Needs Clarification

“Needs Clarification” is the same as saying “define.” In the following excerpt, the student doesn’t define the difference between “assumption” and “observation” and labels a character as “unreliable.” Let’s read the excerpt.

Sample Excerpt

Nelly guesses and interprets based on what she observes.  She perceives on the basis of her own personal circumstance.  She is an active participant in the story she unfolds.  In the following extract she guesses about the character of Heathcliff, making a distinction between good and evil: “I was weeping as much for him as her:  we do sometimes pity creatures that have none of the feeling either for themselves or others; and when I first looked into his face I perceived that he had got intelligence of the catastrophe; and a foolish notion struck me that his heart was quelled, and he prayed, because his lips moved, and his gaze was bent on the ground”  (Bronte 186). In this extract, Nelly Dean approached Heathcliff, announcing the death of Catherine.  And by the movement of the latter’s lips, Nelly Dean assumes that Heathcliff’s heart was at the death of Catherine.  This is an example of Nelly’s unreliable character assessment of Heathcliff’s state of mind. She reminds the reader that we cannot rely on her observation.  To be sure, she attacks her own assessment of the situation, calling her guess a “foolish notion.”

Figure 4: Essay Excerpt on Nelly, Wuthering Heights


The student doesn’t define how she will use terms within the context of her analysis nor does she indicate if the same terms are a part of the literary work?


1)What does Nelly observe?

2) After she observes, what is her guess, interpretation, or perception about the thing she observes?

3) Is her guess, interpretation, or perception the same thing?

4) Do all of these words have the same meaning within the context of the analysis and the literary work?

5) What does it mean to be an “unreliable character”?


When you don’t clearly define your ideas, “you” become unreliable. Your job as the writer is to examine each character in relation to what you think. Whatever you think and write needs to be clearer than even what the author thinks. The author and the literary work represent an issue, a task. The objective is to create. In other words, when you write a paper, you create something from nothing. The author’s words are pieces you add to the lump of clay; but you, as the potter, create what the lump of clay will look like in the end.

For example, a lump of clay needs more than one lump to make something. If you are making a cup, you have to create the base, because the cup needs to be able to stand. Next, you have to create the cup’s four surrounding walls because how will anything you want to drink stay in the cup?  Last, there must be an opening for all of the obvious reasons. When your paper misses such ingredients as a definition of a term, and you claim that the author is missing some important ingredients, then you, in fact, become the most unreliable. You don’t really know if the author is missing anything. You assume or suggest that he or she is missing something.  Since this is an assumption, then you must outline within your paper that you are assuming. If assuming relates to guessing and observing, then paint the picture for the reader.

Always, always don’t point out something else about someone else when you haven’t examined “you,” especially if someone can also accuse you of doing the same thing. Good food for thought!

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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