EL150 (2007; Intro to Literary Study)

Lemire, I'm an English Major: Now What? (Intro & Ch 1)

You are welcome to read ahead to the chapters that apply specifically to your particular are of interest.

Permalink | 24 Jan 2007 | Comments (0)

Fitzgerald, ''Bernice Bobs Her Hair'' (online)

The full text of this out-of-copyright story by F. Scott Fitzgerald is available online.

About 24 hours before class, post your agenda item (see the FAQ page) on this story. Then, before class today, respond to 2-4 agenda items posted by your peers. During class, I may call on you to lead a brief class discussion based on your weblog, or I might ask you to share the comment you posted on a peer's agenda item.

I don't generally offer discussion questions, because I'd much rather you come up with your own important questions to answer during the class discussion. Nevertheless, I'll get you started this time.

In what ways does Marjorie demonstrate strength? In what ways does Bernice? Who is the stronger character, and why? Quote exact words from the story that support your claim, and identify quotations from the story that work against your claim.

Permalink | 26 Jan 2007 | Comments (1)

Close Reading

A close reading is a careful, thorough, sustained examination of the words that make up a text.

A close reading uses short quotations (a few words or only one word) inside sentences that make an argument about the work itself (rather than an argument about your reactions, incidents in the author's life, or whether things today are different from or similar to the society depicted in the story).

In a close reading, a literary work is not so much a window to look through, nor is it a mirror to reflect yourself. Instead, you look closely at the language the author chose, in order to analyze what the author has accomplished.

Note: Close reading is always re-reading.

  1. You will probably want to read your text once through fairly quickly, highlighting unfamiliar words or puzzling details (or marking them with sticky notes, if you're reading a library book).
  2. Go back and look more carefully at the places you marked. Did the ending explain some of the things you initially found puzzling? Do you see any recurring patterns?
  3. Once you have a sense of what you think is important, go through the text again, this time searching specifically for more of whatever caught your eye.
  4. Once you have identified the details that you find interesting, you should come up with a thesis -- a non-obvious claim, supported with direct quotations from the material you are studying. (It is not enough merely to write down a list of isolated observations, in the order they popped into your head.)

When you write a close reading, you should assume that your reader is not only familiar with the text you are examining, but has a copy of it within reach. (It is fine to type the quote you plan to use at the top of your paper, but that quote won't count in terms of page length or word count.)

A close reading does not retell the plot. Neither should a close reading profile the characters, give advice to the author, speculate on which people in the author's life inspired the literary characters, list reactions that popped into your head while you were reading, or describe how the society depicted in the story resembles or differs from your own society. A close reading does not use a literary work as a handy example to support general claims about the outside world (such as "racism is bad" or "women have come a long way").

What does a close reading do?

It might look closely at a monologue or brief scene, such as Hamlet's encounter with his father's ghost, and analyze the explicit plot points and the subtle foreshadowing contained in that scene. It might examine the representation of concentric rings of social power in the opening of "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," or it might make a specific claim about how and why the author uses references to other books.

What words did the author choose, what do they mean, and what function do they serve? In what ways are word order and grammatical structure significant? (One character might speak only a few words at a time, but grunt a lot; another may ramble.)


The imagery in this passage helps turn the tone of the poem from victimization to anger. In addition to fire images, the overall language is completely stripped down to bare ugliness. In previous lines, the sordidness has been intermixed with cheerful euphemisms: the agonizing work is an "exquisite dance" (24); the trembling hands are "white gulls" (22); the cough is "gay" (25). But in these later lines, all aesthetically pleasing terms vanish, leaving "sweet and …blood" (85), "naked… [and]…bony children" (89), and a "skeleton body" (95). (An excerpt from a close reading of Tillie Olsen's "I Want You Women Up North to Know"

See also:

Getting an A on an English Paper

That means reading every word: it's not enough to have a vague sense of the plot. Maybe that sounds obvious, but few people pay serious attention to the words that make up every work of literature. Remember, English papers aren't about the real world; they're about representations of the world in language. Words are all we have to work with, and you have to pay attention to them. -- Jack Lynch

How to Do a Close Reading

We need more evidence, so we go back to the text--the whole essay now, not just this one passage--and look for additional clues. And as we proceed in this way, paying close attention to the evidence, asking questions, formulating interpretations, we engage in a process that is central to essay writing and to the whole academic enterprise: in other words, we reason toward our own ideas. --Patricia Kain

Permalink | 26 Jan 2007 | Comments (0)

Glaspell, ''Trifles''

This one-act play is available at VCU or the University of Virginia.

Permalink | 29 Jan 2007 | Comments (1)

Foster (Ch 12 and Interlude [p. 183])

Chapter 12 and the "Interlude" on page 183.

Permalink | 31 Jan 2007 | Comments (0)

O'Connor, ''A Good Man is Hard to Find''

It's the first short story in the anthology.

Permalink | 2 Feb 2007 | Comments (1)

Foster (6-9, 11, 14)

Also, please take a look at this blog entry about how to get the most from your academic weblog. Written by a former student who has since graduated.

Permalink | 2 Feb 2007 | Comments (0)

Hamilton, Essential Literary Terms (1-31)

I'm not actually asking you to turn in all the exercises, but please do try your hand at differentiating between aphorisms and epigrams.

Remember... the point of an aphorism is to communicate a point with clarity and precision. The point of an epigram is to be witty, so while it may make a moral statement or communicate a universal truth, it does so through some kind of linguistic twist or reversal.

So if it makes you smile, it's probably an epigram; if it makes you stoke your chin thoughtfully, it's probably an aphorism.

Permalink | 5 Feb 2007 | Comments (0)

Forster, ''The Machine Stops''

Online. I recommend that you print out a copy and mark it up.

Here's an RTF version, optimized to print out neatly in two columns: Download file

Here's a web-based version: http://brighton.ncsa.uiuc.edu/prajlich/forster.html

Permalink | 12 Feb 2007 | Comments (0)

Anonymous, ''Everyman''



For the curious, here is what the first section looked like in the Middle English:

I pray you all gyue your audyence,
And here this mater with reuerence,
By fygure a morall playe.
The Somonynge of Eueryman called it is,
That of our lyues and endynge shewes
How transytory we be all daye.
This mater is wonders precyous;
But the entent of it is more gracyous,
And swete to bere awaye.
The story sayth: Man, in the begynnynge
Loke well, and take good heed to the endynge,
Be you neuer so gay!
Ye thynke synne in the begynnynge full swete,
Whiche in the ende causeth the soule to wepe,
Whan the body lyeth in claye.
Here shall you se how Felawshyp/and Iolyte,
Bothe/Strengthe/Pleasure/and Beaute,
Wyll fade from the as floure in Maye;
For ye shall here how our Heuen Kynge
Calleth Eueryman to a generall rekenynge.
Gyue audyence, and here what he doth saye.
Permalink | 14 Feb 2007 | Comments (0)

O'Connor, ''The River''

In the anthology.

Permalink | 19 Feb 2007 | Comments (0)

London, ''To Build a Fire''

Rescheduled from Feb 16.

Empty as the man's mind was of thoughts, he was keenly observant, and he noticed the changes in the creek, the curves and bends and timber- jams, and always he sharply noted where he placed his feet. Once, coming around a bend, he shied abruptly, like a startled horse, curved away from the place where he had been walking, and retreated several paces back along the trail. The creek he knew was frozen clear to the bottom--no creek could contain water in that arctic winter--but he knew also that there were springs that bubbled out from the hillsides and ran along under the snow and on top the ice of the creek. He knew that the coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise their danger. They were traps.

What do you think you noticed after reading "The Machine Stops," "The River," "Everyman," and "To Build a Fire" all in succession -- something that you wouldn't have noticed if you had read the works separately?

I would welcome agenda items or reflection papers that try to make connections between the assigned readings.

Permalink | 19 Feb 2007 | Comments (0)

Kennedy, ''Short Stories: 10 Tips''

Short story handout, written by a former student of mine.

Permalink | 21 Feb 2007 | Comments (3)

Poetry Selections

"Happy Thought" by Robert Louis Stevens
"The Swing" by Robert Louis Stevens
"Trees" by Joyce Kilmer

"The Turtle" by Vachel Lindsay
"The Turtle" by Ogden Nash

Cleverness in poetry will only get you so far, but I think that angst-ridden poets who pour their heart, soul, blood, phlegm, and bile into their verses could learn a thing or two from these examples, which demonstrate the potential of poetry to delight.


Art covers the full range of human emotions -- including cheerfulness. I've had students who expect all poetry to be like what they find in Hallmark cards -- light and snappy, with simple rhymes, and only a single point to make. Happy people who live stable lives and who write poems about bright rainbows and fluffy bunnies just aren't very interesting, artistically. It's the threatened, terrified, and dying people do things worth writing about (and reading about).

In part, I offer these poems to make up for the fact that English professors tend to assign depressing works. But these poems are worth examining not because they are cheerful, but rather beacause they are good examples of the efficient use of language. If you study how poems use language in order to delight, then you can focus on creating an emotional effect in the reader, rather than simply expressing the feelings inside you.

If you create poems out of a need to express the innermost, deepest feelings that would otherwise go unexpressed, then you'll end up with poems that mean quite a bit to you (because you mention a song that was important to you, the name of a person who invokes strong feelings, or a place that holds emotional significance for you), but leaves your readers scratching their heads.

In addition, once you've mastered delight, you can subvert your newfound talent to make poetry that totally creeps people out. (See Dr. Arnzen's Gorelets.)

Permalink | 23 Feb 2007 | Comments (4)

Jerz, ''Poems: Short but Effective''

Rescheduled from Feb 23.

Poems: Short but Effective

The next time there's a missing link (and it will happen), please call it to my attention and I will fix it immediately.

Permalink | 26 Feb 2007 | Comments (2)

Lemire (skim Ch 2-7)

Choose two of these chapters, and create blog entries and a reflection paper for each.

Special Assignment:

Come to class with a question that you wish you could ask the author.

Permalink | 28 Feb 2007 | Comments (15)

Foster (Cancelled)

No reading today. I've been very happy with the quality of blogging about Lemire's book, so we can put this off until later.

Permalink | 2 Mar 2007 | Comments (1)

Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Foreword, preface, introduction, apostrophes (up to page 67).

Permalink | 19 Mar 2007 | Comments (4)

Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Commas, colons, semicolons (68-131).

Permalink | 21 Mar 2007 | Comments (0)

Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Dashes, hyphens, miscellaneous (132-204).

Permalink | 23 Mar 2007 | Comments (0)

O'Connor, ''A Stroke of Good Fortune''

In the anthology.

Permalink | 26 Mar 2007 | Comments (0)

Desmond, ''Flannery O'Connor's Misfit and the Mystery of Evil.''

This is an academic article, available through the SHU library. You will need to look it up there. (Demonstrating that you can find an article in the library is part of the assignment.)

I suggest that you print it out so you can mark up the text.

Desmond, John. "Flannery O'Connor's Misfit and the Mystery of Evil." Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 56 (2004): 129-37.

Permalink | 28 Mar 2007 | Comments (1)

O'Connor (Choose One of Three)

I will divide up the class, so that you each read (and blog about) one of the following:

1) "The Artificial Nigger"
2) "Circle in the Fire"
3) "A Late Encounter with the Enemy"

I want to make sure that we have more time to spend on the last two stories in the collection, so we're skipping a few and tripling up here.

When you post your agenda item, make it clear which story you're writing about, so that your peers can easily find others who have posted on the story they have read.

Permalink | 30 Mar 2007 | Comments (4)

O'Connor, "Good Country People"

You'll FIND this TEXT in YOUR an THOL o GY.

Permalink | 2 Apr 2007 | Comments (0)

Zunder, "Shakespeare and the End of Feudalism..."

Zunder, William. "Shakespeare and the End of Feudalism: King Lear as Fin-De-Siecle text." English Studies 78.6 (1997): 513-521.

(Finding this article in the library is part of the assignment. "Fin de Siecle" is French for "end of the century.")

Permalink | 16 Apr 2007 | Comments (0)

Kennedy, "Shakespare's King Lear"

Kennedy, Joy. "Shakespeare's King Lear." Explicator 60:2 (2002): 60-62.

(Finding this article in the library is part of the assignment.)

Permalink | 16 Apr 2007 | Comments (0)

Introduction to Media Fasting

Next week I am going to ask you to participate in a media fast for TV Turn-Off Week, as part of Ex 3-2: Media Fasting Reflection, due on May 3.

If you give up TV, but watch DVDs on your computer, are you really making any progress? If you turn off the TV, but turn up your iPod, are you really taking control of the technology that defines our lives?

Confession time:

I watch little TV, but spend a lot of time online.

While we don't have cable TV, we do have a fairly big library of kid videos. Sometimes I'll put on a video for the kinds and sit on the couch with my laptop, answering e-mail, despamming my blog, marking a paper, or fiddling with my digital camera. If the movie ends and I'm not finished, I'll get them interested in the bloopers or deleted scenes. So my desire to spend time on the internet leads directly to their exposure to more TV.

I've tried to address that by creating "the book game," which involves Peter picking out a book, Carolyn picking out a book, and me picking out a book. Peter and Carolyn will sit on the couch, and Peter will read all the books to Carolyn. Yes, on one level this is very good, but I'm conscious that I use "the book game" when I want to see what's happening on the blogosphere.

I also sometimes use "the book game" to avoid playing with my daughter's Barbie. So while naturally as an English teacher and a parent I'm going to say that books are good, here I'm turning to media -- books -- when my daughter is asking me for one-on-one attention. (It's not the idea of playing dolls with my daughter that bothers me. Why, the other day I was playing with my daughter's pony castle, and I made an army of insect peasants rise up in rebellion against their pony overlords. They fought an epic battle, and our leaders -- a horned beetle and Pinky Pie (tm) agreed to settle this dispute in single combat, then had a tea party, had a bath together, and took a nap. But Barbie just kind of lies there staring up at me.)

Dr. Arnzen has already written an excellent introduction to using TV Turn-Off Week in the classroom. Here's a sample:

For one thing, I'm always surprised at how little television college students claim to watch -- and how media-dependent they really still are, despite being full-time scholars with active campus lives. While it's certainly true that they are not watching as much television, and perhaps don't even have a television in their rooms, most lounge facilities on a college campus (like cafeterias) and many dorm floors do have a television set running most of the time. Moreover, I suspect today's students are watching television programs asynchronously, through downloadable clips online, or through DVDs, which now sell the archives of almost every TV series a college kid might find appealling.

Neilsen reports say that college students watch an average of 24.3 hours of television per week. That's TWICE the amount of time the average full-time student sits in a class.

Permalink | 16 Apr 2007 | Comments (0)


For those who are interested, here is "Death, Be Not Proud"

Permalink | 7 May 2007 | Comments (0)