November 2009 Archives

Awakened By Chapter 16

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"Such a study of literature is valuable because it promotes the realizations that ideas and ways of seeing the universe change with time and place.  Too often it is easy to read texts as though they were all written last week and to attribute to writers ideas that they never had.  Shakespeare, for example, had a number of political ideas, but he had no experience with representative government as we know it today.  Therefore, in considering works of his that tough the subject of politics, such as Henry IV plays, Richard II, and Henry V, you should understand why he dramatizes the importance of a just and strong monarch or the necessity of a moral aristocracy.  We can enthusiastically accept his idea that wise rulers and moral people are necessary in the creation of successful government, even though we today apply the principle not to monarchy - the form that Shakespeare knew - but to democracy" (234).
                Edgar V. Roberts, Writing About Literature

I know that is a much longer quote than I typically use, but I felt like the whole thing was essential to fully understanding the importance of reading something in the mindset of someone from the time in which it was written and applying the ideals of those notions to today's time.

In my junior year of high school, we read Kate Chopin's The Awakening.  Spoilers to follow.  The protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is married and has two children but feels like a prisoner because of the circumstances in her life.  She falls in love with two men (her husband is not one of them) and eventually kills herself because she has no freedom or control over her life in any other way.

No matter what the historical and cultural context, abandoning one's children and committing suicide are things that people have always looked down upon (unless it was some sort of ritualistic thing... but I have no knowledge of that).  However, to fully understand the significance of the theme in this book, you have to look deeper.  One of my classmates continuously said that she hated Edna because of the above reasons, and she hated the book because of her hate for Edna.  I tried to explain to her that Edna's actions meant so much more than what she was understanding.  

The Awakening was published at the turn of the twentieth century, a time in which it was normal for a man to repress a woman.  While I wouldn't approve of Edna's decisions if I knew her in real life, looking at them in the work's historical and cultural context makes them so much more impacting.  In today's society, while the majority of people would disapprove of her actions, it wouldn't be shocking to hear about them on the evening news.  Edna's character serves as an allegory for women's freedom because she made such extreme choices at a time in which they were almost unheard of.


"Allegory" Is a Pretty Word

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"In form, an allegory is a complete and self-sufficient narrative, but it also signifies another series of conditions or events.  Some stories are allegories from beginning to end, but many stories that are not allegories can contain brief sections or episodes that are allegorical" (151).
                Edgar V. Roberts, Writing About Literature

I didn't think about it while reading A Christmas Carol, but the whole story is an allegory.  Scrooge represents greediness and the antithesis of the Christmas spirit.  Each of the three spirits are also representative of a specific quality in mankind to help Dickens convey the moral lesson about the need for charity to create community.

The first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, represents the need to accept one's past mistakes in order to move on and benefit society.  The spirit shows Scrooge specific events from his life that will enable him to realize what he could have done differently, but still accept that it's too late to change any of it.  He must accept his past in order to move on.  

The Ghost of Christmas Present, the second spirit to visit Scrooge, embodies the ideals Dickens sets forth for every man: charity and goodwill.  Even though I still think he had far too many things, he shows Scrooge images that make him want to be better.  This is one of the only times, in my opinion, that show Scrooge as actually wanting to make a difference, not just to save himself but to help others  (Dr. Jerz pointed this out to me, so I wanted to make sure to mention that).

The last spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Future, kind of reminds me of the Grim Reaper, thereby suggesting the idea that he represents death or possible the fear of death.  It is because of the images he shows Scrooge that he decides to change his ways, which is what leads me to believe Scrooge doesn't really change morally.  However, I think Dickens intended to show a change in his character through the gained morals from the three symbolic ghosts, which is ultimately what makes this story an allegory.

Any other interpretations are welcome because I think I stumbled with a few of them.


Selfishness Prevails

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"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

I'm not buying the idea that Scrooge was completely transformed into a "good person," however that's defined.  His motivations for honoring Christmas in his heart all year were to save himself, not to benefit mankind.  In order to avoid his fate, which would be worse than Marley's, he decides to do charitable acts and start being nice to people.  That's just a part of social responsibility in the first place, not something that will save his soul for however much longer he'd be alive.  How old is Scrooge anyways?  I picture him as being in his seventies, so are a couple years of being nice going to make up for the fifty in which he was a rude and selfish jerk?

Of course, I have no idea what is enough to save a person's soul.  However, doing something purely to save oneself doesn't seem to be enough.

PS: I didn't mean for this blog to be so negative when I started writing it.  Wow.


ETA: Gladys blogged about class levels in her blog on staves 1-3 and I felt like it fit with what I was saying here. It made me realize that maybe Dickens was saying it doesn't matter if the rich help the poor for selfish reasons as long as society benefits.

How Much Food Does One Ghost Need?

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It's okay to want a lot of things and be materialistic, as long as you share those things with everyone else.

That's the message I always get from reading A Christmas Carol.  Dickens seems to reinvent the spirit of Christmas into something similar to the way people celebrate now.  Obviously I'm generalizing here, because this isn't true for everyone, but Christmas is no longer restricted to Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ - it's about celebrating community.  And there's nothing wrong with that because people can celebrate as they wish.

I just find it somewhat contradictory that the Ghost of Christmas Present is this giant man surrounded by a bunch of extravagant food.  He seems like the embodiment of gluttony to me.

"The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door."

I suppose he can't be seen as totally gluttonous since his whole message to Scrooge is to share with others.  It's just a bit baffling to me that this character seems to be endorsing the need for riches in order to share happiness and cheer.  We see that isn't the case with the Cratchit family, because of their gratefulness for every morsel they have, so the Ghost does effectively express the need for love among others over greed.  I guess I just have a problem with the way he is physically represented, because it takes the reader away from what the Ghost is essentially trying to prove to Scrooge.



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"Its instructors are among the lowest paid of any who hold forth in a classroom; most, though possessing doctoral degrees, are ineligible for tenure or promotion; their offices are often small and crowded; their scholarship is rarely considered worthy of comparison with "literary" scholarship. Their work, while crucial, is demeaned."
            William M. Chase, "The Decline of the English Department"

Well... that's not good.  I'm glad I have something to look forward to if I ever make it in my dream job.

At the beginning of this article, I just kept selfishly thinking, "Well, it's sad that less people appreciate English, but at least that means less competition for me, right?"  However, I didn't take into account that the reason people have stopped studying literature is because of the fact that the amount of job opportunities are declining.  I just thought they were more concerned with making the big bucks and that was it.

Now that I think about it, though, I'm getting tired of the criticism I receive when I say I'm an English major.  Even more I decided this was what I wanted to study, I was always criticized for considering anything that wasn't related to science.  I did flip back and forth between humanities and science, just because I'm interested in everything, so I guess it's understandable for people to have said, "you either want to be a neuropsychologist or... do something with English?  Oh," given societal expectations.

In high school, I always went to my chemistry teacher because she was very adept at giving students advice about college, regardless of whether it was for science or the humanities.  However, any time I mentioned something other than a scientific field (I guess she had different expectations for me than other students, because she never criticized them), her face would become very serious and I could tell she was trying not to judge me and be supportive in a way.  She'd say "oh, I see... well what are you going to do with that?" as she tried to pull me back to chemical engineering or whatever field of study it was during that conversation.  Maybe that's why I changed between eight different majors from the time I applied to SHU until the second week of freshman year. 

Societal expectations are frustrating.


My Qualms With Poetry Argon

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"Poets invite us to change speeds while reading - to slow down and linger over some words and sounds and to pass rapidly over others" (185).
                Edgar V. Roberts, Writing About Literature

Here's another reason to enjoy poetry.  I mean, I've always liked to read it, but it was mostly for a "oh wow that's some pretty stuff" kind of reason.  It's not hard to understand what's happening in poetry, but sometimes it's difficult to analyze, especially when you have to think about the mechanics of it.  Anyways, as I said in my presentation on Friday, I'm beginning to enjoy poetry even more than I have in the past the more I learn about it.

The above quote makes me relate poetry to science.  In a previous blog, I described math as a sort of artistic science; now, I'm going to call poetry a scientific art.  Some poets might just write what comes to mind without thinking about it; I don't really know since I'm not a poet.  However, I know some poets, especially the ones we study for literary value, must focus on the prosody in their writings.  There has to be a specific purpose to the choices they make because they bring something to the poem to amplify the theme, or the emotions of the speaker.  

This specific technique seems so scientific to me.  It involves planning, research, and experimentation in order to make it successful.  Since I love science, I love this aspect of poetry and I wish I would have really thought about it sooner than now.


Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

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I'm not sure if I'm supposed to blog about this in addition to my blog about my presentation, but I figured I might as well.

"Porphyria's love: she guessed not how her darling one wish would be heard" (56-57).

Most people speculate that because the speaker's lover's name is Porphyria, she is the person who is physically suffering from the disease, meaning she is the one who has been diagnosed.  I offer a different interpretation.  As I said in my presentation for this poem, Porphyria shows no signs of actually being sick.  Her skin is unblemished, and while some forms of Porphyria do not affect the skin too greatly, most of them do cause blisters and itchiness.  She gives no signs of being physically weak; in fact, it is she that starts the fire and prepares everything while her lover waits for her to "[sit] down by [his] side and [call him]" (14-15) to which he does not answer.  Which one seems sickly?

My theory is that her name is Porphyria because she does suffer from the disease - just not by diagnosis.  He is the one who is actually diseased, but she suffers from it because his mania causes her death.  Him being infected also fits with the fact that he is Porphyria's lover (with Porphyria in this case being the illness, not the woman), not because he loves the disease but because he is unified with it.  He and Porphyria are one, especially when he's in his manic state.  Oneness is an ancient view on love and soulmates, therefore making it logical that Browning would refer to him as Porphyria's lover, especially since Porphyria is a derivative of a Greek word and the Greeks were the first people to believe in the idea of soulmates if I'm remembering correctly from my high school art history class.  


You Drive Me Crazy!

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First I'll tell you a kind of pointless little story about my dorkiness. I wanted to present on Robert Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" because the title reminded me of the name of one of my pens from high school.  You see, I tend to name inanimate objects if they're special to me.  The pen was only special because it was given to me by one of my best friends and it had a beak and sunglasses (obviously that makes it super ~kewel~). With my overwhelming creativity, I went to to look up names that meant "purple" because my pen was purple.  The result: Porfirio, my pen.

I don't know why I felt I should share that.  Moving on.

Prior to beginning my presentation, I was unsure about what I wanted to say.  I chose not to read chapter 13 of the Writing About Literature textbook until after I finished preparing my presentation because I didn't want it to influence my thinking.  It would make me feel as if I were cheating.  I did, however, choose to find articles first because then it would be almost like doing a research paper.  There weren't many articles available online on EBSCOhost and the Literature Resource Center, but I did find one entitled "Porphyria is Madness" by Barry L. Popowich.  It wasn't very in-depth, but that was okay to me because it let me do my own thinking by suggesting basic ideas that needed expansion.  One such idea was about the point of view and the way the speaker provides a tainted account of the murder of his lover.  This is the angle on which I focused in my explication.

The only really difficult part of the process was finding time to really focus on it.  Obviously I did, but it resulted in lack of sleep and an overload of caffeinated beverages when in combination with my other classes.  I just had to choose one of the presentation days during the busiest time of the semester. It's okay, though :) It's part of the college experience, right?

Below is my outline for my presentation.  It's a rather in-depth outline, if I do say so myself.

             I.      Reason why I chose this reading

          II.      Article - Porphyria is Madness by Barry L. Popowich

       III.      Name Porphyria

a.       Comes from the Greek porphyroes for "purple" and causes purple urine

b.      Originally porphyuria - purple urine

c.       It is the name of a disease that brings delusional madness to its sufferers

       IV.      Way to read Porphyria's lover

a.       As delusions from a Porphyria sufferer

b.      Dramatic monologue, which was Browning's specialty.  He liked to write about the pathological or people with whom it is hard to sympathize

          V.      Point of View / Voice

a.       The issue of voice in the poem is a complex one of the self and language, of the poet speaking for another, if fictional, self, and of literary history and context.

       VI.      Possible Themes

a.       Michael Burdock says it has an underlying theme for vampirism because porphyria is a "rare blood disease" in which sun-sensitive skin is the main symptom, and was treated in medieval times by drinking blood.

b.      Madness. 

                                                              i.      Originally titled "Porphyria" in1836, then "Madhouse Cells, No. II" in 1842, then Porphyria's Lover in 1849.

                                                            ii.      However, because of the title as it is now, people take the poem more literally than from the perspective that he's delusional.

                                                          iii.      It's likely that Browning had seen it since he visited asylums


    VII.      My interpretation

a.       This is the account of an insane man.  Here we have a conflict of point of view because the only perspective we're getting is from the crazy man, the perpetrator in the crime that was committed.

b.      What can we do to determine which moments reflect literal happenings or delusional interpretations of the speaker?  Close reading of language and structure

c.       Language

                                                              i.      Words are clear-cut and descriptive in the first third of the poem.

1.      "Rain set early in to-night" (1).  Very simple, nothing complex or emotional.

2.      Descriptions are of external things

a.       Porphyria comes in and "laid her soiled gloves by" (12). He describes her actions and the way she looks as she enters, but does not say what either of them are feeling.

3.      The speaker hints to his depressed state by saying he has a "heart fit to break," but he doesn't focus on himself yet (5).

                                                            ii.      There is an abrupt change after line 21.  Porphyria admits her love and then the speaker starts talking about internal things.

1.      Nothing is straightforward any more.  He judges everything about her.  His judgments are no longer about physical things but her emotional state, which he couldn't possibly know at such a level.

a.       "Weak, pride, vain twice"

2.      Porphyria seemed to be decisive and strong when she first arrived.  She didn't let the rain stop her and she seemed in control, but now the speaker describes her as weak.  This shift doesn't seem likely, which makes me think it was all a delusional interpretation of her actions.  He became paranoid after she said she loves him, which was likely because he was the one suffering from the disease that causes mania.

3.      He's turning inward instead of focusing on external observations which is apparent by the way he begins to say "made my heart swell" and "that moment she was mine, mine."

4.      The only time he goes back to being objective in this section is when he describes the way he strangles her, which to me seems like a way to distance himself from what he did.  He doesn't want to make it personal even though it is.  This is common in psychiatric problems.

                                                          iii.      The last third of the poem is where his perceptions are at the height of insanity.

1.      He tries to be objective but he keeps including bizarre understandings of those objective observations.

2.      He repeats how she felt no pain, but how does he know?  Seems like he's trying to convince himself.

3.      He describes his dead lover's eyes as laughing and her cheeks as blushing, like they were happy, but it seems to me that her eyes would be bulging from asphyxiation and her face would be red from him touching her.

4.      The language gets more metaphorical, much unlike the first third of the poem.

5.      The reader says God has not said a word, implying he was either waiting for God's approval/disapproval of what he did or that he thinks God must be okay with it since he hasn't said anything.

6.      We still know what's happening, despite the fact that we're getting the story from an insane and biased speaker.  The reader has to read between the lines, but it's possible.

 VIII.      Questions for the Class

a.       What were your first reactions to the poem?  For me, I was like OMG I can't believe that.  Why did he do that?? It wasn't until I did a close reading that I understood why, to an extent.

b.      Do you have any other interpretations of the poem?

c.       Do you think I missed anything in my interpretation?

d.      Vampirism?  Any possibility?  I feel like that's going a bit too far in analysis.

e.       The last three lines, "And thus we sit together now, / And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word!" How do these lines fit in with the rest of the poem for you?  He changes to the present tense.  I think he's suggesting that he's in a madhouse and there's a physical illusion of Porphyria with him.

f.       Why is her name Porphyria if he seems to be the one who is insane?  Maybe because she is the one that suffers from his illness.  He seems okay with it, like he's not in any pain, he's just insane.  However, she is the one who has to physically suffer.

Smirnov: "I'll shoot her like a chicken!  But what a woman! ... What a woman!  How she blushed, her eyes shone... she accepted my challenge!  To tell the truth, it was the first time in my life I've seen a woman like that..." (390).
            Anton Chekhov, The Bear: A Joke in One Act

This play was rather funny.  However, I think I would have liked it more if it were longer.  Obviously that would defeat the whole idea of it being a "Joke in One Act," but I would be able to appreciate it more.  

It's a common convention in literature for two people destined to be together at the end to hate each other at the beginning.  Such a relationship provides more drama and entertainment for the reader, therefore making it a successful convention that really never gets old.  However, having it happen in the span of eight pages made their relationship less believable.  I suppose that's acceptable in comedy, though, especially in the case of this play since Chekhov established it as a joke.


X Marks the Spot ... Sometimes.

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"Because writers of poems, plays, and stories are usually not systematic philosophers, it is not appropriate to go "message hunting" as though their works contained nothing but ideas" (120).
                Edgar V Roberts, Writing About Literature

I must confess that I often go "message hunting" when I probably shouldn't.  I didn't when I was younger, just reading books because I thought reading was fun.  However, in high school, my English teachers always instructed us to completely tear apart a piece of writing to root out the underlying ideas that weren't apparent on the surface.  Obviously, this is important at times, but sometimes those ideas just aren't there.  The writer really was just describing a character walking past a window, not suggesting a metaphorical comparison of the outside landscape to the life the character wishes she were living.  

Ever since then, I find myself overanalyzing a piece of fiction, something Roberts tells us not to do.  Nonetheless, I don't see anything wrong with that, as long as I still enjoy the reading process.  As long as I realize the improbability of the outlandish hunted messages I find, I think it's perfectly fine to do that.  I said in an earlier blog that while I agree that authors are not always intentionally making some sort of philosophical implication in every word they choose while writing, maybe they're still making a subconscious choice.  

It really doesn't matter, because when it comes down to it, the only thing important thing is the reader's interpretation.  Sometimes interpretation requires some "message hunting," so while I understand Roberts point, I only agree to an extent.  I think we need to go message hunting as long as we realize we won't always find buried treasure.


Jumping on the Bandwagon

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Several other students have blogged about J.'s name, and we've discussed it in class, but there's still something I can point out.

J. is recalling his memory of the John Henry legend:

"He ate the food in great inhalations (J. wondering from the summit of the Talcott Motor Lodge, who is that little boy down there in the classroom who shares his name, and where did they get that food.  He was born a slave.  His parents were Slaves.  Where did they get all that food?)" (138).
                        Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days

This part confused me because it didn't seem like John Henry was in a classroom in John's retelling of the legend.  I just pictured him to be in a little shack, my vision of his house.  I never mentioned this in class because I wasn't sure what to even say about it, because it also suggests the idea that J. is looking down on himself as a little boy, like he's standing outside his thoughts and actually visualizing them. Think Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past.

"She asked one last thing when they came down the mountain. When they came down the mountain she asked, what's the J. stand for? He told her" (389).

So even with the first section I quoted, we still don't really know what J.'s name is, and it's important that we don't.  I'm working on a theory that ties in my past idea that J. was a parallel for John Henry.  Maybe Whitehead wanted us to believe that was the case throughout the story until the end. By keeping J. as J., Whitehead makes John Henry seem larger than life in comparison - he gets a whole name while J. gets only an initial.  J. is just a man, whereas John Henry is an idealized man, destroying the parallel. This idea is so scatter-brained at the moment, so if anyone understands what I'm saying, please share your opinion or ask me questions so I can make it more logical.


Unaccepted Nonacceptance

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During Jess Orlowski's presentation for Maus, she mentioned Art's competition with his deceased brother, Richieu.  He never knew Richieu because he died during the Holocaust and Art was born afterwards, but he still felt like he needed to compete with him. Richieu died as a child, while he was still innocent, before he could make any real mistakes. Since that's not the case with Art, he felt his entire life that he could never earn the reverence his parents have for Richieu for him.

This is one of the themes for both Maus I and II. It seems like Art needs his father to accept him, and he tries to find a way to do that by writing these books. It's not that his father doesn't love him; it's just that Art feels like he can't fully be part of his world because he can never understand what he went through.

Jess Orlowski has two excellent blogs on Maus.

If anyone who reads my blog who isn't in my class, I highly suggest reading Maus and also Persepolis. I love historical graphic novels!


Portfolio 003

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I just realized how much easier this process would be if I made my portfolio as I go. I like to give summaries of all my entries, which I could easily do right after I write my blogs. Throughout the semester, I've kept track of my comments that I leave on other blogs and which of my blogs have received a lot of discussion, but I haven't done more than that. It would be so simple to keep a link to everything. I suppose this is one of those simple things I should have realized sooner, but didn't. D'oh!

Anyways, this semester is going so quickly and it's amazing that we're basically at the middle of November.  Portfolio 003, now commencing!


Coverage: I blogged for every required reading, as always, and did two additional blogs.  I tried to put extra effort into all of them because that's what I do.  I know Dr. Jerz says we only need to blog a few sentences, but I get so much more out of it when I do more than that because it makes me go deeper.  For this portfolio, though, I think I have maybe two blogs that were only one paragraph because I had a time constraint those days.

Dirty Rotten Symbolism - In this blog, I hypothesize that in his poem "Cargoes," John Masefield is criticizing the degradation of society over time.  Melissa Schwenk mentions this blog in hers, Passage of Time

Scope For Imagination - This blog reflects on chapter 8 of Edgar V. Roberts' book, Writing About Literature.  In it, I emphasize the importance of imagery in an author's writing.

Must Have More Historical Graphic Novels! - This entry focuses on the first four chapters of the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman.  I remark on the detail in his drawings and how they emotionally affect me more so than a typical historical account would.

Is He Eyeballing Me? - I was extremely impressed by Spiegelman's detail in his drawings, so I blogged about it even further in this blog.

Set the Symbolism For Dinner - In this entry, I reflect on chapter 6 of Writing About Literature.  I connect what I learned in the chapter with Robert Frost's poem, "Desert Places."

Masquerade!  Paper faces on parade... - This blog suggests that Poe was also implying the idea that death doesn't stop for beautiful people, in addition to rich people, in his short story, "The Masque of the Red Death."

Opposing Opin- Oh... Nevermind. - In this blog, I examine an editorial on climate changes.  I was confused about whether or not this was a "good" editorial, for lack of a better word, because it's much more factual than opinionated.  Dr. Jerz replied and cleared everything up, but I was confused at first.

Anned One More Mention - This entry is on chapter 9 of Writing About Literature.  In it, I provide a quote from Anne of Green Gables to exhibit excellent use of simile and metaphor in writing and how they bring the feelings so much closer to the reader.

(d/dx)(x^2) = Waterworks - This blog relates John Keats' poem, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" to personal experience with math class in high school.

Absence Makes the Heart... Sad - Shakespeare's poem, "Sonnet 30," has a rather ambiguous intended listener.  In this blog, I provide possible answers to the fate of the listener.

Of Golden Leaves and Furry Things - In this blog, I examine the different forms of symbolism in Katherine Mansfield's short story, "Miss Brill." 

Wiki Wiki Wack - This entry details my opinion on the usefulness of Chapter 18 of Writing About Literature, the chapter on writing a research paper.

Unfortunate, Not Ironic - After reading chapter 11 of Writing About Literature, on tone and irony, I examine Alanis Morissette's song "Irony" and criticize it for its lack of irony despite its title.

Mind Your Tone - This blog focuses on Langston Hughes' claim for equality in his poem, "Theme in English B."

Whitehead's Writing is a River - In this blog, I admire Whitehead's descriptive abilities in his book, John Henry Days, but suggest that I don't typically enjoy that sort of writing when reading with a time constraint. 

Resistance is Futile - This entry compares J. to John Henry in the book John Henry Days.

Let's Get Psychological, Psychological - In this entry, I examine the passage in which Pamela views the John Henry statue and suggest that she is projecting her opinion of herself onto it.

Extra Blog #1: Just For Fun - This is an additional blog linking to my intro lit project about Edgar Allen Poe's poem, "Annabel Lee."  I also provide video clips of the Disney animated short film, John Henry, as a way to compare the different representations of the legend.

Extra Blog #2: Unaccepted Nonacceptance - After reading Maus I, I had to read Maus II.  In this blog, I reflect on Jessica Orlowski's blog about her presentation of Maus and tie in my own opinion of the theme of the Maus books.


Depth: As I said in the Coverage section, I try to be as in-depth as possible with every blog.  The following blogs, however, show what I believe goes beyond my norm.

Dirty Rotten Symbolism - The reason I think this blog shows depth is because of the close analysis I do of each stanza of John Masefield's poem, "Cargoes."

Scope For Imagination - This blog shows depth because I reflect on my personal feels about the need for imagery, and how it is important in showing versus telling.  I also provide a quote from Anne of Green Gables that exhibits great imagery as an example for my peers.

Must Have More Historical Graphic Novels! - In this entry, I compare the styles of Maus and Persepolis and suggest that my peers read Persepolis as well.  After recommending Persepolis and examining the similarities between the two, I narrow my focus to Maus alone and explain the importance of the detail of the images and how the history is expressed so much more effectively in comic book form.

Is He Eyeballing Me? - This entry shows depth because I basically did a close reading of Spiegelman's detail in the drawing of eyes in Maus.

Masquerade!  Paper faces on parade... - In class, when we discussed Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "The Masque of the Red Death," everyone agreed that one of the morals of the story was that death doesn't avoid someone if that person was rich.  However, I noticed that Poe capitalizes beauty at one point and examine the idea that he's also making the claim that beauty doesn't protect you from death either.

Of Golden Leaves and Furry Things - This blog exhibits depth because I do a close reading of Mansfield's story, "Miss Brill," and examine the symbolism within it.  I analyze more than one symbol in order to gain a broader understanding of the story.

Whitehead's Writing is a River - This blog demonstrates depth because I provide several quotations as examples and look at them closely to exemplify Whitehead's use of imagery and metaphors. 

Resistance is Futile - In this entry, I examine the legend of John Henry and compare him to J. in John Henry Days.  I think it shows depth because I drew a parallel between two characters before that parallel was apparent, as it is later in the book.


Interaction: For every required reading and blog, I made sure to comment on at least two of my peers' blogs in order to participate in some interactive discussion.  The following blogs exhibit that interaction best.

Kayla Lesko, Cats art the bad guys, what a surprise - Kayla suggests that Spiegelman's artwork is not always balanced in its use of black and white.  I politely disagree with her, instead agreeing with Jess and Melissa Schwenk, and suggest that the unbalanced places are not that way because Spiegelman couldn't make them better, but because they're suppose to make the reader feel unbalanced.  It fits the theme of a Holocaust story.

Josie Rush, The black and white, cat and mouse, Jew and German truth.  - In her blog, Josie remarks on the honesty in Spiegelman's Maus.  I jump in the conversation between her, Melissa, Jess, Kayla, and Cody Naylor

Aja Hannah, Can You Imagine? Nope. - Aja states the fact that she believes John Masefield's poem, "Cargoes 1912," does not exhibit strong imagery.  Although others seemed to agree with her, I disagreed and explained why I felt this way.

Josie Rush, This Poem was Written Only For People Who Can Pronounce and Define Quinquereme - In the same vein as Aja's blog, I politely suggest to Josie that the poem is still worth reading because the meaning of the poem belongs to the reader.  She agrees, but expresses her opinion that the poem just wasn't enjoyable.

Josie Rush, Very Fictional Fiction - In this blog, Josie relates her opinion that Mansfield could have been more realistic in "Miss Brill."  Carissa Altizer and I both disagree, and Josie wraps up the conversation by explaining, in a different way, why she thinks Mansfield's story was unrealistic.

Kayla Lesko, Denial isn't just a River, it's a State of Mind - I joined a discussion with Melissa, Carissa, Josie, and Aja on Kayla's blog about the significance of the almond in Miss Brill's cake.

Melissa Schwenk, Cracking Facade - Melissa and Kayla suggest that Miss Brill doesn't know who she is, but Carissa and I defend her saying she knows who she is but feels like she isn't good enough.

Brooke Kuehn, You are What You Hear, You are What You See - I participated in a discussion on the way people learn prejudices and other such behaviors with Melissa, Jess, and Josie.

Jessie Krehlik, What is true? - In this entry, I participated in a discussion with Jessie, Dave Wilbanks, and Carissa about the same topic as Brooke's blog above.

Josie Rush, How to Die Laughing - Josie discusses the irony in the book John Henry Days and refers to my earlier blog on irony.  Everyone seems confused still about the actual definition of irony, so Dr. Jerz explains.  Everyone else remarks on the character of J. and I tried to reply to all of them.


Discussion: These next blogs, which have already been described in the Coverage (and possibly Depth) section, sparked a lot of discussion from my peers.  There were discussions on other blogs, but these are the best examples.

Must Have More Historical Graphic Novels! - This entry has so much interaction!  It really excited me, because this is the most discussion I've had all semester.  Kayla  commented first expressing her opinion on Spiegelman's illustrations in Maus.  Josie provided an opinion, which was similar to mine.  Melissa Schwenk agreed with the way the discussion was going, but said I showed her something she didn't originally see.  Jessica significantly contributed to the discussion by replying to everyone who had already replied.  Josie returned several times, and Aja and Dave added to the discussion.  I made sure to reply to everyone, and wrapped up the discussion.  The amount of comments made my little blogging heart all a-twitter. 

Unfortunate, Not Ironic - Because we seem to have a bit of confusion over what's ironic and what is simply unfortunate, this blog sparked a lot of discussion.  It was mostly between me and Josie, but Jess and Kayla also provided insight and questions about the definition of irony.

Whitehead's Writing is a River - In this entry, several people had opinions on Whitehead's use of metaphors and his overall writing style in John Henry Days.  Josie first commented leaving a remark similar to my original blog, as did Kayla.  Carissa agrees as well, but takes the discussion further by questioning J.'s actions in the section I quoted.  Josie returns to answer Carissa's question, and I, again, end the discussion by replying to everyone. 


Timeliness: I always did my reading on time, but sometimes fell a little behind in posting maybe three of my blogs.  However, the following were done in a timely manner.

Dirty Rotten Symbolism - Posted on October 13, 2009 at 9:03 AM.  Needed for class on Monday, October 19.

Scope For Imagination - Posted on October 13, 2009 at 9:04 AM.  Needed for class on Monday, October 19.

Must Have More Historical Graphic Novels - Posted on October 15, 2009 at 1:06 AM.  Needed for class on Friday, October 16.

Is He Eyeballing Me? - Posted on October 15, 2009 at 6:24 PM.  Needed for class on Monday, October 19.

Anned One More Mention - Posted on October 27, 2009 at 12:59 PM.  Needed for class on Wednesday, October 28.

(d/dx)(x^2) = Waterworks - Posted on October 27, 2009 at 1:09 PM.  Needed for class on Wednesday, October 28.

Unfortunate, Not Ironic - Posted on November 2, 2009 at 7:57 PM.  Needed for class on Wednesday, November 4.

Mind Your Tone - Posted on November 2, 2009 at 8:00 PM.  Needed for class on Wednesday, November 4.

Whitehead's Writing is a River - Posted on November 5, 2009 at 4:38 PM.  Needed for class on Friday, November 6.

Resistance is Futile - Posted on November 8, 2009 at 3:55 PM.  Needed for class on Monday, November 9.

Let's Get Psychological, Psychological - Posted on November 10, 2009 at 5:20 PM.  Needed for class on Wednesday, November 11.


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 comment on the following blogs:

Aja Hannah - You're Such a Pig!

Jess Orlowski, Mighty Maus

Dave Wilbanks, Framed Comic Frames

Cody Naylor, Hearing through Yiddish... Seeing in Ink

Brooke Kuehn, A Coping Method?

Melissa Schwenk, Bunker Down

Josie Rush, This Poem was Written Only For People Who Can Pronounce and Define Quinquereme

Kayla Lesko, Character Depth? Where?

Kayla Lesko, Knock Knock, It's Death Again

Brooke Kuehn, It's Common Sense People

Dianna Griffin, Being Proud of Something You Actually Worked For

Brooke Kuehn, Identical or the Same?

Jessie Krehlik, Remember Me

Kayla Lesko, Whatever Works For You

Carissa Altizer, Lost in a Library and Looking for a Topic

Aja Hannah, The Research Essay Review

Kayla Lesko, Sarcasm Doesn't Work on the Internet

Carissa Altizer, I Have a Theory and I Want to Know Yours!

Aja Hannah, No Shortage

The Comment Grande - I left long, insightful comments on the following blogs, with many of them linking to other websites and blogs:

Aja Hannah, Can You Imagine? Nope.

Melissa Schwenk, Bunker Down

Josie Rush, Very Fictional Fiction

Brooke Kuehn, You are What You Hear, You are What You See

Jessie Krehlik, What is true?

Josie Rush, How to Die Laughing

The Comment Informative - The following blogs were ones in which I left a comment showing my knowledge of a specific subject:

Aja Hannah, You're Such a Pig!

Carissa Altizer, I Sigh My Lack of Brain

The Link Gracious - In my comments on these blogs, and in some of my own blog entries, I link to the blogs of other students.

Karyssa Blair, Dirty Rotten Symbolism

Karyssa Blair, Must Have More Historical Graphic Novels!

David Wilbanks, Framed Comic Frames

Brooke Kuehn, A Coping Method?

Karyssa Blair, Let's Get Psychological, Psychological

Karyssa Blair, Unaccepted Nonacceptance

Wildcard: This blog entry best represents me as a blogger:

Must Have More Historical Graphic Novels!

Just For Fun

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This post consists of videos I wanted to include earlier, but didn't.  The first is a group project from last year's Intro Lit class. It is a sock puppet interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee." Also part of the group: Kayla Lesko, Jed Fetterman, and Christina Celona.

The next two videos are from Disney's short animated film, John Henry. This was how I knew of the legend of John Henry before reading Colson Whiehead's John Henry Days. I think it's interesting to analyze how Disney portrays things, as we did earlier in the year.

Part 1

Part 2

Let's Get Psychological, Psychological

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"Pamela wonders, is he about to strike or just finished.  Sure of his next blow or pulling back from a swing, sure of the blow just dealt, gauging the disappearance of the drill into the rock.  She can't fix him.  He is open to interpretation.  Talking out both sides of his mouth.  You hear what you want to hear.  The shutter clicks and fixes this moment.  

She catches herself.  This is an artist's rendering.  She is confusing the statue before her with the man, and the man with her conception of the man" (263).
                    Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days

In this section of the story, it seems like Pamela is analyzing herself, or reflecting on life in general, by observing the statue of John Henry.  At this point in the novel, she has decided she is not going to sell the John Henry memorabilia that always made her jealous growing up.  As Jess and Josie discussed in Josie's blog, and we discussed in class, Pamela's father's collection is a source of pride for her in the small town of Talcott.  The above quote, although she's talking about John Henry, seems to reflect Pamela's current emotional state, like she's projecting her feelings onto those of the statue, were it alive.

She's not sure where she is at the moment.  Is she going to keep something she hates that costs her money, or has she already made the decision to keep it just because of pride?  "Sure of his next blow or pulling back from a swing? ... She can't fix him." She's still unsure and she's "talking out both sides of [her] mouth."  The narrator says that Pamela realizes she's analyzing the statue by viewing it as the actual man, and more importantly, with a biased analysis based on her opinion of that man.  

Because of this admittance, I think Whitehead wants the reader to know that this section is important in reflecting Pamela's character, not her opinion of John Henry.  I think it also reflects the motives of all of the characters, which, as Josie pointed out in her previously linked blog, is still unsure to the reader.  However, because of this part, I feel like Whitehead is hinting that their motives will eventually be clear.


Resistance is Futile

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"Mrs. Goodwin, why did he die at the end?  Mrs. Goodwin, if he beat the steam engine, why did he have to die?  Did he win or lose?" (142).
                Colson Whithead, John Henry Days

In class on Friday, Dr. Jerz said that the legend of John Henry has become a story that some African Americans see as a negative reminder of the past.  (Please, correct me if my memory is wrong about this).  As Whitehead suggests above, it is ambiguous as to whether or not John Henry was victorious in his fight against the steam-powered hammer.  While he did finish more quickly than his technological opponent, he perished in the end.  The fact that the story focuses on an African American man's victory in a challenge over unskilled labor, a victory that resulted in the man's death, might suggest the idea that African Americans cannot prevail in physical challenges, which in academia are considered to be of less difficulty than intellectual challenges.  When you interpret the story this way, the legend of John Henry does seem to have a racist implication.

However, that's not how I see it.  To me, John Henry was a martyr for the cause of human perseverance over technology.  This interpretation is not about race whatsoever, but about humanity in general.  I think Whitehead uses the legend of John Henry as an allegory to newspaper journalists at the time in which the story takes place.

"J. hasn't worked for the web before but knew it was only a matter of time; new media is welfare for the middle class.  A year ago the web didn't exist, and now J. has several hitherto unemployable acquaintances who were now picking up steady paychecks because of it" (19).

J., a freelance journalist for paper newspapers, must adjust to the introduction of a new form of media, just like the railroad workers had to find a way to retain an occupation despite the introduction of a new cost-effective means for building railroads.  Of course, this is just speculation at this point, but it seems like the focus of this book is on the plight of the journalists rather than the struggle of John Henry.

You get a virtual cookie if you understand my title.


Whitehead's Writing is a River...

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... it goes on (seemingly) forever, without end.

I don't know how I feel about this book yet.  I like to reserve judgment until after I've finished something, because there can always be some sort of turning moment in the end that really wins me over.  As of right now, I'm sort of apathetic towards it.  

Whitehead's use of description is impressive, especially the metaphors he utilizes throughout the book (well, I assume it will be throughout the book).  

"Dave Brown's byline is a roach ... The organism traveled to new publishing empires by stowing away in the cargo holds of spectacle, a survival instinct that served it well ... This moist, expanding media proved an excetionally favorable environment for the byline and its appearances grew at an exponential rate.  It has been observed crawling above a prison interview with Sirhan Sirhan in Playboy and lazily breeding in the New York Times during the heyday of singer-songwriters" (27).
                    Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days

The level of description in this passage makes everything seem more real to me.  Not only does this metaphor suggest that Brown's work is often published in well-to-do newspapers, unlike J.'s articles, it also implies the fact that J. dislikes Brown, which we learn later is true when J. reflects on Brown's comparison of him with Bobby Figgis.  Because he didn't just say "Brown gets a lot of jobs and I don't like him," and related the man to a disgusting insect, I was able to feel his disdain so much more.

However, I sometimes feel like his descriptions get a little out of hand.

"This little boy in bright green robot gear, merchandise from whatever kids' show is big now, contemplates the stray receipt just as intently as J. from across the walkway in the opposing camp of Gate 21, flight 702 to Houston.  He reckons the boy is waiting for one of the travelers to step on it, to relish that dinosaur foot carnage, and when this image occurs to J. - the receipt mangled by designer sneaker tread or so smudged that it would be useless to him - he immediately evacuates the plastic bucket seat, strides confidently out into the walkway with nary a guilty twitch, and after one quick glance back to make sure that no one is stealing his stuff, he bends down and grips the lonesome shaving between his thumb and index finger as gingerly as an entomologist stooping for a rare moth.  No one raises a ruckus.  The little boy sneers at him and performs a baroque martial arts move" (10).

It's not so much the descriptions that are the problem, but the fact that Whitehead holds on to them for so long.  The bolded lines are just one sentence.  I suppose they added to the characterization of J., so I'm not complaining since it showed more insight into J.'s character.  However, in sections like this, I sort of lost what was happening.  This isn't a complaint in Whitehead's writing style, just more of an observation of my own reading preferences.


Mind Your Tone

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"As I learn from you, / I guess you learn from me - / although you're older - and white -
and somewhat more free" (37-40).

In his Langston Hughes' poem, "Theme for English B," the message he is trying to get across is clearly about the need for equality amongst all races.  The speaker details where he's from, the historically black neighborhood of the time of which he's familiar, and then makes references to the typically classified white culture of the time - of which he also seems familiar.  By combining aspects of both cultures, and speaking with the serious/educated tone he uses, Hughes is able to successfully express the reason equality should exist.  The speaker, the "only colored man in [his] class" (10), is able to learn in his classroom, and feels like others can learn from him.  Why couldn't this be said for everyone?


Unfortunate, Not Ironic

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"In expressing an idea ironically, writers pay the greatest compliment to their audience, for they assume that readers have sufficient intelligence and skill to discover the real meaning of quizzical or ambiguous statements and situations" (167).
                -Edgar V. Roberts, Writing About Literature

It's even more of an ego-booster to the reader if she realizes the writer incorrectly labeled something as being ironic.  This is the case with Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic," which is only ironic in the sense that it's called "Ironic" but few of the lyrics are actually contradictory.

"It's a black fly in your chardonnay / ... And isn't it ironic, don't you think?" (3, 5).

Having a black fly in your chardonnay is not ironic.  I suppose it would be unfortunate, but there is nothing contradictory about that line.

However, the line "It's a death row pardon two minutes too late" (4) does show irony - cosmic irony, to be exact.  It shows "the chasm between what we hope for or expect and what actually happens" (Roberts, 168), as situational irony is supposed to do.  To go beyond that, it implies the idea that "the universe is indifferent to the [individual]" (169).


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