February 2009 Archives

Portfolio 1 - EL267

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Portfolio 1 - EL267



Welcome to my first Portfolio! The blogging experience took a little adjusting, initially; but I've grown more comfortable with the process of understanding literary works and sharing my insights on them with peers. Probably, the most beneficial aspect of the online discussions is, it has allowed me to question and deepen my own observations.



Most of these entries I consider as warm-ups: some of my firsts and a few of the musts.

The Road Not Taken
Rain, Rain, Rain
Woodchuck, Why?

Everything that made the friday deadlines 
(Those that didn't were still posted before Monday class discusions.)


A Smile is Worth a Thousand Words
Woodchuck Why?
No Time for Brevity
After Apple Picking
If a Diamond is Love, Daisy is but an Emreald
Can't Find Sympathy
Push Harder
All of my comments were timely.

Topics that sparked my attention or others.

Sara Benaquista said: "I really, really love this blog entry you put together. I completely agree that 'we are our own worst critics/"
Push Harder
Nathan Hart said:"Enivironment has such a great effect on the life and situation of people."
Rachael Sarver said: "I find it interesting that you chose that quote; it is something that I overlooked."
A Smile is Worth a Thousand Words

Any reading assignment that stirred a good response out of me.

"Steinbeck adopts a palpable likeness to the stylistic patterns of the Bible;
I also perceived a tearing away from a communal mind to one centered on individual prosperity alone."
Hevbrew Scriptures

"Steinbeck's depiction of religion is peculiar; he harbors and esteems religion's core messages, yet simultaneously ridicules religiosity by distorting religious virtue within character roles".


I offer a link to futher information on the Machinal.

Can't Find Sympathy

Provides link to information concerning the original dust jacket of The Great Gatsby.

A Smile is Worth a Thousand Words

"After reading this passage it occurred to me, perhaps, for Jay Gatsby Daisy is not purely a case of the one true-love that got away."

If a Diamond is Love, Daisy is but an Emerald

"Every time I manage to become unduly self critical, in terms of my ability to write, this proverb becomes a light of hope at the end of my tunnel-vision."

Push Harder



Contribution to others' discussions.

"April, that's an excellent phrase. In fact, that's what I was trying to get at when I meant that she should bite the bullet." Carlos Peredo's blog:
Feminism I like? Nope, I was wrong

Response to Daisy's reaction over Gatsby's clothes.Justin Lellimo's blog:

Beautiful Shirts

My iinterpretation of the green light. Justin Lellimo's blog:

Green Means Go?


Pluck it From the Sky

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"'There all around us,' old Willie said.  'You just reach up and pick them out of the air'."
How to Read Literature Like a Professor--Thomas C. Foster (p. 192)

Foster is referring to the story, the "only story".  That perpetual tale of life, death, love, loss, failure, success, hope, and despair to be forever more continued with a pen, paper, and new perspective.   I think he is absolutely right: the truth and fiction of writing constantly surrounds us all.  Humanity is the common ground all writers share.  How frustrating to think the source or sources of the original story components may never be known.  Whoever did designed the archetypes was able to implement a structure which never tires nor ceases to lose impact, one that reinvents and recycles with each generation.


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"Literary geography is typically about humans inhabiting spaces, and at the same time the spaces that inhabit humans."
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
--Thomas C. Foster

The Grapes of Wrath consists both of geographical importance in regard to location, but also of a character importance derived from relationship with the land.  "Sure, cried the tenant men, but it's our land.  We measured it and broke it up.  We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it's no good, it's sill ours" (Steinbeck 45).   Our home, our environment largely makes us who we are, and that is typically true for any person.  My mom always told me, "You are a product of your environment."  Although she meant it with regard to parental upbringing, the saying rings true: people will demonstrate the qualities and characteristics of their surroundings and acquaintances.

Hebrew Scripture

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"Joad carefully drew the torso of a woman in the dirt, breasts, hips, pelvis."
The Grapes of Wrath--John Steinbeck (p. 30)

Steinbeck adopts a palpable likeness to the stylistic patterns of the Bible, numerous sentences recapture an essence of scared language and antiquated flow.  Compare: "Every moving thing lifted the dust into the air" (Steinbeck 4) to "every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (NKJV Gen. 1:26).  But that point is a basically obvious one, especially when, every other page of the book is littered with Jesus, Christ, God Almighty, or pretty much any given combination of the three. I think Mark Twain was accredited with having said adjectives were like God's thunder and lightening, perchance the Lord's name has served as an adjective for Steinbeck.  Now to the reason I chose this excerpt to blog about; it comes from a passage where Jim Casey is conveying to young Tom Joad his disquieted faith, and the trouble through which he has arrived at a new outlook on life-- centrally his laying up with women after prayer meetings.  With the text's emphasis on religion, I can't help but compare the preacher's sexuality to those of people residing in Canaan at the time Israel (the Hebrew's) came into the land. The settlement resulted in cohabitation with different cultures.  Before this the Hebrew people were nomads, mostly shepherds, now there was a need to be farmers.   Unlike the Hebrew religion most other cultures were polytheistic and depended primarily on Asherah (fertility goddess) for the production of crops and continuation of life, childbearing and so forth.  Priests would hold ceremonies at the temple, there a priestess, more fittingly prostitute, would be offered to town men in a ritual to please the goddess and insure cultivation of the land.  When Joad draws the figure of a woman into the barren soil, I immediately thought Asherah. There are two relational aspects I considered: the whole forsaken, fruitless soil of the dustbowl, and the force of cultural change demanding a need to relocate.  There is strong evidence from the Bible showing people were influenced to conform from the "old ways" to new lifestyles and practices, an apparent factor for the novels characters.  Presently I am taking a Hebrew Scriptures course, so these similarities seemed note worthy to me. Whether there was any intent for this cultural correlation on the author's part is speculative.

I also perceived a tearing away from a communal mind to one centered on individual prosperity alone.  In chapter six Muley is asked if he is going to share his meal, he replies, "if a fella's got somepin to eat an' another fella's hungry--why, the first fella ain't got no choice."  But you can see the difference in charity from chapter seven's used care salesman's antics: "they hate to put you out. Make 'em put you out, an' then sock it to 'em."  That mentality could even be attributed to the Bible.  Israel were a people defined by religion: The Grapes of Wrath's tenants are a people defined by land.

Not to be overlooked are character names: Tom (Thomas), Noah, Rosasharn, Uncle John, the Peters', and the Jacobs' Every one a biblical name.  And how about Jim Casy, intials J. C.--Jesus Christ .   

Can't Find Sympathy

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YOUNG WOMAN. I'll kill you - Maybe I am crazy - I don't know. Sometimes I think I am - the thoughts that go on in my mind - sometimes - I think I am - I can't help it if I am - I do the best  can - I do the best I can and I'm nearly crazy! (MOTHER rises and sits) Go away! Go away! You don't know anything about anything! And you haven't got any pity - no pity - you just take it for granted that I go to work every day - and come home every night and bring my money every week - you just take it for granted - you'd let me go on forever - and never feel any pity - (p.19)
Machinal--Sophie Treadwell

After the introduction I truly felt for Treadwell wedged in a belittling environment she somehow managed to prevail in spite of. Going into the reading I had an open mind about the play. Except scene after scene, that same sense of empathy did not carry over to the leading role. To be blunt I thought the woman, Helen, selfish. On the surface she appears to be a young woman who sacrifices her desires, true love, to provide for her mother.  But she is not genuine in any of the deeds she does. She takes care of her mom but expects pity and gratification.  (People who offer something and expect something in return are not gracious.)  She marries but not for love. (Whether she feels forced or not she has a choice in the matter--she could have declined.) She has a child and does not want the child.  The character is a shell of a person, and living that way was her decision. She speaks of nothing but herself, and feeling tight inside. I know the play is meant to show a woman fighting to determine her own life: a submissive woman who is tired of submitting.  Still, there were parts that I found very off-putting. Especially the end of episode four (p.30); she is rambling about downed puppies not going to heaven, and her bald little girl.  Upset this child doesn't have curls all over or that it wasn't a boy, she wonders about Gods hair, then quickly decides it doesn't matter everyone must love God, even if God is bald with fat hands; as if, she rejected her baby because of the child's hair, hated the man she married because he had fat hands, or worse wanted to drown the baby because vixen had eight puppies, all drowned?  Maybe I am missing some key component to the story that changes the message, but I see a neurotic, selfish woman.

Since I found this play difficult to sympathize with I figured a more informed understanding of the author, the story, and the time period would be helpful. Below is a link to futher information about Machinal: Language and Slang of the Time
                                         Murder Trial of Ruth Brown Snyder
                                         Marriage Laws in 1920's
                                         The Electric Chair




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How to Read Literature Like a Professor--Thomas C. Foster (p. 122)

The one reference list (up to this point) Foster gives is a Jesus likeness checklist. Probably for those he acknowledges as unaware of dominate Christian culture in America, but as he concurs the majority of us are already familiar with what characterizes Christ. One of the qualifications on the list is Jesus' final age, thirty-three. Would that mean any character who is thirty-three represents a Christ figure? Would a writer only use that age for that purpose? I didn't find this chapter extremely insightful. Other than the continuous theme of pointing out obvious correlations readers miss, nothing overly helpful jumped out at me. However, again, I admit even being familiar with the subject, I could have easily missed the association in text if I were not looking for it.


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In chapter 12 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster says of symbols, "The thing referred to is likely not reducible to a single statement but will more probably involve a range of possible meanings and interpretations" (Foster 98). 

An interview comes to mind. My favorite band's lead vocalist responded to an inquiry once over his intent behind the lyrics of a popular song.  Instead of broadcasting how he felt this or how he meant that while composing, he simply declined an explanation, reluctant to make the fan's interpretation subjective to his own. It's like always listening to a song you love in your car, then finally catching the music video on MTV, and it just doesn't agree with the mental picture you had. Now every time you hear the song your mind drudges up that video.  Reading a book is no different. If the author told you in his introduction every reason for his every thought, books would loose relational caliber. When a person can connect to a book or song on a personal level that is when the piece is truly invaluable. Of course the authors' intentions are there within the work, reason for some interpretations being more accurate than others, but without flexibility wouldn't the story be stale?  



Push Harder

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"The few pages of this chapter have taken you a few minutes to read; they have taken me, I'm sorry to say, days and days to write ... And lateral thinking is what we're really discussing: the way writers can keep their eye on the target ... I used to think this was a great gift 'literary geniuses' have, but I'm not so sure anymore ... It's something that starts happening when a reader/writer and a sheet of paper get locked in a room together."
How to Read Literature Like a Professor--Thomas C. Foster (p. 85) 

Every time I manage to become unduly self critical, in terms of my ability to write, this proverb becomes a light of hope at the end of my tunnel-vision.  Because: it's a truth repeated by possibly anyone who has ever desired to put pen to paper. I tend to inflict upon myself an expectation level unequal to my current position of capability, presently a beginners level, resulting in discouragement.  But conveniently, somehow, I always seem to stumble across one of these encouraging notes.  For instance, before I found this one, I had been skimming John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and saw this statement--apparently from the authors own journal--expressing, in a more poignant language than my own, those same insecure feelings:

"If I could do this book properly it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book.  But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability.  I'll just have to work from a background of theses. Honesty.  If I can keep an honesty it is all I can expect of my poor brain.... If I can do that it will be all my lack of genius can produce.  For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do.  I am pushing against it all the time."

Always are own worst critiques--this ended up becoming his greatest novel. My point is writing is not, as I also once believed it to be, a natural genius; it is a perfected craft. And this isn't only important for the writer to remember but the reader also.  Writing can be tedious, and the writer, always "pushing against" his/her inabilities, chooses everything going into the process with care. I believe anybody can be a better writer! I think it was Emerson who said, "It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way."




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"Still there was something happening there--a kind of resonance, a sense that there's something meaningful beyond the simple meaning of the words." How to Read Literature Like a Professor--Foster (p. 54)

 (Very fitting that the section on the Bible was assigned the 7th chapter.)


That can be frustrating, knowing there is something more I'm just not grasping. I agree with that feeling; I also agree it likely indicates something meaningful, but I wouldn't agree it professes Bible origin.  Of course a lot references can be and have been derived from the good books content, I just think he could have worded the thought differently. Mostly because whenever I read this passage my mind conjured up a number of said moments, none of hinting towards biblical undertone. And here is one from The Great Gatsby:" Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something--an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago.  For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man's, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air.  But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever."

Definitely something was--almost--happening there.  Even though his words made no sound, whatever they were unable to communicate continues to echo curiously in our mind.

And if that relates somehow to scripture I would be very surprised, but it would be interesting.

Mushrooms, Numbers, and Symbolic Recognition

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"When I was a kid, I used to go mushroom hunting with my father.  I would never see them, but he'd say, 'There's a yellow sponge,' or 'There are a couple of black spikes.' And because I knew they were there, my looking would become more focused and less vague.  In a few moments I would begin seeing them myself, not all of them, but some." How to Read Literature Like a Professor--Foster (Ch. 5, p. 36)

A hopeful statement and a reassuring prospect, but what about right now?  I know....  That's literally what this book is for.  I am unaccustomed to the business of "mushroom picking," so I admit it can only get better (for me) from here.  Mr. Foster's note of Professorly encouragement reminded me of just a day ago, while helping my five year old--who frequently confuses the numbers 3 and 8--finish a school worksheet, I said, in an effort to comfort his visible frustration, "Mommy had to learn them just like you."  

"Practice makes perfect!"

I then pointed to 8, patiently hoping that this time he'll look and recognize a number eight. It is only a matter of time until the day comes when he won't need me, and he can identify all the numbers on his own.  Mushrooms, numbers, or symbolic recognition, essentially it boils down to practice: nearly anything and everything can be improved upon with practice.

Rain, Rain, Rain

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"For now, though, one does well to remember, as one starts reading a poem or story, to check the weather." (Chapter 10 p. 81)

"It's never just rain." (Chapter 10 p.75)

How to Read Literature Like a Professor--Foster


These associations are so simple and apparent, yet I never in prior reading considered their literary weight. The weather probably registered in on a subconscious level, but not deliberately.  In chapter 20 Foster subsequently talking about the seasons goes on to say, "You wonder why we don't feel our intelligence has been insulted."  It is fascinating the limitless, it would seem, yet ever subtle elements a writer can draw from to elicit reactions from his reader.

So, obviously I carried this into The Great Gatsby.  In chapter 5 where Nick arranges for the "reunion" it rains on and off throughout the scene.  I especially noticed after Nick returns from his stroll outside he makes this observation: "But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding.  He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room." After which both Nick and Gatsby confirm, "It's stopped raining."  Was this a restorative rain or a cleansing rain? And the rain returns for Gatsby's funeral. Does this signify the new beginning? The one Jordan reminds Daisy of in Chapter 7 (The heated scene): "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."  Oh, yeah...he happens to die in September.

If a Diamond is Love, Daisy is but an Emerald

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"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked.  "It's full of---" I hesitated. 
"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly. 
That was it. I'd never understood before.  It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbal's song of it...High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl....

The Great Gatsby--F. Scott Fitzgerald (p. 120 in my copy)


After reading this passage it occurred to me, perhaps, for Jay Gatsby Daisy is not purely a case of the one true-love that got away. Even as a boy, little Jimmy Gatz had set goals upon goals to bring him closer to his incurable dream.  Daisy is an extension of this dream; you could even go as far as to say, she's the embodiment of everything he desires. The fact he hears the sound of money in her voice speaks to this idea.  A few other pieces of text contributed to my arrival at this assumption. During one of Nick and Gatsby's more sentimental talks, shortly before his death, Gatsby recounts first meeting Daisy. Here the narrator, Nick, injects, "It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy--it increased her value in his eyes." Gatsby wants what other people have: more accurately put, he wants what is covetable.  You could overlap that observation with an earlier conversation where Nick concludes, "He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy"  And another probing remark, conveying the grandeur scope of Gatsby's fantasy, comes in the midst of their (Jay and Daisy's) reunion: "There must have been moments that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion." I think Gatsby honestly believes he loves Daisy, only his reasons for wanting her entail more than his character outwardly acknowledges--even to himself. If he has Daisy he has cemented the dream, so to speak.  

An equally notable detail is how Fizgerald employs the color green to illuminate the beckoning light perched on Daisy's dock. (The shade of Green is typically associated with jealousy and envy)  Remember when Nick first catches his neighbor outside. Initially Nick intends to introduce himself, but desists noticing Gatsby's evident preoccupation with something off ahead.  He was gazing enviously toward Tom Buchanan's home, I imagine, because he wished for everything Tom had: Daisy, money (though he has money, a stigma is attached to its acquisition), and stature (a secure position in this materialistic world).

Considering last class's discussion and a section from Foster's book, I would view Jay Gatsby as an obvious outsider to the (materialistic world) community: a community which acts as a succubus consuming the best of him then callously leaves him for dead.





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