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The Quote Sandwich

by Charlotte Lieberman

I can still remember one of the most disappointing experiences of my life: I am sitting at a coffee shop ready to unfold the layers of greasy wax-paper enveloping my mozzarella and tomato sandwich.  According to the menu, this creation is adorned with a layer of pesto.  As I open each fold, my excitement grows. After about half a minute of unfolding, I finally reach the sandwich itself – and I take a bite.  And so here we are, at one of the most disappointing experiences of my life: first, the bread was thin and dry, failing to provide the mozzarella and tomato with any structure; second, there was hardly any mozzarella or tomato on the sandwich – it did not succeed in making any sort of statement to my palate; finally – and perhaps most disappointingly– the sandwich-maker forgot the pesto, such that the sandwich lacked any sort of binding agent to permit the flavors to marry and complement each other.  Overall, my sandwich was disjointed, boring, and left me with no feeling or thoughts other than an incessantly disappointing question: “Why?!”

The only thing more disappointing than a poorly constructed mozzarella and tomato sandwich is a poorly constructed quote sandwich.  “A quote sandwich?” you may be asking yourself – and thus I will reply, “Indeed! A quote sandwich!”  When embarking on the journey of making a quote sandwich, the first step is to determine the filling – that is, the quote itself.  Sure, the quote should be zesty like a pesto-drenched piece of mozzarella cheese, but more importantly, how does this quote serve as evidence for your thesis? In cases where quotes are necessary for your paper (it is important to note that they are not in certain fields – social sciences or psychology, for example), they should likewise not be injected or shoved into your paper as filler.  Quotes give you authority – so before selecting a quote, examine why you are choosing this quote —what is its significance to your argument?

In order to make sense of the various components in a quote sandwich, I will provide an example from an essay by Harvard College Writing Center tutor Madeline Magnuson (’13).  In her essay, which was published in this year’s Exposé, Madeline tackles the thematic thread of marriage in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and analyzes how the engagement of Jane and Rocheseter, the novel’s central figures, causes anxiety and tension amidst the societal demands within the narrative’s landscape. 

The top layer of a quote sandwich should not be analogous to the dry piece of bread that failed to provide structure for my coffee shop sandwich.  Instead, the top layer should be fresh and read well even without the quote.  Think of my disappointing sandwich as a counterfactual: in an idea world, the bread would have been fresh and fluffy enough to give structure to the sandwich, and the pesto adornment would have made the flavors more interesting. Together, the bread and pesto would have made the whole sandwich experience more cohesive and enjoyable. In the same way, the sentence before a quotation should create a fluid transition between the ideas preceding the quotation and the quotation itself.  Like the bread of a good sandwich, the sentence should provide the topic and context for the quotation.

Madeline begins her first body paragraph by situating the reader within the narrative context of Jane Eyre, while also allowing the reader to track her train of thought in her paper’s own arc. Madeline writes, “On the eve of their engagement, Jane and Rochester regard each other as equals because their relationship is conducted in social isolation. Brontë draws clear parallels between the garden in the proposal scene and the Garden of Eden. She explicitly describes the garden as ‘Eden-like’ (286), but also includes more subtle imagery.” Here, we see a perfect top layer of a quote sandwich.  In her topic sentence, Madeline provides narrative context by telling the reader that she will be analyzing a scene from the novel “on the eve of their [Jane and Rochester’s] engagement.”  Further, she makes a clear argument by stating that Jane and Rochester “regard each other as equals because their relationship is conducted in social isolation.” Before introducing the quote, Madeline provides the reader with a clear, confident statement that adequately sets the stage for the material she is analyzing as she asserts the presence of her argumentative lens. 

With this well-baked slice of bread, Madeline has prepared us for the tasty filler of the quote sandwich.  Put most simply, after the introduction to the quote comes the quote itself. In Madeline’s essay, she immediately introduces her central quote, what she calls “subtle imagery,” after first referring to the snippet from the novel that describes the garden as “Eden-like.” She begins, “Rochester tells Jane: “[I]t is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame” (291).”  Madeline’s quote sandwich filling is indeed tasty, and successfully placed in the structure of her paper. 

As we saw in the “bread” or first layer of her quote sandwich, Madeline asserted her argument – telling the reader that she will analyze how equality functions between Jane and Rochester in relation to society – and then tells the reader how she will analyze a scene from the novel in which Brontë compares the garden in the narrative to the Garden of Eden.  Before we see analysis of the quote, it is clear why it is relevant to Madeline’s essay.  On a concrete level, she chose a quote that alluded to “left ribs,” an image that immediately calls to mind the Garden of Eden.  On a more subtle level, Madeline’s quote is strong because it is nuanced.  The text Madeline chose is uttered from the mouth of a character, giving the words a complex layer of subjectivity. Additionally, the character speaking uses the conditional tense (“It is as if…”), raising the question of the character’s inner desires and hopes.  In this way, Madeline’s quote is related to her thesis in a way that is clear and uncomplicated, but also invites the reader to continue reading the paper; with its Biblical imagery and grammatical nuances, this excerpt from the novel is undoubtedly a piece of text that requires sensitive analysis. 

With the filling successfully placed on the bread, we can now look at the next and final structural layer of the quote sandwich.  This layer is complicated to explore, as it is analogous both to the pesto layer and the final layer of bread in the real” sandwich I initially described.  This final layer of the sandwich should explain to the reader why you chose this quote. Explain how it relates to your thesis, and more specifically, what its function is in the scope of your paragraph’s main point.   In other words, the final layer of a quote sandwich should function similarly to the first layer of “bread” in the quote sandwich – it should concisely tell the reader why it is there in the paper such that the essay moves smoothly from one paragraph to another.  But in addition to explaining how the quote relates to the thesis, this final structural layer should also delicately explore the details at work in the quote that make it worth looking at more closely.  This is the pesto layer on the bread.

In order to see the pesto at work, let us look at Madeline’s quote sandwich’s final layer. Madeline writes,

This echoes the Biblical story in which Eve is created from Adam’s left rib, forming a bond of kinship and likeness. The allusions to Eden are significant not only because of the hidden temptation that occurs that night in the form of Rochester’s proposal, but also because of the nature of the Garden of Eden: it is pre-social. Only two humans exist, and they behave as equals. Only after Eve eats from the Apple does God decree that Adam shall rule over her as they leave the Garden and enter the world of men. Inside the garden, Jane and Rochester are alone.

Here, we see the complexities of the final layer of an ideal quote sandwich.  First, Madeline reiterates how Brontë’s prose “echoes the Biblical story in which Eve is create from Adam’s left rib.”  Following this statement, Madeline first claims that the references to the Garden of Eden conjure notions of “hidden temptation” surrounding Rochester’s proposal to Jane. Second, she remarks that, in a more general way, the garden’s similarity to the Garden of Eden evokes a world that is “pre-social,” a poignant observation that is wholly connected to Madeline’s thesis.  Then, Madeline explains what she means by this term “pre-social” in order for the reader to better understand why she is using this quote as evidence for her paper.  She explains, “Only two humans exist” and thus “…they behave as equals.”  In order to fully hammer in the comparison between the Garden of Eden and the world of the novel, Madeline provides the reader with a clear parallelism between the Biblical narrative and the relationship between Eve and Adam, and the world of the novel, “Inside the garden,” specifically where “Jane and Rochester are alone.”

By exploring the quote on so many levels, Madeline offered the reader “pesto” – that is, she demonstrated her aesthetic flourish and enjoyment in the writing process by dissecting the quotes so profoundly and thoroughly.  Finally, by closing her thought, she provided the second slice of bread for her sandwich.

In the world of quote sandwiches, an open face sandwich is not possible, so do not forget to provide context for your quote. In the world of any kind of sandwiches, a bottomless sandwich is never possible – so do not forget your analysis, and make sure to include the pesto.


Charlotte Lieberman ‘13 tutors at the Writing Center.

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