When a writer extends another’s analysis or argument, her purpose is to suggest ways in which the original claim, finding, or theory advocated by another writer could be strengthened, made more nuanced, or profitably built upon by bringing new evidence to bear on that claim, finding, or theory. The act of extending is an act of generosity. The writer isn’t calling the original claim, finding, or theory into question, but rather sharpening it, clarifying it, or making it newly applicable to a case or set of cases not considered in the original work. When writers extend the work of another, they are responsible for showing exactly how the new case(s) serve to strengthen the original argument.

How Extending Works

In the following scenario, a student has read a scholar’s work (in this example, a speech given by the political theorist Angela Davis) that refers to passages in American abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to clarify its central points about the nature of liberation. In order to extend what Davis has said, the student reads Douglass’s Narrative in order to locate passages that may strengthen and add nuance to what Davis has said.  Her goal is not to critique Davis but rather to complement her point. In order to help her with this, her instructor has asked her to map out her extension project by identifying the following components:

  • the passage from Davis that the student would like to extend
  • a brief sketch of the context of Davis’s remark and the student’s interest in attending to it
  • three passages from Douglass’s text that the student will offer in order to strengthen Davis’s original point


Davis’s passage

“The first phase of liberation is the decision to reject the image of himself that the slave-owner has painted, to reject the conditions that the slave-owner has created, to reject his own existence, to reject himself as a slave” (Davis 52).


Context of Davis’s point and goal to extend

Interested in delineating the process that enslaved persons typically enact as they move from critical consciousness to freedom, Angela Davis turns to Frederick Douglass’s acts of resistance outlined in his Narrative, especially his standing up to Mr. Covey, the slave-breaker who he successfully challenges. For many readers, this passage represents a definitive step toward Douglass asserting his rights as a person, “standing up for oneself” representing (as Davis remind us) a step in his declaration of manhood. Drawing upon the episode of Douglass’s fight with Mr. Covey, Davis posits that “the slave is actually conscious of the fact that freedom is not a fact, it is not a given, but rather something to be fought for” (52). Later in her scholarly career, Davis will wonder about the limits of connecting freedom to manhood and its gendered implications, but in the early part of her career, she was content to say that Douglass’s display of physical force was key to enhancing is self-worth. I want to extend this point by showing readers other passages that speak to the project of self-ehancement not through the agency of violence, but through other accomplishments.

Passages with which to extend Davis’s point

Passage 1

“What [Mr. Auld] most dreaded, I most desired. What he loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought. . .In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as the kindly aid of my mistress” (Douglass 143).

By attending to this passage in her essay, the student will be able to enhance Davis’s point by exemplifying an instance of Douglass’s self-definition that does not involve physical violence as an instrument of resistance, but rather involves non-violent resistance by learning to read despite prohibitions against literacy.  

Passage 2

“The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers” (Douglass 151).

Turning to this passage, the student will be able to add nuance to Davis’s claim, indicating that Douglass’s process of self-transformation by learning to read was formative of other benefits. Douglass’s resistance evolves in unexpected ways as he takes steps of resistance.  

Passage 3

“Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. . .After a patient wating, I got one of the city papers, containing an account of the number of petitions from the north, praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade between the States. From this time I understood the words abolition and abolitionist, and always drew near when the word was spoken. . . .The light broke in upon me by degrees” (Douglass 153)

Much like Passage 2, this passage acknowledges that Douglass’s selfhood not only evolved, but evolved toward a recognition that his new self could find a new home, accompanied by others who wanted what he wanted. This will extend Davis’s original point about the definitive action of fighting–and winning that fight–with Mr. Covey to a more elaborate notion of what liberation involves.