Parings, Progress, and SMBC

Senior English

August 30th, 2012

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We’ve moved rather quickly through the first novels, paring Things Fall Apart with the poem that gave it its name and The Stranger with writings by Camus and Sartre. I asked you to write a summary characterization of your novel’s protagonist (an outline is all that’s necessary) before returning the work. If you haven’t done this, remember that your paper will require a synthesis of several works; it would be easy to lose connections in the shifts.


Mersault, Okonkwo, and Sisyphus

Senior English

August 20th, 2012

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Solid discussions today.

We looked at what makes these characters (Mersault and Okonkwo) such unlikable people, hoping to contrast their inevitable1 change. I won’t go into detail here, so if you were absent ask a peer for notes.

We will continue this pattern for a while, so make sure you’re noting those questions/confusion as arise.

For those reading The Stranger (or those interested), a copy of the essay I passed out today, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” is available here.

  1. Heh. Fingers crossed. []

Identity and the Novel

Senior English

August 17th, 2012

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Yesterday we read W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming” in all its apocalyptic glory. If you didn’t get chills the first reading1, give it another go.

Today we discussed what it means to represent an individual, a personality, in literature. This has become our guiding question:

How is identity represented in literature?

An odd question and one worth unpacking a bit before we attempt an answer. In moving toward a better understanding of identity, we made connections between our representation of ourselves to others—or any autobiographical act—and the relationship between an author and his creation.

We’ll read a number of works (Oedipus RexThe StrangerThings Fall Apart, others likely) and call on previous readings (Hamlet, especially) to better answer this question. Ensure that you are reading and journaling—you’ll have time for group discussions on Monday.

  1. “vexed to nightmare”?! That’ll keep me up… []

Proposal Prep.

British Literature, World Literature

September 19th, 2010

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Quick reminder that you’ll be presenting your proposals in class on Monday. I want to emphasize that this is not a stand-in-front-of-the-class-and-read-from-notecards sort of thing; you’ll remain sitting, explain your potential thesis and the support you have, the research you still need to do, and the class will provide suggestions for further connections/evidence and questions about your argument.

How are they coming? Send me an email or post a comment below if you have a question.

Here’s a quick question to ask of your proposed (hypo)thesis1:

Is it something I need to prove (that’s good), or something that just happens in the texts (that’s bad)?

Bad (hypo)thesis2: Hamlet and Meursault both isolate themselves from the rest of society, commit murder, and accept a death by the hand of another.

While this is a neat connection, it provides little insight into the texts—merely provides comparison. For a better comparison, I looked into how each views his death and why he accepts it as he does:

Better (hypo)thesis: On the night of Meursault’s execution, he realizes the “gentle indifference of the universe,” while Hamlet notes that there’s “special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” Though their paths are quite different, both Hamlet and Meursault find a kind of solace in the inevitability their deaths; Hamlet is resigned to divine providence while Meursault finally welcomes the absurdity of life and death.

This connection provides better insight into the characters’ motivations and will elicit questions for further explanation (is Hamlet really religious? what does “absurd” mean in this context? how are their paths different?), which will be addressed in the body of the essay. Remember that your theses are tentative at this point; they need not be perfect (this one certainly isn’t), but only to provide a starting point for further study and elucidation.

After your (hypo)thesis you should include as much support as you have discovered, any resources (or parts of the works) you still need to mull over, as well as any problems you foresee in the process.

  1. I’m using The Stranger by Albert Camus and Hamlet so I don’t step on any connections you may be considering, but the format should be the same. []
  2. go sit in the corner. []

The Reading Journal Experiment

British Literature, World Literature

September 23rd, 2009

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On Monday I proposed a deal: If you keep a detailed (definition of “detailed” below) reading journal for our current work, one that includes as much or more information than an average essay, and turn it in at the end of the reading, you do not have to write a paper.

My hypothesis: A few of you would decide to just write the paper, as you are familiar with that routine and comfortable with your writing process; most of you would write down a few words you don’t know, perhaps a summary of the reading, a few questions, and be through with it; and a few would run with the idea, draw character maps, look up outside information, learn new words, come to class with questions about weird sentences and quote interesting passages.

The bell curve, right? Shame on me; I should have known better.

The past few days in class have blown me away. Nearly all of you have come to class with questions about the reading (or viewing, in Brit Lit), words you’re not sure about, connections you’ve made with outside works, points I’ve missed, and interpretations I hadn’t considered. You all seem to be enjoying the readings more (even though you have to write as you go), and understanding them in more depth. I’ve practically thrown out all my prepared questions for the past few days; yours are much better. I can’t wait to sit down with your journals at the end.

While I wrote this on the board, here is the list of things to look for or record in your journal:

You will turn in your journals the day after we finish the work. I will read them over that night, and return them to you the next day. I will not write in them, but simply give you advice on organization, some things you should focus on, etc. (I might steal some ideas for my own journal, too. Hope you don’t mind.)

If your journal is detailed enough (covers the entire work, or Act III through the end of Hamlet), you will be excused from the final essay. If you chose not to create a journal, or it seems a bit sparse (or is simply a list of quotations without your reactions), I will ask you to write the paper.

We will be creating reading journals for every reading assignment from here on out. For our next unit, I’ll show you how to write most of your essay in your journal before we even finish the novel.

Send me an email if you have questions, or post them below.

This is going to be an amazing year.

  1. is great for this. Simply put all of the words, separated by commas, into the search box, and you’ll have a list of definitions. For the truly adventurous, try this online etymology dictionary for where it came from and related words. []