Tuesday, December 11, 2007

AP exam sample questions

Through the college board's web site, you have access to samples of previous years' essay questions, scoring guides, and other useful information.

Click here to access sample questions and scoring guidelines for the AP exam in English literature.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Elements of Prose Style

Actually two lists, which we discussed briefly in the first week, while looking at Jane Austen's style:

First, the elements of Fiction, as defined by novelist and critic E. M. Forster in his book Aspects of the Novel:

Plot--including not only WHAT happens, but WHY
Characterization--including who the characters are and how we come to know them better
Setting--the effect of time and place on the nature of the action and its effects on the characters
Point of View--First person retrospective, third person limited omniscient, fully omniscient--what are the advantages of a particular point of view to the effect the writer wishes to achieve
Theme--the social, cultural, philosophical or psychological ideas contained in the writing; in the fullest sense, what the story is about.

Second, the aspects of prose style, which apply to fiction and non-fiction, essays, stories, editorials, letters, blogs, journalism, and all prose writing:

Point of View

Of these, often tone is seen as the most important, as it contains our understanding of the writer's attitude toward the subject or topic of the piece of writing. Therefore, the others on the list are often viewed as tools or techniques employed by writers to aid in communicating and controlling the overall tone.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

NEW ! ! !

I was having coffee with a friend of mine (a former student), telling her about our blogworld, and she said I should put links to all your blogs on my blog.

So I did. Now, when you want to comment on others' blogs, you can get there directly from my blog. (Thanks, Sophie: "She approaches; she is nigh.")

Ain't blogworld grand?


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

English IV: Final paper

English IV: World Literature
Final essay
December, 2007

For your last essay of the semester, identify an important area of human life, human nature, or human values and write a paper of six to eight pages discussing the theme you have identified. In your discussion, refer generously to three or four of the seven authors we have studied. (If you use your summer reading novel, please include three others from the semester.) Your papers are due Tuesday, December 18 by noon, hard copy with turnitin receipt number (turnitin title: 2007-Final Paper).

Sample Questions (develop your own variations):
What does it take to be a successful human being in the world? Is “success” a matter of getting what one wants, of attaining a desired result—love, money, power, freedom, social status—or is it a question of character, of developing within the self those qualities most essential to a complete human being: virtue, wisdom, compassion, spiritual enlightenment, moral insight, ethical depth, duty, honor?

Can social institutions, cultural traditions, or rituals help develop successful people, or does the literature portray these customs more as impediments to growth?
What is a “complete” human being? What components are most important in defining what a human being “should” be?

Under what conditions do the characters’ worlds become traps, bringing out the worst in people, debasing their lives and stripping their existence of meaning or purpose? What happens to the hearts and souls of those who live in such worlds?

Professor Robert George of Princeton says, “the conquest of the self is part of what it means to lead a successful life.” Which characters have inner demons or parts of themselves they must conquer? How successful are they?

William Faulkner said that literature is composed of “old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Which of Faulkner’s truths find most powerful expression in the literature we have read this semester.

Dr. Carl Hammerschlag, a psychiatrist, writes, “Mental health . . . can be described as having your head, mouth, and heart in a straight alignment. Mental health happens when what you believe in your heart is the same as what you say with your mouth. You are mentally healthy when what you feel is something you also believe. . . .You have to keep in balance if you want to stay healthy.” In these terms, which characters are healthiest? Which are not? How do they achieve balance? What are the costs of not finding it?

Many works we have read center on characters who, because of their personalities, beliefs, or personal circumstances, find themselves in conflict with their society. Choose three important characters from different works and discuss the ways in which they are out of synch with the world around them. For each character you discuss, say whether the conflict primarily reveals a flaw in the character or in the society’s assumptions and moral values.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On Lovers and Madmen

from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 5, scene 1:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation, and a name.

How does this passage suggest any of the central themes of Love in the Time of Cholera?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Down the Pear Tree

(for Quentin)

Uncle Jason hates her, wishes she’d never been born,
Grandmother locks the door, opens it next morn.
But she won’t be confined, she’ll leave this family,
She has her own way out, down the pear tree.

Once down the tree, she finds the freedom to run,
Young man in a red tie waiting, “come on, we’ll have fun.”
Thousands of Uncle’s dollars, taken from the box,
Escaping his cruelty, evading her locks.

Thirty years earlier, only a little girl,
Her mother began to know the dark power of that world,
Climbed that same tree, to see what she could see,
Had her muddy bottom spanked, coming down the pear tree.

Curiosity not rewarded, love not to be found,
Once down the pear tree all you hit is the ground.
Disgraced and guilty, like her mother, believes she's bad,
Both have to get out, before they run mad.

The future of the family dies the night she leaves,
Grief, despair, and anger, only Dilsey believes.
She disappears forever, finds her own way free,
Out the window at midnight, climbs down the pear tree.

Love in the Time of Cholera blog suggestions

As you read the novel, look for and think about the importance of the following elements. Feel free to choose any of these topics for further exploration in your blog posts.


Varieties of Love—unrequited, marital, sexual, devotional, devastating, forbidden, loveless, intimate, convenient, passionate, passionless, etc
Cholera/ disease/ illness/ death/mortality
Old age (“gerontophobia”)
History of the country—civil war, modernization vs. tradition, influence on present
Cultural issues/prejudices—race, class, gender, age, European ideas, and the author’s attitude toward these issues (social criticism?)
Absurdity & irony of life
Perverseness of human nature

Elements of style

Sensual imagery
Use of flashbacks
Abrupt transitions of subject, time, or tone; juxtaposition of extremes
Use of figurative language—poetry written in prose
Exaggeration, use of non-realistic elements (“magical realism”)


Human body
Sense of smell

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Things Fall Apart study guide

Background research and oral work:

Both from your reading and from research, identify examples of the following elements of culture as they occur in Things Fall Apart. Consider the importance of each to Ibo life as Achebe portrays it. Share your findings with the class.

•Customs / Ways of living (Rituals & ceremonies, Traditions, Manners & etiquette,
rites of passage, family structure)
•Religion / Moral values / Taboos / Superstitions
•Economy / Money
•Government / Social institutions / Structure of social hierarchy
•Agriculture / Food
•Science / Technology
•Education (Formal vs. informal), Gender roles
•Language (oral vs. written) / Proverbs / Wisdom
•Clothing / Fashion

Things to look for as you read

1. What are the distinguishing features of Ibo culture as presented in the novel? How do these features compare with what you learned from your search?

2. Which elements of that culture are most comfortable to us? Which most resemble elements of our (your) culture? Which seem more foregn, more difficult to accept?

3. In what ways does Okonkwo embody the values and principles of Ibo culture? What are the strengths of his character?

4. In what ways does Okonkwo deviate from traditional Ibo values? What are his weaknesses as a character?

5. What is Achebe’s attitude toward Okonkwo? How does he communicate this attitude to us?

A few selected web sites ( also google Achebe + “Things Fall Apart” + Ibo culture):


William Butler Yeats: "The Second Coming" (1921)

Yeats was attracted to the spiritual and occult world and fashioned for himself an elaborate mythology to explain human experience. "The Second Coming," written after the catastrophe of World War I and with communism and fascism rising, is a compelling glimpse of an inhuman world about to be born. Yeats believed that history in part moved in two thousand-year cycles. The Christian era, which followed that of the ancient world, was about to give way to an ominous period represented by the rough, pitiless beast in the poem.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre (1)
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming (2) is at hand;
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi (3)
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries (4)
of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Eng IV assignments Oct 29-Dec17

Schedule of Assignments
November-December, 2007

Week 10: October 29—November 2
Reading: Kafka's Metamorphosis
Style: Sections 3.3, 3.4, & 3.5
Vocab: none
Blog: Weekend—“The Metamorphosis”—see prompt on my blog

Week 11: November 5 - 9
Reading: Things Fall Apart, chapters 1-8
Style: Sections 3.6, 3.7, & 3.8
Vocab: none
Blog: Research Ibo culture on web; list the best links you found; write about the most important or interesting information you discovered relating to religion, customs, history, food, social structure, gender roles, etc.

Week 12: November 12 – 16
Reading: Things Fall Apart, chapters 9-19
Style: Sections 3.9, 4.1, & 4.2
Vocab: Cumulative review, lessons 1-12
Blog: Select one of the questions on the TFA study guide or from an online study guide

Week 13: November 19-23 (No school Wed, Th, Fri—Thanksgiving)
Reading: TFA, chapters 20-25; finish novel by Tuesday, November 20
Style: 4.3
Vocab: None
Blog: None

Week 14: November 26-30
Reading: Chronicle of a Death Foretold, “chapters” 1-3
Style: Sections 4.4, 4.5, & 4.6
Vocab: Lessons 13-15--quiz postponed to the following Tuesday because of conflict w/ essay assignment
Blog: Choose one of your existing blog entries for either Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Things Fall Apart; revise it to a 600-700 word essay, adding textual references, supporting ideas more fully, expanding commentary, clarifying a thesis statement, strengthening your ending. Due Friday, November 30, hard copy and turnitin.com (title: Kafka-Achebe blog essay)

Week 15: December 3-7
Reading: Chronicle of a Death Foretold, sections 4 & 5
Style: None
Vocab: Lessons 13-15, quiz Tuesday, postponed from previous Friday
Blog: CDF—find your own topic--see my list of suggestions, titled "Your class blog" dated July 25 on mrcoonsenglish

Week 16: December 10-14
Class Monday and Tuesday, discussing final papers
Style: None
Vocab: None
Blog: None
Reading day Wednesday
Exams begin Thursday, December 13--History first, science last

Week 17: December 17-21
Final papers due Tuesday, December 18, hard copy and turnitin.com, by 12 noon. Papers may be turned in at the Upper School office or to my classroom (if I'm there), not to the exam room where AP students are taking their final.

Monday, November 5, 2007

AP Assignments Nov 12—Dec 20

Week 12: November 12-16
Tues: (all sections)—have read by the beginning of class Love in the Time of Cholera, pp. 3-51.
Fri: (all sections)—LTC, pp. 53-103; vocab quiz cumulative review lessons 1-12

Week 13: November 19-23
Monday—LTC, pp. 105-163
No class Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—Thanksgiving break

Week 14: November 26-30
Day 1: Read LTC, pp. 165-224
Friday: LTC, pp. 225-278, vocab quiz lessons 13-15

Week 15: December 3-7
Day 1: Have finished Love in the Time of Cholera
Friday: Multiple choice quiz 6
Other assignments TBA

Week 16: December 10-14
Monday and Tuesday—all classes meet—Multiple choice workshop
Wednesday—Reading day
Thursday & Friday—Exams begin

Week 17: December 17-21
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—departmental exams continue
Thursday—make-up and conflict exams
Friday—First semester ends

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Kafka's Metamorphosis

An imaginary panel of experts debate the meaning of Gregor’s transformation:

Expert #1: Gregor is angry, frustrated, bitter, helpless, trapped in his family’s downwardly degenerating dependence on his bread-winning capacity. Unconsciously he seeks to escape the unreasonable burdens placed upon him, although he can never allow this desire to reach his consciousness. The psychic symbolism is clear—his transformation from human to insect is the physical manifestation of a repressed psychological desire, a form of unconscious wish-fulfillment.

Expert #2: No, you pseudo-intellectual, pretentious, Freudian wannabe, as usual you miss the point entirely. Gregor has been an insect in human form for years. Don’t you see the disgusting groveling, the overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, the cringing, abject, vermin-like posture he has adopted toward both father and employer, the two most potent authority figures in his life? His body is merely catching up to the true state of his identity.

Expert #3: Alas, my sad, misguided friends, I’m afraid you fail to grasp the heart and soul of the matter (and not for the first time I might add). By repeatedly emphasizing the difference between the way Gregor thinks and feels—his internal, human existence—and the way others see him, Kafka forces us to feel what it is to be completely alienated by external circumstances from one’s essential humanity. In this way he not only comments on the fundamental dehumanization of all of twentieth-century existence, he foreshadows the terrors of such historical developments as the Holocaust, the World Wars, and the genocides that have plagued the world for the last century.

Expert #4: Losers! You just can’t get the picture, can you? The guy’s family hates him, despite all he’s done for them, and they project their image of Gregor so strongly onto him that after a while he has no choice but to fulfill their expectations of him. It’s not that complicated a story, but you guys just can’t get that, can you? It’s the lack of love, understanding, and acceptance that turns him into a big bug.

Which of these views do you see as having the most merit? Why? Explain, in two or three meaty, lively paragraphs, making clear connections with the text.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Notes on Quentin

Professor Arnold Weinstein of Brown University, in his excellent literary study titled A Scream Goes Through the House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life, sees Quentin Compson as one of the “progeny” of Hamlet, literary characters who can help us understand, through their creators’ imaginations, the mental state of depression. What follows are some of Prof. Weinstein’s thoughts on the significance and meaning of Quentin’s despair. All are direct quotes from his book.

•Quentin’s dilemma is that of manifold impotence: son of a decaying Southern family, he is himself powerless to prevent its decline, to stop his father from drinking himself to death, and, above all, powerless to protect the honor/chastity of his sister Caddy in accordance with the chivalric code he has inherited.

•Yes, Quentin is depressed. Further, he seems exiled in his own mind, and this matters for two reasons: (1) it is what makes the interior monologue so riveting, for it convey’s Quentin’s consciousness with a rare immediacy, and (2) being exiled in the mind is the very signature of depression.

•Expected to protect the honor/chastity of his sister Caddy, Quentin finds this to be difficult for many reasons. The external obstacle is Caddy herself, a feisty, strong-willed girl who is not to be stopped in her hunger for sexual freedom; but there are internal problems also, notably that Quentin himself harbors sexual desire for Caddy, and, if this were not enough, Quentin also happens to be deeply fearful about sexuality.

•[On the final conversation between Quentin and Father]: Faulkner is spelling out the consequences of the view that nothing lasts, that our loves as well as our hates are invisibly time-bound, can be “called” and “replaced” by “whatever issue the gods happen to be floating at the time,” with the result that you wake up and simply discover, one fine day, that it is all over, it just was, although you said, thought, and needed it to be eternal. All is temporary, including self. . . . Quentin Compson chooses to commit suicide precisely in order to avoid the shameful metamorphosis that has been prophesied here. He fights “temporary” the only way he knows how. He kills himself to remain faithful to his deepest feelings, to remain himself. He acts on the famous “to be, or not to be” in the name of self-preservation.

•Faulkner’s genius consists in finding a new narrative language for [the mind-induced disorder that robs us of strength and the power to act], the incessant thinking that can be a feature of depression. Hence, the Shakespearean device of the soliloquy, brought in to cargo the thoughts of the mind in a shockingly direct way to a Renaissance audience, now becomes precisely the interior monologue, the stream of consciousness, in which the repressed thoughts, damning affective material, and general garbage of one’s past rise to the surface and to language. I am saying that Faulkner may indeed be difficult but that you should listen in because you could well be eavesdropping on the very music of your own mind.

Work Cited
Weinstein, Arnold. A Scream Goes Through the House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life. New York: Random House, 2003.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hamlet Identification list

Hamlet—Identifications—know in what context and with what significance these items occur in the play:

Act I:
“the funeral baked meats”
“primrose path”
“this above all, to thine own self be true”
“O my prophetic soul”
“put an antic disposition on.”

Act II:
“by indirections find directions out”
“Mad for thy love?”
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern
“glean whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus”
a fishmonger
“Denmark’s a prison”
The Murder of Gonzago
“the play’s the thing.”

Act III:
“the dread of something after death”
“all but one shall live”
“not a pipe for Fortune’s finger to sound what stop she please”
Julius Caesar
dumb show
The Mousetrap
“will you play upon this pipe?”
“some act that has no relish of salvation in’t”
“speak daggers . . but use none”
“Do you see nothing there?”

Act IV:
“not where he eats but where he is eaten”
“you shall nose him . . .”
“Do it England”
Saint Valentine’s Day
“I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father”
a pirate
“choose a sword unbated”
“I’ll anoint my sword [with] an unction of a mountebank”
“ a willow grows askant a brook”

Act V:
clown (Who’s grave’s this? Mine, sir)
“my father’s signet”
young Osric
“the readiness is all”
“the drink, the drink”
“good night sweet prince”
“go bid the soldiers shoot”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why Caddy is the central character

Caddy Compson is a tragic character, and the heart of her tragedy is revealed in two soul-baring conversations with Quentin. The second, the night before her wedding to Herbert, is suffused with intense despair and unbearable anguish. The only way Caddy, a girl who can never forget her family’s pride and the social code by which she has been raised, can escape her impossible situation is by marriage to a man of respectable family, even if that man is unworthy of her. Caddy is sick with her pregnancy, sick with worry about Benjy and Father, sick at the prospect of marrying a man she can never respect for the sake of preserving appearances and placating social convention. But in that conversation she alludes to an even more important side of her character when she says to Quentin, “since I since last summer” and “I died last year.” Although she cannot bring herself to finish the first sentence, her words suggest that the key to understanding the hell on earth in which she has lived for the last year and from which she must escape at all costs lies in the events of the preceding summer.

Caddy’s first conversation with Quentin, crucial to our full understanding of what happened to Caddy that summer, took place one evening at the branch where she and Quentin have played since childhood. Like their brother Benjy, Quentin has somehow intuited Caddy’s loss of virginity, and to Quentin’s obsessive regard for family pride and the social codes of the old South, the knowledge is horrifying, undermining the very foundations of his identity. But Quentin’s understanding is limited by his inability to accept the passing of time or his sister’s growing womanhood and the changes both have wrought in the idyllic and idealized version of Caddy he carries within himself. Therefore his whole being yearns to deny what has occurred, his every thought becomes a desperate attempt to make the horror vanish, by falsely claiming incest so he and Caddy can be sent away together, by running away and taking Benjy with them, even by a mutual suicide pact.

What Quentin cannot understand or acknowledge, however, is that what has happened to Caddy is not only a social disgrace, anathema to his code of honor, but also something rare and magical and wonderful. For Caddy—passionate, headstrong, courageous, willful, maternal, devoted and defiant, to whom young men have been attracted since she was fourteen—has found with Dalton Ames the most mysterious and precious and powerful force in human life. She has discovered the dizzying passion and desire of love. And because she has fallen in love with Dalton Ames, because the mere sound of his name makes her blood race, she has given herself to him, body and soul, and the resulting explosion destroys her entire family. Because Caddy falls in love, Mother rejects her, despises her, and spies on her; Mother and Father argue bitterly about her; Father drinks more and more heavily; Caddy and Dalton are somehow torn apart; Caddy’s emptiness and despair lead her to promiscuity, pregnancy, marriage to a despicable man, and exile from her family; Quentin’s life becomes unbearable and ends in suicide; Benjy is left to endure a lifetime of inexhaustible grief and loss; and her daughter Quentin is raised in a house where she will know neither mother nor father—all because a vibrant, radiant, passionate girl of seventeen fell in love.

The Sound and the Fury is a modern Southern tragedy, and like all tragedies, the suffering and destruction it portrays spring from the most fundamentally human qualities of its characters. Of these characters, by far the most human, the most fully alive, and, in the end, the most utterly betrayed by life, is Caddy Compson (625).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Questions--The Sound and the Fury

I. Characters—Identify each of the following characters and gather information about their actions and personalities:
Benjy (Maury)
Caddy (Candace)
Mother (“Miss Cahline” or Caroline)
Father (Mr. Jason)--actually Jason III
Jason IV (usu. referred to simply as “Jason”)
Quentin (brother)
Quentin (daughter of ??)
Uncle Maury

II. Events—How many different scenes or events does Benjy remember?
What are the key elements of each memory?
What does Benjy love? What upsets him most?
Who died?
Who was married?
What were the four siblings (Caddy, Quentin, Benjy, and Jason) like as children? Who was their leader? Describe the various relationships among them. What have they become as adults?
Why are there two Quentins? What happened to the first? Who is the second? Describe her relationship with her Uncle Jason.
What happened June 2, 1910?
Why did it happen?

III. Images and motifs—climbing up trees to look in windows, climbing out windows and down trees, running away, funerals, weddings, swings, water (the branch), fire, smells, crying, golf, Uncle Maury and the Pattersons, “Sasspriluh,” sickness, watches, time, virginity, child support payments

IV. Discussion topics for part 1

1. What happened the day “Damuddy” was sick? Who got wet? Who fought? Who took the lead? Over what did Caddy and Frony argue? How did Caddy find out what the adults were doing? What was really happening?

2. Compare the two scenes where Benjy sees people in the swing outside the kitchen door. Who does he see in each case? How are the situations similar? How are the reactions he receives different?

3. Briefly describe the argument that takes place at the dinner table April 7, 1928. Who argues? Over what? What threats are made?

4. What changes in Caddy and Benjy's relationship occur as Caddy reaches adolescence? How does Caddy attempt to placate Benjy? At what point can she no longer do so?

Monday, October 15, 2007

AP Assignments Oct15-Nov9

AP English

Week 8: October 15-19
1. I Stand Here Ironing (637); style 2.11
2. Papers due for October novels Wednesday, October 17, hard copy and turnitin.com; style 3.0--(N.B.--Remember to submit short story essays to turnitin.com also)
3. Begin The Sound and the Fury, pp. 3-75; style 3.1
4. Continue reading S & F, 3-75; Multiple choice quiz 4

Week 9: October 22-26
1. Finish Benjy section S & F, 3-75; style 3.2; resume weekly blogs
2. Begin Quentin section S & F, 76-179; style 3.3
3. Continue Quentin section S & F, 76-179; style 3.4
4. Finish Quentin section S & F, 76-179; vocab quiz, lessons 10-12

Week 10: October 29—November 2
1. Read Jason Section S & F, 180-264; style 3.5; continue weekly blogs
2. Finish Jason section S & F, 180-264; style 3.6
3. Begin final section The Sound and the Fury, pp. 265-321; style 3.7
4. Continue final section S & F, 265-321; Multiple choice quiz 5

Week 11: November 5-9
1. Finish final Section S & F, 265-321; style 3.8
2. Continue discussion S & F; style 3.9
3. Finish discussion S & F; style 4.0
4. Sound and Fury in-class essay--no quiz (vocab 1-12 cumulative review for Friday, November 16)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

4.0--The Essay

A. Here’s the problem:

You’ve been taught a great deal over the last several years about what makes a strong paper. The challenge is that each year the bar is raised another few inches. Expectations are even higher now that you’ve reached senior year. Our new goal is to make sure you’re doing college level writing, a challenge which means you’ll have to raise your level of thought and effort accordingly.

B. What to do:

Stop thinking of an essay as something that can be put together according to formula, a recipe of one part introduction, three parts body, and one part conclusion. Be more organic in your approach. Think of the essay according to its original meaning, from the French essayer, as an attempt to explain an idea or an interpretation. Identify the point you are attempting to prove, choose the most effective strategy to advance your interpretation, and end with a strong, clear statement that reinforces, rather than repeats, your original point. The exercises in this chapter are designed to help you better achieve that goal.

C. Chapter Outline:

4.1 Concise openings
4.2 Thesis statements I
4.3 Thesis statements II
4.4 Transitions II
4.5 Endings I
4.6 Endings II

4.1--Concise Openings

A. Here’s the problem:

Opening paragraphs tend to get away from you without your realizing it. Because you start writing your opening before you have a clear sense of your main point, your first paragraph is often wordy and moves from point to point without giving the reader—often, a teacher—a concise statement of the topic of your paper and establishing the main point you hope to prove.

B. What to do:

You have to write something in the way of an opening to get yourself going, just to take your writer self into the essay. That’s OK. But be ruthless during revision as you ask yourself how important those first few sentences are, whether the paper might be stronger without them. I’ve read many essays over the years that would have been better if the writer had gone back after writing the paper to cut the first paragraph by half.

C. Example: Many authors can use their literature as a tool to convey a certain idea or theme that was present during a particular time in history. Authors who have experienced that actual time and who have dealt with issues similar to the issues dealt with by the characters portrayed in their novels have the ability and the knowledge to write and elaborate upon the ideas on a completely different and detailed level. Jane Austen is a perfect example of this type of author. However, she not only explores the theme and the ideals of marriage and courtship in the 1800’s but she also presents her own personal ideas on the matter in a very ironic and satirical fashion in her classic novel Pride and Prejudice. Through different characters and situations, Austen vividly presents the way in which the people, especially those in particular societies, viewed marriage and love. Throughout the novel, Austen presents various types of marriages and the reasons behind them, while presenting two contrasting views on the system of marriage in the 1800’s.

Revised Version: Jane Austen explores the theme and the ideals of marriage and courtship in the 1800’s, presenting these topics in an ironic and satirical fashion in her classic novel Pride and Prejudice. Austen vividly presents the way in which her characters viewed marriage and love. Throughout the novel, Austen presents various types of marriages and explores the reasons behind them, while presenting two contrasting views on the system of marriage in the 1800’s. (An even more effective strategy would be to add an additional sentence identifying these contrasting views—see sec. 4.2: “Austen contrasts marriages based on with those based .”)

D. Now you try—write a revised version of one of the following openings.

1. A reader’s view of a character in a novel develops throughout the entire book. How the reader’s understanding of the characters and how the reader arrives at different impressions of the characters lifestyles in a novel are very important in making the book enjoyable and realistic. The reader will form a unique opinion of a novel and all the novel contains as he or she reads. These views do not stay completely intact during the course of the novel. As Jane Austin [sic] portrays in her novel, impressions are not always the correct impressions. In Pride and Prejudice the reader forms his or her opinions of most of the characters through the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett. As her opinions of the other characters develop and change, the reader’s views and opinions change along with hers. As the book progresses the views about some characters completely changes giving more interest to the reader as they complete the book.

2. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a complex novel depicting the life of a typical family living in Netherfield, England. There are many characters found within the novel, however, two in specific: Darcy and Elizabeth best shape the plot and character relationships within Pride and Prejudice. The first impressions of these major characters have the greatest affect [sic] because of their strong influences, both positive and negative, on other characters. These influences help heighten conflict in the novel while illuminating the true personalities of the characters themselves. The gradual maturation in thought and emotion between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth is a direct result of the development of a relationship between the two. Together, both discover their faults in the form of pride and prejudice that furthers the theme and self-title of the novel, Pride and Prejudice.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following source:

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/intros.htm (of the five strategies listed, numbers two, three, and five are possible choices for interpretive papers. Probably number five is the most often used—open with a few declarative sentences, identifying as briefly as possible the point you want to make, and move immediately into the specifics of your discussion.)

4.2--Thesis statements I

A. Here’s the problem:

This is the third and perhaps most important of my big three, along with clutter and commentary (2.7-2.10 & 3.7-3.8). A good thesis tells me you’ve established an interpretation of the text and that you know what you want to prove. A paper that opens without a clear statement of its central thesis sends a different message: “I don’t understand the work of literature or the question you’ve asked me, so I’m going to fake my way through this paper in the desperate hope you won’t notice.” Fortunately, I always notice. A good thesis is the first thing I look for in a paper.

B. What to do:

As you work on a paper, keep asking yourself, “Self—what am I trying to prove here?” Keep asking that question until you can answer it in a single sentence. Then rewrite that sentence using more specific words. Keep at it during revision until that sentence is the most precise statement of your central interpretation you can manage. Then check to make sure every paragraph in the paper supports and develops that thesis. I know it sounds like a lot, and it is—but it’s worth the effort.

C. Example: Elizabeth’s gradual realization coincides with her developing love for Mr. Darcy and her realization of her true feelings. The relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth is the real basis of the title of the book and is played out through the book.

Revised Version: Elizabeth’s feelings change from resentment to love, from recognizing how hasty she had been to understanding how well suited she and Darcy are. In order for these changes to occur, Elizabeth must come to understand her own prejudices and learn to see Mr. Darcy as he really is.

D. Now you try—write a revised version of one of the following sentences.

1. The characters in Pride and Prejudice were held by certain expectations and rules. They were expected to be refined, delicate, and poised.

2. Elizabeth’s opinions of Darcy and many of the other characters change seemingly from page to page in the story and allow the reader to make certain assumptions about the ending of the story that normally would not be able to be made.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:


4.3--Thesis statements II

A. Here’s the problem:

Some of the papers I read contain no recognizable thesis. More often, however, the writer hints at an interpretation but fails to state it clearly and specifically. There’s the vague shape of an idea in there somewhere, but its details are fuzzy.

B. What to do:

In this case, the solution is to state your thesis as accurately as you can when you write your draft, then go back and re-write it during revision. You may find that you understood something while writing that you didn’t realize before. In any event, anything you do to make your thesis clearer, sharper, deeper, or more specific is worth the time and effort it takes.

C. Example: Austen meticulously dissects the practices of upper class society and the effects of tremendous wealth on the sanctity of love and marriage.

Revised Version: Austen condemns the snobbery and narrow-mindedness of upper class society while at the same time showing the importance of wealth as one of the necessities of a successful marriage.

D. Now you try—write improved versions of the following thesis statements.

1. Mr. Darcy is one of the most misunderstood and complicated characters; many people view him in very different ways and their views of him change greatly as the novel progresses.

2. Austen’s use of sarcasm cleverly states her opinion of the process of marriage and courtship. She also uses humor to convey the theme of pride and prejudice, two powerful characteristics strongly evident in the characters and their actions in the novel.

E. By way of contrast, explain what makes the following thesis more effective than those we’ve seen so far:

[Forster’s] conclusion is that tolerance is a result of personal moral action, that it can exist only through the courage of those individuals willing to ignore social scorn. [He] makes that argument evident and compelling in several ways: through his use of political inequity as a foundation, through his inclusion of characters willing to take that personal moral action, and through his emphasis on the parallel prejudice, cruelty, and beauty of character in existence on all sides of every great cultural divide.

4.4--Transitions II: Between Paragraphs

A. Here’s the problem:

We’ve already seen in section 3.4 that the statements within a paragraph need to be logically connected and that the coherence of a paragraph depends in large part on the effective use of transitions. But transitions play another crucial role, linking the paragraphs in an essay so that the development of your thesis proceeds smoothly from one main point to the next.

B. What to do:

By repeating a key word from the previous paragraph, or by using an appropriate transitional device (see the additional sources for section 3.4), create a link between the last sentence in one body paragraph and the topic sentence in the next. Depending on the relationship between the two paragraphs, the link may be either a single word, a phrase, or a subordinate clause (see section 2.11).

C. Example: A person living in todays [sic] times should see this novel as an ideal view of the dense minds of the rich and the lack of respect to the lower classes. ¶ Austen introduces pride and prejudice in the first ballroom scene . . .

Revised Version: The novel portrays the dense minds of the rich and their lack of respect for the lower classes. ¶ Austen introduces the pride and prejudice of the wealthy in the first ballroom scene . . .

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences
1. The society sickens the reader because of its prejudices against anyone different, even a unique spirit like Elizabeth. ¶ Mr. Darcy, although a vital role in the novel, is one of the most mysterious characters of the story.

2. In this case marriage was not proposed out of love but out of an attraction to a rise in social rank, something very common throughout the novel. ¶ The title of the novel, Pride and Prejudice, can be interpreted as a theme running through the novel.

E. Finally, one example of an effective transition between paragraphs:

The Age of Innocence was written to explain the controlling universe made of “the manners, social customs, folkways, conventions, traditions, and mores” of New York society in the late nineteenth century; this is a novel of manners. ¶ Pride and Prejudice, however, does not focus on the effects of a social system or its frighteningly leech-like qualities; instead, Austin [sic] tells a story in which “the main events are that a young man changes his manners and a young woman changes her mind.”

Eng IV assignments Oct 9--Nov 2

Week 7: October 9-12 (No school Monday—Columbus Day)
W. Hamlet, act 1, scene 3 ; style 2.8
Th. Hamlet, act 1, scenes 4 & 5; style 2.9
F. Hamlet, act 2 scene 1,; vocab quiz 3 (lessons 7-9)

Week 8: October 15-19
T. Hamlet, act 2, scene 2; style 2.10
W. Hamlet, act 3, scenes 1 & 2; style 2.11
Th. Hamlet, act 3, scenes 3 & 4; style 3.0
F. Hamlet, act 3, scene 4, and act 4, scene 1—no style lesson today

Week 9: October 22—26
T. Subtext assignment due in class and to turnitin.com ("Hamlet subtext"); style 3.1
W Hamlet, finish act 4; style 3.2
Th. Hamlet, act 5; style 3.3
F. finish discussion of Hamlet; vocab quiz 4 (lessons 10-12)

Week 10: October 29—November 2
T. Full period test on Hamlet (ID, passages, 20 minute essay)
W. Metamorphosis, section 1; style 3.4
Th. Metamorphosis, section 2; style 3.5
F. Metamorphosis, section 3; style 3.6

Subtext assignment (due as hard copy and turnitin.com October 23):
Go to http://the-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/hamlet/hamlet.3.4.html (also on my “Hamlet links” post). Download act 3, scene 4 from the beginning to Gertrude’s line “I have no life to breathe what thou hast said to me.” (Delete everything beginning with Hamlet’s line “I must to England, you know that?”)

1. Turn this scene into a word processing document. It will be several pages long. If you don’t know how to do this step, ask someone who does.

2. Keep the entire text as it is, except change the name Queen Margaret to Queen Gertrude at the beginning of the scene (a mistake on the web site).

3. Write a paraphrase of Polonius’ first speech. A paraphrase contains exactly the same meaning as the original, only in literal, everyday language.

4. Identify as much subtext as you can. This is the most important part of the assignment. Subtext refers to all the meanings not directly contained in the text. Specifically, as we discussed in class, the subtext contains implied stage directions, the character’s thoughts, feelings, and motives as the lines are being spoken, as well as notes indicating tone of voice, movements, and gestures.

5. Make your paraphrase and subtext easy for me to identify by putting them in a different type face from the text itself. For example, set your additions in bold face to make them stand out from the characters’ lines in the text. Or use a different color, or create a series of subtext footnotes, or something clear and easy to follow.

6. N.B. This is an individual assignment, not group work. Any scripts whose similarities cannot be reasonably explained as coincidental will be dealt with according to the school’s honesty policies.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hamlet links

1. A summary of the whole play with full text, organized by scene

2. Another scene-by-scene summary, from shakespeare-online.com

3. A list of all the characters in the play, with brief notes about each, from absolute shakespeare

4. Detailed scene-by-scene summary, background information, and lots of photographs of different actors and of artists' interpretations of characters, here

5. I think it's so cool that the complete works of Shakespeare are available, of all places, on the M.I.T. web site

6. Finally, for you trekkies, the Klingon Hamlet

Monday, October 1, 2007

4.5--Endings I

A. Here’s the problem:

It’s hard to break the habit of writing trite, formulaic, mechanical endings. Every time I read an essay or hear a senior speech paragraph that begins, “In conclusion . . .” I wince. (I do the same for any opening paragraph that begins “According to Webster’s Dictionary . . .” so don’t even get me started on that subject.) The point is, the ending of your essay or speech should contain more than a simple rehash of your opening. It should do more than waste space and words with meaningless abstraction and generality. Simply put, it should say something the reader wants to know.

B. What to do:

Read the essay from webster listed at the bottom of this page; it contains a good list of strategies for ending an essay. Several lend themselves particularly well to discussions of literature. Ask a provocative question; use a quotation; evoke a vivid image; universalize (compare to other situations); suggest results or consequences.

C. Example: Over the course of the novel, Mr. Darcy’s personality has changed from arrogant to understanding and from proud to humble. Elizabeth is finally able to see the good in him for she has changed too. She finally opens up to Mr. Darcy because she has changed to be less judgmental and more understanding as well. Character perception is a powerful tool in Pride and Prejudice as it allows personalities to be portrayed through the eyes of the characters around them rather than through the eyes of the narrator.

Revised Version: Both Darcy and Elizabeth have grown as characters. Darcy has overcome his arrogance and pride, learning tolerance and humility. Elizabeth has understood the errors of her earlier harsh judgments and has come to love Darcy’s kindness, intelligence, and generosity. Together, they embody the human truth that two people of sound mind and good will can help each other overcome their weaknesses and strengthen themselves through the effect they have on each other.

D. Now you try—write a revised version of the following ending.

Throughout this work of literature, the reader’s impressions of the novel are constantly changing as the book progresses. As more information presents itself, the novel conjures the reader to convert from the first impression to the new and more correct understanding of what is happening in the novel. This is one of the conventions of fiction in this novel that makes it more interesting than other novels of this time period.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following source:

4.6--Endings II

A. Here’s the problem:

William Zinsser describes the problem with bad endings, the ones that do nothing more than tell the reader what you’ve already told him: “The reader hears the laborious sound of cranking. He sees what you are doing and how bored you are by it. He feels the stirrings of resentment. Why didn’t you give more thought to how you were going to wind this thing up? Or are you summarizing because you think he’s too dumb to get the point? Still, you keep cranking. But the reader has another option. He quits” (78). Don’t let it happen to you.

B. What to do:

I hope I’m beginning to challenge your notion of what a good ending should be, so I’m including this advanced lesson on the topic. I’ve probably already overdone the writing-as-gardening metaphor in the lessons on clutter, so this time I want you to think of an essay as something akin to a good piece of music or a ride in a car. Your final line or sentence or paragraph should be like the last chord or note of the song or symphony; it should stay with the reader, reverberating in the ear for a few seconds after the mind has taken it in. Like a successful journey, your ending should give the reader confidence that you knew where you were going before you began rather than making up your route as you drove.

C. Here are two endings that impressed me. Pick one and list reasons why it makes an effective last paragraph:

1. Moby-Dick is not so much a book about Captain Ahab’s quest for the whale as it is an experience of that quest. The philosophical questions presented to Ahab and Ishmael are universal ones, and it is the manner in which each man deals with such nebulous ideas that defines the soul of the book. Neither man finds a definitive answer for what he seeks to know, just as man himself has never been able to comfortably find his own place within the natural world. Moby Dick swims on, and so in some sense, for Ahab, for Ishmael, for man, the quest continues yet.

2. Tragedy has a profound effect on its audiences. The theme of the play captivates the human mind, and causes each individual to evaluate his own life and reconsider his major concerns. By depicting these intense, horrible scenes, Sophocles reaches both the heart and the mind. He shows how the individual can survive and can persevere despite awful circumstances. Although he points out the folly of man, he also shows the strength of man to continue to fight. He addresses the very issues that Faulkner found essential in literature: the words must touch upon universal issues, and inspire man not merely to endure, but to prevail.

D. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Zinsser, pp. 77-81.


Elements of Subtext

Subtext refers to all those parts of a scene’s or speech’s meaning which are implied but unspoken in the text itself. Specifically, it includes the following elements:

•The characters’ motives in each part of the scene
•Unspoken thoughts whose existence is clearly implied in
the dialogue
•Tone of voice

In reading Shakespeare our goal is always to grasp first the literal meaning of the text but more importantly to understand the importance of the subtext of each scene and speech.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eng IV Essay assignment 9/27

Write an essay of two to three pages (approximately 600 to 900 words). For this essay, choose one character and one theme from the lists below. Use your knowledge of the works we have studied thus far as well as your understanding of the key elements of tragic literature. Borrow ideas from your recent blog entries if they are relevant to the topic you choose. Be sure to support your interpretation with specific passages from the appropriate text. Essays are due, both hard copy and turnitin.com, next Thursday, October 4 (Turnitin: 2007—Sophocles & Ilyich). PLEASE REMEMBER TO INCLUDE RECEIPT NUMBER AND WORD COUNT IN YOUR HEADING.

Characters: Oedipus, Antigone, Creon (in the play Antigone), Ivan Ilyich

1. Self-knowledge: Does the tragic character’s downfall result from a lack of understanding of his or her own fundamental nature? What are the sources of this ignorance? (Is there something deeper than ignorance of parentage at work for Oedipus?) How much responsibility does the character bear for this lack of understanding of self?

2. Choice: According to Aristotle, tragic downfalls are the result of choices made by the character, although the downfall may be hastened by external forces such as fate, chance, villainy, or accident. Discuss the relationship between free will and external force in the character’s downfall. How much does each contribute?

3. Recognition: What form of enlightenment or new understanding does the tragic character achieve? What is the effect of this enlightenment, once it is achieved, on the character’s mind, heart, or soul?

4. Spiritual reassessment: To what extent does the character, through moral or physical suffering, undergo a transformation to a more profound level of humanity? To what extent does this moral development provide a degree of hope or optimism which partly offsets the destructive nature of the downfall?

For your first essays I looked primarily at your ability to write clear sentences, use specific language, and observe the conventions of English mechanics and usage. Those things are still important, but this time I will look a little more closely at your ability to identify an interpretation and explain it. Toward this end I offer these suggestions:
• Write a brief opening paragraph which ends with a succinct statement of your thesis. Think of it as a funnel, pouring in the idea your essay will develop, the more specifically worded the better (see sections 4.2 & 4.3 in Style).
• Use specific references from the text to support the main ideas of your paragraphs, and try to explain the significance of these examples as clearly and specifically as you can (see 3.7 & 3.8 in Style).
• Big ideas, simple words.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

AP Literature--New Resource

You can now log-in to the online resource center for our textbook. Here's how:

go to www.myliteraturelab.com

Register as a first-time student user.

When prompted for your access code, enter the following in the boxes provided, without the dashes:


Answer the questions and proceed to the literature lab. If asked for the author of the textbook whose resources you need, enter Kennedy/Gioia.

Eng IV assignments Sept24-October 19

Week 5: September 24—28
T. Read The Death of Ivan Ilyich, chapters 1 - 3; Style 2.2
W. Ivan Ilyich, chapters 4 - 7; Style 2.3
Th. Ivan Ilyich, chapters 8 – 12; Style 2.4
F. Continue discussion; finish weekly blogs

Week 6: October 1-5
T. Read Hamlet, Act 1, scene 1; style 2.5
W. Hamlet, Act 1, scenes 2 & 3; style 2.6
Th. Essays due on Ivan Ilyich and Sophocles, hard copy (use correct heading) and turnitin.com ("2007--Sophocles & Ilyich"); style 2.7
F. No School—Fall break

Week 7: October 8-12
M. No School—Fall break
T. No class—classes begin with block 3
W. Hamlet, Act 1, scenes 4 & 5; style 2.8
Th. Hamlet, Act 2, scene 1; style 2.9
F. Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2; vocab quiz 3 (lessons 7-9)

Week 8: October 15-19
T. Hamlet, Act 3, scenes 1 & 2; style 2.10
W. Hamlet, Act 3, scene 3; style 2.11
Th Hamlet, Act 3, scene 4; style 3.0
F. Hamlet subtext assignment due, hard copy and turnitin.com (“Hamlet subtext”)

Subtext assignment:
Go to http://the-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/hamlet/hamlet.3.4.html (or you can find it through Google by entering Shakespeare+MIT). Download act 3, scene 4 from the beginning to Gertrude’s line “I have no life to breathe what thou hast said to me.” (Delete everything beginning with Hamlet’s line “I must to England, you know that?”)
1. Turn this scene into a word processing document. It will be several pages long. If you don’t know how to do this step, ask someone who does.
2. Keep the entire text as it is, except change the name Queen Margaret to Queen Gertrude at the beginning of the scene (a mistake on the web site).
3. Write a paraphrase of Polonius’ first speech. A paraphrase contains exactly the same meaning as the original, only in literal, everyday language.
4. Identify as much subtext as you can. This is the most important part of the assignment. Subtext refers to all the meanings not directly contained in the text. Specifically, as we discussed in class, the subtext contains implied stage directions, the character’s thoughts, feelings, and motives as the lines are being spoken, as well as notes indicating tone of voice, movements, and gestures.
5. Make your paraphrase and subtext easy for me to identify by putting them in a different type face from the text itself. For example, set your additions in bold face to make them stand out from the characters’ lines in the text. Or use a different color, or create a series of subtext footnotes, or something clear and easy to follow.
6. N.B. This is an individual assignment, not group work. Any scripts whose similarities cannot be reasonably explained as coincidental will be dealt with according to the school’s honesty policies.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ivan Ilyich questions

These questions can be food for discussion or, with appropriate examples, the basis for this week’s blog entries.

1. What purpose is served by placing Ilyich’s funeral at the beginning of the novella rather than at the end?

2. What is Pyotr Ivanovich’s role in chapter 1? Why does Tolstoy describe his thoughts in such detail?

3. Explain the significance of the first sentence in section 2. How does it set the tone for what follows?

4. Describe Ilyich’s professional and personal life up to the move to Petersburg. What are his motives? How does he make decisions? What is the narrator’s attitude toward him?

5. What is the source of Ilyich’s illness? Discuss the significance of his symptoms? How do his physical problems affect him psychologically? Is his illness symbolic?

6. At what key points does Ilyich begin to re-evaluate his life? How does Tolstoy attempt to make this process credible? Does he succeed?

7. Re-read the two paragraphs beginning on page 102 (p. 86 in new edition, ¶ 217 in AP anthology) (“Ivan Ilyich suffered most . . . ) to the end of the chapter. According to Tolstoy, why is Ilyich suffering? What is the source of the lie? What does Ilyich most want? Why can’t he have it? What does Tolstoy mean when he refers to “this falseness in himself and in those around him”? What is the peasant boy Gerasim’s role?

8. Consider Ivan Ilyich’s prayer in chapter 9 and the response. Look at the dialogue between mind and soul. Does this dialogue contain the seeds of an important realization? What does the voice which answers him represent? Why does Ilyich “dismiss this bizarre idea”?

9. What is the source of the “moral agony” Ilyich experiences in chapter 11? Why does Ilyich answer “yes” when his wife asks him if he feels better? How does this answer affect him? Why?

10. In chapter 12, what is “the real thing”? Why does the fear of death leave him in the hour before his death? Does dying change Ivan Ilyich in any important way?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Penn Warren on Hemingway

American novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren, author of All the King's Men and the only American writer to win Pulitzer prizes in both fiction and poetry, says that Hemingway's story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" has a religious dimension, and that the old man who has attempted suicide suffers from the despair of atheism: "The despair beyond plenty of money, the despair that makes a sleeplessness beyond insomnia, is the despair felt by a man who hungers for the sense of order and asssurance that men seem to find in religious faith, but who cannot find grounds for his faith."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Antigone links

From a classics professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, this guide divides the play into scenes and offers questions for each scene.

The Classics Technology Center, a source we looked at in class, has material covering several Greek dramas, including Antigone.

From the home page of a college-level class on classical literature, including Antigone.

If you find any other good ones (no Spark or Cliff, please), let me know.

3.0--The Paragraph

A. Here’s the problem:

The argument or interpretation you advance in an essay is built on a series of paragraphs, each serving a definite purpose. For that reason, you spent the first quarter of your ninth-grade year practicing how to write strong, effective paragraphs. Later, you began to assemble series of paragraphs into expository essays. I’m not going to speak here of first and last paragraphs; I’ll save those thoughts for the fourth section of this text. My purpose in this third chapter is to remind you of things you already know about the paragraphs that comprise the middle of your essay but sometimes forget to use.

B. What to do:
Practice the basics. Look at the topic sentences you’ve written for each of your body paragraphs as you revise. See if you’ve fully supported and developed key ideas. Ask yourself if you’ve provided smooth transitions between your statements. Remember the difference between detail and commentary and look for ways to sharpen and expand your commentary sentences. End paragraphs with clinchers, strong sentences that draw the most logical conclusions from the evidence you’ve presented.

C. Chapter Outline:

3.1 Topic sentences
3.2 Plot summary
3.3 Coherent, unified focus
3.4 Transitions
3.5 Development of focus
3.6 Evidence
3.7 Commentary I
3.8 Commentary II: Balance
3.9 Clinchers

3.1--Topic Sentences

A. Here’s the problem:
I know you know this rule, so don’t even think of feigning ignorance: a topic sentence states an idea, not a fact. “Gatsby gives expensive parties” just doesn’t give you anywhere to go in a paragraph, at least not anywhere that isn’t a PGIO (profound glimpse into the obvious) to anyone who’s ever heard of the novel, much less read it. Yet I continue to be amazed at the number of essays I read every year in which writers begin important body paragraphs with facts about the characters or the plot of the novel.

B. What to do:
If you outline before you draft, you should have a reasonably good idea of the purpose of every paragraph in the essay. If you don’t outline before you draft, you should outline after—it’s a great way to improve the organization of your papers. Then make sure each paragraph states its main idea clearly. Remember that topic sentences serve two functions: they give the paragraph something to do (prove) and they help develop one part of your thesis.

C. Example: Mr. Darcy is first introduced at the Meryton Ball accompanied by Mr. Bingley and his two sisters.
Corrected Version: When Mr. Darcy is introduced at the Meryton Ball, the neighbors have good reason to dislike his pride and arrogance.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. Finally Elizabeth is informed that Darcy loves her; soon he learns that she hates him.
2. The third marriage is that of Lydia and Wickham.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Strunk & White, pp. 16-17 (http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk5.html#10)

3.2--Plot Summary

A. Here’s the problem:
Instead of stating ideas and illustrating them with examples and relevant passages from the text, sometimes you get careless and write several sentences re-telling a part of the story or novel, perhaps making a half-hearted attempt at the end of the summary to draw an inference (“this shows. . .”). Sorry, but that’s a no-no.
B. What to do:
Select the entire section of summary, delete it, and decide what point you want to make. Then begin by stating the point; after that, find one clear example or passage to illustrate what you’ve just said and give only that example.

C. Example: After Jane Bennet visits Mr. Bingley at Netherfield, she becomes ill. Elizabeth elects to go to Netherfield to care for her older sister. Since Elizabeth dislikes riding horses, she is forced to walk three miles in the rain to Netherfield. When she arrives at Mr. Bingley’s house, Mr. Bingley’s sisters are shocked and dismayed by her appearance. She arrived alone, with dirty stockings and petticoat and a flushed complexion.

Corrected Version: Austen shows us how often characters are judged falsely, according to narrow-minded standards. When Elizabeth walks across three miles of muddy fields to see her ill sister, Bingley’s sisters comment archly about her appearance. Only Mr. Bingley is impressed by Elizabeth’s concern for Jane’s health.

D. Now you try—write an improved version of the following passage.
1. Darcy feels that he cannot live without Elizabeth’s love, telling her that “my feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Elizabeth could see that “he had no doubt of a favourable answer,” as he proposed to her. Darcy, unaware of the bottled up anger which Elizabeth possess towards him, was shocked by Elizabeth’s response. Elizabeth not only declined the offer, but expressed her reasons for doing so. Darcy’s “astonishment was obvious,” and he apologized for wasting her time. The following morning, Darcy presents Elizabeth with a letter explaining his reasons for preventing the wedding between Bingley and Elizabeth’s sister. . . yadda yadda yadda.

3.3--Unified Focus

A. Here’s the problem:
Occasionally I read paragraphs that leave one promising idea behind to move to another without finishing the first. Paragraphs like this frustrate me; I feel as though a rug has been pulled from under my feet. Usually, I don’t think the writer is even aware of what has happened. The second idea occurred to the writer in the course of explaining the first and neither at the time of drafting nor during revision did the writer notice that the material should be presented in different paragraphs.

B. What to do:
Outlining either before or after writing the draft can help identify paragraphs that move from one focus to another. Also, the stronger and more specific the topic sentence, the less likely the problem will occur. If you discover during revision a paragraph that goes in two directions at once, separate it in two and look at each to see if its main idea is sufficiently developed.

C. Example: Elizabeth goes to the Netherfield Ball with the expressed purpose of finding Mr. Wickham, but instead she encounters Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth’s displeasure with Darcy “is sharpened by the immediate disappointment” of Wickham’s absence. . .Initially Elizabeth is polite to Darcy and effectively uses roles of social formality . . .to limit the extent of conversation between the two of them. Eventually. . . tension between Darcy and Elizabeth ensues until Sir William interrupts them. . .Elizabeth’s abrasive encounter with Darcy demonstrates the strength in Elizabeth to defy men that manifests itself when Mr. Collins proposes to her. Elizabeth’s sense of pride and her exercise of prejudice contrast her with Charlotte who accepts Mr. Collins’ proposal, an acceptance that Elizabeth sees as self-degrading to Charlotte. The difference between Elizabeth and Charlotte is in their ideals. (also see 3.1, 3.2 & 3.7)

Improved version: (to be done as in-class exercise)
1. What are the problems of focus in this paragraph?
2. How could the focus be improved?
3. What is the main idea of the paragraph?
4. If you were the peer editor of the essay what would you suggest (short of scrapping the paragraph)?
5. What two topic sentences might be used if the paragraph were to be split in two?

D. Now you try—answer the questions above with regard to the following passage.
In the beginning of The Age of Innocence, Archer is thoroughly concerned with matters of “taste” and “form.” He criticizes Ellen for her untimely arrival and her “foreign” conduct. . .Yet early on. . .he boldly states, “I’m sick of the hypocrisy that would bury alive a woman of her age if her husband prefers to live with harlots.” This hypocrisy is central to the theme of the novel. Wharton shows it in two affairs, Archer’s with Mrs. Rushworth and Madame Olenska with the secretary. In both cases, the blame clearly falls on the woman, not on the man. Archer sees that marriages were becoming nothing but a “dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.” He sees this hypocrisy in May, his wife. She is a woman caught in the steadfast conventions of society. Archer sees her as a “terrifying product of the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl who knew nothing and expected everything.” Archer later recognizes her as “generous, faithful unwearied; but so lacking in imagination, so incapable of growth, that the world of her youth had fallen into pieces and rebuilt itself without her ever being conscious of the change.” Society had molded her, and had created a product that would put back into society what it had taken out.

3.4--Transitions I: Coherence

A. Here’s the problem:
Too often writers of the papers I read move from one point to another within a paragraph without fully indicating the relationship between the sentences. Omissions of this sort affect the coherence of the paragraph, its ability to present ideas that are fully connected to each other and whose relationships are clear.

B. What to do:
There are three basic methods of achieving greater coherence in a paragraph. One is to make certain that the ideas presented within the paragraph are given in some sort of logical sequence: chronological, spatial, order of importance, or cause and effect. Second, reinforce key concepts by repeating key words meaningfully, the opposite of the weak repetition we looked at in 2.1. Third, and most important for our purposes here, make certain you use transitional words and expressions to connect sentences and show relationships between the parts of a paragraph.

C. Example: At the same time as the reader, Elizabeth is conscious of Darcy’s feelings for her. Contempt for Mr. Darcy is furthered later in the novel when he reveals his feelings toward Elizabeth and asks her to marry him.

Corrected Version: At the same time as the reader, Elizabeth is conscious of Darcy’s feelings for her. However, her contempt for Mr. Darcy is furthered when he reveals his feelings toward Elizabeth and asks her to marry him.

D. Now you try—write a corrected version of the following sentence.
1. When Elizabeth learns why Darcy detests Wickham, she begins to rethink her thoughts on Darcy. She is beginning to see the wrongs she has inflicted upon Darcy. A good example of Elizabeth’s last denial of loving Darcy is in the scene between her and Lady Catherine.

3.5--Paragraph Development

A. Here’s the problem:
I see underdeveloped paragraphs arising from two causes. First, you may find yourself short of time, and as a result you have to get the revised draft of your essay to me even though you have a game and another test to study for. More often, however, I think you don’t see the potential of the ideas in your papers and therefore don’t explore them fully.

B. What to do:
Ask yourself in each paragraph whether the most important ideas can be taken further, whether you can explain more completely or give an example which will make your argument more convincing. In particular, avoid very short paragraphs in the middle of an essay, except as transitional paragraphs.

C. Example: Ironically, as much as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth seem different and incompatible, their characters truly are alike. Both characters are strong-willed individuals who are un-afraid to express their feelings. They are able to communicate their true beliefs which leads to a better understanding of faults in their personalities.

Corrected Version: Ironically, as much as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth seem incompatible, their personalities are more similar than they realize. Both are strong-willed, unafraid to express their feelings. Elizabeth defies Lady Catherine’s bullying, while Darcy uses his influence with Bingley to dissuade him from proposing to Jane. Also, they cause each other to honestly examine their own faults. Elizabeth realizes that she had been blinded by prejudice while Darcy understands why his manners had so deeply offended Elizabeth.

D. Now you try—write an improved version of the following paragraph.
1. Of Mr. Darcy, one character comments that “the world is too blinded by his fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chuses to be seen.” Darcy’s pride and often imposing manners toward the Bennet are less a reflection of what society dictates of him than his own personal inclinations.

Monday, September 17, 2007


A. Here’s the problem:
In a courtroom, you can't win your case without a sufficient amount of compelling evidence. Likewise, you may make potentially thoughtful, even important statements about characters, themes, images, or scenes in literature, but you can't convince me if I don’t know what led you to make that statement. The interpretation is there but not the supporting evidence. Occasionally, evidence is given, but it does not match or support the idea it is attached to.

B. What to do:
Evidence, which I will also refer to as concrete detail, generally takes two forms in an expository paragraph. If you have a sentence or two from the text which illustrate the point you want to make, quote the passage verbatim. On the other hand, if your example is an entire scene, write a sentence or phrase briefly establishing the connection between your idea and the relevant action or scene.

C. Example: I was immediately attracted to Darcy early on because of his distinct distaste for the stupidity of high society’s traditions, and his want to separate himself from that which he found useless. I also believe Darcy was more clever than merely shy because . . .

Corrected Version: I was immediately attracted to Darcy early on because of his distinct distaste for the stupidity of high society’s traditions, and his want to separate himself from that which he found useless. His standing apart at the Netherfield Ball and his distaste for the insipid chatter of Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas reveal good judgment as much as pride. I also believe Darcy was more clever than merely shy because . . .

D. Now you try—write a revised version of the following passage.
1. The marriage of Charlotte to Mr. Collins is established on false pretenses. Charlotte weds Mr. Collins for his prominent social status and remarkable wealth. She convinces herself that she is in love with the dimwitted Collins. Charlotte is entranced by her new lifestyle and social position, and is thus blind to Collins’ undesirable qualities. “Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society.”
E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:

3.7 Commentary I

A. Here’s the problem:
This is the second of my big three lessons—eliminating clutter (2.7-2.9) was the first, you may recall. Commentary is contained in those sentences, integrated into each paragraph of a paper, which explain, interpret, or draw conclusions from the text. The quality of your commentary is crucial. It shows you’ve gone beyond cutting and pasting quotations and examples together from the text. It shows you’ve thought hard about the significance of the evidence you cite. It shows you’ve drawn logical conclusions that deepen the presentation of your central argument. Appropriate commentary reveals, perhaps more than any other element in your writing, the level of your thinking.

B. What to do:
Start by looking at sample paragraphs from papers you wrote last year. Analyze how much commentary you find, especially compared to the amount of quotation, plot summary, and transitional statements. A basic way to improve your skills at commentary is to make interpretive statements before and after each example or quotation. That way, the significance of your evidence becomes clearer and stronger.. Look at the example below for illustrations.

C. Example: Wharton shows her reader exactly how New York exerts control over its inhabitants. To accomplish this, Wharton describes New York’s cosmos in exquisite detail: “In reality they all lived in a hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs; as when Mrs. Welland, who knew exactly why Archer had pressed her to announce her daughter’s engagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed expected him to do no less), yet felt obliged to simulate reluctance, and the air of having her hand forced. . .” The entire novel continues with explanations just as vivid and expressive that are meant to show the reader how the habits and formalities of Newland’s society affect him and his unhappiness.

Improved Version: Wharton shows her reader the emotional repression which characterizes New York social life. “In reality they all lived in a hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs; as when Mrs. Welland, who knew exactly why Archer had pressed her to announce her daughter’s engagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed expected him to do no less), yet felt obliged to simulate reluctance, and the air of having her hand forced. . .” No real emotion is ever openly expressed, merely hinted at indirectly so that it can be understood and responded to without being acknowledged. As a result, this socially prescribed, highly symbolic behavior stifles the characters’ emotional lives, gradually makes them dishonest, and eventually strips them of their essential humanity.

D. Now you try—write an improved version of one of the following passages.
1. When Mrs. Bennet first hears Mr. Collins’ name, she starts ranting and raving about how she never wants to hear that name because he will only want to take the house and riches when Mr. Bennet has passed on. She is afraid of what will happen to her and being upset says, “Oh! My dear . . .I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think he is [sic] the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entitled [sic] away from you [sic] own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.” Then when she hears of him coming to visit, she becomes even more distraught. Even while he had been staying with them, she only wanted him to leave, until she heard the magic word, marriage.
2. Mr. Collins has no social standing, other than his priesthood. However, this man imagines himself to be on the top of the social ladder. He arrogantly proposes marriage to Elizabeth by establishing that he is the best clergyman, he will make her happy, and he is the patron of a noble lady [sic]. He listens not to a single word Elizabeth has to say, and she does not wish to marry Mr. Collins at all. She is not attracted to him in any way, but Mr. Collins cannot accept her refusal. Arrogantly Mr. Collins assumes Elizabeth will come around to her senses and agree to marry him. Elizabeth makes it very clear that she will not marry him,

E. I also think you need to see positive models of key writing skills. This passage contains strong commentary leading up to a key quotation:

The contrast between the reflective Ishmael and the forceful Ahab dominates the story. Ishmael’s thought drives him to look beyond the world of appearances; he wants to see and to understand everything. Ahab’s drive is to prove, not to discover. He seeks to dominate nature, to impose and to inflict his will on the outside world—whether it be the crew that must jump to his orders or the great white whale that is essentially indifferent to him. As Ishmael is all rumination, so Ahab is all will. Both are thinkers. The difference between the two is that Ishmael is a passive thinker, a bystander who recognizes that he is insignificant in the eyes of Nature. Ahab, by contrast, actively seeks the whale in order to assert man’s supremacy over that unknown force which tries to overpower him: “[The whale] tasks me, he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate, and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

3.8 Commentary II

A. Here’s the problem:

Jane Shaffer, the teacher from whom I learned the term commentary, defines it as “your comments or opinion about something: not concrete detail. Synonyms include opinion, insight, analysis, interpretation, inference, personal response, feelings, evaluation, explication, and reflection.” As we’ve already seen from the examples on worksheet 3.7, occasionally I receive papers that don’t contain enough commentary relative to the amount of plot summary, quotation, and other forms of concrete detail (evidence) from a literary text.

B. What to do:
Look especially at the body paragraphs in your essay. Ask yourself—and your editing partner—some tough questions:
• Have I included appropriate commentary in addition to evidence from the text?
• Is my commentary phrased in vague general terms or does it draw specific inferences from the examples I use?
• Where could I either add useful commentary or replace vague statements with more specific commentary?
• What is the balance between commentary and textual evidence in the paragraph? Keep in mind this important principle: in order for your paragraphs to show depth of thought, the balance should favor commentary over evidence. A five-line quotation, for example, deserves more than five lines of commentary.

C. Exercise I—How could the following passage be improved either by adding commentary or by making existing commentary more specific?
Austen portrays “proper” behavior in a humorous light. Although she shows the significance of these prim standards, she does not portray them as life-dictating matters. Austen uses foil characters to compare the appropriate behavior of Jane and Elizabeth with the socially embarrassing actions of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia. On many occasions, Elizabeth is terribly ashamed of her mother’s imprudence. She pleads with her mother to speak more quietly; however, “her mother would talk of her views in the same intelligible tone. Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation.” The Bennet women create such a scene, that Miss Bingley attempts to attack them when she speaks to Darcy.

D. Exercise II— Consider the following passage. Is its commentary general or specific? Is there a reasonable balance between evidence and commentary?

Ahab cannot let go of his monomaniacal notion that somehow the whale acted against him with malicious intent, that vengeful exactitude must be brought upon the white whale. He is given one final opportunity to leave his quest, to accept his fate and to return within his own realm. Starbuck’s appeal upon seeing the whale swimming away from Ahab’s boat presented Ahab’s choice: “Oh! Ahab!. . . not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby Dick sees thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!” But Ahab can never accept this reality, and this in the end is the essence of his character. His fate can be seen as meaningless, his quest arrogant and ultimately futile, but the dedication with which he pursues the impossible seems to give him the nobler quality that all men strive to attain. “Great hearts sometimes condense to one deep pang, the sum total of these shallow pangs kindly diffused through feebler men’s whole lives. And so, such hearts . . .if the gods decree it, in their life-time aggregate a whole age of woe, wholly made up of instantaneous intensities; for even in their pointless centres, those noble natures contain the entire circumference of inferior souls.”

3.9 Clinchers

A. Here’s the problem:

Since the paragraph is the main unit by which your argument advances and becomes more detailed and more convincing, ending a paragraph without a strong concluding sentence weakens the overall effect and undermines the strength of your ideas. A paragraph without a strong clincher is an indication of fuzzy thinking, a dead give-away that the writer hasn’t fully clarified in his or her own mind the point the paragraph needs to make.

B. What to do:
Think of the concluding sentence in a paragraph as a special type of commentary, your chance to end on a strong note by stating the key interpretive point the paragraph has led up to. Spend a minute or two during drafting thinking about the strongest conclusion your evidence will support. Spend another minute or two re-evaluating those same sentences during revision. Sometimes you’ll realize that you now understand the point you’re trying to make better than you did when you wrote the first draft.

C. Example: Wickham has no desire to ultimately marry Lydia. Lydia’s father even says “I mean no man in his senses would marry Lydia on so slight a temptation as one hundred a year during my life and fifty after I am gone.” Accordingly, in order to save the Bennets some shame, Mr. Darcy gives Wickham some extra money (to act as the dowry the Bennets cannot afford) to marry Lydia. The marriage is based on money, and not love.

Corrected Version: The Lydia-Wickham marriage is based on money, not love. Wickham has no intention of marrying a girl as poor and foolish as Lydia. Lydia’s father even says “I mean no man in his senses would marry Lydia on so slight a temptation as one hundred a year during my life and fifty after I am gone.” The family’s reputation is only saved when Darcy’s money (replacing the dowry the Bennets cannot afford) induces Wickham to marry Lydia. By contrasting the greed, foolishness, and dishonor of this match with the more rational attachment and genuine affection between Elizabeth and Darcy and between Jane and Bingley, Austen reinforces her dual theme of marriage, providing examples of what a marriage should not be as well as what it should.

D. Now you try—write stronger endings for the following paragraphs.

1. Although Elizabeth severely misjudges Darcy’s character, her willingness to ultimately realize and accept her mistakes illustrates her strong character. After she blatantly rejects Mr. Darcy’s first marriage proposal and accuses him of many wrongdoings, it seems as though she will never again reconsider his worthiness even as a friend. However, when Mr. Darcy writes her a letter pleading his case, she reads with an open mind, and ultimately realizes that she has been “blind, partial, prejudiced, and absurd.”

2. In some respects, this ending and change of opinion is somewhat romantic, and fitting to the novel. Elizabeth offers everything on a superficial level that Darcy does not have, therefore fitting him very well. Both characters have the same feelings towards each other, both are misunderstood by society, and both are judged by their appearance. Elizabeth serves as Darcy’s foil, yet the reader almost expects them to fall in love. This is because Darcy’s personality contrasts Elizabeth’s in such a way that they fit perfectly together like pieces in a puzzle.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources: