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, 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

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 ("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 (“Hamlet subtext”)

Subtext assignment:
Go to (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 (

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:

Friday, September 7, 2007

AP--Short story presentations

You have three responsibilities with your assigned story. Feel free to consult with me on any of these responsibilities a day or two before your presentation.

1. Introduce your story. Do not under any circumstances summarize the plot or read us the author introduction from the textbook, but give the class any important background information you have gleaned by googling the story or its author. A key fact or two about the author’s background, relevant circumstances of the story’s composition or its literary reputation—these can be useful to the class in placing the story in appropriate context. Keep this portion brief—a minute or two.

2. Post your essay on the story to your blog and read what you have written. Also, print one hard copy to give to me and submit electronically to (Assignment: Short story presentation). Your topic may be any aspect of the story’s technique, style, or meaning. Suggested length is 600 to 800 words. We will follow your reading with a brief round of commendations and questions from the class.

3. Lead a discussion of the story in the time remaining. One excellent way to begin a group discussion is to ask a question to which you don’t have a complete answer yourself, something important about the story you’re still trying to figure out. If you’re not sure whether the main character made the right decision, ask the class. If there’s a scene whose meaning is ambiguous or whose significance is unclear, ask the class.

For stories other than your assigned story, you have these responsibilities:

1. Read the story before coming to class that day.

2. Contribute to the discussion, either by offering a commendation or question to the writer of that day’s paper or by contributing your comments during the open discussion the second half of the period.

3. Post an entry to your blog once a week. You may write one longer entry on an individual story or post an entry made up of several shorter pieces on a number of stories for that week. Entries may be written prior to class, containing your reader responses to that day’s story or be written after class, developing and elaborating on an issue raised during discussion. No rehashes, please.

4. (Optional, but strongly encouraged): Post a comment on the blog of each day’s presenter.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Introduction to Tragedy

Read this brief list of key points about tragedy, taken from a variety of print sources. Then click here for an on-line resource from the Classics Technology Center on the same topic. Read the Introduction page and come to class with questions and comments. We will use part of this site as we read Oedipus the King and Antigone over the next two weeks.

• A tragic character is one who is usually highly renowned and prosperous, who comes to misfortune because of some weakness or error in judgment (hamartia). This error has several possible sources: a miscalculation or misunderstanding, a lack of knowledge, ignorance of family relationships, or hubris.
• Because of this error, or “tragic flaw,” the tragic characters isolate and destroy themselves. Because they possess many fundamentally virtuous qualities, their destruction is a waste of potential good. Yet in dying they triumph over the madness and darkness within themselves and gain a degree of insight into their dilemma.
• Even if the hero is subject to the relentless, inexorable qualities of human fatality, the downfall is the result of choice, not the result of pure accident or villainy or some overriding malignant force. Accident, villainy, or fate may contribute to the downfall but only as cooperating agents.
• Aristotle identifies an important tragic moment (anagnorisis), the recognition or discovery, a revelation of some fact not known before or some person’s true identity. Modern critics have taken the term to mean the terrible enlightenment that accompanies such a recognition. “To see things plain—that is anagnorisis. It is what tragedy ultimately is about: the realization of the unthinkable.”
• According to Aristotle, the audience pities the central character and fears being in the same predicament. In the end, we feel purged of these emotions (catharsis) and learn something from these incidents, since their larger, universal significance is clear.
• In the end the tragic character is fallen in worldly state but uplifted in moral dignity. With the fall of the hero and his gain in wisdom or self-knowledge, there is, besides the appalling sense of human waste, a fresh recognition of human greatness, a sense that human life has unrealized potentialities. Both the hero and the audience gain understanding from his defeat.
• “I believe the writers who get the most lasting response from readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By a happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events—a marriage or last-minute rescue from death—but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death.”--British novelist Fay Weldon

N.B. Some of the above sentences are taken verbatim from their sources; others are slightly paraphrased. All the ideas are borrowed from the following sources:
The World of Tragedy, John Kimmey and Ashley Brown
Perrine’s Literature, Thomas Arp
Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, X.J. Kenney and Dana Gioia
Tragedy, Clifford Leech
Poetics, Aristotle

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

AP October novel list

Select one of the following novels and write an essay exploring one aspect of the novel’s meaning.

Jane Austen (Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility)
Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre)
Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights)
Daniel Defoe (Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe)
Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
Fyodor Dostoevski (Crime and Punishment)
George Eliot (Silas Marner)
Henry Fielding (Joseph Andrews)
Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary)
Thomas Hardy (The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the
D’Urbervilles, Return of the Native)
Henry James (Washington Square)
James Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)
Anthony Trollope (Barchester Towers)
Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)
Oscar Wilde (Picture of Dorian Gray)
Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway)

Essay Assignment (Due Wednesday, October 17):

Write an essay of approximately 1000—1200 words developing in some detail a topic central to the novel you have read. Refer frequently and specifically to the novel as you develop your topic. Listed below are several options, but you may see me for approval of other approaches if you wish.

1. The author’s presentation of a central character—how does the character grow or develop during the course of the novel and how is that development central to the novel’s meaning?
2. How does the author identify and develop the central conflict of the novel? How is it related to the novel’s meaning?
3. What social theme or issue is central to understanding the characters’ dilemmas or fates? How does the novel persuade us to share the author’s implied views regarding this issue?
4. Examine a key scene or incident from the novel. Explain how the scene is significant to our understanding of multiple aspects of the novel: characterization, theme, form, and/or structure.

AP Assignments Sept 10--October 19

Week 3: September 10—14
1: A Rose For Emily (p. 28); Style 1.6
2: Everyday Use (p.443); Style 1.7
3: Teenage Wasteland (p. 35) Style 1.8
4: Interpreter of Maladies (p. 579); Multiple choice quiz 2

Week 4: September 17—21
1: A & P (p. 14); Style 1.9
2: Revelation (p. 368); Style 2.0
3: A Good Man is Hard to Find (p.358); Style 2.1
4: Cathedral (p. 98); Vocab quiz 2 (lessons 4-6)

Week 5: September 24—28
1: A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (p. 156); Style 2.2
2: Harrison Bergeron (p. 220); Style 2.3
3: Battle Royal (p. 526); Style 2.4
4: The Yellow Wallpaper (p. 424); Multiple choice quiz 3

Week 6: October 1—4 (No school Friday)
1: Shiloh (p. 604); Style 2.5
2: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been (p. 613); Style 2.6
3: The Things They Carried (p. 625)

Week 7: October 9—12—No school Monday (Columbus Day)
1: The Rocking-Horse Winner (p. 593); style 2.7
2: Greasy Lake (p. 129); style 2.8
3: The Five Forty-Eight (p. 503) (section 2 reads "A Worn Path"); vocab quiz 3 (lessons 7-9)

Week 8: October 15—19
1: I Stand Here Ironing (p. 637); Style 2.9
2: Papers due for October novels (1000-1250 wds); style 2.10