September 2009 Archives

Meaningful Nothingness... Huh?

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"It might be more appropriate to take 'they' to mean nature itself, pluralistically figured, since nature has been felt throughout the poem as a collection of material objects.  In 'Desert Places,' then, Frost is commenting on one of the most basic romantic assumptions about the universe--that it is essentially responsive to man, that we are its vital force, its reason for being. . .  What Frost realizes at the beginning of the last stanza is that nature's empty spaces are truly empty--not only of matter, but of meaning and that it is only meaning that can scare."
            "On Desert Places," by Albert J. Von Frank

This interpretation of Robert Frost's "Desert Places" is especially intriguing to me.  When I had first read the poem, I understood the contrast between the snowy deserted field and the "desert places" (Line 16) in the speaker's mind.  By describing a cold, nearly barren land full of "weeds" (Line 4) and "animals... smothered in their lairs" (Line 6) as being less frightening than the speaker's own internal emptiness, Frost infers the idea that the speaker is beyond just being lonely, an idea also referenced in the repetitive third stanza.  

Von Frank's interpretation provides a deeper understanding of the speaker's loneliness than mine.  The deserted field is not frightening to the speaker because it means nothing.  There are no people in it, and people give the universe meaning.  As I learned in my acting class, relationship makes conflict and conflict makes relationship.  Without either, we live in a repetitive world that ultimately leads to nothing.  The "desert places" in the speaker's mind or heart are scary to him because their origin lies in humanity, which means it lies in social interactions and experience.  The meaning behind that loneliness is far more frightening than the simply empty, meaningless field.


'Member? You 'member!

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Writing about a problem goes deeper than simply interpreting a piece of literature because the process consists of you exploring why a piece has that interpretation.  For example, I was having the most difficult time on our last essay because I kept trying to explain the meaning of "Lady Lazarus."  I felt like I was simply stating the obvious, or at least stating ideas that anyone could arrive at by simply reading the poem.  There was no claim, just a statement, which meant there was no anti-thesis or argument in my paper.  Perhaps if I had written the paper from the angle of why Plath uses specific words to represent something, such as in Strategy 2 in Roberts' Writing About Literature, I would have had a much more debatable thesis statement after sifting through pointed questions as Roberts suggests.

Roberts doesn't really provide any information that's new to me, but he does remind of an important strategy for writing papers.  I took Introduction to Poetry last year, as I've mentioned before, and I'm still stuck in that mindset of writing, that being simply explaining the meaning of a poem.  After all, the class was just an introduction, so we were expected mostly to be able to interpret the poems' meanings.  Because of my being used to that style of writing papers, I've been having a hard time this semester doing anything beyond looking for the meaning.  Reading this chapter reminded me of what I've learned in past literary classes, and because I've been away from that knowledge for a while, it was almost like he was providing me with a new way of thinking.  

The sample essay was also helpful, especially the introduction and the conclusion.  The body paragraphs of a paper are typically easier for me to write as long as I have my evidence.  The introduction and conclusion, however, is much more difficult for me.  Seeing how the author of this essay (Roberts?) presents the problem, outlines how he plans to address it, and the thesis statement of the introduction made it much clearer than if he had done the clich√© method of starting on a broad subject and narrowing it down.  The conclusion, also, was extremely effective in the way the author begins with the antithesis and works his way down to why his reasoning is correct.  

"There it crystallizes and acts as a symbol for the previous fifteen lines, and does so with freshness and surprise.  The shift of meaning is a logical necessity in "Desert Places" (180).
                    - Edgar Roberts, Writing About literature

These concluding sentences about Frost's poem, "Desert Places," made everything click into place in my mind.  The poem had made sense to me, but I felt like the ending was abrupt, as it seems many critics have believed.  Now, my perspective has changed.  Yes, it is abrupt, but it is intentionally abrupt, and that is much more logical.


"Nature decays, but latinum lasts forever."

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"The blood-rimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / the ceremony of innocence is drowned" (5-6).
            - William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"

At first, this poem drew my attention for two reasons.  1) I read Things Fall Apart for my Topics in World Literature class last semester, a book that gets its title from this poem.  2) Quark, an alien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, inadvertently quotes this poem in an episode of said show.  This really doesn't transition whatsoever to what I'm actually going to talk about, but I wanted to share it anyways.

The lines I've quoted above had the greatest impact on me in all of Yeats' poems.  The imagery and irony are so effectual.  The "blood-dimmed tide" gives the reader an image of a tidal wave filled with blood.  Since blood is related to death, and a wave of blood suggests there is so much of it, Yeats paints a rather gruesome picture for the reader.

The most interesting part for me was that this horrid image of a blood-filled wave was still representative of a cleansing, as water so often is in poetry.  Instead of cleansing obvious impurities, is washes away a form of innocence.  If the innocence people are exhibiting is only a "ceremony" of it, a pretense, and it is cleansed only by blood, Yeats enforces the idea that the end of the 2,000 year era is necessary for people to be "reborn" (22) again for the new era.  The sins of all people by the end of the era are so revolting that blood is less contaminated.

** Quote in title is one of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition from the Star Trek franchise.

Insert Witty Title Here

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"Just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside, doesn't mean I can't handle whatever you can handle."
                - Captain Samantha Carter, Stargate SG-1

The above quote comes from Stargate SG-1's pilot episode, "Children of the Gods."  Stargate is one of my favorite television shows, and Sam Carter is an excellent example of a strong female character.  This line, however?  It's a little extreme.  Okay, it's extremely extreme... it's just difficult for me to bash my favorite character (trust me, the character improved immensely after the actress had a discussion with the writers).  The mistake most writers make when attempting to make a feminist character, or a feminist speech, is that they try too hard to make the woman sound like she's out to destroy all men.  Or they try to force it down the audience's throats that this woman means serious business, such as in the above quote.  I mean, seriously?  What woman would even consider saying something like that?

The success in Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) lies in the way MacDonald establishes the character of Constance Ledbelly.  At the beginning of the play, she is completely subservient to the man she unrequitedly loves and one of her students is able to manipulate her while turning in a late assignment, yet she does nothing to improve her situation.  My first thought was "wow, this character is pretty useless at this point.  What does she do?" I'm drawn to strong female characters (Lois Lane, Anne Shirley) and any piece that doesn't have one causes me to lose interest.  Eventually, however, MacDonald makes up for it.

Once, when speaking with Desdemona, Constance says, "Not that I'm some kind of feminist.  I shave my legs and get nervous in crowds" (37).  These lines are important because they depict Constance's current state of development in discovering herself, and I think MacDonald wrote these lines as a way to say you don't have to be the stereotyped "feminazi" to be the strong woman Constance becomes in the end.  Being a strong woman is being neither the violent woman that is Desdemona, nor the boy-crazy girl that is Juliet.  It's about finding a balance between the two and being confident and certain about who you are.


NOTE: Sorry about the title.  I'll come back and retitle it once my brain is in proper working order.

Josie Rush also covers this topic in a better-titled blog, here.

Portfolio 001

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When I first registered for this class last semester, I was quite worried about it.  I suppose I can't really say I was worried, because I didn't doubt my ability to succeed; it was more like I knew I was going to be challenged and that made me a bit anxious.  Every time I thought about Writing About Literature, such as when it was time to purchase textbooks, I got this bubbling feeling of excitement mixed with fear.  Now, however, as we begin our fifth week of class, I feel much relieved.  Yes, the course is the challenge I believed it would be and it requires a lot of time outside of class - but I enjoy it.  Blogging, as time consuming as it is, really helps me understand the readings in this course.  The whole process makes me think more deeply about each work, and I feel like a more accomplished English major because of it.  Now that I have all that mushy sentimental stuff out of the way, on with the portfolio!
Coverage: I blogged on each of the assigned readings so far this semester.  Here is a summary of each one.

What Is This Dictionary of Which You Speak? - This blog shows my initial reaction to the Writing About Literature textbook, by Edgar Roberts.   

Women's Liberties in the Awakening and "The Necklace" - Here, I draw a connection between the writing styles and storylines of Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace" and Kate Chopin's the Awakening.

Confusion At Its Best - This is an entry discussing Mark Twain's characterization of the clergyman in his short story "Luck."

For the Love of Em Dashes! - This blog examines Thomas Hardy's use of em dashes in his poem "The Man I Killed" as a way to signify the speaker's confusion.

This Isn't Literary Surgery?? - Here I reflect on a quote from chapter 2 of Writing About Literature regarding poetry explications.

Life's a Fairy Tale - In this entry, I expound Roberts' idea that literature is a way to examine real life.

If You Know It, You Should Show It! - By reading chapter 3 of Writing About Literature, I realized that I don't always utilize the knowledge I've acquired from past classes, and I reflect on that realization in this blog.

A Confession, a Theory, and a Message Walk Into a Blog... - This blog is an analysis of Billy Collins' poem, "Introduction to Poetry."  I also provide my own theory about the process of writing poetry.

Get Out of My Head! - In this entry, I examine the effectiveness of point of view in Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

My POV Likes to Mingle - Because of chapter 4 of Writing About Literature, I realized that point of view is my favorite aspect of literature and I reflect on that in this blog.

Stranger one, in the chimney corner, with the pipe! - This entry examines the use of structural variation in Thomas Hardy's short story, "The Three Strangers."

Am I Missing Something? - In this blog, I do a suggested exercise from chapter 5 of Writing About Literature which consisted of removing a section of Maupassant's "The Necklace" and determining whether or not the story still made sense.

That Type of Awe Thou Mayst in Blog Behold - This blog examines Shakespeare's use of the second person point of view in "Sonnet 73."

She's a Maneater! - In this entry, I examine Sylvia Plath's poem, "Lady Lazarus," and explain my interpretation of it.
Depth: I think these entries represent the best of my work so far.  I put a lot of time and consideration into them.

Women's Liberties in the Awakening and "The Necklace" - Besides noticing the connection in styles between Maupassant and Chopin, I researched that connection and found that Maupassant inspired Chopin. 

For the Love of Em Dashes! - The reason I view this one as a good representation of my work is because of my use of the phrase em dashes.  That might not seem so impressive, but it was a term that I learned in Introduction to Poetry and using it here made me feel accomplished for connecting that class to this one.

A Confession, a Theory, and a Message Walk Into a Blog... - I chose this blog as a fine display of my work because I created a theory about the creation of poetry and it was rather philosophical, in my opinion.

Get Out of My Head! - I was rather proud of this blog when I finished it because I spent a lot of time considering the successful use of point of view in Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

She's a Maneater! - This is my prized blog of all the ones we've completed so far.  I feel like I really showed my capability as a poetry analyst in this entry. 
Interaction: These entries from my peers' blog demonstrate my ability to use blogs as a means to interact with my fellow classmates.  For every blog we were supposed to do, I commented on at least two of my classmates' blogs.  However, the following demonstrate how I returned to their blogs and continued the conversation.

Jessica Orlowski, Close Reading or Close-Mindedness - Jess blogged about how the Writing About Literature textbook suggests close-mindedness instead of close reading when analyzing a piece of fiction.  I offered an opposing opinion, which helped Jess expand on the one she already had.  I returned once to give an example of personal experience.

Melissa Schwenk, A True Hero: Mrs. Hale - Melissa had some fascinating insight about one of the characters from Susan Glaspell's play, "Trifles."  I commended her on her idea and then returned to ask more questions about her opinions about the character.

Jessica Orlowski, Well-Behaved Women Rarely Avoid Murder - Jess analyzed a piece of "Trifles" that I had never even considered.  As I did with Melissa's blog, I first commended her, but then she replied with more ideas.  I then responded once more with my own analysis of that bit of the story.

Josie Rush, Strangling Verse - Josie blogged about a particular line from Billy Collins' poem, "Introduction to Literature."  I demonstrated what I believed was Collins' message by writing in faux analysis of the line Josie quoted.  Later, I returned to expand on what I had previously said because the comments in her blog slightly changed my original opinion.

Melissa Schwenk, Getting Too Old For This - In this blog, Melissa wrote that Billy Collins' poem, "On Turning Ten," displayed humor in the irony of a little boy despairing over turning "the first big number."  I politely disagreed, and Melissa replied to say she understood my reasoning but still believed the poem was humorous.  Strangely, though, we were both arguing the same ideas but in support of different outlooks.

Melissa Schwenk, A Devilish Illusion - After reading Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," Melissa wrote that she believed the protagonist underwent a punishment from the devil for the things he did as a Confederate soldier.  I disagreed and provided lines from the poem to make my point, and we continued to have a small debate.

Josie Rush, Blather, Wince Repeat - Josie expressed her opinion that "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" didn't move her.  I offered my reasons for why it did move me, and she reconsidered her opinion by rereading the story.  However, we both agreed that it probably all comes down to a difference of opinions.

Jessica Orlowski, Fiction Does Not Always Make Sense, Roberts! - In her blog, Jess disagreed with Edgar Roberts about fiction always needing to make sense.  In my first comment, I completely agreed with Jess.  However, after reading some of the comments from other students, especially Josie, I realized that while I do think fiction must not always make sense, it must be nonsensical in order to eventually make sense.  (Read the blog entry - it makes more sense). 
Discussion: These blogs inspired the most conversation of all of them. 

This Isn't Literary Surgery?? - I believe this blog caught my peer's attention because most students can relate to the difficulty that is the poetry explication.

A Confession, a Theory, and a Message Walk Into a Blog... - This blog was inspiring, I think, because I included my own little theory about the meaning of specific words in poetry, a theory most people had never considered.

Stranger one, in the chimney corner, with the pipe! - This blog initiated discussion because I made the claim that a piece of fiction lack suspense because we, the readers, did not live in the time period in which it was written.  Some people agreed, and some disagreed, which made for an interesting discussion.

Am I Missing Something? - The reason this blog prompted discussion was because of the fact that I did an exercise from the textbook.  Others then did the exercise in order to provide a different result than what I had discovered.

That Type of Awe Thou Mayst in Blog Behold - This blog incited discussion likely because the class had formerly discussed the lack of second person writing, only to find it in one of our assigned readings.  Once this realization was made, my peers provided me with more examples of the second person point of view.
Timeliness: My first few blogs could not fall under the timeliness category because my blog was not yet set up.  However, I did post them as soon as I could.  While some of my blogs were posted later than I wish they were, it was not because I didn't read the material.  For the blogs posted later, I typically read the assigned readings and then thought about them for a long while until I had something to say.  Of course, I realize that doesn't wipe away the fact that some of them were posted a couple hours before class.  I just wanted to explain why they were posted then.  These are examples in which my blogs were posted promptly:

This Isn't Literary Surgery?? - Posted on Saturday, August 29 at 8:57PM.  Needed for class on Monday, August 31.

If You Know It, You Should Show It! - Posted on Wednesday, September 02 at 12:20PM.  Needed for class on Friday, September 04. 

A Confession, a Theory, and a Message Walk Into a Blog... - Posted on Sunday, September 06 at 9:48PM.  Needed for class on Monday, September 07.

Get Out of My Head! - Posted on Tuesday, September 08 at 11:49PM.  Needed for class on Wednesday, September 09.

Stranger one, in the chimney corner, with the pipe! - Posted on Friday, September 11 at 4:15PM.  Needed for class on Monday, September 14.

Am I Missing Something? - Posted Saturday, September 12 at 1:06AM.  Needed for class on Monday, September 14.

That Type of Awe Thou Mayst in Blog Behold - Posted Saturday, September 12 at 1:47PM.  Needed for class on Monday, September 14.
Xenoblogging: These are examples of my attempts to help the blogging efforts of my fellow students.

The Comment Primo
- I was the first person to leave a comment on the following blogs.  There were several more entries for which I was the first to comment, but without a reply, I felt no need to comment again on that person's blog.

Melissa Schwenk, A True Hero: Mrs. Hale

Jessica Orlowski, Well-Behaved Women Rarely Avoid Murder...

Melissa Schwenk, Flashback: You May Remember This From Before

Jessica Orlowsky, Fiction Does Not Always Make Sense, Roberts!

Josie Rush, So, Tell Me About Yourself

Melissa Schwenk, Lighting the Way

Melissa Schwenk, You Mean So Much..Kinda

The Comment Grande - These are blogs in which I left a long and thoughtful response to a peer.  Some of the responses I viewed as long because I commented more than once.

Jessica Orlowski, Close Reading or Close-Mindedness?

Melissa Schwenk, A True Hero: Mrs. Hale

Jessica Orlowski, Well-Behaved Women Rarely Avoid Murder...

Josie Rush, Strangling Verse

Melissa Schwenk, Getting Too Old For This

Aja Hannah, Go Gentleman! Go...Conferedate?

Melissa Schwenk, A Devilish Illusion

Josie Rush, Blather, Wince, Repeat

Jessica Orlowski, FIction Does Not Always Make Sense, Roberts!

Jessica Orlowski, Fire and Rebirth
Wildcard: I believe this is the entry that best represents me as a blogger.

She's a Maneater!


What's In a Name?

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When I read Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), by Ann-Marie MacDonald, I felt like the protagonist's name, Constance Ledbelly, was representative of the character.  True, authors normally put thought into their characters' names, so it wasn't that surprising, but it interested me nonetheless.  I'm still unsure if I've analyzed the character thoroughly enough, so if anyone has any feedback or further insight, I'd love to hear it!

The names Constance - and Constantine - both mean constant, which implies certainty since a constant is something that never changes.  However, our protagonist changes quite a bit throughout the play, or, rather, changes in her perspective of herself.  From the beginning of the play, MacDonald utilizes Constance's name to represent her development during her journey of self-discovery.  

In Act I, Scene I, the only time we see Constance in her reality, the characters never refer to her by her first name.  To the first student, she is "Miss Ledbelly"(8) - also a telling name.  At this point in the play, it is clear that Constance has low self-esteem and doubts her ability to reach her goals of being a professor and coming to terms with her lack of relationship with Claude Night.  The student doesn't refer to her as Constance at all, which could be just because she is a student, but the placement of their conversation says to me that the reason it happens here is to enforce the idea that Constance has not yet reached her point of self-discovery, her constant.

The name Ledbelly reflects her feelings of doubt.  Led is similar to lead, the metal.  Lead is a grey metal that is rather malleable, which is representative of Constance's current state of being at this time - she is metaphorically grey in her lack of self-esteem and she seems to bend to the pressure of those around her.  For example, she accepts a student's late paper even though she knows the student is lying about the reason it was late.

Next, Ramona comes to speak to Claude Night, but finds Constance instead and calls her simply "Professor" (11).  Again, the fact that someone refers to her as something other than her full designation symbolizes Constance's point in her journey of finding herself.  In fact, when Ramona calls her Professor, Constance corrects her and tells her she is "just an Assistant Professor" (12).  She does not tell Ramona her first name, and lowers Ramona's impression of Constance because she now knows she's not as far in her career as one would assume.

Claude Night, as well, calls her something else instead of Constance.  To him, she is "Connie" (15).  While this is closer to her actual name, it still doesn't imply that she's reached a constant point in her life yet.  

Once Constance enters the world of Shakespeare, though, everything changes.  She introduces herself to Desdemona as "Constance Ledbelly" (27), and since she still hasn't discovered herself, the fact that she tells Desdemona her first and last name suggests that at this point, she is constantly unsure of herself.  Desdemona, however, never calls Constance by her first and last name.  Instead, she calls her the "Queen of Academe" (28).  Also, Desdemona calls Constance "Con" (31), probably because Constance is not yet at her eventual stage of certainty.  She has only met one half of the archetypes that make her who she is.  Despite this variation of names, all of the characters in Shakespeare Land call her Constance - or Constantine - at some point, because this is her place of power.  She is the creator, she is Desdemona, and she is Juliet.  

In the last scene of the play, after Constance realizes that Desdemona and Juliet are aspects of herself, they tell her, "Happy Birthday Constance."  Her birthday is symbolic of being reborn.  She is now Constance, not Miss Ledbelly or Professor or Connie.  Constance has now established a certainty in who she is, and the use of her full name represents the completion of her journey to reach that certainty.  Even in the epilogue, the chorus refers to her not as Constance Ledbelly, but as "Constance L." (89). She is no longer made of lead, for she has spun that "grey matter, into precious gold" (89).


She's a Maneater!

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The imagery in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" is astonishing.  As I read the poem, I felt myself shiver with every descriptive line.  Without even saying the word "dying" until line 43, the reader is aware that the speaker is recounting the times she has encountered death because of Plath's imagery, an excellent example of showing instead of telling.  She describes her skin as being "bright as a Nazi lampshade" (5), a disturbing though revealing description since a Nazi lampshade consisted of the stretched skin of the Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust.  Her right foot is a "paperweight" (7), which made me think of deadweight but since it's only her foot, it's as if she's not completely dead.  I was confused, however, at lines 8-9 about her face being "a featureless, fine / Jew linen" so if anyone has any ideas as to what that could mean, I'd love to hear them.  In line 10, the speaker tells the reader to "peel off the napkin" to see her face.  I interpreted this as the cloth that covers a dead body, since doing as she says would reveal "the nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth" such as that of a skeleton.  

In high school, I heard the interpretation of this poem as the speaker being proud of her ability to resurrect herself.  My ninth grade teacher told us that the reason she describes death so vividly was to boast of her "art" (44).  However, I think the speaker is warning the people who continue to attempt to bring her back from death to stop.  While the speaker is very elusive for the first half of the poem, never forthrightly saying a derivative word of death, she becomes rather blunt at lines 43-44 and 47 by saying, "dying / is an art ... / I do it so it feels real."  It's as if she's no longer worried to straightforwardly claim what she wants, which is to die.  Coming back to "the same place, the same face, the same brute ... / knocks her out" (53, 56) suggesting that she is tired of people bringing her back.  

The first warning lies in lines 57-59 and 61-62 when she says, "there is a charge for the eyeing of my scars, / ... the hearing of my heart, / a very large charge, / for a word or touch," implying that those who bring her back will pay for doing so.  She specifically mentions the Doktor in line 65 as the one for whom she is an "opus" (67), like a "valuable" (68) piece of art, possibly because her resurrection could serve as his "pure gold baby" (69), or financial means.  She proceeds to tell him to "beware" (80) because at some point, "out of the ash / [she rises] with [her] red hair / and [she eats] men like air" (82-84), suggesting that she will eventually come back from one of her deaths and punish him for standing in the way of her goal.


That Type of Awe Thou Mayst in Blog Behold

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"In me thou seest the glowing of such fire, / That on the ashes of his youth doth lie" (103).
                    William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73 (In Roberts)

Chapter 5 of Roberts' Writing About Literature made me think more deeply about the structure of literature, but I couldn't think of anything worthwhile to say about the structure in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.  However, as I was reading it, I did notice Shakespeare's use of point of view.  I think everyone in class said they don't know of an example of the second person POV, but now we do.  Sonnet 73 is written from the point of view of a dying man as he tells his beloved what she sees.  I didn't even notice this the first couple of times I read it, searching for something to blog about.  However, I did notice that in line 10, the speaker calls his own youth "his youth" instead of "my youth," the latter being the phrase a person would use were they speaking in the first person.  Instead, the speaker was telling the listener what she sees in him - the glowing remnants on the ashes of his youth.  

I always thought the second person point of view would be ineffective if a whole literary work was from that POV.  However, I think it works in this case.  Since the speaker was telling the listener what she sees, I felt like I was actually seeing it instead of just knowing it.  This surprised me because I thought I would get aggravated and refuse to accept what the speaker was telling me, but the sonnet actually had the opposite effect.  Now I'm curious to know other examples of literary works from the second person point of view that I have enjoyed in the past without realizing the POV in which they were written.  


Am I Missing Something?

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"As an exercise, you might imagine that a certain part of the work you are studying has been taken away.  Does it make sense?  Does it seem truncated?  Why should the missing part be returned?"  (102).
                         Roberts, Writing About Literature

For this exercise, I imagined that the first section of Maupassant's "The Necklace," up to the point in which Loisel tells Mathilde that they are invited to a dinner, was taken away from the story.  Without this section, the reader does not know that Mathilde sees herself as being "destined for all delicacies and luxuries" (5), or that she only marries Loisel because she has "no dowry, no prospects, no way of getting known, courted, loved, married by a rich and distinguished man."  The reader would therefore have no idea why Mathilde would be so upset about receiving an invitation to this special dinner that her husband "had a lot of trouble getting" (6).  It makes Mathilde seem even more ungrateful than she actually is.

The story doesn't necessarily seem truncated without this section, but it does seem incomplete since this part specifically serves as the exposition of the narrative.  It needs to be part of the piece because it is the "laying out [of] ... the main characters, their backgrounds, their characteristics, interests, goals, limitations, potentials, and basic assumptions" (99). Without it, the reader is unable to get a complete understanding of the story, which is essentially the purpose of any literary work.

Stranger one, in the chimney corner, with the pipe!

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"'The Three Strangers' is just one example of how a structural variation maximizes the impact of a work" (100).
                        Roberts, Writing About Literature

In the case of Thomas Hardy's "The Three Strangers," I actually thought his structural variation was too obvious and minimized rather than maximized the impact of the story.  Roberts writes that Hardy "produces a double take because of unique structuring" (100) by making the reader think the third stranger is the escaped prisoner instead of the first stranger.  I, however, suspected this was Hardy's plan throughout the entire narrative.  

When he introduces the first stranger, Hardy describes him as a man who walks cautiously, which automatically suggests he has something to hide.  The stranger dresses like a peasant, though he does not show the "mud-accustomed bearing of hobnailed and fustianed peasantry" (329), a suspicious implication that the stranger has not done any work of the typical peasant for a while.  Next, the stranger thinks about "all the possibilities that a house of this sort might include" (330) as he approaches the hosts' house, a perspective common of a possible thief.  The stranger has eyes that "[move] with a flash rather than a glance around the room," making him sound jumpy as one burdened with guilt would be.  The final evidence lies in his request for tobacco and a tobacco pipe, a request even the host finds odd.  A smoker would typically have both, unless he was somewhere that wouldn't allow it, such as a prison.

The third stranger arrives at a point in the story in which Hardy has little time to characterize him.  Whereas the first stranger receives a lot of focus in description, the third stranger is only in the doorway of the house long enough to stare and run away afraid.  Personally, I would be equally afraid of a man singing about hanging a person the next day, regardless if I recognized him as my brother's executioner.  The song was creepy.  Maybe this "structural variation" would be more dramatic to a person living in the time and place in which it was written, someone familiar with the culture, but it failed to surprise me or affect me on a level Roberts claims it does.


My POV Likes to Mingle

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"The point of view or guiding intelligence created by the author of a literary work determines how we read, understand, and respond" (77).
                    -Edgar V. Roberts, Writing About Literature

I didn't realize it until I read chapter 4 of the textbook, but point of view is probably my favorite aspect of literature.  This realization surprised me at first.  I mean, what's the big deal?  Any story has to be told from some point of view, right?  Yes, but the part of it that impresses me is the execution of the point of view.  I like to get inside the mind of the point-of-view character, such as Peyton Farquhar in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," or Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables.  Both stories have mingling points of view, but they allow you to truly understand how and why a character feels.

I get more out of a story written in the limited third person point of view when it's intermingled with the first person, as is the case with most books it seems.  Having both perspectives, what an outsider observes of the character and what the character herself actually does or says, makes my personal observation and understanding more complete.  It's almost like doing a psychological study, but I don't need to have my Ph.D. or Psy.D. to have valid opinions because I'm the only one those opinions affect.  It's extremely more difficult to analyze a character, to me, if all I'm seeing is the perspective from the third person omniscient point of view.  This POV is probably the most objective, but I don't think we should be completely objective when analyzing a character's motives.  I think we need to know the emotions behind those decisions, and there's no better way to understand them than from the character himself either through mingled first person or limited third person.  


Get Out of My Head!

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Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," allowed me to deepen my understanding of points of view and realize how influential those points of view can be to the reader's opinion of the point-of-view character, which in this case was Peyton Farquhar.  Part I begins in the third person omniscient point of view, allowing the reader to get an objective account of the hanging of Farquhar, whom at this point is known only to be a civilian with "a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp" (318).  Bierce then switches to third person limited, revealing Farquhar's thoughts before the Federal soldiers kill him.  The reader sympathizes with him as he thinks of his "wife and little ones [who] are still beyond the invader's farthest advance" (318) because they see the man as an innocent father and husband, sentenced to death for an unknown reason even though he is a "gentleman" (318).

While it may have been unintentional, since Bierce wrote this tale over a century ago in a time when many more people supported slavery then they do today, Part II makes the reader question the legitimacy of her earlier felt sympathy.  Farquhar is a slave owner and is "ardently devoted to the Southern cause" (319) in the Civil War.  Should the reader really be rooting for someone who wants to keep human beings enslaved?

Despite Farquhar's allegiance, the manner in which Bierce reveals the character's thoughts lures the reader into an acceptance of who he is.  We see a glimpse of his humanity in Part III, as the Federals hang him and he longs for a way to escape.  He frees himself from his noose and flees in the water, eventually walking all day in an attempt to get home.  He falls asleep and dreams of his family, his wife "waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy" at the foot of his steps.  The reader can relate to his thoughts, because that is what anyone would be thinking were they in his situation.  

If Bierce had written this part of the story in any other point of view than third person limited, the reader would feel detached and unsympathetic, remembering Farquhar's lifestyle.  However, since the reader is allowed to feel what Farquhar was feeling, the story was much more effective.  The fact that Farquhar dies in the end is saddening, even though the reader knows he was a supporter of slavery.  By switching back to the third person omniscient point of view for the last sentence, his death hits the reader harder because the detached voice of the speaker is so different from hearing Farquhar's actual thoughts.  It's almost as if someone close to the reader dies, and no one cares enough to tell of his death in any way other than the unfeeling "Peyton Farquhar was dead" (322).


A Confession, a Theory, and a Message Walk Into a Blog...

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"They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means."

In his poem, "Introduction to Poetry," Billy Collins is able to express the reasons why I generally dislike studying poetry.  To be completely honest, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with poetry analysis, so you may be confused if I tend to change my mind about my feelings from time to time.  In my entry entitled "This Isn't Literary Surgery?" I think I gave the impression that I hate analyzing poems.  I apologize to all the poets out there who would disagree with me, but the truth is, I kind of like it sometimes.  Yes, I realize that not every single word is necessarily significant in the overall scheme of the poem, but sometimes I wonder if the opposite is true.  Maybe every word is significant, but only to the poet's subconscious creative mind, and he just doesn't realize it when he reviews the finished product.  

However, I only think that way when I'm being overly philosophical, psychological, and several other -icals that I don't even realize I'm being.  Normally, I agree with Collins' message in "Introduction to Poetry."  Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, a poem is just an artist's means of expressing her creativity, her emotions.  There's not always a need to "torture a confession out of [a poem]" to find out what it really means.  Sometimes a poem should just be read because the reader feels a connection to the poet's emotional sentiments.  One does not need to interrogate a poem to gain something from it.  The only action necessary to gain is to "press an ear against [the poem's] hive," to listen to the motions and emotions within and interpret them as they apply to the reader.  

NOTE: Sorry I don't have page numbers. I purchased the wrong edition of the book and the bookstore won't be open until Tuesday, so I had to read the poem online.


If You Know It, You Should Show It!

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Chapter 3 of the Writing About Literature textbook was very much a review for me of previous literature classes, specifically Introduction to Literature.  Despite the fact that I already knew the information Roberts discusses, there is a difference between knowing something and applying it when examining a piece of literature.  

While I did recognize many of the ideas from the chapter as topics I've discussed and learned in the past, I realized that I don't always think of them or apply them in my work.  If an essay prompt specifically states that I must examine the characters in the piece of literature I'm studying, I do.  However, as I reflect on past papers, I realize that character analysis is rather necessary, regardless of the essay topic.  Examining the use of round or flat characters, or the verisimilitude of a character's actions or statements, as additional points to whatever argument I'm making, could be that extra edge I need to bring my paper closer to perfection.  

This is true of my reading of Glaspell's play, "Trifles."  As I read it, I examined the symbolism of the canary and Minnie's kitchen, but I did not stop to think of the significance of the way Minnie's character was written and established.  Minnie is never actually part of the scene; she is merely referenced by the other characters throughout the play.  Despite only being referenced, she is clearly the protagonist and the only round character of the story.  The fact that she is never physically with the rest of the characters is a rather symbolic fact itself.  Her absence represents how distant she's become since marrying her oppressive husband, so much so that she is never seen around people.  Acknowledging her absence, and scrutinizing it, allows me to better understand Minnie's character and therefore, ideally, write a better paper.


Life's a Fairy Tale

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"Whereas in life things may 'just happen,' in literature all actions, interactions, speeches, and observations are deliberate ... By making such actions interesting, authors help you understand and appreciate not only their major characters but also life itself."  (64)

This quote really struck me as something I can relate to and appreciate regarding literature.  One of the most rewarding aspects of literature, to me, is gaining more knowledge about the human race.  Yes, fiction is defined as "narratives based in the imagination of the author, not in literal, reportorial facts" (404), meaning that some - or all - of the content could be completely imagined.  However, readers tend to be drawn to characters that are "true to life" that do "what human beings are likely to do, say, and think under the conditions presented in the literary work" (69).  

The human mind, and the way a person reacts to different circumstances, fascinates me because it can be so different from person to person.  Literature provides a way to examine those differences, whether it is in one story or in a whole library of books with varying characters.  In all honesty, I think I've learned more about myself and the world around me through fictional stories than I have in real life experience, just because literature provides countless opportunities to put myself in a different perspective from my own.  I can see a situation and predict how a person will respond to it, and usually guess correctly, because I've seen myself in a similar situation while pretending to be a fictional character.  Maybe it's a little pathetic that most of what I know about life is from the minds of fictional people, but that doesn't bother me because I feel like I have experienced countless events that I otherwise would not have the opportunity to undergo.


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