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.