Levels of Generality within a Paragraph

by Jane Degenhardt

 

This exercise is designed to help you to recognize how the sentences within a paragraph are (or should be) interrelated according to different levels of generality. See the example below to understand how each sentence can be assigned a number that indicates its level of generality. If the first sentence is the topic sentence, then it should be labeled as a level "1," because in a sense, it is the most "general" statement in the paragraph. Sentences labeled as level "2" support or continue to explain the idea in the topic sentence; they are less general than the topic sentence because they focus on something specific that is related to the topic sentence. Sentences labeled as level "3" support or continue to explain level "2" sentences. Sentences labeled as level "4" support or continue to explain level "3" sentences, and so on.

The sentences in the paragraph below are separated and labeled by number to show their levels of generality.

 

1. If you are worried about the psychological makeup of prospective
tentmates, you might want to invest in a shelter sewn from pink fabric.
(topic sentence)
	2. Behavioral psychologists speculate that there may be hormonal
	neurotransmitters in the eye that are stimulated by the discrete
	wavelengths of certain colors.
		3. These are thought to affect the hormonal output of the
		brain's hypothalamus, pineal, and pituitary glands, which
		in turn determine mood.
	2. In a series of highly publicized experiments, test subjects were
	placed in a small room painted in a shade known as "Baker-Miller pink."
		3. Within fifteen minutes of entering the small chamber,
		say the researchers, the subjects' muscles were 
		tranquilized to the point of weakness, and there was a
		dramatic reduction in "violent, aberrant, aggressive, and
		self-mutilative behavior" in criminals, paranoid
		schizophrenics, and "obstreperous youths."

				--John Krakauer, Eiger Dreams

Try labeling the sentences in the paragraph below by placing a "1", "2," or "3" before each sentence.

 

____  Although the idea of being a circus clown has held appeal for me
ever since childhood, the practicalities of learning the trade have always
kept me at bay.  ____  I would not enjoy getting into a tiny car and
sitting very, very close to other members of my profession.  ____  You
never really know where another clown has been, and those tiny cars are
havens for disease.  ____  Also, I do not want to litter my friends' homes
with my failed balloon art.  ____  Finally, I am not anxious to have
seltzer poured down my pants.  ____  I am afraid this could trigger some
of my bad memories from junior high school.  
____  However, when a magazine editor told me that a singles resort in
Negril, Jamaica, was, in an attempt to lure off-peak guests, holding a
circus workshop in which it would bring "all the excitement of the big
tent to its sandy white beach on the Caribbean sea," the inherent
graciousness of resort living persuaded me to abandon my preconceptions
and accept the assignment.


					--Henry Alford, Municipal Bondage

In groups, construct your own paragraphs according to the following paragraph structures.

 

Topic Sentence: This apartment really needs redecorating!


	2_________________________________________________________________

	__________________________________________________________________

		3_________________________________________________________

		__________________________________________________________

	2_________________________________________________________________

	__________________________________________________________________

		3_________________________________________________________

		__________________________________________________________

		3_________________________________________________________

		__________________________________________________________

 

Topic Sentence: The question of how to restrict children's access to
"inappropriate" content in the media without violating first amendment
rights is a complex one.


	2_________________________________________________________________

	__________________________________________________________________

	2_________________________________________________________________

	__________________________________________________________________

		3_________________________________________________________

		__________________________________________________________

			4_________________________________________________

			4_________________________________________________

	2_________________________________________________________________

	__________________________________________________________________

		3_________________________________________________________

		__________________________________________________________

 

Now, see if you can label the levels of generality in paragraphs from your own essays. Identify places where there are problems, for example, too many level "2" sentences and no level "3" or level "4" sentences, or sentences which can't be labeled at all because they don't relate to any of the other sentences in the paragraph.

 

____  Their journey towards complete independence from the greater population begins with one fight.  ___  This initial fight occurs just after the narrator has "met" Tyler for the first time. ___  The scene is written as a memory in order to emphasize its place in the past, and the anonymous man narrates the scene so as to underscore that it is the beginning of his own departure from society. ___  The narrator begins with the statement, "When we invented fight club, Tyler and I, neither of us had ever been in a fight before" (Palahniuk 52). ___  This statement, while placing the scene in its chronological context, also puts the characters in their position in society. ___  They are seen as "good" boys who never shifted from what society expected from them.  ___  The narrator believes that he will only be successful in his escape from society if he allows Tyler to assume power over him.  ___  This assumption of power happens almost immediately.  ___  In the text, the narrator asks Tyler to close his eyes, and Tyler simply says, "no" (52). ___  Later in the passage the narrator attempts to hit Tyler, but he misses, and says that it did not count.  ___  Tyler simply replies, "Yeah it counted," and the narrator obeys immediately.  ___  These quick segments of conversation between the two characters show a change in authority.   ___  Tyler has assumed complete control with total ease.  ___ By allowing his disorder to overtake his mind, the narrator further alienates himself from society because his disorder is considered cause for institutionalization.  ___  It is interesting to point out that the author uses the word "whispers" when describing the tone in which Tyler's fans speak to him at the end of the passage.  ___  Perhaps this sums up the large amount of quietness that exists in the story with reference to Tyler's Project Mayhem.  ___  This secrecy in itself could constitute a metaphor to the theme of alienation.  ___  A group of emasculated men find themselves isolated in society without knowing what their roles are.  ___  They are forced to find a role model and alienate themselves from society in secrecy.   ___  Careful installments of detail and imagery draw attention to the trivialities of urban, yuppie lifestyle instead of exalting the manly brawls.  ___  Compared to descriptions of nine-to-five, clerical drones at work, fight scenes are relatively simplistic and unexaggerated.  ___  The description of a fight is restrained to a "kick," "pound," and "limp" equation (Palaniuk 48-9).  ___  Instead of vividly imagining a fight scene, the reader's attention is directed to a copy room clerk that cannot "put colored slip sheets between the copy packets" (Palaniuk 48).  ___ Even the narrator is subject to this bias in details.  ___  He may have a "mouthful of blood," but the focus is on his boss' banalities concerning "pale cornflower blue" icons (Palaniuk 49).  ___  The imagery serves as anecdotes of absurdity, pinpointing where society is meaningless in defining individuals.  ___  It is not the "shirt and tie" or the various office titles like "recall campaign coordinator" that make a man (Palaniuk 49).  ___  In a cinematic adaptation of the novel, the impact of graphic violence may transform a kid into "a god for ten minutes," but a textual rendition indicates otherwise (Palaniuk 49).  ___  Mike Pattenden's review of Fight Club for The London Times, states that fight club is a "club that eventually grows into a cult."  ___  In the film, fight club begins as a casual hobby but turns into a way of life.  ___  The dictionary definition of a club is a group of people who come together for a common purpose.  ___  Fight club evolves and more closely mirrors the definition of a cult because it develops into a group with an almost religious devotion and with a charismatic leader who indoctrinates members with extremist views.  ___  The scene that shows the progression of fight club concentrates on the narrator, its creator, and Bob, one of its members.  ___  It is the first time that the two meet after they have joined fight club.  Both Bob and the narrator have more self respect due to their participation in the club.  ___  It will not be until Tyler, the creator of fight club and also the narrator's alter ego, intensifies his role of leader in the members lives, will they fully regain their masculinity, a quality that Tyler tells them they have lost.