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Essay Contest for Heartland

Picture of the book cover to Sarah Smarsh's Heartland

Each year, the Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Studies Office and Messina sponsor a Common Text essay contest for the newest member of the Loyola community.  The three first prize winners will each receive a check for $350. 

To be eligible, please submit an original essay based on the prompt below to the Messina Office at messina@loyola.edu no later than midnight on August 14, 2019. We will celebrate the winners during Fall Welcome Weekend at the Common Text Convocation on August 30, 2019.  

Answer one of the two prompts below using only the Common Text and your intellect. That is, no outside resources are needed in this exercise in reflection and discernment. The goal is original thought inspired by careful reading. Your essay should be no longer than 5 double-spaced, typed pages.  Please include your name at the top of the first page and identify which essay you choose to write (A or B). 

Essay Contest Prompts (choose either A or B):

Essay A
In discussions of the American Dream, a controversial issue is whether it is achievable by all. On the one hand, some say that our culture contains too many obstacles, such as prejudice, poverty, and social inequality. On the other hand, many argue that America is the “land of opportunity” and they offer up various “rags to riches” stories in our society, as well as people who have used hard work to find success. However, things like the American Dream are rarely so black and white. Sarah Smarsh, for example, suggests that there is something more insidious about the notion: “[i]t wasn’t that I’d been wrong to be suspicious of government programs, I realized, but that I’d been wrong to believe in the American Dream. They were two sides of the same trick coin—one promising a good life in exchange for your labor and the other keeping you just alive enough to go on laboring” (273). However, despite her skepticism about the idea of the American Dream, Sarah Smarsh did succeed. In an essay, drawing on the book as well as your own experience and understanding of the American Dream, construct an argument about what you think makes Smarsh successful. Smarsh admits to “hard work,” but what other factors impacted her achievement? Does this invalidate Smarsh’s criticism of the American Dream, or validate it? Please use specific reasons and examples to support your position.

Essay B
Sarah Smarsh has a vexed relationship with the idea of social class, or socioeconomic status. In Chapter 1, she recognizes “[s]omething about my family was peculiar and willfully ignored in the modern story of our country. My best attempt at explaining it was, “I grew up on a farm.” But it was much more than that. It was income, culture, access, language, work, education, food—the stuff of life itself” (Smarsh 14). In Chapter 4, Smarsh writes: “Class, like race and all the other ways we divide ourselves up to make life miserable, is what I’d later learn is a ‘social construct.’ That’s what my family calls bullshit, and there are places in a person that bullshit can’t touch” (136). By the end of the book, Smarsh states unequivocally that “[c]lass is an illusion with real consequences” (282). In an essay, work through these differing representations of class and describe what you think social class is and the impact it has on people’s lives. Does the definition of class change for Smarsh, or does it just become clearer? How can something that is an illusion have real consequences? Consider the specific elements that define social class and how one becomes identified with one class or another. Do not use a dictionary definition, use Smarsh’s text to develop your ideas. Of course, you should also draw on your personal experience to help  develop your points.

Visit the Common Test Study Guide web page for further resources to help you navigate the ideas developed in the text.



Contact the Messina Office at 410-617-2669 or visit www.loyola.edu/Messina for a list of academic and support services available to Loyola students, including resources to help you make the transition to campus and college life.

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