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3.6: Comparison and Contrast

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    The Purpose of Comparison and Contrast in Writing

    Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare-and-contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by examining them closely and comparing them, contrasting them, or both.

    The key to a good compare-and-contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities. For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to compare and contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences. For example, Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Drawing distinctions between elements in a similar category will increase the audience’s understanding of that category, which is the purpose of the compare-and-contrast essay.

    Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two apples or two oranges because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare how apples and oranges are quite similar. The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be.

    Exercise 16

    Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples.

    • Romantic comedies
    • Internet search engines
    • Cell phones

    Exercise 17

    Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison. Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities.

    • Department stores and discount retail stores
    • Fast food chains and fine dining restaurants
    • Dogs and cats

    The Structure of a Comparison-and-Contrast Essay

    The compare-and-contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward comparing, contrasting, or both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting.

    Thesis statement: Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but when put to the test, they are definitely worth every extra penny.

    Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventional vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader.

    You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

    1. According to the subjects themselves, discussing one and then the other
    2. According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point

    See the "Comparison and Contrast Diagram," which diagrams ways to organize our organic versus conventional vegetables thesis. The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

    Given that compare-and-contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. See Table of "Phrases of Comparison and Contrast" for examples.

    Table of Phrases of Comparison and Contrast
    Comparison Contrast
    one similarity one difference
    Both conversely
    Like in contrast
    Likewise unlike
    Similarly while
    in a similar fashion whereas

    e99c086728b2469f1325a72bcbeaf30e8.png

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) - Comparison and Contrast Diagram

    Exercise 18

    Create an outline for each of the items you chose in Exercise 16 and Exercise 17 Use the pointby-point organizing strategy for one of them, and use the subject organizing strategy for the other.

    Writing a Comparison-and-Contrast Essay

    First choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare and contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both, as well as state what can be learned from doing so. Be sure to make an argument in your thesis; explain to the reader what’s at stake in analyzing the relationship between your stated subjects.

    The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Make sure to use comparison and contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.

    After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and reinforces your thesis. See the student essay that follows, “Batman: A Hero for Any Time,” as well as the professional essays at the end of this chapter to read some examples of the compare-and-contrast essay. 

    Exercise 19

    Choose one of the outlines you created in Exercise 18 and write a full compare-and-contrast essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, well-defined and detailed paragraphs, and a fitting conclusion that ties everything together.

    Sample Comparison-and-Contrast Essay

    In “Batman: A Hero for Any Time,” Jacob Gallman-Dreiling compares the traditional portrayal of the superhero Batman with the modern version. As you read, look for the comparison and contrast phrases that the author uses to help the reader understand the argument he is making. What kind of organizational structure does the essay follow? 

    Outline

    Jacob Gallman-Dreiling

    English 1101

    Dr. Cox

    16 March 2013

    Outline

    Thesis: Although the framework of the Batman story always remains the same, the character has been re-imagined over time to suit the changing expectations of a hero through his characterization as well as that of those who surround him, both friends and foes.

    1. The backstory for Batman has always remained the same.
      1. Bruce Wayne is the son of wealthy socialites.
        1. Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered in front of him.
        2. Bruce Wayne grows up to inherit his parents’ fortune.
      2. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman to avenge the violence of his parents’ death.
        1. Batman fights crime with the help of Commissioner Gordon and others.
        2. Batman employs an arsenal of non-lethal weapons to aid him.
    2. The characterization of Batman has changed to fit the changing expectations of a hero.
      1. In the Silver Age of comic books, Batman was portrayed as a sunny, pulpy character.
        1. Batman’s stories had to adhere to the guidelines of the Comics Code Authority.
          1. Characters could not use concealed weapons.
          2. Stories required “morals.”
          3. Stories could not use kidnapping or excessive violence.
          4. Stories incorporated elements of science fiction.
          5. Stories had limitations on the portrayal of female characters.
        2. Batman’s suits often had ridiculous properties he conveniently prepared for the upcoming mission.
      2. In modern portrayals, Batman is a tortured and flawed character.
        1. Batman is haunted by the death of his parents.
        2. Batman has become a skilled detective and fighter.
        3. Batman’s suit is more armor than spandex.
        4. Batman is haunted by his mistakes.
        5. Batman and Commissioner Gordon conspire to hide the truth about Harvey Dent from the people of Gotham.
    3. The characterization of Batman’s associates has changed to fit the changing expectations of a hero.
      1. In the Silver Age of comic books, Batman’s associates were correspondingly lighthearted. 
        1. Characters like Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mice, and Batwoman were created to draw in children.
        2. Issues were built around a villain-of-the-week.
      2. In modern portrayals, Batman’s associates deal with real consequences and changes.
        1. Dick Grayson grows up and goes to college.
        2. Batgirl is paralyzed by the Joker.
        3. Joker is given several conflicting backstories explaining his psychosis.
        4. Catwoman has changed from a harmless cat-burglar to a reformed prostitute.

    Student Essay

    Jacob Gallman-Dreiling

    English 1101

    Dr. Cox

    16 March 2013

    Batman: A Hero for Any Time

    Few ideas in this world are as timeless as that of a superhero. The ancient Greeks had Odysseus and Hercules. The British have Sherlock Holmes and Allan Quatermain. The Americans developed the modern concept of the superhero with characters like Superman and Spider-Man and created elaborate stories for the origin of their powers, much like the Greeks used when creating their heroes. While the world of superheroes was originally a white man’s club, the creation of Wonder Woman ushered in a new era of diversity. Now men, women, people of color, even those of differing sexual orientations are represented among the ranks of those who fight against evil. Though teams of superheroes like the Justice League of America and the XMen have enduring popularity, few superheroes have captured the imagination like Batman. Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, a boy orphaned by violence grows to become the Caped Crusader, avenger of the fictional of Gotham. This comic book hero has spurred film, radio, and television adaptations, has spawned action figures and video games, and has maintained an uninterrupted comic book publication, something few other superhero titles can boast. Although the framework of the Batman story always remains the same, the character has been re-imagined over time to suit the changing expectations of a hero through his characterization as well as through the portrayal of those who surround him, both friends and foes.

    The basic framework of the Batman story has stayed the same since his debut in May, 1939. At the age of eight, Bruce Wayne, the son of wealthy socialites, witnesses his parents’ murder at the hands of a desperate mugger and swears to avenge their deaths by waging war on all criminals. He grows up to inherit their fortune and the family company, using the money to fund charitable efforts and to reside in stately Wayne Manor. By night, he becomes Batman, ridding the Gotham City streets of menacing foes like the Joker, the Riddler, and Two-Face. He is aided in his fight by his sidekick Robin, Batgirl, and Commissioner Gordon, as well as his butler Alfred Pennyworth. His most enduring love interest is Selina Kyle, who is also known as the notorious cat-burglar, Catwoman. Batman eschews lethal weaponry such as guns, instead preferring to outwit his foes using his intellect to bring them to justice.

    While the key details of Batman’s backstory have remained unchanged for almost seventy-five years, his characterization has changed to suit the ever-evolving expectations of a superhero. When the character debuted in the Silver Age of comics—the decades between 1950 and 1970—he was a sunny, pulpy character: he was billed as the “World’s Greatest Detective” and performed as such, while reflecting what is considered to be a more innocent time. His villains were grand, but he outsmarted them using his intelligence and science. The introduction of the Comics Code Authority in 1954 restricted not only the way that stories were presented but also the types of stories that could be presented. For instance, concealed weapons were forbidden, stories were required to have “morals,” and kidnapping and excessive violence were forbidden. As such, Batman’s stories began incorporating elements of science fiction. As the comics demonstrate, Batman famously repels aliens and an island of animatronic dinosaurs during this period. Also, female characters in the Batman stories of this time are poorly treated. The villain Catwoman had to be shelved due to regulations regarding women and violence, while the original Batwoman was brought on as a potential love interest to quiet the growing assertion of conservative culture warriors that Batman and Robin were, in fact, lovers. When this version of Batwoman was deemed unnecessary, she was written out. This period is also famous for Batman having “batsuits” with heretofore unseen special properties, such as fireproofing and thermal heating.

    Modern portrayals of Batman show him as a deeply flawed, psychologically scarred hero. During the 1980s the Comics Code’s influence was waning, and writers like Frank Miller took advantage of this to tell brutal, psychological stories. Haunted by the murder of his parents, a modern Batman is dangerous and calculating. He has returned to his roots as a skilled detective and fighter, which has made him suspicious and paranoid. He is often depicted as having calculated how to defeat his allies, should the need arise, with contingency plans for everyone from Robin to Superman. Modern writers have a young Bruce Wayne train as a ninja before returning to Gotham to become Batman, so greater emphasis is placed on his stealth and fighting skills. The batsuit has reflected this change as well, shifting from a cloth/spandex suit to one that is very clearly body armor, built to withstand bullets and knives.

    He is also haunted by his mistakes. After the death of Jason Todd, the second sidekick to go by the codename Robin, Batman spirals into anger and depression over not being able to prevent Jason’s death at the hands of the Joker. For the next decade, Jason’s murder haunts Batman alongside that of his parents as his greatest failure. He puts Jason’s costume on display in the Batcave as motivation. In the 2008 Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight, Batman and Commissioner Gordon conspire to hide the truth of the popular District Attorney Harvey Dent’s descent into madness so that Gotham City will have a symbol of hope. While that decision is for the good of the city, it leads to Bruce Wayne’s reclusion and an eight year hiatus as Batman. Such dark, psychological stories would never have been allowed during the heyday of the Comics Code Authority.

    Just as the portrayal of Batman has shifted to meet the current expectations of a superhero, so too have the depictions of the characters around him, both allies and enemies. During the Silver Age, Batman’s associates are, like Batman himself, light-hearted. Characters like Ace the Bat-Hound and the Bat-Mice were introduced to bring in more young readers, though these characters were rarely seen after 1964. Issues were built around a villain-of-the-week who is purely evil and has no outside motivation. These stories also tend to be episodic with no story arcs or even character arcs. The Joker is originally a calculating murderer, but his character becomes a gleeful trickster to comply with the Code.

    As readers matured, the creative forces driving the various Batman outlets were able to tell more complex, meaningful stories. Thus, in modern portrayals, Batman’s associates deal with real, lasting consequences and changes. Beginning with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight comic series, Batman’s friends begin their trials. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, grows up and goes to college, being replaced by the ill-fated Jason Todd. He becomes a hero in his own right, going by the codename Nightwing and becoming the leader of the Teen Titans. In the seminal 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke, Batgirl is partially paralyzed by the Joker, who shoots her through her spine as part of an effort to drive her father, Commissioner Gordon, insane. This condition lasts until the DC-Universe-wide reboot in 2011, and she is now able to walk and has resumed the mantle of Batgirl. The Joker himself has been given many different backstories, all of them horrific. Filmmakers give a nod to the Joker’s varied backstories in the film The Dark Knight by having the Joker give conflicting accounts of how he received his trademark scars. Catwoman is originally just a bored housewife who turns to crime, but beginning in the 1980s her story retroactively changes to her being a prostitute who turns to burglary to buy freedom for herself and her sister. Once a staunch villain of Batman, this new version of the character is portrayed more as an antihero; though she is not necessarily an upstanding citizen, the new Catwoman will join forces with Batman to fight evil when it suits her. These stories appeal to an audience craving depth and substance to their characters, far different from the Pre-Vietnam War era Batman stories.

    While the key details to the Batman story never change, the way the character has been presented has changed over time, as has the way his associated characters have been presented. It is perhaps this adaptability that has allowed Batman to flourish in popularity for almost seventy-five years, with no signs of that popularity waning. As the demographic for Batman’s stories matures, the power wielded by the Comics Code Authority has diminished, making darker, more meaningful stories possible. Previously one dimensional characters were given subtleties and nuances, much in the way modern film versions depict the heroes of old, from Odysseus to Sherlock Holmes. As society’s norms change, this change is reflected in the way films, stories, and comic books depict superheroes. With all the changes occurring in culture worldwide, who knows what the next generation’s Batman will be like?

    Online Compare-and-Contrast Essay Alternatives

    Deborah Tannen compares and contrasts conversation styles in “Sex, Lies and Conversation: Why Is It So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other?

    Alex Wright examines communication patterns, old and new, in “Friending, Ancient or Otherwise.”

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