Throughout your academic career, you'll be asked to write papers in which you compare and contrast two things: two texts, two theories, two historical figures, two scientific processes, and so on. "Classic" compare-and-contrast papers, in which you weight A and B equally, may be about two similar things that have crucial differences (two pesticides with different effects on the environment) or two similar things that have crucial differences, yet turn out to have surprising commonalities (two politicians with vastly different world views who voice unexpectedly similar perspectives on sexual harassment).
In the "lens" (or "keyhole") comparison, in which you weight A less heavily than B, you use A as a lens through which to view B. Just as looking through a pair of glasses changes the way you see an object, using A as a framework for understanding B changes the way you see B. Lens comparisons are useful for illuminating, critiquing, or challenging the stability of a thing that, before the analysis, seemed perfectly understood. Often, lens comparisons take time into account: earlier texts, events, or historical figures may illuminate later ones, and vice versa.
Faced with a daunting list of seemingly unrelated similarities and differences, you may feel confused about how to construct a paper that isn't just a mechanical exercise in which you first state all the features that A and B have in common, and then state all the ways in which A and B are different. Predictably, the thesis of such a paper is usually an assertion that A and B are very similar yet not so similar after all. To write a good compare-and-contrast paper, you must take your raw data—the similarities and differences you've observed—and make them cohere into a meaningful argument. Here are the five elements required.
Frame of Reference. This is the context within which you place the two things you plan to compare and contrast; it is the umbrella under which you have grouped them. The frame of reference may consist of an idea, theme, question, problem, or theory; a group of similar things from which you extract two for special attention; biographical or historical information. The best frames of reference are constructed from specific sources rather than your own thoughts or observations. Thus, in a paper comparing how two writers redefine social norms of masculinity, you would be better off quoting a sociologist on the topic of masculinity than spinning out potentially banal-sounding theories of your own. Most assignments tell you exactly what the frame of reference should be, and most courses supply sources for constructing it. If you encounter an assignment that fails to provide a frame of reference, you must come up with one on your own. A paper without such a context would have no angle on the material, no focus or frame for the writer to propose a meaningful argument.
Grounds for Comparison. Let's say you're writing a paper on global food distribution, and you've chosen to compare apples and oranges. Why these particular fruits? Why not pears and bananas? The rationale behind your choice, the grounds for comparison, lets your reader know why your choice is deliberate and meaningful, not random. For instance, in a paper asking how the "discourse of domesticity" has been used in the abortion debate, the grounds for comparison are obvious; the issue has two conflicting sides, pro-choice and pro-life. In a paper comparing the effects of acid rain on two forest sites, your choice of sites is less obvious. A paper focusing on similarly aged forest stands in Maine and the Catskills will be set up differently from one comparing a new forest stand in the White Mountains with an old forest in the same region. You need to indicate the reasoning behind your choice.
Thesis. The grounds for comparison anticipates the comparative nature of your thesis. As in any argumentative paper, your thesis statement will convey the gist of your argument, which necessarily follows from your frame of reference. But in a compare-and-contrast, the thesis depends on how the two things you've chosen to compare actually relate to one another. Do they extend, corroborate, complicate, contradict, correct, or debate one another? In the most common compare-and-contrast paper—one focusing on differences—you can indicate the precise relationship between A and B by using the word "whereas" in your thesis:
Whereas Camus perceives ideology as secondary to the need to address a specific historical moment of colonialism, Fanon perceives a revolutionary ideology as the impetus to reshape Algeria's history in a direction toward independence.
Whether your paper focuses primarily on difference or similarity, you need to make the relationship between A and B clear in your thesis. This relationship is at the heart of any compare-and-contrast paper.
Organizational Scheme. Your introduction will include your frame of reference, grounds for comparison, and thesis. There are two basic ways to organize the body of your paper.
- In text-by-text, you discuss all of A, then all of B.
- In point-by-point, you alternate points about A with comparable points about B.
If you think that B extends A, you'll probably use a text-by-text scheme; if you see A and B engaged in debate, a point-by-point scheme will draw attention to the conflict. Be aware, however, that the point-by- point scheme can come off as a ping-pong game. You can avoid this effect by grouping more than one point together, thereby cutting down on the number of times you alternate from A to B. But no matter which organizational scheme you choose, you need not give equal time to similarities and differences. In fact, your paper will be more interesting if you get to the heart of your argument as quickly as possible. Thus, a paper on two evolutionary theorists' different interpretations of specific archaeological findings might have as few as two or three sentences in the introduction on similarities and at most a paragraph or two to set up the contrast between the theorists' positions. The rest of the paper, whether organized text- by-text or point-by-point, will treat the two theorists' differences.
You can organize a classic compare-and-contrast paper either text-by-text or point-by-point. But in a "lens" comparison, in which you spend significantly less time on A (the lens) than on B (the focal text), you almost always organize text-by-text. That's because A and B are not strictly comparable: A is merely a tool for helping you discover whether or not B's nature is actually what expectations have led you to believe it is.
Linking of A and B. All argumentative papers require you to link each point in the argument back to the thesis. Without such links, your reader will be unable to see how new sections logically and systematically advance your argument. In a compare-and contrast, you also need to make links between A and B in the body of your essay if you want your paper to hold together. To make these links, use transitional expressions of comparison and contrast (similarly, moreover, likewise, on the contrary, conversely, on the other hand) and contrastive vocabulary (in the example below, Southerner/Northerner).
As a girl raised in the faded glory of the Old South, amid mystical tales of magnolias and moonlight, the mother remains part of a dying generation. Surrounded by hard times, racial conflict, and limited opportunities, Julian, on the other hand, feels repelled by the provincial nature of home, and represents a new Southerner, one who sees his native land through a condescending Northerner's eyes.
Copyright 1998, Kerry Walk, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
The Good Witch
In our collective consciousness, saturated as it is by exposure to the 1939 movie, Glinda and the Wicked Witch are polar opposites – one is "good," the other is "wicked." But in Wicked, things aren't so black and white. So how is pink and poufy Glinda complicated here? Well, a lot of it has to do with identity crises and changes.
Though Elphaba picks up a lot of different names and identities in the book, it's really Glinda (formerly Galinda) who embodies themes of name and identity shifts. Galinda undergoes a major character shift when she becomes Glinda, but in a lot of ways the grown-up Glinda has changed back into her older self. Through Glinda we see not only how people change over time, but also how identity is fluid. So who exactly is Glinda? Let's find out.
The Popular Girl
When we first meet Galinda, she's spoiled, superficial, and more than a little naïve:
She reasoned that because she was beautiful she was significant, though what she signified, and to whom, was not clear to her yet. (126.96.36.199)
But at Shiz she's forced to confront the fact that she's led a very sheltered life and may now be in a little over her head. What's interesting is Galinda's reaction to this revelation. Instead of trying to learn more about her new environment, she seems to just dig her heels in deeper.
If she was superficial, flighty, and spoiled before, she goes for broke now. Her new friends are catty, and Galinda herself is downright mean to Elphaba at times:
[Galinda:] "And, girls, when she tried on my hat, I could've died. She looked like somebody's maiden aunt come up out of the grave. I mean as frumpy as a Cow." (188.8.131.52)
But Galinda shows some signs of depth. She isn't stupid, as some of her conversations with Elphaba reveal. She also shows hints of being capable of craftiness and manipulation. She did fabricate an entire medical condition for her Ama Clutch and then boldly sold the lie to Madame Morrible in order to keep out of the dreaded "Pink Dormitory," since living there is apparently social suicide (2.1.1).
This type of behavior might not be praiseworthy, but it does demonstrate a level of intelligence that we probably wouldn't expect from hearing the topic of Galinda's admissions essay: "The Moral Philosophy of Springtime" (184.108.40.206). Then again, writing such a thing in the first place shows a strong degree of calculation and shrewdness – it got her admitted to Shiz.
Basically, Galinda has a lot of components that can be arranged in different ways in the future. Her adult identity is really up in the air, which contrasts with Elphaba, who, in a lot of ways, seems very rooted in herself even at a young age.
Glinda emerges on the scene in very dark circumstances. Her "birth" is essentially the direct result of Doctor Dillamond's death:
Glinda – for out of some belated apology for her initial rudeness to the martyred Goat, she now called herself as he had once called her – Glinda seemed to be stricken dumb before the fact of Ama Clutch. (220.127.116.11)
The name "Glinda" is ostensibly a tribute to the slain Doctor Dillamond, but the name change is really more a result of Galinda's guilt. She felt she needed an external change to reflect the huge changes she has undergone internally. But perhaps this shift may also be a method of self-preservation, a way to keep certain parts of Galinda unchanged and allowing Glinda to assume the changed aspects. Trippy.
Glinda has a different sort of relationship with Elphaba than Galinda did. She loves her, even if she is frustrated and confused by her at times. The two women develop a genuine friendship, and the height of that friendship is their journey to Emerald City:
Glinda would start as if from a frightful dream, and nestle in nearer to Elphaba, who seemed at night never to sleep. Daytimes, the long hours spent in poorly sprung carriages, Elphaba would nod off against Glinda's shoulder. (18.104.22.168)
Elphaba taught Glinda a lot during their time at Shiz, but it's arguably Elphaba's departure that has the biggest impact on her.
Glinda spends the bulk of her life apart from Elphaba, but it's clear that Elphaba has had a huge impact on her life. When they reunite it's almost as if they haven't been apart for fifteen or so years. Their shared experiences were so pivotal that it doesn't matter that they actually spent relatively little time together. But what's really fascinating about the reunion is how Glinda's speaking style and attitude sometimes resemble Galinda's when we first met her. Glinda now seems like a blend of the superficial Galinda and the more savvy Glinda:
"Oh, yes" said Glinda in a false calm, surveying the Witch up and down, "and they would make the perfect accessory for that glass-of-fashion outfit you have on. Come on, Elphie, since when have you cared about shoes, of all things? Look at those army boots you have on!" (5.3.88)
But beneath that concern for "fashion," Glinda is also aware of what the stakes are with the shoes:
But you have to see, Elphie, the shoes couldn't stay here. The ignorant pagan Munchkinlanders ...they had put too much credit in those silly shoes.... I had to get them out of Munchkinland. (5.3.96)
Glinda has come into herself, as it were: she's a powerful sorceress, she knows how to play politics, and she can be downright devious (as we see with her interactions with Dorothy). But, as Elphaba points out, Glinda is still a superficial snob. It's notable that Glinda has retained her love of architecture and fashion, which points to her superficial nature and her tendency give too much credit to appearances.
In a way, Glinda the Good Witch is the culmination of all of Galinda and Glinda's different parts, both good and bad. In this respect she's a lot like Elphaba. The two women may appear to be polar opposites, but Boq notes some striking similarities between them:
Glinda used her glitter beads, and you used your exotic looks and background, but weren't you just doing the same thing, trying to maximize what you had in order to get what you wanted? (5.5.20)
Both Glinda and Elphaba are strong women who use all the tools at their disposal (or try to at least). And both women have changed over the years and are now made up of composite parts of their pasts. It's definitely worth noting that they are both the namesakes of legendary saints: Saint Glinda and Saint Aelphaba. These ties to legend suggest that Yackle's prophecy about two influential sisters may not have been exactly accurate. Glinda too plays a vital role in the history of Oz and notably assumed the role of the "second sister" for years:
I stood by [Nessa] when you abandoned her in Shiz.... I became her surrogate sister. And as an old friend I gave her the power to stand upright by herself through those shoes." (5.3.90)
In the end, there isn't that much of a distinction between our "good" witch and our "wicked" witch, and Glinda's major role in the novel may be to demonstrate that fact.