Friday, December 12, 2014

Final Notes for Final Papers

Time Out and Monstrous Ink

Requirements, dates, and times are available on Canvas #41.

See blogger (below, November 21) for the exact wording of the assignment.

Remember to submit outline, draft, and peer reviews, along with your paper, and for the sake of all the saints above and demons below, don't forget digital submission to

Style and formatting guidelines may be found here. Please use them.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Vacation reading recommendations

A few people have asked me to recommend books for winter break. While I tremble at the difficulty of knowing what other people might enjoy, there are perhaps some titles many might see as the sort of thing an educated young person might wish to be exposed to while still in high school. So here goes.

1.     Read something from the other class’s list. Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Slaughterhouse-Five, Time’s Arrow, The Metamorphosis, The Death of Ivan Ilyich—these are all titles some of you tell me you found both pleasurable and meaningful during this semester.
2.     Pick up one of the often-taught high school classics which we either skipped over in our curriculum or which you missed along the way: Of Mice and Men, A Separate Peace, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1984, Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. They’re all terrific books.
3.     If you became a Kurt Vonnegut fan because of Slaughterhouse, try one of his other novels from that period: Cat’s Cradle, The Sirens of Titan, or Mother Night.
4.     If you like magic and sorcery, a la Harry Potter, you might be ready to “graduate” to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Same premise, a wizard school, only the students are 18, not 12, so the situations are somewhat more, well, adult in nature.
5.     If Game of Thrones is your cup of tea, try one of the books (they’re rather long but fast reading) or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, a novel that combines romance, history, warfare, and time travel (also long, recently made into a TV series on STARZ).
6.     Want more variations on Time? Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life gives 20 or more possible life and death stories of the same character, a middle-class Englishwoman born in 1910 who may or may not find a way to prevent World War II.
7.     Sports? Baseball is by far the most literary sport, and great baseball fiction includes The Natural (also a movie, but quite different from the novel), Shoeless Joe (turned into Field of Dreams), The Celebrant (combines baseball and early 20th century American history) and too many others to name here.
8.     And since I always like to pass on recommendations I got from former students, I highly recommend City of Thieves by David Benioff (one of the creators of the Game of Thrones TV series) a suspense novel that takes place during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. It was like a book on anti-gravity; I couldn’t put it down.
9.     I just began Hyde by Daniel Levine. The other half of the story. Decidedly not Jekyll's version. Looks like it will go quickly. But I wouldn't recommend it without knowing the original first.

Let me know if you find anything appealing, either here or on your own. I always enjoy talking about books.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Monstrous Ink: Final Paper

Final paper: Monstrous Ink

Every civilization that develops literature incorporates monsters into its storytelling and mythology. From Greece to Egypt to Asia to Anglo-Saxon England, the heroes of early literature prove themselves by overcoming monstrous beings. In later literature, monsters become more symbolic, ways for writers to represent new aspects of human nature, both in the monsters and in the human characters who confront them. Therefore, the study of literature from different historical periods and cultures allows us to think about what different cultures and eras label as “monstrous” and why. As Professor Asma says, “an action or a person or a thing is monstrous when it can’t be processed by our rationality, and also when we cannot readily relate to the emotional range involved.” This statement suggests that when a character in literature is considered a monster, that label may give us insight into those doing the labeling as well as a greater understanding of the monster itself.

For your final paper, consider three of the “monstrous” works we have studied this semester. By looking at them either individually or in comparison with each other, show how the presence of monsters contributes to the effectiveness of the work as a whole.  This “effectiveness” may in part be based on the facilitation of plot, but it should also involve consideration of the way in which the presentation of a monster is related to larger issues in the work as a whole.

Start by thinking about which of the so-called “monstrous” characters either confirm or refute any of the following assumptions (note that several of these assumptions are contradictory):
  • Monsters cannot be reasoned with
  • Monsters are ugly and inspire horror
  • Monsters are unnatural
  • Monsters are overwhelmingly powerful
  • Monsters are evil
  • Monsters are misunderstood
  •  Monsters cannot be understood
  • Monsters reflect the deepest fears of specific eras and cultures
  • Monsters are socially “constructed” and serve as scapegoats for expedient political agendas.
  • Monsters are psychological projections* of our own insecurities, fears, and shortcomings as a society. (*projection is a psychological defense mechanism which involves the unconscious transfer of one’s own desires or emotions onto another.) 
  •   “The Other”—forces to be feared and loathed as outsiders, inimical to human nature and human life.
  •   An inverted reflection of the interests and values of a culture.
  •  Obstacles to be removed, overcome, or eliminated by a hero.
  •  A  horrendous presence that explodes our standards for harmony, order, and ethical conduct”—Joseph Campbell
  • The personification of our own inner demons—monsters can represent aspects of ourselves that must be shunned as socially or psychologically unacceptable.
  •  Symbols of human vulnerability (i.e. monsters reveal to us our weaknesses).
  •  Or, conversely, a means for us to discover our own strengths—“imagining how we will face an unstoppable, powerful, and inhuman threat”
  • “Inhuman threats are great reminders of our own humanity”

Your paper should be approximately 6-8 pages in length; parenthetical citations should be used for textual support; any additional information, ideas, or language must, of course, be scrupulously cited.

See the assignment schedule on my blog for submission information, electronically on December 15, hard copy on 15th or 16th. Be sure to pay special attention to submission deadlines. On turnitin the assignment will be label “Final fall 2014.”

Time Out: Final paper

Final paper: Time Out

            The works we have looked at this semester all use the element of time in distinct, unusual ways. In such works, chronological sequences of events are often altered, time may be suspended, accelerated, even reversed. Such works employ flashbacks, flashforwards, overlapping sequences, memories, reversals, or other devices to alter the reader’s perception of time or establish relationships among events.

            Choose three works from this semester’s readings. For each, show how the author’s manipulation of time contributes to the effectiveness of the work as a whole. This “effectiveness” may in part be based on the facilitation of plot, but it should also involve consideration of the way in which altered chronology is related to larger issues in the work as a whole. Think, for example, about the extent to which altered chronology serves as a device to heighten our understanding of other central questions or whether time is itself a major theme in the work.

If you are able to go even further, you might attempt to make connections among the works you choose. Perhaps two authors distort time for similar purposes; perhaps your chosen works illustrate a distinct range of methods and purposes. Perhaps you will find some other pattern worthy of discussion.

Your paper should be approximately 6-8 pages in length; parenthetical citations should be used for textual support; any additional information, ideas, or language must, of course, be scrupulously cited.

See the assignment schedule on my blog for submission information, electronically on December 15, hard copy on 15th or 16th. Be sure to pay special attention to submission deadlines. On turnitin the assignment will be label “Final fall 2014.”

Friday, November 7, 2014

In-class essays

See previous post for samples and brief explanation.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Essay: Beloved 2014

Essay assignment: Beloved

English IV: Time Out
October, 2014
Essay assignment: Beloved

Assignment: Write an essay of approximately three or four pages typed (900 – 1200 words), using one of the following prompts or creating one of your own. (For practical reasons, check with me if you wish to pursue the “one of your own” option.) I will look especially for the following items: 1) specific analytical sentences (thesis, commentary, topic sentences, paragraph conclusions); 2) clear, unencumbered, accurate sentences; 3) organized, well developed paragraphs; 4) relevant textual evidence, in bite-size pieces, fully integrated with ideas; 5) mechanical correctness.

Caveat: There is undoubtedly much information available on that interweb thing, some of which I have already investigated. Reading it will probably taint your mind. Steer clear.

Beloved is, among other things, a novel about relationships. Choose two of the main characters and explore the relationship between them as deeply as you can in the space available.

Beloved is definitely a novel of the past. Choose a flashback or memory scene and explore, in some detail, its relationship to the context in which it is “remembered.”

Compare, in as much detail as possible, the two scenes in which white men come into the yard of 124 Bluestone Road. Look at Sethe’s state of mind, her actions, the behavior of the white men, possible ironies of situation, etc.

Why is the figure of a reincarnated ghost particularly appropriate for this novel?

Look back at your notecards or journal entries for a seed which can be grown into a thesis statement and supported with evidence from the novel.
10/24—Introduce assignment
11/4—complete, typed drafts due in class for peer review
11/6—revised essays due at beginning of class, both hard copy and turnitin (assignment title: Beloved 2014)
Notes on format and heading available via separate link

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Paper #2

English IV: Monstrous Ink
Paper #2 assignment: Beowulf and Grendel
September, 2014

Length: 1000-1500 words (4-5 pages) Develop one of the following topics into a focused, well-developed essay.

Due dates: Drafts in class Friday, September 26 (#16). Incomplete drafts will lose one point per missing page. Missing drafts will earn a half-letter-grade deduction. Papers due, hard copy and turnitin, class #17 (Monday or Tuesday).

·      Narrow and deep. Repeat after me: narrow and deep. That’s your mantra for this assignment.
·      Write a concise opening paragraph, clearly identifying your key point in the form of a provable thesis, then develop that point in 4-6 further paragraphs. Maintain a tight focus on the central idea throughout; no extraneous comparisons or digressions.
·      Offer several ESSENTIAL pieces of evidence and draw the most specific conclusions you can about their importance.

·      What is Grendel’s “arc” as a character in the novel Grendel? In what important ways does he grow, change, or develop? What are some of the key human values he observes, considers, and possibly rejects? Why do these values fall short of what he wants to believe in?
·      Gardner suggests that the Danes are unhappy with the arrival of the Geats. Take a close look at the passage in Beowulf describing their arrival and reception. Compare it to the arrival scene in Grendel. On what does Gardner base his interpretation?
·      Look at the character of Wealtheow in both versions, especially chapter 7 of Grendel and the celebratory banquet after the slaying of Grendel’s mother in Beowulf? What are the key features of her character? Are the two portrayals consistent? Is there more to her than meets the eye?
·      What does it mean to be a hero? How do the two texts differ on this point?
·      What is glory? Why is it important? Is it worth believing in?
·      Put the two versions of Beowulf’s argument with Unferth side by side. Then consider the most important differences. How do those differences give that scene two very different meanings?
·      Contrast Grendel’s view of Beowulf to that of the Beowulf poet? What effect does
Gardner create by giving such a different view of Grendel’s killer?

There is waaaay too much information available online on some of these questions. My very strong advice to you is to do no online research whatsoever. You will only run the risk of inadvertently or deliberately plagiarizing that material. Think about your interpretation of the question and go from there.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


See instructions here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Monsters--basic terms of personality

A brief article defining the three key terms of Freud's theory of personality: Id, ego, and superego.

Useful in thinking about human monsters like HH Holmes, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, etc; also for thinking about the relationship between any form of monsters, from earlier mythologies to the present, and our ideas of humanity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Format for all essays

Here is a link to my document regarding format for writing assignments in my classes.


Enroll in Class of 2016 on

Class ID: 10553333

Password: pcds

You will also need the email address and password you created when you joined turnitin.

Good luck.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Devil in the White City prompts

Monstrous Ink
The Devil in the White City prompts

1.              In the summer of 1895 Detective Frank Geyer captured the imagination of America, making Geyer (according to Erik Larson) “the living representation of how men liked to think of themselves” (355). In what ways do you think this statement is true?

2.              Erik Larson says, “exactly what motivated Holmes may never be known” (395). How much sense can you make of Holmes’ motives? Is it important to try to understand someone like Holmes? Why?

3.              One of the distinctions Larson draws between, on the one hand, men like Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted and, on the other, the murderer H.H. Holmes is that the former “choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible” while the latter devoted himself to “the manufacture of sorrow” (xi). Men like Burnham “make no little plans,” seeking instead “the magic to stir men’s blood.” Holmes, on the contrary, says, “I was born with the devil in me.” How do the differences between Burnham and Holmes illustrate what Larson calls “the ineluctable conflict between good and evil?”


Time Out
Slaughterhouse-5 prompts

1.         The phrase that runs throughout the novel is, of course, “so it goes.”  Look at several examples of its use. Certainly, it occurs every time death is mentioned, but what does it mean? Does Vonnegut use it only in one way, or does it accrue several meanings as its use develops throughout the novel? Is it a useful phrase for Billy to repeat to himself as his personal mantra?

2.         The novel is structured using the idea of time travel. Rather than presenting Billy’s life chronologically, Vonnegut presents Billy’s experiences to us in a non-linear fashion, in the order in which Billy experiences them. How does this unusual structure affect our understanding of the novel? Does it help Vonnegut show us the connections between different parts of Billy’s life? Does it allow Vonnegut to achieve greater depth in portraying the effects of Billy’s experiences? Are there other advantages you can identify?

3.         What if Billy Pilgrim was not kidnapped and taken to the planet Tralfamadore? What if he invented this fantasy as an escape from his own life experiences? Is it an example of the belief that “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”?
            If Tralfamadore is a fantasy existing only in Billy’s imagination—you needn’t believe it to be so, just explore the possibility—how would that fact affect our understanding of the novel? Would it be in keeping with Billy’s character? How? Would it relate to his experiences as a prisoner of war? How? Would it help Billy find peace and serenity in his life? In other words, is it something someone like Billy might invent as a comfortable fiction?
            As you explore this possibility, consider not only what we know about Billy’s life but also the Tralfamadorian views on time, fate, free will, happiness, and war. Gather a few pieces of evidence from the novel to support your argument, whichever direction you choose to take it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Exam info

Here is the link to the student information section of the AP English Literature exam, including practice questions of all 4 types (MC, poetry, prose, and literary topic) as well as other information about scores, individual colleges' policies regarding credit and placement, and perhaps more. Feel free to explore.

Monday, March 31, 2014

AP--topics for final papers


AP paper assignment

There is one final paper remaining before we complete our year together. Choose a novel from the list below (one you can finish over the next 3 weeks; therefore I've not included Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment, as wonderful as they are) for a paper of 3-5 pages on a topic you will select.  Our study of British literature has taken us to the beginning of the twentieth century, so perhaps you would like to read a classic novel of the last 100 years. Or perhaps you've always wanted to read Dickens or one of the Brontes and never quite gotten round to it. At this point in the year, even a talented American might satisfy that craving for a quality AP reading book. Or choose an AP-caliber author not on this list and dig into one of her (or his) novels.

Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1984)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847) 
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (1847)
The Awakening, Kate Chopin (1899)
Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad (1900)
Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1854)
Middlemarch, George Eliot (1874)
A Passage to India or Howard's End, E.M. Forster (1924, 1910)
Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy (1895)
Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961)
Obasan, Joy Kogawa (1981)
Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton (1948)
Native Son, Richard Wright (1940)
Pat Barker, Regeneration (1991)
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962)
Gustav Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1856)
Nadine Gordimer, July’s People (1981)
Graham Greene, The Quiet American (1955)
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (1989)
Yann Martel, Life of Pi (2002)
Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)
George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger (1992)
Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence (1920)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

AP Poetry exercise

One of Jane Austen's contemporaries was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). Although he and Austen never met, and they wrote in vastly different styles, both are now considered among the most significant writers of that period. One of Coleridge's most famous poems in "Kubla Khan," a poem inspired by his reading of a work of history on the medieval Mongol emperors. Please complete the following activities for Friday.

1. Read the poem, found here.

2. Read the story of the poem's creation found here (1st paragraph of the Wikipedia entry).

3. Choose your favorite image or lines from the poem and be prepared to explain your choice.

4. Google the poem and bring a statement you found which helps you better understand some part of the poem's meaning.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Notes on the Novel as Form

Notes on the NOVEL as FORM

DEFINITION—a novel is a prose fiction to be read in more than one sitting, containing a complete and complex ACTION. Think of the novel as a whole as a design or structure in which each element plays an important part and contributes to the overall development of the complete action. As students of literature, we assess the relationship between each of the parts (characters, scenes, ideas, etc) and the whole, the form of the entire novel.

ACTION—structured beginning, middle, and end; prior stability, introduction of instability, complications (generally posing THREAT to the happiness of the characters we care most about), leading ultimately to a new, more permanent stability; working out of the complications and the new stability constitutes the PLOT.

PLOT—a meaningful arrangement of events linked in a logical chain of cause and effect; each event builds on what came before and leads to what happens next. These events are dramatized to the reader in a series of SCENES.

SCENE—the building block of plot. Each scene contains a single event allowing the CHARACTERS to interact with each other, forming new relationships, building or resolving problems.

CHARACTER—are related to each other (and to the reader) by problems we as readers care about. These problems, and the natures of the characters themselves, determine the events of the novel. In this way, plot is seen as organic, growing out of character. Characters also invite us to form judgments or their words and actions, largely on moral grounds. We approve or disapprove of the characters as they meet or fail to match the implied moral and ethical standards of the novel itself and of its readers.  SECONDARY characters remain much the same throughout the novel in values, behavior, and attitude; thus they are largely FLAT or STATIC in their portrayal. PRIMARY characters, on the other hand, should change as a result of their experiences; they must be capable of moral, psychological, or social growth. That growth occurs as a result of the SCENES they participate in, and it leads to the ultimate RESOLUTION of the central problem. Thus they are ROUND or DYNAMIC in their development throughout the course of the novel.

RESOLUTION—the combined purpose of all the scenes in the novels is that the characters’ problems must be resolved in the end, and the resolution should depend more on the characters themselves (their moral qualities and our expectations for them as characters) rather than on chance events, coincidence, or random circumstance. Resolution may occur TRAGICALLY, if characters we come to care about are destroyed by their own shortcomings or the actions of others, or COMICALLY, if characters we care about are rewarded in the end with happiness and the characters who pose THREAT to that happiness are ultimately rendered harmless or ineffective. The author’s ability to resolve these problems appropriately gives us as readers a sense of CLOSURE at the end of the novel.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Subtext assignment--Shakespeare

Preparation of performance text

After you locate and print your text, identify as much subtext as you can. This is the most important first stage of the assignment.

Subtext refers to all the meanings not directly contained in the text.:

Specifically, subtext contains all of the following:

·      Implied stage directions,
·      Character’s thoughts,
·      Feelings,
·      Motives (what is the character’s goal, for the scene as a whole and each part,)
·      Tone of voice (for each speech and for places where it changes,)
·      Movements,
·      Gestures.

Make your paraphrase and subtext easy for us 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.  Perhaps add a couple of hard returns between speeches or in the middle of a speech where you add subtext notes.