Sample 'A' Paper

Below is a paper written by a student in Spring 2003.

Things to note (in order of importance):

1) The student never rests at paraprase but always seeks to interpret the descriptions s/he provides. What you have here is an argument that enlightens the work not a mere rehashing of plot. The student is also offerring up a fascinating application of theoretical work by Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, and Jacques Lacan.

2) The student has used a good deal of evidence from the work s/he examines to support his/her case. S/he also provides insight into these passages and incorporates her quotations well.

3) Rather than making numerous points briefly, the student has chosen to concentrate on a specific topic so that s/he can provide an in-depth and extensive interpretation of the work at hand.

4) The paper has a clearly articulated thesis in the introduction, one that is developed in different ways in each of the paragraphs of the paper.

5) The paper proceeds logically from sentence to sentence, from point to point, from paragraph to paragraph.

6) The paper has almost no grammatical and stylistic problems.


Following the Crowd

[my comments are in this color]

The world is not what it seems. Everything that once was a fact, a belief beyond doubt, is really a part of a fictitious universe known to many as home. In truth, humans are disconnected from the real world and are living in a virtual reality. This is the world of The Matrix. This virtual reality of the Matrix is not far off from the world we live in, as is described by Lacan. Basically, we live in a world based on rules and order which disconnects us from what is real. In the movie The Matrix, the training program exemplifies symbolic order; how it is obeyed, embraced, intruded upon by the real, and what happens when it is challenged.

Symbolic order dominates the entire scene, but how the world obeys this order is especially apparent at the beginning. The scene starts with a shot of a red “Do not walk” sign, which entirely fills the screen for about five seconds. Suddenly, it changes to a green “Walk” signal, and, as this happens, everything begins moving. This shows how this world operates by following symbols and their meanings. It is as if the signs, which are symbols of commands, dictate what everyone does. When the shot focuses on the “Do not walk” sign, nothing moves, not even the film shot. But when it changes to the walk sign, everything onscreen obeys; the film shot changes and people begin moving. However, they do not move in normal, random directions. Instead everyone follows a pattern, an order. By moving in the same direction, everyone is following the same symbolic order. Morpheus, on the other hand, can easily go against this flow of people because he has already broken ties with the reality, with the symbolic order. However, up to this point, Neo is still struggling with the concept of what is “real” and is having trouble giving up the symbolic order of everything he has learned. This is why when he tries to follow Morpheus against the flow of people, he bumps into them and half spins around, as if at any moment the crowd will turn him around and push him back into the flow of symbolic order.

Not only does the crowd of people obey the symbolic order, but they also embrace it. This crowd of people moving in the same direction, following the same symbolic order, is largely made of businessmen and women; people who chose structured lives and follow rules and orders on a regular basis. Also, here and here some unique people, like a nun, a bride, and military men, pass into and out of view. All these people have embraced the symbolic in their lives through an oral symbolic ritual in order to create their social reality and identities; nuns give a pledge to God and then dedicate their life to religion, the bride gives the marital vow and is then wed, and the military men give an oath to their country and then fight for it. According to Judith Butler[comma] social reality is based upon language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign" (Felluga “Modules on Butler”). All those people went through a speech act which “...can produce that which it names...only by reference to the law (or the accepted norm, code, or contract), which is cited or repeated (and thus performed) in the pronouncement” (Felluga “Modules on Butler”). These speech acts create social realities which are[comma] in turn[comma] supported by the symbolic. At this time, Morpheus is also asking Neo to look at the matrix, the world around him. He says, “...what do you see? Businessmen, Teachers, Lawyers, Carpenters...the very minds of the people we're trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will that they will fight to protect it.” [The preceding long quotation should be indented] This is stressing that every individual person, with their social identity, is a part of the symbolic order, or “the system” as Morpheus calls it. Like everyone in the world, they have created their identities based on this system and are not willing to give up the symbolic and disrupt their lives. Humans are so reliant on language and symbolic order that to try and pull them out of it and towards the real will cause them to “fight to protect it [symbolic order].” In other words, they will violently reject the real; they will use the abject and abjection as “safeguards” to protect themselves (Kristeva 2).

Even with the embracing of symbolic order and rejection of the real, the real still intrudes upon the order. It is in this next part of the scene that the real breaks into the order, and this is where the woman in the red dress makes her appearance. She comes silently out of the order of the crowd, a red blot which grows larger and larger in the screen and watches Neo seductively. She represents the gaze, which is the real that intrudes into order and looks back at Neo, and also the phallus, which signifies “...everything the subject loses through his entrance into language” (Felluga "Modules on Lacan”). As Lacan states, by entering into language, humans have severed their relationship to desire [really, "sexuality" since desire is controlled by language, according to Lacan] and the real. Neo, however, begins to watch the woman in the red dress and tunes out what Morpheus is saying; he is tuning out language and the symbolic which are separating him from the real. As Neo stares back at her, the woman in red, or real desire, walks temptingly away and disappears into the symbolic order of the crowd. But she has caused enough disruption in that short amount of time; she has caused Neo to acknowledge her. When Neo looks away and then turns back around, he finds an agent pointing a gun at his head. The agent represents the Law and the “Name-of-the-Father,” the keeper of symbolic order who imposes social structures and prohibits most of our actions (Felluga "Modules on Lacan”). Neo came too close to the real, and the Law stepped in to restore order, to prevent the breakdown of the symbolic for Neo. However, even when Morpheus “freezes” the scene and Neo gets over his initial shock, Neo does not move out of the way of the agent’s gun. Even when Morpheus seems to have control of the situation, the Law is still there, a threatening force in the background that cannot be easily escaped. [This section needs a little more explaining since the woman in red appears to correspond to an object of desire; however, as we read in Laura Mulvey and Kaja Silverman such fetishized women are, in fact, closely connected to castration anxiety (and, thus, to the fear of the real's intrusion); that's the link you need to help you make this move, I think.]

This reaction of the Law to the intrusion of the real teaches Neo that symbolic order will always stand in his way of the real; he will have to challenge the order to escape. The only way that Neo can get away from the symbolic order is to fight the agents, or the Law. Morpheus explains how, [delete comma] “Every single man or woman who has stood their ground, everyone who has fought an agent has died. But where they have failed, you will succeed.” As Morpheus is explaining this to Neo, his glasses reflect two separate images of Neo with the agent pointing the gun at his head. Morpheus’s glasses are reflection [reflecting] the choices Neo has. Earlier in the movie, when Neo was choosing between the red and the blue pill, Morpheus’s glasses showed two reflections—one of Neo and the red pill and one of him with the blue pill. Whereas that scene represented the two choices Neo had, this scene represents how Neo has no choice at all; the only way to escape symbolic order is to confront the Law.

From the beginning with the street sign to the end conflict with the agent, it is obvious that this scene is entirely concerned with symbolic order. It shows how the symbolic order is obeyed, how signs and symbols dictate people’s actions and responses to the world around them. It also illustrates how the symbolic is accepted and embraced by those it controls; how people use the symbolic order to create their social identities and are prepared to fight to preserve that order. It also demonstrates the intrusion of the real upon this order and how the Law steps in to prevent the breakdown of the symbolic. Finally, it shows that confronting the Law is the only choice available to escape the symbolic order. This one scene lays out the entire system of symbolic order which the virtual reality of the matrix follows. [last paragraph is a little repetitive]

Works Cited

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Butler: On Gender and Sex." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 11 March 2003. Purdue U. 23 March 2003. <>.

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Lacan: On Psychosexual Development." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 11 March 2003. Purdue U. 23 March 2003. <>.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.

Back to Course Syllabus