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April 26, 2006

Oral hygiene

Formal Oral Presentations -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)


Thanks for all the help and the comments as I try to clean up the mess I've made of this paper. I’ve had a difficult time with this paper, which is new to me because there was a different feel to my struggle this time. But as I said, I think I’m working out the wrinkles.

Your comments are helpful and if you think I can return the favor, let me know. Special kudos to Jennifer D. and Chris U. The former for agreeing with me when we spoke about my first draft weaknesses (since I think that conversation made me read Roberts again and finally the lights went on in the house), and the latter for going a step further in class with the similarities between Joy/Hulga and Manley Pointer. Chris, I think I can use that and it’ll be all your fault.

When this class is finished, I'm not going to miss the late nights, the stress, the constant deadlines and time away from my kiddos, but I probably will be nostalgic enough to miss the class discussions. They've been the most fruitful I've ever experienced in a literature class. It seems the books have had a little something for everyone and our class has consisted of people who haven't been shy about speaking their minds.

Thanks again.


Posted by MattHampton at 10:46 AM | Comments (2)

April 25, 2006

Achievable goals for Paper III

Formal Oral Presentations -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

I’ve had some difficulty with this last paper, no doubt, but I finally think I’m on the right track. However in my oral presentation, I wanted to include some goals, not only for this paper, but also to outline what I hoped to take from this class, once it’s over.

By writing these, I identified my own weaknesses and they represent a type of check list. Without reviewing the course objectives that were in the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, I’d like to think these goals would compare favorably.

These are somewhat broad, but if a person wanted to narrow their focus, it would be something fairly easy to do.

1. Learn to write a paper from one of the perspectives in Roberts’ book. I have always been able to write a thesis and support it, but writing from a critical perspective has been my problem, no doubt about it.

2. Learn solid ways to construct an argument, that is, the ways to argue in favor and against a thesis.

3. Learn techniques to find the research I need to put a critical paper together. I’ve relied on books from the library stacks, but I’ve had trouble locating scholarly journal articles from which I can draw quotes and information. Perhaps the reason for this is some of the arguments I’m trying to make are obscure enough that they haven’t been covered by a lot of scholarly publications.

4. To be able to look at a series of work by an author, analyze and remove the ideas I need, assess that information and then possess the ability to recognize a critical perspective from which I can write.

5. Obtain the grade I want for that paper. Having said that, getting the grade would be a hollow achievement if the above objectives weren’t met (and I knew it). There have been times when I was pleasantly surprised by the grades I’ve received and wondered to myself if I truly deserved a grade that high. But that’s a secret I can probably live with, ha-ha!

Posted by MattHampton at 11:43 PM | Comments (2)

April 24, 2006

Being put to the test

Roberts, Ch.17 -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“A major cause of low exam grades is that students often do not answer the questions asked” (288).

This, I can understand. If I can apply Roberts to my efforts on Paper 3, I find I want to revisit my thesis a bit and make sure what I’ve been trying to determine fits the statement I made. Sure, I can introduce the antithesis, but naturally I want my own argument to be the strongest it can be, so I have to answer my own questions: What in essence is my statement saying? Am I sticking to that idea in my argument? If there’s a problem, do I need to tweak or fundamentally change my thesis, or do I simply need to rewrite the argument to be more concise?

I don’t think I’m that far off, truth be told. That doesn’t mean I’m happy with what I’ve got. Sometimes, we have to write something the best we’re able when we’re not given a lot to go on or a topic we don’t like. Some subjects lend themselves to arguments, and some, like Flannery O’Connor (in my case) are a tough nut to crack.

But if I can whittle my focus to a few key objectives then I can narrow my efforts. And as I wring my hands over this, I need to cut myself a little slack and things will operate more smoothly.

I also agree with Roberts that preparedness is an advantage. Even if you can’t think like the fellow making the test, at least you know you’ve done all that you could do to prepare and the confidence that comes with it is worth a few points when all is said and done. I’ve always maintained if you can take a test with a confident air about you, then you’ll perform better. It’s when I’ve been all balled up inside that I’ve blanked out when the test was handed to me.

Having said that, I might humbly offer as test questions: “In what ways might one suggest Flannery O’Connor uses her main characters?” “Do Flannery O’Connor’s main characters learn ultimate lessons at the ends of her stories or is her intended target only the reader?” “What might you suggest is a reason Flannery O’Connor seems to end her stories before a lot of closure takes place?” “If there is a common thread running through O’Connor’s stories, what might that be?” “Select a main character from one of O’Connor’s stories in A Good Man is Hard to Find and detail that character’s motivation in the story.” “Write a short comparison/contrast essay about two of the authors we’ve covered this semester. Offer some examples from their stories to support the points you’ve made.”

Posted by MattHampton at 10:17 AM | Comments (2)

April 23, 2006

General disorder: a late encounter with blogging

O'Connor, ''A Late Encounter with the Enemy'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“She meant to stand on that platform in August with the General sitting in his wheel chair on the stage behind her and she meant to hold her head very high as if she were saying, ‘See him! See him! My kin, all you upstarts! Glorious upright old man standing for the old traditions! Dignity! Honor! Courage! See him!’” (154).

In a touch if irony, by forcibly putting him on the stage O’Connor shows us Sally doesn’t stand for those virtues herself. I agree with Megan that the general is a prop. In fact, what is a sash, but an ornament, not functional for any reason, merely eye-catching.

Other than watching parades, the general is otherwise useless and somewhat senile. In fact, the only worthwhile memory he has is presiding over a “premiere” in Atlanta. Incidentally, that’s the second time I’ve seen that word used. FSF used it when Jordan Baker described Daisy Fay in Louisville, saying at one point she had a premiere, which I take to be an archaic expression for a party of some sort in which the host gets the honor of holding it. I’ve never heard it used like that except in these two stories so maybe it’s a southern expression. I’ll have to look into it now that my curiosity is piqued.

Sally, tries to use the general as a tool to gain some sort of revenge on the vague “they” who force her to attend summer classes in order to get her licensure. In her view, her relation to the general will make her seem more aristocratic than, the other “commoners”. This, like we see in the girl in “Temple of the Holy Ghost” and some of O’Connor’s other characters, is maybe the sin of pride?

So by placing the frail general on stage she ultimately is the catalyst in his death.

I had little reaction to this story other than I figured, due to the foreshadowing Megan mentioned, the general was going to die. O’Connor, as she’s apt to do, leaves us to guess at Sally Poker’s reaction, the same way she leaves us without knowing the reaction of Bevel Ashfield’s parents after his drowning. I can’t help but think were she to continue we’d learn a lot more about the characters by those reactions. But that’s her style. I think after she exhibits the point she wants to prove, she likes to end it. Few of the stories in this book end so completely.

Posted by MattHampton at 9:43 AM | Comments (2)

Aww shucks, it's nothing

O'Connor, '''Good Country People'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“’Science, on the other hand, has to assert its soberness and seriousness afresh and declare that it is concerned solely with what-is. Nothing – how can it be for science anything but a horror and a phantasm? If science is right, then one thing stands firm: science wishes to know nothing of Nothing. Such is after all the strictly scientific approach to Nothing. We know it by wishing to know nothing of Nothing’” (175).

This passage is interesting for a couple of reasons. O’Connor capitalizes the “N” in some cases and not in others. This is sort of the way we use the word “god” in the generic sense, but when we write of Christ’s father, we capitalize the G in God.

That passage says science is concerned with what-is or that which exists. Nothing is the absence of something or “that which does not exist.” So if science is right then it wishes to know nothing of “that which does not exist.” Such is after all the scientific approach to “that which does not exist.”

Does this mean God? Is O’Connor trying to send a message? Especially when Manley Pointer (great innuendo) says “’You just a while ago said you didn’t believe in nothing. I thought you was some girl!’” (193). And on page 194 he yells, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” It’s just an interest reoccurrence of the word “nothing.”

When Pointer stalks off with Hulga’s wooden leg - the aspect Pointer said made her different – then he leaves her with (you guessed it) … nothing.

Posted by MattHampton at 12:48 AM | Comments (1)

April 19, 2006

History lesson

McBride, The Color of Water (1996) -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“As she revealed the facts of her life I felt helpless, like I was watching her die and be reborn again (yet their was a cleansing element, too), because after years of hiding, she opened up and began to talk about the past, and as she did so, I was the one who wanted to run for cover. I can’t describe what a shock it was to hear words like ‘Tateh’ and ‘rov’ and ‘shiva’ and ‘Bubeh’ coming from Mommy’s mouth as she sat at the kitchen table in her Ewing home” (269).

Indeed it would be a surprise to have to reconstruct the image you had of your mother and your self-image by default. As she recited her history, the added information would have completely recast his ideas of what his mother, his siblings and he was like. What a revision.

I think I want to say I didn’t see a huge amount of symbolism in this story, perhaps since it was a personal account of his mother’s history as seen through his eyes. McBride didn’t try to turn his mother into anything more than what she was. He seemed content to present the situations and allow us to make our own assessments, which probably turned out to be favorable in the end.

Maybe that’s why I found the book enjoyable – I didn’t feel laden with several layers of images or the responsibility to dig through them. This one was more of a page turner. It’s also our first non-fiction, discounting the poetry we’ve read. McBride, Dr. Jerz pointed out, probably edited his words to make his mother more favorable than not; however, he isn’t the god of his own creations, as was Elmer Rice, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Flannery O’Connor.

Having said that, maybe one could write a paper from an archetypical perspective, comparing Mommy to Mameh and Bubeh and how they put their children first, despite troubling circumstances. James McBride (I think Dr. Jerz mentioned this) was on a quest to find himself, so he said, and to do that he had to understand his mom to a greater degree. Mommy was on a quest to find happiness, love and all the other things she lacked in Suffolk, Va. I also think there’s material there for a psychoanalytical criticism or perhaps an economic determinist paper, given the overtones of the class differences between McBride and his white peers.

Posted by MattHampton at 10:57 AM | Comments (3)

April 18, 2006

Water, water everywhere

McBride, The Color of Water (1996) -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“What color is God’s spirit?”
“It doesn’t have a color,” she said. “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color” (51).

I found it interesting she used that analogy, since water is a symbol of life and life-giving.

I also really liked the way the author used the word “Mommy” in each case, even when he obviously gets older and would typically grow out of it. I think it shows A) his love for his mother and B) his dependency upon her as a child that he never really (up to this point) seems to lose.

What a powerful story. Incredible what she went through, achieved, especially given the loveless and abusive circumstances in her own childhood.

I once went to a service as a non-denominational church in the area where one of Jimmy Swaggart’s sons, Donnie, was delivering a sermon. I’m a Methodist and while were not incredibly formal, we’re not the jump in the aisles sort of people either. We’re probably right in the middle somewhere.

Anyway Swaggart’s sermon was interesting for me and a bit shocking as he ran up and down the aisles and whipped everyone into a religious fervor. His sermon involved the idea of original sin, which has come in handy when reading Flannery O’Connor.

But he also said something that stuck with me: the proof of Christ’s existence is in changed lives. Lives like Rachel in The Color of Water. It is sometimes awe-inspiring what belief in God can do to people. It can cause incredible tragedy if one takes on religious zealotry in the wrong sense, but it can also be absolutely beautiful given the right circumstances. God or belief in him can be life-giving, like water.

So the comparison is absolutely appropriate and reaffirming, to me.

Posted by MattHampton at 9:25 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2006

Lang's 10 hues

Hughes and Frost -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

In Time of Silver Rain

In the time of silver rain
The earth
Puts forth new life again
Green grasses grow
And flowers life their heads,
And over all the plain
The wonder spreads
Of life,
Of life
Of life!”
In time of silver rain
The butterflies
Lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry,
And trees put forth
New leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky
As down the roadway
Passing boys and girls
Go singing too
In time of silver rain
When spring
And life
Are new

This one appealed to me as much as the others, but I Langston Hughes’ sense of rhythm. It’s jubilant, colorful and, in this case, and far more appealing to me than Wallace Stevens, who was supposed to be expert at using cadence.

It occurred to me many of the poems in our book could probably be sung, hence the blues connection, I suppose. But they’re very lyrical in their presentation.

Posted by MattHampton at 12:52 AM | Comments (1)

Frosty, this known man

Hughes and Frost -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

When I read North of Boston, as part of Paper 1, I opened it thinking there would be a collection of poems and nothing else. But there were more narratives, like The Death of the Hired Man. That one struck me that I could be made into a short play, like Trifles.

But one the authors of Six American Poets didn’t include was The Fear. For those who have the chance to read it (maybe in between chocolate Easter eggs), I’d appreciate your input if you care to give it. Specifically, I’d like to read your impression whether you think the couple was attacked or not. It is kind of creepy, almost Flannery O’Connor-ish.

These days, I’m sure the Robert Frost estate makes a lot of money selling the use of poems like The Road Not Taken to advertisers who use it to promote things like automobiles. I’ve also read articles where coaches will read that poem to their teams before a big game and then build upon the “taking the difficult road” cliche in order to rally them to victory. But I think they miss it to some degree.

People seem to concentrate on the “road” itself, but I think it’s about the decision - the actual choice the speaker makes, the choice not to follow others.

In this, Frost seemed to walk the talk as he moved his family to England while simultaneously trying to sell his poems in the U.S. If I recall correctly, Frost had a couple of favorable reviews by people like Ezra Pound, who decried the fact that Frost had to come overseas to be a success at home, a paradox.

Posted by MattHampton at 12:36 AM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2006

Houston, we have a ....

Roberts, Ch. 12 -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“In non-scientific subjects like literature you seldom or never find absolute proofs, so your conclusions will not be proved in the way you prove triangles congruent in geometry. But your organization, your use of facts from the text, your interpretations, and your application of general or specific knowledge should all make your conclusions convincing. Thus your basic strategy is persuasion” (175-76).

I think I have seen these strategies somewhere before, but probably not all together at the same moment.

By the way, strategy 4: Argue against possible objections, seems to be what we’re expected to do as we write our papers: consider all the other arguments and outline why our own position is the better one.

And strategy 2: Analyze significant words in the phrasing of the problem, in which Roberts debates the seriousness of “delay” sounds to me that there’s a hint of the deconstructionist argument, but not exactly.

Posted by MattHampton at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2006


O'Connor, ''A Circle in the Fire'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“Powell sat without moving, without seeming to know that the other two were behind him, and looked straight ahead like a ghost sprung upright in his coffin. ‘If this place was not here any more,’ he said, ‘you would never have to think of it again.’
‘Listen,’ the big boy said, sitting down quietly in the water with the little one still moored to his shoulders, ‘it don’t belong to nobody.’
‘It’s ours,’ the little boy said” (150).

Using that passage as a start, I suppose one could look at A Circle in the Fire and write a criticism from an economic determinist/Marxist perspective.

Powell, seemingly another neglected child, seems to encapsulate all the good memories from his childhood into the time he spent on Mrs. Cope’s farm, while his dad was a hired hand.

Mrs. Cope owns the property and she doesn’t hesitate to tell people “it’s mine,” asserting her ownership. The boys, apparently from Atlanta, don’t seem to have too much, so there is at least a hint of class struggle here, combined with the fact Mrs. Cope is white and the boys are black.

By trying to set the farm ablaze, there is also a feeling from the boys (Powell especially) that “If I can’t have it, no one can.” So in some form of assertion on his part, Powell decides to burn it down since he knows he’ll never have it himself.

So by exercising that power over the property is he in some what showing he also has ownership?

Posted by MattHampton at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

Flashing (of) the bird

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

“’What a beauty-ful birdrrrd!’ the priest murmured. ‘Another mouth to feed,’ Mrs. McIntyre said, glancing in the peafowl’s direction.
‘And when does he raise his splendid tail?’ asked the priest.
‘Just when it suits him,’ she said ‘There used to be twenty or thirty of those things on the place but I’ve let them die off. I don’t like to hear them scream in the middle of the night.’
So beauty-ful,’ the priest said. ‘A tail full of suns,’”

It occurred to me the peacock, with its tail full of suns, or eyes may serve as a counterpart to the Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, objectively observing all that goes on at the farm.

Gradually increasing prejudice and distrust, (like a communicable disease) spreads from Mrs. Shortley to the others on the farm. This prejudice leads her to jump to incorrect conclusions about Mr. Guizac and her ideas infect her husband and ultimately Mrs. McIntyre. In this case, O’Connor makes a white European the target of the racism, by other whites.

This relationship could probably be examined from a moral/intellectual viewpoint: what is the message and how can its knowledge improve our lives? Also a topical/historical perspective: and I think of Jason here, who regularly urges us not to lose sight that these stories were written in a different era.

When something is displaced, as water is by a boat, one object takes the space of another. So Mr. Guizac was displaced, but he in turn through his own hard work displaces Mr. Shortley as the most useful hired hand.

Mrs. McIntyre is fond of telling everyone how tough she’s had it, but in this story she actually meets the Guizacs who we can tell have had a rougher time, so rough in fact that Mr. Guizac’s sister is willing to marry the black farmhand in order to escape war-torn Europe, an event that shocks Mrs. McIntyre. She, who once called Mr. Guizac her salvation, says he disrupts the balance of the farm. But Guizac actually maintains the balance: he works hard and efficiently, so Mrs. McIntyre can actually save money. It is interesting that after he dies, the balance is disrupted and everything unravels.

Posted by MattHampton at 2:11 AM | Comments (4)