden’s choice to write the poem from the point of view of a slave trader. With what you’ve learned about contestable< and supportable< claims in mind, rank the following claims from most to least promising for this assignment.

“10 April 1800—

Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says

their moaning is a prayer for death,

ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves.

Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter

to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.”


Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:


Standing to America, bringing home

black gold, black ivory, black seed.

<

While this claim might seem contestable because it assesses the poem’s importance, it is not actually contestable< within a classroom discussion that has focused on Hayden’s choice to write the poem from the point of view of the slave trader. The entire premise of this discussion would be that the poem is notable for this stylistic choice, making the claim a descriptive rather than argumentative one within your classroom community. Because this claim is not contestable<, it is also difficult to see how you might support it with literary evidence-- contestability and supportability are intertwined in this way.


This argument is not contestable within a classroom context that has been discussing Hayden’s decision to write the poem from the position of the slave trader. The claim also fails to forecast how it will be used to support the argument using evidence from the text.

Try Again.


This is a strong claim for an undergraduate English paper. It is contestable<, since a classmate could argue that writing from the point of view of the aggressor is actually a troubling move that alienates the reader from the horrors of slavery. It is also supportable< within the scope of this assignment, since the writer could build this argument from evidence in the text itself, such as the representation of enslaved people as commodities and the candid tone of the journal form.


This claim points to specific details from the text to come up with a claim that a classmate could disagree with.

Try Again.


While this claim is contestable<, since a classmate might disagree that the poem accurately represents slavery, it is not supportable< in a literature paper. When analyzing literature, we focus on the implications of formal and stylistic choices such as point of view and figurative language rather than looking to literature as a transparent representation of its subject matter. Having a contestable< claim is the first step toward a good argument, but your claim also has to be supportable<with literary evidence.


Feedback Wrong.

Another reader might disagree with this claim, but it forecasts an argument that would have to rely upon a great deal of historical evidence drawn from outside the text. .

Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage” is notable for depicting the horrors of slavery by writing from the point of view the aggressor.
While Robert Hayden’s choice to narrate “Middle Passage” from the point of view of the aggressor may seem odd, it allows the poem to approach the horrors of slavery from an unexpected angle and to demonstrate the dehumanization that the slave system relied upon.
While Robert Hayden’s choice to narrate “Middle Passage” from the point of view of the aggressor may seem odd, it allows the poem to reveal what slavery was actually like by demonstrating the very dehumanization that the slave system relied upon.


Most Supportable and Contestable

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Less Supportable or Contestable

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Least Supportable or Contestable

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Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage” is notable for depicting the horrors of slavery by writing from the point of view the aggressor. <
While Robert Hayden’s choice to narrate “Middle Passage” from the point of view of the aggressor may seem odd, it allows the poem to approach the horrors of slavery from an unexpected angle and to demonstrate the dehumanization that the slave system relied upon.<
While Robert Hayden’s choice to narrate “Middle Passage” from the point of view of the aggressor may seem odd, it allows the poem to reveal what slavery was actually like by demonstrating the very dehumanization that the slave system relied upon.<