GretaCarroll: February 2008 Archives

Abandoning an Angel

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Jessie’s entry on O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be You Own,” made me ponder the title of the short story more.  I think it is possible that Mr. Shiflet wanted a woman like his mother.  However, I took it more that he left Lucynell like that because she was too pure and innocent.  If you notice, he leaves her after the boy at the restaurant says she is like an angel.  Mr. Shiflet, I think, does like to be reminded of how far he has degraded himself and how lost he is.  It almost seems to me that he doesn’t want any help, or to get better.  His mother steered him in the right direction, and he left her.  Now he had another chance, a chance to start over, with this new “angel”.  Yet, he throws it all away, preferring to live in sin.  After all, if he had stayed with Lucynell, the life (as in his spirit) he saved may have been his own.

Setting the Mood

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Kayley’s comment on Hamilton’s Essential Literary Terms helped me focus on the importance of atmosphere.  It’s the author’s job to set the mood.  If a guy is trying to set-up a romantic home-cooked meal for his girlfriend, is he going to leave dirty socks and underwear on the floor?  I doubt it.  Probably, he will clean his house carefully, put out candles, flowers, put on some music, etc.  The author needs to do the same thing as the boyfriend above; they need to create the right atmosphere if they want to get the right reaction from the audience.  We need to remember this in our own writing.    

Searching for God in All the Wrong Places

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“’It’s nothing so sweet,’ Mr. Shiftlet continued, ‘as a boy’s mother.  She taught him his first prayers at her knee, she give him love when no other would, she told him what was right and what wasn’t, and she seen that he done the right thing.  Son,’ he said, ‘I never rued a day in my life like the one I rued when I left that old mother of mine’” (O’Connor 61).

He regrets the day he left his mother more than anything else?  Well why’d he steal Lucynell from her mother then?!  But seriously, I think part of why he begins to talk about this, is his guilt.  I think that he actually feels bad because of abandoning Lucynell.  He misses the good old days, when his mother would tell him what was right and what wasn’t.  This brings us to the correlation between this story, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” and the other two stories by O’Connor we have read. 

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” we discover the theme of wishing to return to the past—the past, where there were good people still, who were polite and nice.  Mr. Shiftlet comments: “Nothing is like it used to be, lady…The world is almost rotten” (49).  Mr. Shiflet’s words sound almost exactly like something out of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

Then there is the relationship between “The River” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”  In the quote at the top of this entry, Mr.Shiftlet mourns his lack of having someone to tell him what to do.  We have the very opposite in “The River.”  Bevel/Harry will do whatever anyone tells him to do.  Mr.Shiflet wishes for this order.  He wants someone to make sure he does the right thing. 

I also think it is notable that right before Mr. Shiflet grieves his inability to do the right thing, he also comments that his mother “taught him his first prayers.”  I think in essence, what O’Connor feels these people lack is a relationship with God.  Mr.Shiflet needs someone to help him do the right thing, the Misfit misguidedly shoots people, and Harry searches for the magical world in the river—none of them have any faith to speak of, and none of them are happy.  Maybe O’Connor is trying to show us how lost one can become without God.          

If This is Colloquial Diction…

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From Sharon Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms:

“In contrast, the American novelist and short story writer Ernest Hemingway made a point of writing in colloquial diction.  The following description of a trip to Spain is from his novel The Sun Also Rises (1925):

“The bus climbed steadily up the road.  The country was barren and rocks struck up through the clay.  There was no grass beside the road.  Looking back we could see the country spread out below.  Far back the fields were squares of green and brown on the hillsides.  Making the horizon were the brown mountains.  They were strangely shaped.  As we climbed higher the horizon kept changing…

“Several qualities contribute to the colloquial level of the diction: the plain syntax—short, either simple sentences or compound sentences made up of clauses linked by ‘and’; the monosyllabic, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, with its emphasis on nouns…and the repetition of words…and sentence structures” (Hamilton 69-70).

If that’s colloquial diction, I’d rather have formal or poetic diction any day.  Hemingway’s description of the landscape to me, was very dry and boring.  There is no emotion, no excitement.  It’s just cut and dry plainness.  Hamilton went on to describe the elements of colloquial diction and it becomes clear why it wasn’t so interesting.  How can short sentences, with the focus on the nouns show anything?  How many times have I been told to use a powerful verb to make my writing more interesting?  In Hemingway’s description, where are the strong verbs?  There aren’t any, because the focus is on the nouns.  If you ask me, it makes for a rather uninteresting read. 

My Opinion Is Not the Final Say

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Kaitlin’s comments on Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms pages 32-65 got me thinking.  I can’t say that I am a big fan of Orwell’s Animal Farm either.  There could be many reasons why I didn’t like it, for one, it was the first book I was ever forced to read in school.  So admittedly, I probably had a bad attitude (I usually don’t like being told what to do).  But whether I personally liked the book or not, Orwell did succeed in making me remember his book.  Despite not liking the book, I can recognize Orwell’s clever wit.  This made me think about the importance of distancing ourselves sometimes from our personal tastes when it comes to literature.  There is no way that I will like every book I read in my life; however, even if I don’t like a book, instead of just writing it off as stupid, I could take a step back and look at the positive parts of the book.  Would the book have withstood the test of time, or be popular if there was nothing worthwhile in it?  Probably not.  Whether you like a book or not (in this case Animal Farm), you can still appreciate the talent that went into the book. 

The Cynical Pig Man Who Carries the Candy Cane of Jesus

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Jeanine made some good points about Flannery O'Connor's "The River" in her blog.  However, I think there is more to the story than living each day the best one can, since one never knows when death may come.  I think the comment she made about the candy can is very important.  But I think it is important to remember the rest of that quote: “Then he heard a shout and turned his head and saw something like a giant pig bounding after him, shaking a red and white club and shouting” (45).  A giant pig, eh?  Didn’t Jesus drive some demons into a herd of pigs, which then ran into the sea and drowned themselves?  I think O’Connor picked a pig for more than just the connection of drowning.  I think in a lot of ways, O’Connor is mocking this type of religion.  The people don’t even know what they are practicing; they are in the dark to the truth.  Kind of like how Harry was blind to the fact that there was not really a kingdom under the water.  Maybe it’s the seeming sinner (the cynical pig man who carries the candy cane of Jesus) who sees the real truth.  Oh yes, and don’t forget that a shepherd’s staff, like the candy cane, is in the shape of a J…going back to my blog on sheep (and of course, it’s relevance to the Bible).         

Being Led to the Slaughter

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From Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The River”:

“The little boy stared at her silently, his nose and eyes running.  He was four or five.  He had a long face and bulging chin and half-shut eyes set far apart.  He seemed mute and patient, like an old sheep waiting to be let out” (O’Connor 25).

As soon as I read the words “like an old sheep waiting to be let out,” I thought that’s not how the saying goes!  My mind immediately rebelled with: “or like a sheep being led to the slaughter.”  O’Connor knows that her readers will be familiar with the saying.  She realizes she does not need to come right out and say “the slaughter.”  Our minds will fill in the gap for her.

Also her description of this “mute and patient” sheep, continues to describe the boy well throughout the story.  The boy does whatever he is told without question.  He lets Mrs. Connin’s sons bully him, even though he realizes they are up to no good.  When he is being led away by her sons, it is almost like he is being led off to the slaughter then.  He knows that nothing good awaits him, yet he seemingly can do nothing about it.

 Ironically, he meets his death the one time he seemingly does his own thing.  However, upon closer inspection, really, he is still following blindly other’s leads.  The boy searches for this happy world in the water.  Does he understand what he is really looking for?  No, he does not.  He follows his confused perceptions that were taught to him by others.     

Irony: The Double-Edged Sword

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From Essential Literary Terms by Sharon Hamilton:

“One of the most famous examples is Jonathon Swift’s bitter satire ‘A Modest Proposal,’ which purports to present a happy solution to the famine in the author’s native Ireland: using infants of the starving lower classes as a source of food.  At no point does the narrator abandon his pretense of cool rationality or complacency: the reaction of horror is left to the reader” (Hamilton 44).

I will never forget my first experience with Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.  I was taking an English Literature class, and was the only 10th grader in the class.  My teacher handed out innocent-appearing photocopied pages and asked us to take the first couple minutes of class to read the handout.  Well, it ended up these harmless pages were full of fanatical ideas! 

I began reading remembering that it was by Jonathan Swift, who I knew was a famous author, notably for Gulliver’s Travels.  I read the pages with increasing seemed to me that he was proposing cannibalism!  I glanced around at my classmates; they seemed as baffled as me.  Was this really by Jonathan Swift?  Was he seriously suggesting we should eat babies?! 

Luckily, my teacher explained to us that Swift was being ironic and in fact, he was not being serious.  However, my uncertainty of whether Swift truly meant his suggestion or not, is an example of the danger of using irony: “Thus, irony requires subtle reading comprehension and is always in danger of being misconstrued, and thereby of shocking or offending a naïve audience” (44).  I would hope that if I encountered such a satirical work again, I would know better than to believe it.  However, Hamilton brings up an important consideration for us, as writers.  We need to be careful when using irony.  While we may think it is obvious that we are not arguing in earnest, to a less experienced audience that may not be the case.  Irony can be a double-edged sword.  If not used carefully, it could cut us—just as it could cut those that we mock.       

Is the Welshman's Accent Fake?

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I appreciated Maddie’s comments  about acts 4 and 5 of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, because she like me, is not feeling too confident about Mr. Ford’s reform. Maddie drew my attention to his claim that he trusts her, and says he will not doubt her till Sir Hugh Evans can speak English correctly.  However, ironically it would appear to me, that Sir Hugh, can “woo her in good English.”  During the scene in which Sir Hugh is pretending to be a fairy, look at his speech:

“Evans: Where’s Bead? Go you, and where you find a maid

That ere she sleep has thrice her prayers said,

Raise up the organs of her fantasy,

Sleep she as sound as careless infancy.

But those as sleep and think not on their sins,

Pinch them, arms, legs, backs, shoulders, sides, and shins” (Shakespeare V.v.lines 49-55).


Is it just me, or does it seem that Evans has lost his speech impediment?  Of course, it is possible that Shakespeare just forgot to make Evans speak in his dialect.  But I think it is more likely that Evans was trying hard to disguise himself, so that Falstaff did not recognize him.  And in that case, Evans can talk normally, and is choosing to speak English wrong.  In which case, Mr. Ford will soon be back to doubting Mrs. Ford. 

Portfolio 1: Learning the University Mind-Set

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The author, Agatha Christie, remarks that: "I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays, and have things arranged for them, that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas."  As a freshman in college at Seton Hill University, it has been a challenge for me to end the regurgitation of high school, and express my own original thoughts.  In the class EL 150: Introduction to Literary Study, I have been confronted with the hardship of choosing one quote from our assigned reading, writing my thoughts on the quote, reading my peers contemplations, responding to them, and then reconsidering my views on the reading.  I learned that there is no “right” answer.  Instead, as long as my interpretation of the reading is based on the text, it is not wrong.  By reading my classmate’s blogs, I was able to gain a multi-dimensional view.  The following are blog entries, which have slowly, but steadily, been pushing me to look at literature more critically.    

Coverage: These entries demonstrate my ability to use a direct quote from the reading, and then to correctly link my entry back to the course website.

·         If You’re Going to Be a Rogue, At least Be Clever

·         Still So Many Questions Left Unanswered

·         Loneliness at Dusk

·         Understanding of Tragedy Given Through Comedy

·         Keeping Those Words Under Control

·         Lost Without a Visual


Timeliness:  These entries (along with my other entries) were posted 24 hours before class.

·         King Jealousy Dethroned—But Not Killed

·         What Girl Wouldn’t Want Loved For Her Personality?

·         Standing on Tip Toes

·         More Than One Right Answer


Interaction: The first three entries below, show entries which spurred numerous comments from my peers.  The next four, are examples of entries in which I linked my entry to someone else’s blog. 

·         Hidden Gems

·         Nostalgia

·         Do I Spy Othello Among Those Merry Wives?

·         The All Encompassing Story

·         “Do not judge so that you will not be judged" (Matthew 7:1).

·         Can a Ravishingly Beautiful Girl Beat Cliches?

·         Looking Beyond the Feminist Read

Depth: Take a look at these entries for an example of the university mind-set which I have been learning.  I make connections between the assigned reading and other literature.  I prove my point by using quotes from the text.  And I express my original opinions and thoughts.   

·         Mermaids Do Not Equal Unfaithful Women

·         The Story of a Boy With a Brain Tumor

·         Does One Lose More Than Innocence With Age?

·         Who Says The Gals Can’t Pull One Over on the Guys?

·         Going South, The Double Whammy

·         The Jane Austen Factor

Discussion: I’m not the only one who’s been blogging.  Here are some of my classmate’s entries, and what I and others had to say about them. 

·         Jessie Farine's Monty Python and the Merry Wives of Windsor

·         Maddie Gillespie's Mock-vater+Clapper-de-claw= an irate Frenchman lead on a leash

·         Maddie Gillespie's What’s bad is good and what's good is bad

·         Lauren Miller's- To be imperfect or not to be imperfect...that is the question

·         Lauren Miller’s Now, Where Have I Seen This Quote Before?

King Jealousy Dethroned—But Not Killed

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From William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor:


“Ford: Pardon me, wife.  Henceforth do what thou wilt.

 I rather will suspect the sun with cold

Than thee with wantonness.  Now doth thy honor stand,

In him that was of late an heretic,

As firm as faith” (Shakespeare IV.iv.6-10).


Finally, Ford can see the truth and his jealous paranoia dissolves.  Mrs. Ford tells Mr. Ford the whole story.  Mr. Ford believes her, all is well, and they unite to play one final prank of Falstaff…can you say unbelievable or what?  If Mr. Ford is so prone to jealousy, (which he was even before the Falstaff incident, “Mrs. Ford: O that my husband saw this letter!  It would give eternal food to his jealousy” (II.i.96-7)) would he so readily believe his wife that nothing was going on between her and this man she admits to having met secretly?  Would not instead, his unsettled thoughts lead him to construct a reality in which Mrs. Ford and Falstaff were seeing each other?  Would he not envision Mrs. Ford, knowing that her husband suspects them, fabricating the story that she tells him?  Yet, instead, Mr. Ford becomes the model of rationality.  He trusts her word without a second thought, and even promises never to doubt her again.  It just seems rather hard to swallow to me.  If there was a Merry Wives of Windsor 2, I bet Mr. Ford would be back to his previous suspicions.         

Mermaids Do Not Equal Unfaithful Women

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“Donne’s use of the mermaid image to suggest the danger women pose to men most probably alludes to The Odyssey, in which only the wily Odysseus survived hearing the siren’s song.  The persona’s placing of the possibility of hearing these femme fatales sing among the impossible tasks enumerated in stanza one of ‘Song’ sets the mood for the entire poem” (Blythe and Sweet). 

I found Blythe and Sweet’s comparison between Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and Donne’s “Song: Go and catch a falling star” to be extremely interesting.  I too could see the parallels between the two.  I especially found the mention of the singing mermaids in both poems to be an intriguing observation.  However, I disagree with their interpretation of Eliot’s poem.  They do use quotes from the text to support their viewpoint.  But to me, Eliot’s poem was not so much about women being evil, as the narrator realizing all the wasted time he has spent. 

Eliot’s numerous references to sleep (lines 3, 22, etc), of an “October night” (line 21), the mention of “a bald spot in the middle of my hair” (line 40), and the belief that there had been time for “a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions (lines 32-3) led me to believe the poem is more about the author’s sadness over never having heard the mermaids sing because he thought he had all the time in the world to do so, and not so much a belief that there are no “true” women in the world. 

Do I Spy Othello Among Those Merry Wives?

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From Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor:

Ford: I have long loved her, and, I protest to you, bestowed much on her, followed her with a doting observance…” (II.ii.189-91).

Falstaff: To what purpose have you unfolded this to me?  (II.ii.213-4).

Ford: …Use your art of wooing; win her to consent to you.  If any man may, you may as soon as any (II.ii.229-30).

This scene is extremely reminiscent of another scene in another play by Shakespeare.  I thought immediately of the much darker play, Othello.  While finding the comedic element found in the above scene is not really possible in Othello, the two still have the same general concept.

In the above scene, Mr. Ford disguised as Mr. Brooke tries to convince Sir John to woo Mrs. Ford for him (since once she has let her virtue slip once, apparently that means she will again and again).  It is amusing for the audience, who knows that Mr. Brooke is Mr. Ford.  The “supposed” Mr. Brooke claims to have lavished Mrs. Ford with gifts to no avail, and now must rely on someone else to work for him. 

In Othello, Roderigo pays Iago to make advances towards the already married Desdemona.  Roderigo had previously been Desdemona’s suitor and showered her in gifts.  But all was in vain, she still married Othello.  But Roderigo (with Iago’s urging) does not give up there, he like “Mr.Brooke” now is relying on someone else to try their hand at the task.

It’s the same type of idea in both scenes.  The theme of men being cuckolded is predominant in both (and in both cases, the men are being too paranoid about it).  People in the 1600s were apparently very worried about that; it pops up again and again in Shakespeare (and then later in Moliere).  However, it is interesting how Shakespeare can take the same general concept in both Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor and make the purpose, tone, and end result be so very different. 

If You’re Going to Be a Rogue, at Least Be Clever

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Falstaff: I have writ me here a letter to her; and here another to Page’s wife, who even now gave me good eyes too, examined my parts with most judicious oeillades.  Sometimes the beam of her view gilded my foot, sometimes my portly belly.

Pistol: [Aside] Then did the sun on the dunghill shine (Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor I.iii.53-8).


Talk about lack of intelligence.  I mean if you are going to try to come up with a plot to get money from to married women through your “appealing” looks, you should at least be clever.  Instead, Falstaff sends the same love letter to both Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page.  He mistakenly believes he is so irresistible that all the girls want him, while at the same time he admits he has a “portly belly.”  Pistol’s aside was rather amusing.  He viewed Mrs. Page as the sun, and Falstaff as a dunghill.  If Falstaff and his followers just had some loyalty to each other, instead of just being such rogues, Falstaff would probably not get into the trouble I am betting is ahead. 

What Girl Wouldn’t Want Loved For Her Personality?

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In Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXX: My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing like the Sun,” the lines, “And in some perfumes is there more delight/Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks” (7-8), certainly apply to one’s senses.  As if it’s not bad enough to have a homely mistress, her breath stinks too!  But, I really like this poem and always have.  The speaker accepts his mistress for who she is and doesn’t care about her beauty (or lack thereof).  Beauty is a fleeting thing that can disappear with sickness or age, but this speaker loves his mistress for one thing: who she is.  What girl wouldn’t want to be loved for the most important reason? 

The Story of a Boy with a Brain Tumor

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In John Donne’s poem “Death, be not proud,” the following lines reminded me immediately of a book, Death Be Not Proud, by John Gunther which takes its title from this poem: 


“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so” (Donne lines 1-2)


The book told the story of a young boy, Johnny who after a long fight, died from a brain tumor.  His family tried every possible treatment they could in an attempt to save him—from surgeries to changes in diet.  Johnny would seem to be healing at times, but in the end, nothing could be done.  Despite the tension all around him, the pain, and the wearing away of his body, Johnny remained cheerful and kind to all of those around him.  His father (the author of the book) struggled to keep himself from falling to pieces. 


His father’s choice of the title “Death Be Not Proud” always has held a two-fold meaning to me.  First, his son’s demise was not pretty.  Numerous surgeries left a hole in Johnny’s head which would seep pus and get infected at times.  At first the title seemed to me to be referring to the fact that death is not a pretty thing, but instead something slow and painful.  However, beyond that, from Donne’s poem (which was on one of the first pages of the book) I realized the title meant more than that.  When I finished the book, I went back to his poem and reread it.  Now, I saw that not only could Gunther be referring to the ugliness of death, but even more likely, he was referring to his son’s resilience until the end.  Death may have been able to batter him, but his son, who was experiencing death, was not intimidated by the “mighty and dreadful” death. 

Still So Many Questions Left Unanswered

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In her article analyzing Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Victory Comes Late,” Katherine Monteiro comments that: “Poem #690 profoundly questions the God who could allow his creation to suffer needlessly” (Monteiro 31).  I find it extremely interesting that Dickinson, who attended a Seminary school for a while, has such a cynical view of God.  One must wonder if something specific happened in her life at this time to make her feel this way.  Did someone die who was close to her?  Which poem was written first, “Victory Comes Late” or “Because I could not stop for death;” did she have a negative view and then become more optimistic, or did something happen in her life to make her take on a more pessimistic view point?  Monteiro’s analysis, while answering some questions, still leaves so many more unanswered which shows the complexity of the poem.

Standing on Tip Toes

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“His table’s spread too high for us

Unless we dine on top-toe” (Dickinson 8-9).


This image was at first actually rather comical to me.  I see a little kid desperately trying to reach the edge of the table.  I can see them jumping up and down just to see what is on the table, grasping the edge of the table and craning his neck as far as he can. 


On the other hand though, it can be a pathetic image too.  Picture a little boy standing on tip-toes, just barely being able to reach the table.  He looks up at you, his eyes swimming with tears of frustration and hunger. 


I would say Dickinson was going for the second image.  I would also say she has some anger issues against God and the injustice of life.    


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“We passed the school where children played

At wrestling in a ring;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun” (Dickinson 9-12).


I really like how Dickinson describes this scene.  One can see the speaker looking back over her life.  She remembers her childhood days full of games and fun.  Then she moves on to her middle age years with “the fields of gazing grain,” and lastly on to old age with “the setting sun.”  The imagery really allows the reader to imagine someone appreciating and considering the past.  It almost makes me nostalgic about my own memories. 

Loneliness at Dusk

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From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":

“And should I then presume? 

And how should I begin? 


“Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?...”  (Eliot lines 68-72).


Poor J. Alfred Prufrock!  He has spent his life in the fast lane, and now as he ages, and looks around, he realizes he has little to show for it.  He has no family and no peace.  He is tormented by his lost time, his life which he can give value to “with coffee spoons” (line 51).  He wants to tell others of his mistake, so they don’t make the same one.  Yet, he doesn’t know how to make them listen or believe.  He realizes he would not have.  He thinks of ways to explain to them the time they waste.  He thinks of a very sad image: lonely men, all by themselves at dusk looking out their windows.  Men, who are like him, alone and nearing death.  Like many people, he mistakenly believed he had all the time in the world to make his decisions, and he does not realize how false this is until it is too late.       

More Than One Right Answer

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“We want it to mean something, don’t we?  More than that, we want it to mean some thing, one thing for all of us and for all time.  That would be easy, convenient, manageable for us.  But that handiness would result in a net loss: the novel would cease to be what it is, a network of meanings and significations that permits a nearly limitless range of possible interpretations” (Foster 99). 

Foster, in Chapter 12, pins my feelings down to the letter.  I want there to be one right answer, I want it to be clear and simple.  And up till recently, really, I thought it was.  I thought there was one right answer.  If I believed something different than the teacher, I figured I must be wrong.  But Foster really does make a good point, even if I couldn’t figure out what the “correct” analysis of the symbol was, it still added to the book, and drew me and others to it. If we try to pigeon-hole the symbol into meaning only one thing, we take away a huge part of the novel.  It is no longer as universal if we cage it into meaning one thing, because we are insisting there is only one right answer.  But literature, like the lives it tells of, does not have one specific answer or explanation. 

Does One Lose More Than Innocence With Age?

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I really felt that Flannery O’Connor’s quote from “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: “’Why you’re one of my babies.  You’re one of my own children!’ She reached out and touched him on the shoulder.  The Misfit sprang back as if a snack had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest” (O’Connor 21-2) summed up several of the themes running through the story.  I think that one of the themes is the corruption that comes to people through adulthood.  Notice that it is “a good man is hard to find” not a good person.  I saw the grandma almost as a child throughout the story.  She sat in the back of the car with the other two kids.  She, like them, was restless during the trip.  She chatters away to everyone she meets, like an innocent child would.  The wife, as well, has a childlike essence to her.  She was described as having a “face as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green headkerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit’s ears” (O’Connor 2).  She is given an innocent, childlike face and rabbit ears which could be likened to a little girl’s pigtails. The descriptions of her son are not quite so cheerful: “He only glared at her” (O’Connor 6) or “His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe” (O’Connor 9).  The characters that are given responsibility in the world are all ultimately corrupted by it.  The grandma can see paste the Misfit’s outward appearance and can see him as the lost child that he is.  But being a grown man, he “don’t want no hep” (O’Connor 19).  He instead chooses to shut up the remaining thread of conscience awakened by the grandmother by killing her with not one bullet, but three.        

Understanding of Tragedy Given Through Comedy

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In Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor Chapter 6, 9, 11-14, an earlier thought of mine was verbalized in the quote: “For a lot of us, that  particular show was either our first encounter with the Bard or our first intimation that he could actually be fun, since in public school, you may recall, they only teach his tragedies” (Foster 38).  How many times had I thought to myself how unpleasant Shakespeare was?  Up till 12th grade I had stubbornly maintained a dislike of Shakespeare.  I think this was mainly because of the fact that we had only read tragedies in school.  Hamlet, Macbeth, all they managed to do was depress me.  Then my senior year, I took a semester class in Shakespeare.  My perspective of Shakespeare was radically changed by that class.  We read the comedies, “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Twelfth Night”.  We read the “Merchant of Venice”, part of “King Lear”, “Richard III”, and  “Othello”.  I saw a complete other side of Shakespeare.  Foster makes a good point that Shakespeare can be fun.  Once I had read some of the comedies, and I had more of an open mind, I was able to enjoy his other plays more too.    

Looking Beyond the Feminist Read

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Out of Jessie Farine's comments about "Trifles," the line: “We live close together and we live far apart,” really resonated with me.  But not just that it helped me shift my magnifying glass from just focusing on the feminist read of the play.  I realized there were other aspects of the play which were more universal and this quote demonstrates one of them.  Instead of focusing just on the treatment of women by men, I began to ask myself other questions.  For example: how many people do I pass daily or do I see in the dorm and yet know nothing about them?  It is easy for me to get wrapped up in my life and not see what is going on around me.  Or, in some cases, maybe society (and I) choose to be blind.  I think part of Mrs. Hale’s and Mrs. Peters’ identification with Mrs. Wright helps them to sympathize with her.  They can see, all the more, the joy they might have felt if they had been in her situation and someone else came and visited and brought cheer to them.  Their hindsight is our lesson.   Glaspell wants us to realize that not doing anything sometimes does not absolve us of responsibility.

Can a Ravishingly Beautiful Girl Beat Cliches?

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 Lauren's comment on Foster chapter 19 and 20 really made me consider the capabilities of an author not to use clichés.  At first, my natural instinct was to think that was ridiculous.  I felt that authors need to use clichés and that they should not switch things around or they would not be able correctly to convey to the reader what they meant.  I agreed with her that it can get boring when writers stick to clichés, but I also believed it would be hard for an author to break away from the audience’s preconceptions and still get the meaning across.  I thought for example, that if you are trying to describe a pretty girl, like Shakespeare was, that describing them as autumn would not immediately bring to mind a ravishingly beautiful girl.  Yet, as I reconsidered the value of breaking away from the clichés I began to see that it could still be effective.  For example, the author could describe the girl as being as magnificent as the golden foliage of autumn.  I think this works pretty well to get the meaning across.  I realized it is more that the author needs to be aware of people’s preconceptions, so as not to confuse his/her readers and not a matter of sticking to these preconceived ideas. 

Keeping Those Words Under Control

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“A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance,” reminds Jane Burroway in “Short Story Tips.”  Her reminder was a good one for me.  Too often do I just sit down at the computer and type whatever pops into my head.  No pre-planning, no thought, I just write.  And while that can be good for getting ideas, there should be more to writing than getting lucky over whatever your fingers type.  Writers need to think, to plan, and sculpt.  This quote reminded me that the writer needs to control his/her writing, and not the other way around.

Lost Without a Visual

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In Hamilton's book ,Essential Literary Terms, she comments that: “That medium [plays in their written form] has several advantages, such as the opportunity to reread a key piece of DIALOGUE, to review the cast of characters, and to see the STAGE DIRECTIONS that the playwright has provided to indicate the actions and the vocal inflections of the characters.  At the same time, it can be difficult for a reader to distinguish among the voices of the characters—to avoid the tendency to read a play as an extended monologue—or to envision the physical movements that accompany the words.  Seeing a performance of the play, ideally on stage but even on film, can be enlightening” (Hamilton 2).

Hamilton makes a very good point that it is nice to have the written text in front of you with the dialogue and stage directions.  However, he also makes a good point that it is easy to get lost when you cannot see the actors or hear them.  In “Trifles,” it was hard for me to differentiate between some of the characters, especially the male characters.  With no visual representation of them, they seemed almost to have no individual personalities.  That is why in high school I always appreciated the fact that after we read a Shakespeare play we would always watch either a filmed production or go see a live production of the play.  After having read and studied the written play, it always added a new dimension to see it acted out.   

Who Said the Gals Can’t Pull One Over On the Guys?

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The play, “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell is full of the interactions between men and women from the very beginning.  Mr. Wright’s jailing of his wife, the county attorney and sheriff’s remarks to the women.  The very name of the play, “Trifles,” embodies the men’s opinion of their counterparts’ abilities.    Ironically, it is this masculine blindness of the time which allowed the women to pursue their own agendas.  Mr. Wright’s cruelty to his wife, leads her to take his life.  Women are capable of only mere “trifles,” are they?  Is murder a “trifle?” 

And the county attorney’s remark: “Oh I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked up.”  His assumption that women are harmless lets his key piece of evidence disappear right out the door!  Mrs. Hale is able to slip the little dead bird away without even any questions being asked.

Since time immemorial, men’s underestimations of women have caused them problems.  Mrs. Hale’s hiding of the bird reminds me of an instance in the movie, The Battle of Algiers.   Women were viewed much the same way in Algeria in the 1950s.  They were able to hide guns under their veils (most of them were Muslim) and bring them to their husbands in public without being stopped.  The French, who were trying to beat Algeria back into submission, never even considered that a woman might be capable of aiding and abetting their own people and cause.  The French paid the price, as Mr. Wright and the county attorney in the play did; Algeria won its independence in 1962.

The truly sad thing is that despite the total assurance of the male characters in the play that Mrs. Wright was indeed the killer, the lesson went right over their heads, to the point that they shot themselves in the foot.

Going South, the Double Whammy

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In Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor chapter 19 and 20, what was really apparent to me, was how many of these rules on how to improve our reading of literature overlap each other.  Foster comments that “What Lawrence does, really, is employ geography as a metaphor for the psyche—when his characters go south, they are really digging deep into their subconscious, delving into that region of darkest fears and desires” (Foster 170).  Indeed, going south, yes going south is part of the geography, and as part of the geography; and as part of the geography, we need to be aware of it.  Whether because of the implications of moving south, or because of the customs or people in this south, we need to sit up and pay attention.  Yet there is more to going south, than just the south part.  There is also the going.  This takes us back to Foster’s chapter 1: “Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It’s Not).”  And what did Foster say about quests, again?  Oh yes, Foster told us that “The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge” (Foster 3).  Lawrence’s characters went south, which is down, and means digging.  But his characters are traveling and going on a quest too.  Combine the geography of south and the act of traveling and it’s like a double whammy from the author.  He’s practically screaming at us to sit up and pay attention.   

Lauren’s comment made me realize that Fitzgerald’s story, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair", was really about society more than Bernice or Marjorie.  His story starts by informing the reader that: “The main function of the balcony was critical. It occasionally showed grudging admiration, but never approval.”  The rest of the story focuses on people’s judgments of Bernice and hers of them.  She won’t pay certain boys any heed if they are not popular; she views Marjorie as a bad girl.  So in turn, Bernice is judged, and given the label of boring.  Lauren emphasizes “how the smallest details can affect a someone's opinion of a person.”  This hypercritical nature of people exists today as well.  Really Fitzgerald’s story almost seems to me to be a moralistic story centered on the Biblical passage of: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Fitzgerald’s short story may have been written more as a social commentary of his time, but the beauty of it is that we continue to have these problems today, whether in biblical times, the 1920s, or 2008.   

The All Encompassing Story

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It was Maddie’s last sentence: “All this and more lies deep in our mind, writing a story that may never be read aloud but shall exist all the same,” that really caught my interest and changed my view of this “one story” that Foster discussed.  I was actually feeling rather skeptical about there being only one story.  But the way Maddie explained it made it more clear to me.  She really is right; we are creating our own stories constantly, all the time.  With every experience we have, we add more to it.  And since we are all humans, we all have some experiences in common, simply because we are human.  In a way, it is our connection to each other as humans that allows this one great, big, immense story to be all encompassing.  When I read a book, I am adding to my story.  But that author who wrote that book’s story grew when she read another different book.  And so it goes, one big story, each of us adding a little to it.    

The Jane Austen Factor

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Course assignment:

“Every young man with a large income leads the life of a hunted partridge.” 

This quote immediately brought a famous line from another book to mind, the first line in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  It is interesting to see Fitzgerald’s view of women and men in the 1920s as compared to Austen’s female perspective in the 1810s.  However, while the two sentences above may seem to be expressing opposing views, they actually are saying the same thing.  Austen’s comment is laced with irony; she too realizes that frequently it is the women who do the pursuing, not the men.  And while women were forced into certain roles during these respective times, that does not mean they quietly went along with these expectations.  While they may have needed to retain the appearance of the time’s stereotypes, their minds did not.  Marjorie explains, “’I hate dainty minds…But a girl has to be dainty in person.  If she looks like a million dollars she can talk about Russia, ping-pong, or the League of Nations and get away with it.’”  The most interesting aspect to me though, is that Fitzgerald, a male, was able to look into female society and come up with such conclusions.    

Hidden Gems

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Course assignment:

 “A small part of what transpires is what I call the aha! factor, the delight we feel at recognizing a familiar component from earlier experience” (Foster 33). 

 “The aha! factor,” what an appropriate name.  I can definitely relate to what Foster is talking about.  How many times have I been reading a book, only to find an allusion to Jane Austen or Hawthorne?  Recognizing these references is always a wonderful feeling.  I always feel like I have pulled something over on the author, like I am too clever for the author to pull anything over on me.  Now, I do realize the author is not actually trying to hide anything from me.  Yet, there is nothing more frustrating than to realize the author is referring to some piece of literature that I don’t know!  It drives me crazy, ha-ha.  But as Foster mentions, as I read more, I will recognize more and more of these allusions.  It really is an amazing feeling to recognize one of these hidden gems, I’m glad to hear I am not the only nerd who enjoys them.