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March 31, 2006

Appendix cited

Roberts, Appendix A -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

"Questions such as these indicate that criticism is concerned not only with reading and interpreting stories, poems, and plays but also with establishing theoretical understanding" (299).

I've read and reread the explanations of each of the various established criticisms, but I find I still possess a fair amount of confusion as to what each means. It may just take some practice before the lightbulb glows and I finally "get it".

I will say the New Critical/Formalist criticism seems to be very close to what we try to do in the course of our class discussions about a particular work.

Posted by MattHampton at 7:35 PM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2006

Pairaguys Lost

O'Connor, ''The Artificial Nigger'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“They stood gazing at the artificial Negro as if they were faced with some great mystery, some monument to another’s victory that brought them together in their common defeat. They could both feel it dissolving their differences like an action of mercy” (125).

So they both suffered a defeat. Mr. Head, in addition to his sense of direction, lost his dignity and self-respect, when he denied Nelson was his grandson. He greatly regretted it almost immediately after he did it. Nelson too suffered chinks in his armor. He lost his feelings of complete independence, his feelings of equality to Mr. Head as he had to rely on him more than once. Nelson also lost the feeling that the city was the beautiful place of his imagination.

In this story, O’Connor employs a time-tested strategy in which the author defines the characters’ conflicts and has them travel to a remote location (neutral territory) to resolve their differences. I was first made aware of this technique years ago when I read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the “Tempest”, but we also see this employed by FSF when the East/West Egg gang travels into the city and rents the hotel room before having their defining argument. To a lesser degree, I think we see this when Elmer Rice placed Zero and Daisy in the Elysian Fields.

I got the sense Mr. Head and Nelson became round characters at the end of the story because the trip to the city changed them both in some important ways. I had the hope Nelson would be less arrogant and Mr. Head more willing to admit his vulnerability to the boy. Maybe they’d get along better, lean more on each other from this point forward. The events of the trip stripped away the facades they both had erected and their true selves were exposed.

Posted by MattHampton at 9:28 AM | Comments (3)

March 24, 2006

A temple rent asunder

O'Connor, '''A Temple of the Holy Ghost'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

"Sister Perpetua said they were to say, 'Stop sir! I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost!' and that would put an end to it .... Her mother didn't laugh at what they had said. 'I think you girls are pretty silly,' she said. 'After all, that's what you are -- Temples of the Holy Ghost.'"

This is the sort of idealistic advice one might expect from a nun, who most likely was never with a man herself, so she is therefore no real expert on the matter. I’m leaning toward the belief that uttering that phrase in the height of a teen’s passion will do no good at all. That is, if they can think clearly enough at the time to say it.

Just as the nun is no expert, neither are the 14-year-olds. The 12-year-old too, displays her ignorance about birth when she tries to bait the other girls with a description of a rabbit having a litter.

It is perhaps important to remember temples can be torn down and rebuilt numerous times, as history dictates. I thought that was interesting when the carnival freak reveals his physical malformation to the audience, making him a damaged or poorly-constructed temple?

The Holy Ghost phrase, I think is derived from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 in which Paul wrote the following: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (NIV). The line in the KJV is similar with an extra "ye" and "thou", but the message is the same and the KJV uses "Holy Ghost" not "Holy Spirit."

The explanation I read suggested that Paul meant Christ’s death freed us from sin, but that action also obligates us to his service. So we were “bought at a price”. Therefore, since our bodies no longer completely belong to us, the violation of our bodies also violates the manner in which God wants us to live.

Before I forget, here’s a great web site to find Bible passages: www.biblegateway.com. On it, you can search by key words, search by chapter and verse and other ways all in any of a number of different versions of the Bible. It’s proven to be a decent quick reference if anyone is stumped by the origin of a quote.

Posted by MattHampton at 9:57 AM | Comments (3)

March 23, 2006

The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree

O'Connor, ''A Stroke of Good Fortune'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“Thirty-four wasn’t old, wasn’t any age at all. She remembered her mother at thirty-four – she had looked like a puckered-up old yellow apple, sour, she had always looked sour, she had always looked like the wasn’t satisfied with anything” (66).

I didn’t blog earlier, but I have to admit the class discussion on Tuesday helped me a great deal. Thanks everyone.

I also noted a couple of interesting things. In the above passage is her summation of her mom, but it seems to me that Ruby isn’t satisfied with anything either. Our class discussion seemed to move toward that consensus. Her mom had eight children, four of them died, but she still continued to have children. My comment was she saw something in the value of children that Ruby doesn’t recognize.

We could argue that Ruby doesn’t recognize a lot since she doesn’t even recognize the outward signs of her own pregnancy, brought on by the (possibly?) purposeful actions of Bill Hill, who maybe saw the results of his handiwork even more quickly that Ruby did.

Ruby remembers her mother turned prematurely gray and Ruby automatically associated that with giving birth to eight children. But Ruby notes Rufus also looks prematurely old. “He looked old too. He looked older than she did and he was fourteen years younger” (67).

Rufus had recently returned from the war and I’ve hear it independently mentioned many times that that traumatic experiences like that give the appearance that a person has aged. (Incidentally, I think Nick Carraway and Gatsby should have shown more signs of their “war scars”. They were too unaffected to suit me. In can only guess FSF chose to overlook that since it would possibly have impeded everything else he wanted to do in The Great Gatsby.)

So has Ruby had the easier life up to this point? Her self-assessment was “She was extremely young looking for her age” (67). So that indicates to me she’s maybe lead a stress-free life so far, unlike her mother (four dead children) and her brother (war veteran), both of whom she derides for one thing or another. As you may agree, that is all changing with her pregnancy (extra weight, both physically and figuratively).

Ruby wants to move to a subdivision, an area where everyone outside the housing development is excluded. It's a self-sustaining area with its grocery store and other necessary facilities nearby. So she wants to be part of a more exclusive group. That seems to be her long-range goal. Perhaps this pregnancy will allow her to finally achieve that, to leave Pitman, her mother and her brother even farther behind. Maybe she'll even go so far as to disavow knowledge of their existence, since their memories seem to be partly repulsive to her.

Incidentally after reading Jennifer DiFulvio’s blog about the symbolism in the story, I got to thinking. Each flight of steps was 28 stairs, a number normally associated as the average length of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Ruby also lived on the fourth floor, a number equal to the months her friend, Laverne, speculated was the time Bill Hill stopped using contraceptive measures. So each day, she has to relive every step of those four months, if she leaves the building. Interesting ...

Finally, she describes her mother as shrivled up like a yellow apple. The fruit of an apple is actually the ovary. And at the center are the seeds, each with the potential to grow a new tree. So an apple was an apt comparison.

Posted by MattHampton at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2006

Raising Kane

Demonstrative Research Essay -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

The essay, while verbose, contains no research. The only work cited is the movie itself, so the entire essay is the writer's opinion with no supporting evidence. Secondly, we agreed in class the thesis statement was deemphasized.

In addition to the lack of quotes from other sources (I don't think the writer even quotes the movie, save the statement "Rosebud") we decided he could have wittled it down by half. There were just too many points for a no-research, research paper.

Citizen Kane was is a movie that to this day receives critical acclaim. I find it hard to believe the writer could not locate some critical essay about it. Barring that, he could have compared to other Orson Welles movies, like The Third Man, for one example. He did none of it, taking the easy way out.

This essay might have been good enough for a film course, but we agreed it wasn't enough to fly in our class.

Posted by MattHampton at 1:46 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2006

Lady and the Tramp

O'Connor, ''The Life You Save May Be Your Own'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

Have you ever seen a skit in a movie or T.V. show where the used car salesman and the buyer, both smoothies in their own right, haggle over a car and each is trying to get the upper hand in the negotiations and both can sense the desperation in the other?

Well, I got the feeling Lucynell was the car in this case, sort of.

Shiftless keys on that car right away. He spots it under the tree on page 49. On page 52 the old woman asks him flatly "Are you married or are you single?" So he wants the car and she wants her daughter to marry someone, maybe to place the responsibility for her care on someone else's shoulders, for example.

The negotiations begin, casually at first and in spurts. In the meantime, he fixes the car, the roof, teaches Lucynell to say "bird." During that time the old woman keeps bringing up the subject of matrimony, like a car salesman feeling out his customer. Shiftless too is a salesman, so he holds her at arm's length and dances around the old woman's questions until after he fixes the car.

The dealmaking heats up on page 56, when they drop the pretenses and talk straight to each other. Shiftless senses the woman's desperation, agrees to marry Lucynell and they haggle over the price of a weekend trip 57-58. One can almost sense the auctioneer's gavel come down.

So it's obvious both of them got something out of the deal. I think I saw on someone else's blog the suggestion that they used each other. That may not be too far from the truth. I think they (Shiftlet and the old woman) spotted an opportunity.

Part of me wants to say the old woman knew who she was dealing with: "she had never seen Mr. Shiftlet before, she could tell even from a distance, that he was a tramp and no one to be afraid of."

He was literally a one-armed bandit, wasn't he? I found it more than chance that after Shiftlet asks the Lord to "Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!" (62) that a storm breaks loose and starts pelting his car with rain.

Another clever line: "He took her from heaven and giver to me and I left her." (62) This was Shiftlet talking about his own mother to the hitchhiker, but it could also easily describe what Shiftlet did to Lucynell, who was referred to more than once as an angel.

Posted by MattHampton at 1:02 AM | Comments (0)

Great Googly-Moogly

Roberts, Ch 18 -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

I liked Robert's mention of scholar.google.com.(263) I will definitely have to try that one out sometime.

The problem you get with conventional search engines it that you have to sift through lot of garbage before you find that half-eaten Big Mac. But I digress.

A search engine that I've used to some effect has been www.vivisimo.com. It's a clustering engine that takes all the responses to your search and breaks them down into more specific categories.

I have found Vivisimo is more to the point than Google, which gives you all the responses in a heap and leaves you to sift through them.

I read an article the other day that Microsoft is constructing an engine it hopes will compete with Google and Yahoo. See the sort of attention an IPO and a more than $300 per-share price will get you?

As for the note cards, I agree they're the easiest to organize. I can also appreciate the structure Roberts suggests with his note-taking system, though I think it is a bit too detailed for me at this point. Were I to use it, I'd probably dilute it a bit.

But if you're going to use Google or Yahoo, I think you have to seriously question the validity of the information you get. I think we discussed that briefly in class.

Posted by MattHampton at 12:11 AM | Comments (1)

March 6, 2006

Bevel the baptized

O'Connor, ''The River'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“’If I baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life. Do you want that?’
‘Yes,’ the child said, and thought I won’t go back to the apartment then, I’ll go under the river.
‘You won’t be the same again,’ the preacher said. ‘You’ll count.’” (37-38)

“Very slowly, his expression changed as if he were gradually seeing appear what he didn’t know he’d been looking for. Then all of a sudden he knew what he wanted to do.” (43)

“Then he left the apartment and caught the car at the corner. He hadn’t taken a suitcase because there was nothing from there he wanted to keep.” (43-44)

“He intended not to fool with preachers any more but to baptize himself and to keep on going this time until he found the Kingdom of Christ in the river.” (45)

I chose these lines as examples of Harry’s growing resoluteness that he didn’t like his own home and wanted to go to a place where he would “count.”
To bolster the divide between Harry and his parents, O’Connor writes lines like “’Tell me’ she whispered and her bitter breath covered his face.” (41)

Not just bad breath, but “bitter breath” as though it’s full of malice. What a word choice! So simple yet very effective! Not only that, but when his mom utters those lines, she has him by the shirt, so the scene has the feel of an interrogation, rather than a simple question.

I also liked “The birds revolved downward and dropped lightly in the top of the highest pine and sat hunch-shouldered as if they were supporting the sky.” (35) What an image! I wish I could think of lines like that.

Furthermore, did anyone notice that when Harry heads back to the river on his own, (pg 44 onward) that O’Connor refers to him as Bevel?

Harry died, presumably, but once he decided he was going somewhere “all his fury and fear left him.” (46) And in doing so, Harry believed he was finally headed to a place where he’d count. So in an odd way, did a healing take place after all?

Posted by MattHampton at 1:04 AM | Comments (2)

March 4, 2006

They should've gone to Tennessee

"Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" (pg. 21-22)

That line was the last bit of persuasion the grandmother tried in order to talk her way out of clutches of the Misfit. I found it unnerving that she continued to try to negotiate her own release even as her son, his wife and the three children were being summarily executed in the woods behind her. She behaved as though if she ignored it, it would go away.

I found it interesting the only two characters who weren't mentioned by name were "the grandmother" and "the Misfit." Given the periodic mention of the Misfit's prison escape, the fact they were heading in the same general direction, it was nearly a given the family and the Misfit would cross paths.

The grandmother clung to a set of values from a different period of time - when she was younger and men behaved like "Southern gentlemen" and would show deference to ladies. Other actions also indicated her mindset: she very casually referred to a black boy by using a racial epithet. I pictured her doing so with a hint of romanticism or nostalgia in her voice. The way she dressed was a throwback from the clothing the rest of the family wore.

She even made a joke about "Gone with the Wind." One of the oft-quoted lines from that story was Scarlett O'Hara remarking how she always depended upon the kindness of strangers. It was of course a stranger who showed them no mercy at all, perhaps a sign those values didn't hold true.

With her set of archaic values, it occurred to me the grandmother was also a "misfit" if one takes the word literally. She didn't view the world around her in contemporary terms.

But even as the Misfit and his cronies - including one named Bobby Lee (Robert E. Lee) - were killing the family, it was all done so civilly. Bailey's wife even said "thank you" when she knew she, her daughter and the baby were being led to their deaths.

I was confounded too, that the last remark Bailey made before he disappeared from sight into the woods was to call to his "mama". Why on earth would he not call to his wife? Strange that a married man with three children would have a relationship with his mom that supercedes that which he has with his wife.

The grandmother's last comments seemed to be aimed at trying to convince the Misfit that he came from a "good family", that he was "not common" and for that reason, he should be some sort of Southern gentleman and cease his barbaric behavior.

Posted by MattHampton at 4:35 PM | Comments (3)