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Working in groups, devise a classification system that encompasses all the

different kinds of popular music favored by the members of your group. You
may begin with general categories like country, pop, and rhythm and blues,
but you should also include more specific categories, such as rap and heavy
metal, in your classification system. After you decide on categories and subcategories that represent the tastes of all members of your group, fill in examples
for each category. Then devise several different options for arranging your categories into an essay.




Imagine that you are a writer for Beat magazine and have been asked to
write a feature article titled "American Music of the New Millennium." Referring to the following Web sites, use a classification-and-division structure to
discuss the types of music you think represent the future of the music industry. Be sure to give each type of music a name and describe its characteristics so
as to give your audience a sense of the differences between the categories.

Spin Magazine
<spin. com>
Along with articles on bands and "pop life," this site contains audio and
video clips of new music.
New Music Box
This magazine from the American Music Center includes articles, interviews, a calendar, news sections, and sound and audio files.
This site features contemporary works for orchestra by American composers. Visitors can listen to pieces of music, explore their background,
and learn about composers.
Rolling Stone Magazine
This site offers up-to-date music news, reviews, and interviews with various popular music groups and artists of various genres.


A definition tells what a term means and how it is different from other
terms in its class. In the following paragraph from "Altruistic Behavior,"
anthropologist Desmond Morris defines altruism, the key term of his essay:
Topic sentence
Extended definition defines term

by enume~ation
and negatton

Altruism is the performance of an unselfish

act. As a pattern ofbehavior, this act must have two
properties: it must benefit someone else, and it must
do so to the disadvantage of the benefactor. It is
not merely a matter of being helpful; it is helpfulness at a cost to yourself.

Most people think of definition in terms of dictionaries, which give

brief, succinct explanations- called formal definitions- of what words
mean. But definition also includes explaining what something, or even
someone, is- that is, its essential nature. Sometimes a definition requires a
paragraph, an essay, or even a whole book. These longer, more complex
definitions are called extended definitions.

Understanding Formal Definitions

Look at any dictionary, and you will notice that all definitions have a
standard three-part structure. First, they present the term to be defined,
then the general class it is a part of, and finally the qualities that differentiate it
from the other terms in the same class.




a unit
of protoplasm

a theory

that regards the objective facts of a
subject's actions as the only valid
basis for psychological study
with a nucleus, cytoplasm, and an
enclosing membrane



a literary


a process

whose original adherents believed

that writers should treat life with
scientific objectivity
of nuclear division of cells, consisting
of prophase, metaphase, anaphase,
and telophase


a power

to command and require obedience

Understanding Extended Definitions

An extended definition includes the three basic parts of a formal definition- the term, its class, and its distinguishing characteristics. Beyond
these essentials, an extended definition does not follow a set pattern of
development. Instead, it uses whatever strategies best suit the term being
defined and the writing situation. In fact, any one (or more than one) of
the essay patterns illustrated in this book can be used to structure a definition essay.


Supplying a formal definition of each term you use is seldom necessary or desirable. Readers will either know what a word means or be able
to look it up. Sometimes, however, defining your terms is essential- for
example, when a word has several meanings, each of which might fit your
context, or whefr you want to use a word in a special way.
When taking an exam, of course, you are likely to encounter questions
that require extended definitions. You might, for example, be asked to
define behaviorism; tell what a cell is; explain the meaning of the literary
term naturalism; include a comprehensive definition of mitosis in your
answer; or define authority. Such exam questions cannot always be answered
in one or two sentences. In fact, the definitions they call for often require
several paragraphs.
Extended definitions are useful in many academic assignments besides
exams. For example, definitions can explain abstractions like freedom, controversial terms like right to life, or slang terms (informal expressions whose
meanings may vary from locale to locale or change as time passes). In a particular writing situation, a definition may be essential because a term has
more than one meaning, because you are using it in an unusual way, or because you are fairly certain that the term will be unfamiliar to your readers.
Many extended-definition essays include short formal definitions like
those in dictionaries. In such an essay, a brief formal definition can introduce readers to the extended definition, or it can help to support the
essay's thesis. In addition, essays in which other patterns of development
are dominant often incorporate brief definitions to clarifY points or
explain basic information for the reader.


You can organize a definition essay according to one or more of the

patterns of development described in this book, or you can use other
strategies. This section explains both approaches.

Using Patterns of Development

As you plan your essay and jot down your ideas about the term or subject you will define, you will see which other patterns are most useful. For
example, the formal definitions of the five terms discussed on pages 491-92
could be expanded with five different patterns of development.

Exemplification To explain behaviorism, you could give examples.

Carefully chosen cases could show how this theory of psychology applies
to different situations. These examples could help readers see exactly how
behaviorism works and what it can and cannot account for. Often, examples are the clearest way to explain something unusual, especially when
it is unfamiliar to your readers. Defining dreams as "the symbolic representation of mental states" might convey little to readers who do not know
much about psychology, but a few examples would help you make your
point. Many students have dreams about taking exams- perhaps dreaming that they are late for the test, that they remember nothing about the
course, or that they are writing their answers in disappearing ink. You
might explain the nature of dreams by interpreting these particular dreams,
which may reflect anxiety about a course or about school in general.
Description You can explain the nature of something by describing
it. For example, the concept of a cell is difficult to grasp from just a formal
definition, but your readers would understand the concept more clearly
if you were to describe what a cell looks like, possibly with the aid of a
diagram or two. Concentrating on the cell membrane, cytoplasm, and
nucleus, you could detail each structure's appearance and function. These
descriptions would enable readers to visualize the whole cell and understand its workings. Of course, description involves more than the visual: a
definition of a tsunami might describe the sounds and the appearance of
this enormous ocean wave, and a definition of Parkinson's disease might
include a description of how its symptoms feel to a patient.
Comparison and contrast An extended definition of naturalism could
use a comparison-and-contrast structure. Naturalism is one of several major
movements in American literature, so its literary aims could be contrasted
with those of other literary movements, such as romanticism or realism.
Or you might compare and contrast the plots and characters of several naturalistic works with those of romantic or realistic works. Any time you
need to define something unfamiliar, you can compare it to something
familiar to your readers. Fot example, your readers may never have heard of
the Chinese dish called sweet-and-sour cabbage, but you can help them





imagine it by saying it tastes something like cole slaw. You can also define a
thing by contrasting it with something unlike it, especially if the two have
some qualities in common. One way to explain the British sport of rugby is
by contrasting it with American football, which is not as violent.

Process Because mitosis is a process, an extended definition of mitosis should be organized as a process explanation. By tracing the process
from stage to stage, you would be able to clearly define this type of cell division for your readers. Process is also a suitable pattern for objects that
must be defined in terms of what they do. For example, because a computer carries out certain processes, an extended definition of a computer
would probably include a process explanation.
Classification and division You could define authority by using classification and division. Basing your extended definition on the model developed by the German sociologist Max Weber, you could divide the class
authority into the subclasses traditional authority, charismatic authority, and
legal-bureaucratic authority. By explaining each type of authority, you could
clarify this very broad term for your readers. ln both extended and formal
definitions, classification and division can be very useful. By identifying
the class that something belongs to, you are explaining what kind of thing
it is. For instance, monetarism is an economic theory; The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn is a novel; emphysema is a disease. Likewise, by dividing a class
into subclasses, you are defining something more specifically. Emphysema,
for instance, is a disease of the lungs and can therefore be classified with
tuberculosis but not with appendicitis.
Using Other Strategies

In addition to using various patterns of development, you can expand

a definition by using other strategies:
You can define a term by using synonyms (words with similar meanings).
You can define a term by using negation (telling what it is not).
You can define a term by using enumeration (listing its characteristics).
You can define a term by using analogies (comparisons that identify
similarities between the term and something dissimilar).
You can define a term by discussing its origin and development (the
word's derivation, original meaning, and usages).
Phrasing Your Definition

Whatever form your definitions take, make certain that they are clear
and that they actually define your terms. Be sure to provide a true definition, not just a descriptive statement such as "Happiness is a four-day weekend." Also, remember that repetition is not definition, so don't include the

term you are defining in your definition. For instance, the statement
"abstract art is a school of artists whose works are abstract" clarifies nothing for your readers. Finally, define as precisely as possible. Name the class
of the term you are defining- "mitosis is a process in which a cell divides"and define this class as narrowly and as accurately as you can. Be specific
when you differentiate your term from other members of its class. Careful
attention to the language and structure of your definition will help readers
understand your meaning.


A definition essay should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Although a formal definition strives for objectivity, an extended definition may not. Instead, it may define a term in a way that reflects your attitude toward the subject or your reason for defining it. For example, your
extended-definition paper about literary naturalism might argue that the
significance of this movement's major works has been underestimated by
literary scholars. Similarly, your definition of authority might criticize its
abuses. In such cases, the thesis statement provides a focus for a definition
essay, telling readers your approach to the definition.
Suppose your assignment is to write a short paper for your introductory psychology course. You decide to examine behaviorism. First, you have
to determine whether your topic is appropriate for a definition essay. If the
topic suggests a response such as "The true nature of A is B" or "A means
B," then it is a definition. Of course, you can define the word in one sentence, or possibly two. But to explain the concept of behaviorism and its
position in the field of psychology, you must go beyond the dictionary.
Second, you have to decide what kinds of explanations are most suitable for your topic and for your intended audience. If you are trying to
define behaviorism for readers who know very little about psychology, you
might use comparisons that relate behaviorism to your readers' experiences, such as how they were raised or how they train their pets. You might
also use examples, but the examples would relate not to psychological experiments or clinical treatment but to experiences in everyday life. If, however, you are directing your paper to your psychology instructor, who
obviously already knows what behaviorism is, your purpose is to show that
you know, too. One way to do this is to compare behaviorism to other psychological theories; another way is to give examples of how behaviorism
;Works in practice. You could also briefly summarize the background and
history of the theory. (In a long paper, you might use all of these strategies.)
After considering your paper's scope and audience, you might decide
because behaviorism is somewhat controversial, your best strategy is
supplement a formal definition with examples showing how behavassumptions and methods are applied in specific situations. These
drawn from your class notes and textbook, will support your

th"is that bohaviori,m i, a valid approach foe treating <ettain P'Y<holog;.

cal dy,function,_
today. Togethec, youc oxample< will define bebaviori<m "' it i,
An informal outline for your essay might look like this:


Th.,i, """mom- Contta<y to iw ctitie<' obj

tions, behaviorism is a valid approach for treating
a wide variety of psychological dysfunctions.
Definition of bohavioci,m, ind uding ic, otigin, and

First example:

The use of behaviorism to help psychotics function

in an institutional setting

Second <xamp]o,

The "" of behavioci'm to tcoat neucotic behavioc,

such as chronic anxiety, a phobia, or a pattern of
destructive acts

Third example:

The use of behaviorism to treat normal but antisocial or undesirable behavior, such as heavy
smoking or overeating


Restatement of thesis or review of key points

Notice how the three examples in this paper define behaviorism with the
complexity, detail, and bteadth that a focmaj definition could not duplicate. This definition is more like a textbook explanation, and, in fact, textbook explanations are often written as extended definitions.



When you edit your definition essay, follow the guidelines on the
Checklist on page 66. In addition, focus on the grammar, mechanand punctuation issues that are most relevant to definition essays.
of these issues- avoiding the phrases is when and is where in formal
l.,.finitions- is discussed below.
For more practice in avoiding faulty constructions, visit Exercise Cenat <bedfordstmartins.comfpatterns/ faultyconstructions>.
GRAMMAR IN CONTEXT : Avoiding is when and is where

Many extended definitions include one or more one-sentence formal

~aennitions. As you have learned, each of these definitions must include the
term you are defining, the class to which the term belongs, and the characteristics that distinguish the term from other terms in the same class.
Sometimes, however, when you are defining a term or concept, you
may find yourself using the phrase is when or is where. If this is the case, your
definition is not complete because it omits the class to which the term
belongs. In fact, the use of is when or is where indicates that you are actually
presenting an example of the term and not a definition. You can avoid this
error by making certain that the form of the verb be in your definition is
always followed by a noun.*
As described in the essay "The Untouchable," prejudice is when
someone forms an irrational bias or negative opinion of a person or group
(Mahtab 498).
Correct: As described in the essay "The Untouchable," prejudice is an irrational bias or negative opinion of a person or group (Mahtab 498).


When you revise a definition essay, consider the items on the Revision
Checklist on page 54. In addition, pay special attention to the items on the
checklist below, which apply specifically to revising definition essays.


Does your assignment call for definition?

Does your essay include a dearly stated thesis that identifies the term
you will define and communicates your approach to the definition?
you included a formal definition ofyour subject? Of any additional
Have you identified a pattern or patterns of development that you can
use to expand your definition?
Have you used other strategies-such as synonyms, negation, enumeration, or analogies- to expand your definition?
Have you discussed the origin and development of the term you are

According to John Kenneth Galbraith, a burden is where certain

people object to supporting a government social program (509-10).


According to John Kenneth Galbraith, a burden is a government

social program that certain people do not support (509-10).



Have you avoided using is when and is where in your formal definitions?
Have you used the present tense for your definition- even if you have
used the past tense elsewhere in your essay?
If you have used a definition from a dictionary, have you italicized the
term you are defining (or underlined to indicate italics) and placed the
definition itself in quotation marks?

*The examples below refer to essays that appear later in this chapter.






The following student essay, written by Ajoy Mahtab for a composition

course, defines the untouchables, members of a caste that is shunned in
India. In his essay, Ajoy, who grew up in Calcutta, presents a thesis that is
sharply critical of the practice of ostracizing untouchables.

Historical background

it was taken to a far greater extreme. The

untouchables of a village lived in a separate
community downwind of the borders of the viilage. They had a separate water supply, for
they would make the village water impure if
they were to drink from it. When they walked,

The Untouchable


they were made to bang two sticks together

A word that is extremely common in India

continuously so that passersby could avoid an

yet uncommon to the point of incomprehension in

untouchable's shadow. Tied to their waists,

the West is the word untouchable. It is a word

trailing behind them. was a broom that would

that has had extremely sinister connotations

clean the ground they had walked on. The

throughout India's history. A rigorously

penalty for not following these or any other

worked-out caste system existed in traditional

rules was death for the untouchable and, in

Indian society. At the top of the social lad-

many instances, for the entire untouchable

der sat the Brahmins, the clan of the priest-


hood. These people had renounced the material

world for a spiritual one. Below them came the

Present situation

his efforts and those of many others, untoucha-

included the kings and all their nobles along

bility no longer presents anything like the

with their armies. Third on the social ladder

horrific picture painted earlier. In India

were the Vaishyas, who were the merchants of

the land. Trade was their only form of live-

today, in fact, recognition of untouchability

is punishable by law. Theoretically, there is

lihood. Last came the Shudras- the menials.

no such thing as untouchability anymore. But old

traditions linger on, and such a deep-rooted

sweepers and laborers. Originally a person's

fear passed down from generation to generation

caste was determined only by his profession.

cannot disappear overnight. Even today, caste

Thus, if the son of a merchant joined the army,

is an important factor in most marriages. Most

he automatically converted from a Vaishya to

Indian surnames reveal a person's caste immedi-

a Kshatriya. However, the system soon became

ately, and so it is a difficult thing to hide.

hereditary and rigid. Whatever one's occupa-

The shunning of the untouchable is more preva-

tion, one's caste was determined from birth

lent in South India, where the general public

according to the caste of one's father.

is much more devout, than in the North. Some

Outside of this structure were a group of

people would rather starve than share food and

people, human beings treated worse than dogs

water with an untouchable. This concept is very

and shunned far more than lepers, people who

difficult to accept in the West, but it is true

were not considered even human, people who

all the same.

defiled with their very touch. These were the

Achhoots: the untouchables. The word untouch-

is commonly defined as "that which cannot

or should not be touched." In India, however,

untouchability was Mahatma Gandhi. Thanks to

Kshatriyas, or the warrior caste. This caste

Shudras were employ@d by the prosperous as

Formal definition

One of the pioneers of the fight against


I remember an incident from my childhood.

I could not have been more than eight or nine
at the time. I was on a holiday staying at my
family's house on the river Ganges. There was


a festival going on and, as is customary, we

Thesis statement


the misery of the untouchables, the world should

were giving the servants small presents. I was

learn a lesson: isolating and punishing any

handing them out when an old lady, bent with

group of people is dehumanizing and immoral.

age, slowly hobbled into the room. She stood in

the far corner of the room all alone, and no one

Points for Special Attention

so much as looked at her. When the entire line

ended, she stepped hesitantly forward and stood
in front of me, looking down at the ground.
She then held a cloth stretched out in front of
her. I was a little confused

about how I was

supposed to hand her her present, since both
her hands were holding the cloth. Then, with
the help of prompting from someone behind me,
I learned that I was supposed to drop the gift
into the cloth without touching the cloth itself. It was only later that I found out that
she was an untouchable. This was the first time
I had actually come face to face with prejudice,
and it felt like a slap in the face. That incident was burned into my memory, and I do not
think I will ever forget it.

Conclusion begins

The word untouchable is not

often used in

the West, and when

it is, it is generally used

as a complimentary term. Fo~ example, an avid
fan might say of an athlete, He was absolutely
untouchable. Nobody could even begin to compare
with him. It seems rather ironic that a word
could be so favorable in one culture and so
derogatory in another. Why does a word that
gives happiness in one part of the world cause
pain in another? Why does the same word have
different meanings to different people around
the globe? Why do certain words cause rifts and
others forge bonds? I do not think anyone can
tell me the answer.

Conclusion continues

No actual parallel can be found today that

compares to the horrors of untouchability. For
an untouchable, life itself was a crime. The
day was spent just trying to stay alive. From

Thesis Statement Ajoy Mahtab's assignment was to write an

extended definition of a term he assumed would be unfamiliar to his audience. Because he had definite ideas about the unjust treatment of the
untouchables, Ajoy wanted his essay to have a strong thesis that communicated his disapproval. Still, because he knew his American classmates
would need a good deal of background information before they would
accept such a thesis, he decided not to present it in his introduction.
Instead, he decided to lead up to his thesis gradually and state it at the end
of his essay. When other students in the class reviewed his draft, this
subtlety was one of the points they reacted to most favorably.
Structure Ajoy's introduction establishes the direction of his essay
by introducing the word he will define; he then places this word in context
by explaining India's rigid caste system. In paragraph 2, he gives the formal
definition of the word untouchable and goes on to sketch the term's historical background. Paragraph 3 explains the status of the untouchables in
present-day India, and paragraph 4 gives a vivid example of Ajoy's first
encounter with an untouchable. As he begins his conclusion in paragraph
5, Ajoy brings his readers back to the word his essay defines. Here he uses
two strategies to add interest: he contrasts a contemporary American usage
of untouchable with its derogatory meanirig in India, and he asks a series of
rhetorical questions (questions asked for effect and not meant to be
answered). In paragraph 6, Ajoy presents a summary of his position to lead
into his thesis statement.
Patterns of Development This essay uses a number of strategies
commonly encountered in extended definitions: it includes a formal definition, explains the term's origin, and explores some of the term's connotations. In addition, the essay incorporates several familiar patterns of
development. For instance, paragraph 1 uses classification and division to
explain India's caste system; paragraphs 2 and 3 use brief examples to ill us.trate the plight of the untouchable; and paragraph 4 presents a narrative.
Each of these patterns enriches the definition.
Focus on Revision
Because the term Ajoy defined was so unfamiliar to his classmates,
many of the peer editing worksheets his classmates filled in asked for more
information. One suggestion in particular-that he draw an analogy


between the unfamiliar term untouchable and a more familiar conceptappealed to Ajoy as he planned his revision. Another student suggested
that Ajoy could compare untouchables to other groups who are shunnedfor example, people with AIDS. Although Ajoy states in his conclusion that
no parallel exists, an attempt to find common ground between untouchables and other groups could make his essay more meaningful to his readers- and bring home to them an idea that is distinctly foreign. Such a
connection could also make his conclusion especially powerful. (A sample
peer editing worksheet for definition can be found on the Patterns for College Writing Web site at <bedfordstmartins.comjpatterns> .)


U.S. Census 2000 Form


The selections that follow use exemplification, description, narration,

and other methods of developing extended definitions. The first selection,
a visual text, is followed by questions designed to illustrate how definition
can operate in visual form.


1. In a single complete sentence, define yourself in terms of your race, religion, or ethnicity (whatever is most important to you).
2. Look at the U.S. Census questions above. Which boxes would you mark?
Do you see this choice as an accurate expression of what you consider
yourself to be? Explain.







3. Only recently has the Bureau of the Census permitted respondents to

mark "one or more races" to indicate their ethnic identity. Do you think
this option is a good idea? Why or why not?


I Want a Wife


Why do you think the government needs to know "what [a] person considers
himself/herself to be"? Do you think it is important for the government to
know how people define themselves, or do you consider this information to be
an unwarranted violation of a person's privacy? Explain.

"Only Daughter" (page 84)

"Indian Education" (page 126)

"The 'Black Table' Is Still There" (page 340)

"Two Ways to Belong in America" (page 397)

"Mother Tongue" (page 462)

Judy Brady was born in San Francisco in 1937 and earned a B.F.A. in painting from the University of Iowa in 1962. She has raised two daughters,
worked as a secretary, and published articles on many social issues. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980, she became active in the politics of cancer and has edited Women and Cancer (1990) and One in Three: Women with
Cancer Confront an Epidemic (1991). She also helped found the Toxic Links
Coalition, an organization devoted to lobbying for cancer and environmental issues.
Background: Brady has been active in the women's movement since
1969, and "I Want a Wife" first appeared in the premiere issue of the feminist Ms. magazine in 1972. That year represented perhaps the height of
the feminist movement in the United States. The National Organization
for Women, established in 1966, had hundreds of chapters around the
country. The Equal Rights Amendment, barring discrimination against
women, passed in Congress (although it has been ratified by only thirtyfive of the necessary thirty-eight states), and Congress also passed Title IX
of the Education Amendments Act, which required equal opportunity (in
sports as well as academics) for all students in any school that receives
federal funding. At that time, women accounted for just under 40 percent
of the labor force (up from 23 percent in 1950), a number that has grown
to almost SO percent today. Of mothers with children under the age of
eighteen, fewer than 40 percent were employed in 1970; today, threequarters work, 38 percent of them full-time and year-round. As for stay-athome fathers, their numbers have increased from virtually zero to close to
three million.

I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am A Wife.

And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother.
Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh
from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife.
He is looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing
one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I, too, would like to have a
wife. Why do I want a wife?
I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically
independent, support myself, and, if need be, support those dependent
upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I
am going to school I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife
to keep track of the children's doctor and dentist appointments. And to
keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly
and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children's clothes and
keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nurturant attendant to my


children, who arranges for their schooling, makes sure that they have an
adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo, etc.
I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife
who arranges to be around when the children need special care, because,
of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose
time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife's
income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say,
wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is
I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who
will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife
who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean,
ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the
minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good
cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery
shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I
am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want
a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can
of scene. to care for me and my children when I need a rest and change
I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about
a wife's duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the
need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course of
And I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them.
I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When
my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care
of the babysitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like
and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I
talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will
have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests
arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of
the needs of my guests so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that
they have an ashtray, that they are passed the hors d'oeuvres, that they are
offered a second helping of the food, that their wine glasses are replenished
when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I
want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself
I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love
passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am
satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes the complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more children.
I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have
to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who

I I Want a Wife


that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to

I must, after all, be able to relate to people as fully as possible.
If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the
I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with
one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh new life; my wife will take the
and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.
When I am through with school and have a job, I want my wife to quit

and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife's duties.
My God, who wouldn't want a wife?



1. In one sentence, define what Brady means by wife. Does this ideal wife

actually exist? Explain.

2. List some of the specific duties of the wife Brady describes. Into what five
general categories does Brady arrange these duties?
3. What complaints does Brady apparently have about the life she actually
leads? To what does she seem to attribute her problems?
4. Under what circumstances does Brady say she would consider leaving her
wife? What would happen to the children if she left?

1. This essay was first published in Ms. magazine. In what sense is it appro-

priate for the audience of this feminist publication? Where else can you
imagine it appearing?
2. Does this essay have an explicitly stated thesis? If so, where is it? If the thesis is implied, paraphrase it.
3. Do you think Brady really wants the kind of wife she describes? Explain.

1. Throughout the essay, Brady repeats the words "I want a wife." What is the
effect of this repetition?
2. The first and last paragraphs of this essay are quite brief. Does this weaken
the essay? Why or why not?
3. In enumerating a wife's duties, Brady frequently uses the verb arrange.
What other verbs does she use repeatedly? How do these verbs help her
make her point?
4. Brady never uses the personal pronouns he or she to refer to the wife she
defines. Why not?
5. Comment on Brady's use of phrases like of course (2, 3, and 7), needless to
say (3), after all (7), by chance (8), and naturally (8). What do these expressions
contribute to the sentences in which they appear? To the essay as a whole?


_,.., . . . . . ,01'1






Define each of the following words as it is used in this selection.

nurturant (3)
adherence (7)
replenished (6)
monogamy (7)

2. Going beyond the dictionary definitions, decide what Brady means to suggest by the following words. Is she using any of these words sarcastically?
proper (4)
pleasantly (4)
bother (6)

necessary (6)
demand (7)
clutter up (7)

suitable (8)
free (8)


Is Brady's 1972 characterization of a wife still accurate today? Which of the

characteristics she describes have remained the same? Which have changed?


Write an essay in which you define your ideal spouse.

Write an essay entitled "I Want a Husband." Taking an ironic stance, use
society's notions of the ideal husband to help you shape your definition.

3. Read "The Company Man" (page 517). Using ideas gleaned from that essay
and "I Want a Wife," as well as your own ideas, write a definition essay
called "The Ideal Couple." Your essay can be serious or humorous.
Develop your definition with examples.

Like most definition essays, "I Want a Wife" uses several patterns of development. Which ones does it use? Which of these do you consider most important
for supporting Brady's thesis? Why?

"My Mother Never Worked" (page 96)

"Sex, Lies, and Conversation" (page 407)

"The Men We Carry in Our Minds" (page 456)


One of the twentieth century's most influential economists, John Kenneth
Galbraith was born in 1908 in Ontario, Canada, the son of a farmer. He
studied agriculture at the University of Toronto and received advanced
degrees in economics at the University of California at Berkeley. He became a U.S. citizen in 1937. Galbraith has taught economics at Harvard
and Princeton and has held a number of important government positions,
most notably as economic advisor to Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. He is the author of more than
thirty books for general readers, including The Affluent Society (1958), The
Age ofUncertainty (1977), and The Good Society (1996).
Background: The following essay first appeared on the op-ed page of
the New York Times in 1995, at the peak of the debate in Congress over
reducing welfare and other benefits to the poor and the unemployed. The
taxpayer-supported antipoverty programs that were passed by Congress in
the 1960s have long been controversial. On the one side are those (such as
Galbraith) who advocate a more equal distribution of wealth in the
United States. These people maintain that wealthy citizens and large corporations should be taxed at high rates so that the government can provide housing, food subsidies, and educational opportunities for those
who are less well off On the other side are those who advocate essentially
equal tax rates for all, tax reductions for corporations that create jobs, and
fewer government regulations and services. For these critics, aid to the economically disadvantaged has become a "burden" to taxpayers; Galbraith
here finds it ironic that other types of government expenditures are not so
defined. (Note that much of this "burden" was eliminated by the Welfare
Reform Act of 1998.)

In these last years, and notably in these past months, we have heard
of the burden imposed by government on the citizen. Nothing has
more emphasized in speech and possibly also in thought. This comis not meant to regret this concern, as some might suppose: rather, it
to clarify the way the word burden is now employed. It has a very special
~nnotation, of which all who cherish good or anyhow accepted English
should be aware.
As now used, burden applies only to a very specific range of government
Many are not a burden and are not to be so described. Defense
is definitely not a burden; indeed, increases therein are now
proposed. That there is now no wholly plausible enemy does not
the situation. Similarly, in recent years large sums, in a range upward
_$50 billion, have been appropriated to bail out failed financial inspecifically the savings and loan associations. This was not a