Sunday, April 27, 2014

For Monday: Maus II, Chapters 3-4

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. In Chapter Three, "And Here My Troubles Began," Vladek hassles Artie to take home a used box of Special K cereal.  When Artie angrily refuses, Vladek responds, "I cannot forget it...ever since Hitler I don't like to throw out even a crumb."  How much can we blame the Holocaust for the 'present' Vladek we find in these chapters--one who is often boorish, intolerant, and downright racist?  Why do you think Artie so often contradicts the heroic 'past' Vladek with the one in the present?

2. What do you make of the interesting passage in Chapter Three, where a soldier shoots a prisoner for walking too slowly.  As the prisoner flails desperately on the ground, Vladek remarks, "And now I thought: "how amazing it is that a human being reacts the same like this neighbor's dog.""  Considering this breaks down the animal metaphor, why does he highlight this specific connection?  How might this connect to some larger themes in the book about race/humanity?

3. Though surviving the Holocaust was often a matter of sheer luck, how does Chapter Three prove that Vladek's attention to detail and quick wits were instrumental in saving his life?  How do these qualities show that staying alive is more than surviving, it being a critical aware, responsible human being? 

4. Chapters Three and Four also use photographs--a kind of comic book frame--to tell part of the story.  How do these photographs (mostly drawn photographs, but also the real one of Vladek) add a unique layer to the story?  What do they show us that no amount of fictional storytelling could manage?  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

For Friday: Maus II, Chapters 1-2

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Consider pages 41-46 (the beginning of Chapter Two, “Time Flies”): why does Artie feel guilty for having created Maus?  Why is he unable to continue the work (though he is continuing it as he writes it!)?  What issues do these pages deal with that are somewhat beyond the storyline?  

2. No one book can tell the entire story of something as immense as Auschwitz; even the survivors, themselves, can't document every single detail.  How does Spiegelman show the limitations of his book--and of Vladek's own memory--in writing about Auschwitz?  What things remain unknown, confusing, or contradictory?  

3. How do the characters of Artie and/or Vladek change (or develop) in Maus II?  What new threads does he weave into the fabric of the comic that challenges how we see and understand them?  Cite a specific passage in your response.  

4. Why do you think Spiegelman introduces Francoise into Maus II (though she briefly appears in Maus I)? How does she complement the story or help him discuss ideas/issues that would be impossible without her? In other words, what perspective does she bring to the work?  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

For Wednesday: Spiegelman's Maus I, Chs. 4-6

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. How does Spiegelman play with the Mouse/Cat metaphor in the second part of Maus I?  Where does he lift the mask and expose the metaphor for what it is--a way of looking at the world (and race) rather than reality?

2. Why does Spiegelman include his earlier autobiographical comic Prisoner of the Hell Planet in the narrative?  How does this disrupt the flow of the story as well as the style of the piece?  What important information/insight do we learn about the characters in this piece to justify its inclusion?

3. When discussing the realities of life in the ghetto, Vladek explains, "At that time it wasn't anymore families.  It was everybody to take care for himself!" How else does Vladek document the breakdown of society in the ghetto and elsewhere?  What makes Vladek different from everyone else--or is he?

4. Why does Artie call his father a "murderer" at the end of Chapter Six, "Mouse Holes"?  Is this an incredible foolish and insensitive thing to say of a Holocaust survivor (and one's father)?  Or do we agree with him that, on some level, Vladek has committed his own act of biographical genocide?  Why did Vladek do this?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

For Monday: Spiegelman, Chs. 1-3 "The Sheik" to "Prisoner of War"

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. We discussed briefly on Friday how cartoons work as metaphors in a comic: that is, they emphasize an idea about a character rather than a distinct individual.  For example, Charlie Brown is depicted as bald since we read bald as "old, wise, or even a baby"--which makes us see him as a wiser child who is also very vulnerable.  How do the cartoons/metaphors in Maus of Jews = mice and Germans = cats help us read this world and the ideas behind the Nazis and the Holocaust?  Why might this be more effective than simply writing a story about his father's life?  

2. Why do you think Spiegelman shows us the background of his story--trying to interview his father, and the day-to-day frustrations of dealing with him?  Does this detract from the overall story for you, or enhance it?  In other words, why does Art Spiegelman make this both his story and his father's?

3. What kind of character is Vladek?  Since he is the 'hero' of our tale, is he heroic, admirable, virtuous, shifty, greedy, or opportunistic?  Despite the cartoon format, how does Spiegelman make Vladek a complex character who is hard to define, and an unlikely hero for a novel?

4. Is this a novel?  Though Maus is a comic, it is often referred to as a "graphic novel," which really means a novel told with words and pictures.  But beyond that, what makes this work a novel?  How does it compare with, say, Pride and Prejudice in terms of structure, characters, themes, or anything else?  Is it impossible to call a comic book a novel, or is it virtually the same thing, despite some small differences?  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

For Monday: Any 10 poems from pp.107-153

Choose any 10 poems from pages 107-153 that catch your interest and read them 2 or 3 times.  The more you read them, the more you will understand/relate to them.  Then answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Discuss the title of one of the poems: how does the title become more meaningful as you read the poem, and/or how does the title help make the poem meaningful?  Is the title literal or metaphorical?  If the connection between title and poem doesn't seem obvious, try to figure out the connection.  (sometimes, poets spend more time on the title than the poem itself, so you know it's important!)

2. Some of these poems use humor or irony to satirize Harlem and American life in general.  Where do you see this?  What, specifically, is Hughes satirizing and how does humor help us 'see' his point?  Use a specific poem in your discussion.

3. How do some of these poems imitate the sound of popular music--jazz, the blues, etc.?  Where do we see/hear music in the rhythms and intonations of the poem?  In other words, how do you make a poem sound like music in other ways besides rhymes?  

4. Reading these poems as a whole, what impression of Harlem does Hughes want the reader to come away with?  Is he hopeful about the people/spirit of Harlem?  Or does he feel it is too beaten and desperate to have a happy ending?  Use a specific poem to help illustrate your ideas.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

For Friday: Hughes, Selected Poems (see below)

Poems for Friday:

Water-Front Streets
March Moon
Harlem Night Song
Border Line
Genius Child
Suicide’s Note
Song for Billie Holiday

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. How do many of the poems use the natural world as a metaphor for very intimate human emotions?  In other words, how does the outside world help us look deep within?  Focus on one poem that specifically develops the nature/emotions idea. 

2. Hughes is known for packing tremendous meaning into only a few short lines.  We see this clearly in “Suicide’s Note,” which only has 12 words.  How does this tiny poem capture someone’s state of mind just before committing suicide (or contemplating doing it)?  How does he/she ‘see’ the world in a way that reflects their own pain and torment? 

3. Many of these poems are also about love, yet they are not traditional love poems by any means.  How does Hughes put a unique, 20th century twist on the love poem, that might also borrow from blues and jazz?  Why might this be closer to the ‘real’ condition of love rather than the stereotyped poems of yesteryear? 

4. If you don’t know who she is, look up Billie Holiday and ask yourself, why did he write this poem for her?  What about the mood/sentiment of the poem suits her or her music?  What idea of the woman (or her art) is he trying to capture with his images/metaphors? [that's her in the photo above] 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

For Wednesday: Hughes, Selected Poems (see below)

Poems for Wednesday (pp.3-45)

Afro-American Fragment
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Aunt Sue’s Stories
As I Grew Older
Dream Variations
The Weary Blues
Could Be
Early Evening Quarrel

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Explain how Hughes uses poetry to discuss the issue of racial identity in ONE of the poems above.  What does it mean to be African-American during the early 20th century?  How does the poem, like McKay’s America (which we discussed in class) help us see through the eyes of an ‘outsider’ who belongs, yet doesn’t belong, in mainstream American society? 

2. How does Hughes use dialect or the slang of everyday speech to color his poetry?  Why is this important to him, even though many mainstream readers/critics might reject it as ‘uncivilized’?  How does this language help us read/hear the poem itself?  (you might consider that Hughes was influenced by blues and jazz and wanted his poems to sound like this music).

3. In poems like “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “Aunt Sue’s Stories,” and “Negro,” Hughes uses history or historical events as a metaphor.  How does this work?  How does history help us ‘see’ who he is—and who his people are?  Consider how, in a poem like “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the poet could have “bathed in the Euprhates…raised the pyramids above [the Nile]…and “heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans” (4). 

4. In traditional literature/poetry, “white” is a positive color and “black” a negative color.  How does Hughes play with this tradition in his poetry, and how does “black” become a very different metaphor in many of these poems?  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Extra Credit: Scissortail Creative Writing Assignment

No class on FRIDAY: attend the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival instead (the website with times and readers is below).  Go to a single session and answer the questions below for extra credit.  I will use this to either excuse a missed response or two on the blog, or to help you with a few extra points at the end of the semester (if you have a borderline grade, for example, it will push you over).

Scissortail Blog:


Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Discuss the manner in which one of the authors presented his/her works.  How did he/she read it, perform it, or explain it?  How did this help you appreciate the work or understand it?  Would you have responded to it the same way if you had encountered it in a book? 

2. How do you feel the three works on the panel worked together?  Were there any similar themes, subject matter, ideas, or points of view?  Did one work help you understand another?  Or did they clash in an interesting way?  Why do you think these works were presented together?

3. How did the poet(s) read their works differently than the prose writer(s)?  How does poetry read differently than prose (novels, stories, etc.)?  Which performance did you find most interesting—the poetry or the prose?  Why?  Do you think it would be the same on the page?

4. Discuss one of the works that you responded strongly to—either with surprise, love, admiration, or even disgust.  Why did the work evoke this response from you?  Did other people in the audience seem to respond/react the same way?  Did the author want this response—or do you think he/she might be surprised by it? 

Exam #3: The Monet Audio Tour (due Friday, April 11th)

For your third (and final) exam, I am going to give you a more creative assignment.  Let’s pretend that ECU has received a grant to bring 4-5 Monet paintings to the Fine Arts building for a Monet retrospective.  These paintings highlight different moments of his career, and should take us on a ‘journey’ that explains how he developed as an artist.  However, most people don’t know much about his life, career, or culture, so the university has hired you (thanks to your knowledge of Humanities II) to write a short narrative to help visitors ‘see’ the paintings and appreciate his evolution from budding impressionist to symbolist master. 
Your exam/paper is a guide to the exhibit, much like the audio guides people can listen to at museums as they tour an exhibit.  It will help your audience appreciate who Monet is, what Impressionism is, and how each painting uses these ideas to explore the world in new and vibrant colors.  Your paper should roughly have the following parts:
  • Introduction: introduce Monet, Impressionism, etc.
  • A brief paragraph on each painting (any 4-5 you choose from the book) that helps us ‘see’ them in a new light.  Show us what to see, what to examine, and how to appreciate them in relation to Monet’s life, times, or ideas. 
  • A short conclusion reminding viewers what you hoped to show them in the exhibit. 

Remember, you can choose ANY of the paintings in our book, but choose no more than 5.  Consider how these 5 paintings each say something unique about his career and the world of the Impressionists themselves.  You MUST quote from the book to help you discuss the paintings and/or to bring biographical/cultural details into your tour.  However, I am most interested in how you see the paintings and can help us appreciate them.  Consider what you knew (or didn’t know) about Monet before taking the class, and help your former self see what you now know and understand.  Try to write in a conversational style (not in a stiff, formal essay) since this is mean to be read/recorded for people to listen to as they examine the paintings. 


  • At least 4-5 pages, though you can do more if you wish
  • Use at least 4-5 paintings, but no more than 5
  • Roughly follow the format above, but imagine writing a script to be read, rather than a formal essay
  • Use useful quotations from the Monet book, and cite according to MLA Format; for example… “In Heinrich’s book on Monet, he writes, “For Monet, flowers were bearers of light, and a feast for the eyes” (73).  Be sure to introduce the quote, quote accurately, and cite the page number at the end.
  • Due by 5pm on Friday, April 11th

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

For Wednesday: Heinrich, Monet (pp.70-90)

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. What made Monet’s late landscapes of waterlillies so revolutionary despite their relatively simple subjects?  Related to this, why did he refer to them as “reflected landscapes” (83)?  How might this suggest a different perspective on the natural world?

2. Later in life, Monet no longer simply wished to record the impressions of nature as it was; he wanted to shape/control nature: “when a mighty oak he was painting began to bud, Monet, rather than later his painting, recruited village youngsters to climb up and see to it that when he resumed work the next day there was not a trace of green to be seen” (72).  What does this say about his late art, and is it a betrayal of his earlier ideals—or of the ideals of Impressionism itself?  Is this no longer “Impressionism” but “Creationism”? 

3. How does the book describe Monet in later life?  What kind of man was he?  Did worldly success affect his art—did it make him soft?  Or did he refuse to ‘sell out’ and remain pretty much as he was, just even more so (since money allowed him to do it)? 

4. Which of the paintings in this book is your favorite and why?  What do you ‘see’ in this painting which makes it personal or meaningful to you?  Would you have responded so strongly to this painting before you read the book/took the class—or did one (or both) help you connect to it?  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

For Monday: Heinrich, Monet (pp.44-69)

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. How did the death of Camille, Monet’s wife, change his artistic path?  What new subject matter did he seek out, and how might his approach to painting have changed in general?  Cite a specific painting in your response.

2. What did Monet mean by the statement, “[he] imagined what it would have been like to be born blind and then suddenly be able to see, and to paint, without knowing what the thing one saw actually was?” (55).  How would this help him ‘see’ painting in a new and fresh way?  Why would you not want to know what you are painting?

3. What was so unique and groundbreaking about his series of paintings on the Rouen Cathedral?  What was he trying to achieve in them, and why might they have become his first commercial success?

4. Monet wrote that “the subject is of secondary importance; I want to convey what is alive between me and the subject” (57).  What do you think this means...and where do we see this “in-between” quality in one of the paintings in these chapters?  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

For Friday: Heinrich, Monet, pp.24-43

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. How did technology and the ‘modern’ world of the mid-1800’s change how painters painted and saw the world?  What advances did Monet and his contemporaries have over their predecessors? Also, how did these advances influence Impressionism? 

2. Compare Monet and Renoir’s paintings of La Grenouillère (pp.28-29): what distinguishes Monet from Renoir?  What do you think Monet wanted to capture that was either less important or invisible to Renoir?  Also, which one do you prefer and why? 

3. Based on the paintings in these chapters, what kind of subject matter most inspired Monet?  Unlike other impressionists, he almost never did portraits or still lifes; why do you think this was?  What views/subjects/ideas were most congenial to his style of painting and why?

4. Heinrich writes that “there is an intrinsic and irresolvable contradiction in the aim of preserve in permanent form the passing moment” (32).  Based on this comment, why might we say that all Impressionist paintings are somewhat sad, or at least bittersweet, even when they are capturing bright, happy subjects?  What is the essential ‘mood’ behind all Impressionist paintings—and Monet’s art in general? 

Monday, March 24, 2014

For Wednesday: Heinrich, Monet, pp.6-23

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below...

1. What biographical circumstances shaped Monet the artist?  How does knowing a little about his early life help us appreciate the paintings and the movement he helped create? 

2. What was Monet’s first truly successful painting?  What was new or revolutionary about it according to the book?  Can you see these qualities in the painting itself?

3. Related to the above, what early painting is generally considered a ‘flawed’ painting by critics (and the book)? Despite its mistakes, what is notable about this painting that shows us the mature Monet? 

4. Which painting on pages 6-23 do you find most interesting or striking?  What do you like about it?  Does the book help you appreciate or see different qualities in it that you might not have seen before (and if so, what are they)?  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Revised Schedule Post Spring Break

With Snow Days and Day-Before-Spring-Break Days and Spending-Extra-Time-On-Pride-and-Prejudice-Days, we got slightly behind.  So I revised the schedule so you know what to expect when you return from break.  If you have time and are interested, start reading the Monet book and enjoy all the gorgeous paintings!  We'll start right in on it after break.  Make sure you have the remaining 3 books for class, since we'll be breezing through them in the next 5 weeks.  Enjoy yourselves and come back in one piece!  

[M 17-F 21: Spring Break]

M 24   Intro to Impressionism
W 26   Monet (6-23)
F 28:   Monet (24-43)

M 31:   Monet (44-69)

W 2:    Monet (70-91)
F 4:     Exam #3

M 7:    Intro: The Harlem Renaissance  
W 9:    Hughes, Selected Poems
F 11:     Hughes, Selected Poems

M 15:   Hughes, Selected Poems
W 17:   Hughes, Selected Poems
F 18:    Intro to Comics/Graphic Novels

M 22:  Spiegelman, Maus I
W 23:  Spiegelman, Maus I
F 25:    Spiegelman, Maus II

M 28: Spiegelman, Maus II
W 30:  Final Exam Discussion

F 2:      Wrap-Up

FINAL EXAM: Monday, May 5 @11:30 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Questions for Pride and Prejudice (2004)

NOTE: We will watch the film on Friday as well, and then discuss it on Monday.  The Exam will be on Wednesday.  Obviously we're way behind schedule, but I'm in the process of revising it and will hand this schedule out in class on Friday.  

Answer ONE of the questions as a COMMENT below:

1. In many ways, this version of Pride and Prejudice can be see as a young, hip 21st century take on the novel. Indeed, most of the actors are much younger than those in the 1995 version, and there is a tendency to make everything seem a bit flashier, bolder, grittier, and yet lighter at the same time.  How do you think this works with the story and characters we find in the book?  Is this kind of modernization acceptable, or do we lose too much of what Austen intended?  Discuss a specific scene that can help you explain this. 

2. Obviously, a 2 hour film (as opposed to a much longer mini-series) can only cover so much of the novel; certain passages—and even characters—have to be cut in the interest of time and an audience’s patience.  Do you feel there were any objectionable cuts or changes to the story as seen in the film?  Is there anything that bothered you or changed some aspect of the characters/story? 

3. If you could recast a few characters in this version of the film, which characters/actors would you choose?  What about their characterization disappointed you or in some way fell short?  Who would you replace them with and why?  What might this actor or actress bring to the role based on his/her previous work?  Be as specific as possible.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

For Friday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice (finish if possible!)

Answer TWO of the following as a comment below: 

1. Is Pride and Prejudice ultimately a novel that favors “sense” (the eighteenth-century notion of one’s intellectual powers and reason) or “sensibility” (the late eighteenth/early nineteenth notion of emotion and artistic power)?  Does Elizabeth learn to cultivate a more informed sensibility, or is she taught to cast sensibility aside for sense?  If you’ve seen or read Austen's Sense and Sensibility, does she make the same choice Marianne makes at the end of the novel/film?  Is Darcy another version of Colonel Brandon? 

2. Discuss the famous scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine: how might this reflect some of Mozart’s values and struggles with the Archbishop (and others)?  Why does Lady Catherine think she’s being quite reasonable in her request, and why is this absolutely offensive to Elizabeth?  On the same hand, what makes this scene so satisfying to the reader, who is undoubtedly on Elizabeth’s side? 

3. Some readers and critics feel that, although Darcy and Elizabeth are an ideal match, is it Elizabeth who is forced to change the most.  Indeed, some people suggest that Elizabeth becomes “tamed” in the novel (kind of like Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew), and loses her unique voice and personality to become Darcy’s wife.  What do you think about this?  Do you think she is silenced at the end of the novel, and made to conform to traditional values of a ‘good’ daughter and wife?  Or does she remain who she is, just a more sensible version of herself?

4. For many readers in the twentieth century, Pride and Prejudice is a novel about class.  Clearly, Darcy distinguishes himself early in the novel by differences in class (which is the main reason he waits so long to propose to Elizabeth); the Bingleys are social upstarts by means of their father’s fortune; and Elizabeth is forever ashamed of her family’s vulgar manners and connections.  Based on your reading of the book, what are Austen’s views on class?  Does the novel preserve class distinctions through Elizabeth’s actions…or does she radically contest these very notions?  In other words, how conservative was Austen in writing a comedic/romantic book about class?  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

For Wednesday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Vol.3, Chs.1-8

Lydia and Wickham--the happy couple!  

Answer TWO of the following…

1. How does Elizabeth’s feelings about Darcy change at Pemberley?  What does she experience or see here that challenges her prejudiced notions?  Consider the passage in Chapter 1 where she reflects, “And of this place…I might have been mistress!  With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted!” 

2. Related somewhat to the above, at what moment in the novel does Elizabeth definitively ‘fall in love’ with Darcy?  Is she aware of this moment, or does Austen simply let us ‘see’ it before she does?  Or is it announced as she, herself, discovers it?  Does this moment suggest that she had been in love with him (to some degree) for a longer time than she realized? 

3. Why is Lydia’s elopement with Wickham a scandal for the Bennet family?  What does such a marriage mean in early 19th century society, and why might it reflect poorly on the innocent daughters—Elizabeth, Jane, Kitty, and Mary?  Consider, too, Mr. Collins’ letter upon hearing the disastrous news: “The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison to this” (Ch. 7). 

4. In some ways, Austen is lightly satirizing Elizabeth Bennet as someone who reads too many books and expects life to mirror what she reads.  In general, what is the difference between reading a character in a book and reading a person?  How do we know she reads people like books—and when does she realize the danger of this approach?  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

For Monday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Vol. 2, Chs.4-29

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below...

1. Discuss Darcy's proposal scene, particularly in relation to Mr. Collins'.  How does this scene demonstrate Darcy's pride and class consciousness?  On the other side, what makes it more passionate than Mr. Collins' cold manner of wooing?  Why is Elizabeth so insulted by his offer?  Is it more the offer itself, or the manner in which he proposes?  Do you feel that if he had adopted a kinder, less prideful manner she might have accepted it?

2. Where in these chapters does Elizabeth begin to doubt her own powers of perception?  What event(s) leads her to discover her own 'pride and prejudice?  Do you feel she is truly as guilty of over-confidence and/or arrogance as Mr. Darcy?  Or is she simply being hard on herself? 

3. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is an unusual woman in Pride and Prejudice, as she answers to no man, and indeed, makes all men wait on her, from Mr. Collins to Mr. Darcy.  And yet, though Austen is critical of women like Mrs. Bennet who are silly and powerless, Lady Catherine is also a satirical portrait.  What qualities does Austen mock in Lady Catherine, and why might this also be a 'blind alley' for a 19th century woman of money and power to follow?  What makes her, in other words, as foolish as Mrs. Bennet or Lydia Bennet/Wickham?  

4. Why does Elizabeth decide to conceal the contents of Darcy's letter from her family--especially from Jane, who is her closest confidant?  Why not expose Wickham's criminal nature and exonerate Darcy's compassion?  What unwritten rules of society does she seem to be following here--and are we supposed to approve of her secrecy?  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

For Wednesday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Vol.1, Ch.17 to Vol. 2, Chapter 3

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Why does Elizabeth refuse Mr. Collins’ offer of marriage, despite the great benefit it would be to her family (especially since he will one day own their house)?  On the same hand, why does Charlotte Lucas agree to accept him?   How might this rejection/acceptance be a commentary on the state of women and marriage in the early 19th century? 

2. Though Elizabeth dislikes Darcy on ‘first impression,’ she is immediately taken with Wickham.  What qualities does Wickham have that plays into Elizabeth’s sensibilities of an “agreeable” man?  How might this also play into Elizabeth’s prejudices against Darcy?  In other words, what makes Darcy the so-called 'bad guy' and Wickham the 'good guy' on a first impression?  

3. Though chiefly about love and marriage, Pride and Prejudice is also about the friendships between women, whether sisters or close friends.  After Charlotte’s marriage, Elizabeth reflects that “no real confidence could ever subsist between them again” (87).  How might marriage impair the formerly close relationships between women, isolating them from their friends and family?  How specifically might this work in Charlotte Lucas’ case? 

4. Mr. Collins is one of Jane Austen’s great satirical portraits, which is clear from the moment he appears on the page.  How does Austen use him to satirize the conventions or pretensions of her time?  What ‘mistakes’ does he make throughout these chapters, and what does he understand—or misunderstand—about women?  (to make this more interesting, you might consider that Jane Austen was once proposed to by a country parson; she declined).  

Friday, February 14, 2014

For Monday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chs.1-16

Close Reading Questions for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Chs.1-16 (or as much as you can read by Monday)

Answer TWO of the following…

1. On Friday, I discussed Austen’s admiration for Mary Wollstonecraft, who criticized not only how women are educated but the institution of marriage itself.  Where do we see a subtle critique of women and marriage in these opening chapters?  Consider the discussions various women have on the subject, and how Elizabeth Bennet (our heroine) reacts to them. 

2. In Chapter 6, Darcy reflects that “he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he had looked at her only to criticize.  But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.”  Based on this passage, and others in these chapters, why does Darcy start to fall in love with Elizabeth, despite all his reasons against doing so? 

3. Discuss the difference between Elizabeth and her sisters: what makes her our heroine?  Why are we supposed to be more sympathetic/attracted to her than to say, Lydia or Mary?  What makes her different from the other ‘good’ sister, Jane?  How does her philosophy of life in general distinguish her from most of the other women in the book? 

4. When Jane Austen first wrote this book in the late 1790’s, it was called “First Impressions.”  She later re-wrote it extensively and changed the title as well.  How might this book still be about ‘first impressions’ as much as pride or prejudice?  Whose first impressions is the book concerned with—and why might first impressions, in a society where social rules are more important than anything else, not be a reliable judge of character? 

Monday, February 10, 2014

For Wednesday: Exam #1 over Gay's Mozart/Amadeus

Remember that our Exam #1 over Gay's Mozart and the film Amadeus will be on Wednesday during normal class time.  The exam will consist of two parts: 10 general information questions over Mozart's life and works, and then 6 short essay questions, of which you will have to answer 3 in a developed paragraph each. You cannot bring your book to class, since I want to see how well you read and understood the ideas from the book, film, and our discussions.

On Friday, I will introduce Jane Austen, her life, and the time she grew up in as a preface to our reading of her famous novel, Pride and Prejudice.  I will assign the first reading/questions for this novel on Friday which will be due on Monday.  Slow readers, take note: start reading now!  :)

See you on Wednesday...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Close Reading Questions for Amadeus (1984, dir. Forman): due MONDAY

We will discuss Amadeus on Monday after we've watched the second half on Friday.  Wait until then to answer the questions below (unless you've already watched the entire film on your own). 

Answer TWO of the following as a comment below...

1. Is the Mozart in the film the same one we meet in Peter Gay's biography?  What similarities do the two men share?  Where do we encounter differences?  Is the Amadeus Mozart more theatrical, more over-the-top?  Or does it merely focus on one side of Mozart that is authentic, even if other sides are passed over?  In other words, do you feel anything significant about Mozart is overlooked in the film?  Be specific...
2. While Gay explores Mozart’s life initially through Leopold, Forman (and Peter Shaffer, who wrote the play) chooses to examine him through his real-life rival in Vienna, Antonio Salieri.  Why might this be a compelling and insightful way to know Mozart?  What does it show us about the man and his music?  What does the movie reveal that Gay doesn’t—or couldn’t?
3. In the play Amadeus (which the movie is based on), the playwright, Peter Schaffer, has Mozart exclaim: "that’s how God hears the world.  Millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us! That’s our job!  That’s our job, we composers: to combine the inner minds of him and him and him, and her and her—the thoughts of chambermaids and Court Composers—and turn the audience into God!” (Shaffer 91).  Though this speech isn't in the film, where DO we see Mozart defending his music and/or explaining his philosophy?  What does the film want us to understand about Mozart's art and why he wrote what he did?   Cite a specific scene/moment in your response.
4. One of the themes of the film is the distinction between talent and celebrity.  A great, talented composer may be in fashion one moment and out of fashion the next, whereas a much less talented composer could (possibly) stay in fashion forever.  However, when we look back, we only see Mozart--not a Salieri, or a someone else.  How does the film try to explain the fickle tastes of the past?  Why could they not 'see' Mozart's talent the same way we do today?  Why doesn't talent always stand out in society and the arts? 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

No Class Monday/For Wednesday

Since ECU is closed on Monday, we'll push back our viewing of Amadeus, the 1984 film based on Mozart's life and legend, to Wednesday/Friday.  This means the exam will be pushed back as well (please forgive me!).

See you on Wednesday!  Sorry for all the snow!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

For Friday: Gay's Mozart: A Life, Chapter 8, "The Classic"

Answer TWO of the following as a comment:

1. How did Mozart's last composition (left incomplete), the famous Requiem, contribute to the various myths about Mozart's death?  Why did it give rise to so much poetic speculation about how he lived and died?  Is there any truth to these myths, or do they cloud the real man and his music?

2. In Chapter 6, Gay writes that "it is vulgar to read music as a simple translation of its composer's moods or a literal response to private events" (118).  However, how might aspects of Mozart's last years color how we look at certain works and why he might have composed them (the last 3 symphonies, the Requiem, the last operas, etc.)?  If Mozart was a composer first and foremost, wouldn't his true autobiography be written in music?

3. Why did Mozart's reputation fall in the decades after his death, not to truly revive for close to 100 years?  How did many 19th century composers think of his music, and what caused later generations to re-evaluate his work?  How could a "classic" of our time be neglected in ages past? 

4. Having read Gay's biography of Mozart, why do you think we should know who he was (and what he did, thought, and felt) alongside his music?  Isn't his music enough?  Can't it get in the way of simply listening?  What argument can we make that an artist's life is worth knowing and can actually augment the music/art?  Specifically, how might you listen to his music differently knowing what you know? 

Monday, January 27, 2014

For Wednesday: Mozart: A Life, Chs.6-7

For Wednesday, be sure to read Chapter 6 "The Master" and Chapter 7 "The Dramatist".  The questions for these chapters are below--be sure to respond to at least 2 sets of questions by the time we finish the book on Friday.  

Answer TWO of the following...

1. In general, what makes Mozart a "master" among great composers?  What qualities or ideas does Gay single out in this chapter?  Which specific works?  Why wasn't Mozart generally hailed as master in his own day (aside from a few notable connoisseurs, such as Haydn, etc.)?  

2. On page 108, Gay quotes Mozart as writing "It is my wish and my gain honor, fame and money."  This doesn't always jive with our image as Mozart (or any artist) who writes because of God-given inspiration and wants to express the great truths of existence.  How did Mozart balance the need to make money with creating true art (which he was clearly able to do)?  You might also consider that in the end, he wasn't able to win the fame and money he truly wanted.  

3. Opera as a form offers up a difficult problem for its audience: which is more important, the words or the music?  Can a bad story be elevated by divine music?  Similarly, can a marvelous story survive routine accompaniment?  Mozart clearly felt that music won the day (as seen in his famous opera with a ridiculous plot, The Magic Flute), yet many operas have failed for lack of dramatic interest, despite the music.  In a more modern sense, can you like a song that has terrible lyrics—or a bad song that has amazing lyrics?  In short, which one might be the most important for creating ‘immortal’ art?  

4. Consider the topics of many Mozart operas, such as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte: why were they seen as outrageous or scandalous in their day?  What innovations do the stories themselves bring to opera and why might Mozart have been compelled to write music for them?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

For Friday: Mozart: A Life, Chs.4-5

Constanze Mozart, painted around their marriage
Discussion Questions for Gay’s Mozart: A Life: Chs 4-5, “The Freelance” and “The Beggar”

Answer TWO of the following in a developed response (at least a few sentences per question, using specific details/examples—see previous comments for examples if you’re unsure as to what constitutes a good response)

1. According to Gay’s biography, do you think Mozart was in love with Constanze?  How does he write about her to his father?  What other motives might have been behind this match—and should we suspect her motives as well? 

2. On page 91, we get the interesting comment that “In Mozart’s mind vanity and status anxiety were intertwined.”  What do you make of this interpretation of Mozart’s character?  Why was he “vain,” and what did “status” mean for him?  Why was he so desperate to live beyond his means, and how did this relate to his music?

3. On page 74, we get a list of a single Mozart concert in 1783 which features numerous works in several different genres.  Why did Mozart write so much music?  Can someone write so much and have it all be good (wouldn’t some of it have to be of lesser quality/inspiration)?  Do you feel Mozart composed more from psychological compulsion (he had to), aesthetic enjoyment (he wanted to), or practical necessity (he had debts)? 

4. In general, do you think Gay is sympathetic toward Mozart, the man?  While he clearly adores the composer, the portrait of the human being might be more ambiguous.  Should a biographer have affection—or admiration—for his subject, and do you think he should communicate this to the reader?  Or should he remain unbiased and objective? 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

For Wednesday: Mozart: A Life (Chs.1-3)

Discussion Questions for Gay’s Mozart: A Life, Chs.1-3 (pp.1-63)

Answer TWO of the following for Wednesday’s class.  Remember, don’t simply give me an answer, such as “yes, this is true,” or “the book says that Mozart was spoiled.”  Give me a response, which shows me an honest attempt to understand the work.  The responses should be at least a few sentences in length—no one word or one sentence responses will be accepted (that is, I'll ask you to try again).  

Even if you’re not sure what to say, try to explain why you’re not sure; an honest, detailed answer is always better than a short response that tries to cover your tracks.   I’m less interested in seeing you look ‘smart’ than in approaching the work in a humble, curious manner.

QUESTIONS (post responses to any TWO as a comment) 

1. Why is it important for Peter Gay to paint a portrait of Mozart’s father, Leopold?  What specific details does he include about Leopold’s life, philosophy, and habits that you feel is significant to understanding either the culture of the eighteenth century or Mozart himself? 

2. According to Gay, what made Mozart’s works (even his teenage ones) stand out from his contemporaries?  Why does a Symphony No. 29 or a Violin Concerto No.5 sound like Mozart when hundreds of other composers were churning out the same, often generic, works?

3. On Page 36-37, we get a lengthy (and explicit) excerpt from one of Mozart’s letters.  Obviously, Mozart would have never wanted anyone outside his intimate circle to read these letters.  What do you think are the ethics of biography: should a biographer expose his subject so nakedly—or should he hide certain details that were meant to be private, and don’t necessarily help us ‘read’ or appreciate his music?   In other words, should we be reading this? 

4. Why do you feel Mozart was unwilling to play the conventional role of an eighteenth-century servant?  His father saw no reason not to play the role, and indeed, no composer before him chafed at the bit as violently as Mozart.  Do you feel Mozart was influenced by Enlightenment philosophies of democracy and free will…or was he just a pig-headed, spoiled brat?  Cite a passage in the book to explain why you feel this way.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

For Wednesday: Respond with a Comment to the Picture Below (see questions)

Look carefully at the image above, a painting from the late 19th century.  In a “comment” below, tell me any of the following details you can guess from the painting and the way it is painted:

  • Who is this woman?
  • Why is she here?
  • What is she thinking?
  • How does the painter feel about her? 
  • Is she an important woman?  Or someone no one would notice?
  • What kind of woman is she—either her class/station in life, or her demeanor (is she nice; is she a bitch?)
  • What was the artist trying to say in general with a portrait like this?  In other words, why paint it?
NOTE: You don’t have to answer ALL of these questions—just whichever ones you think are most intriguing and interesting to you.  But try to really think about it—and consider why you think what you do.  Have fun with it and we’ll discuss it in class on Wednesday. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Welcome to the Course

Welcome to General Humanities II (not the best name for a course!), which I have subtitled, "Biography and Culture."  This course is designed to tell the story of Western culture from the Enlightenment to the late 20th century through the lives/works of 5 important artists: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jane Austen, Claude Monet, Langston Hughes, and Art Spiegelman.  Each one not only created art (whether novels, painting, music, or poetry) that has stood the test of time, but serves as a lens for examining their historical/cultural moment.  What I hope to do in this class is discover how the lives of each figure played into their works—and how their works, in return, became a record of how ordinary men and women lived, thought, and experienced the world around them.  The books in class are a mix of literature and biography, though each one is different enough to challenge how we look at each artist and period.  I hope you’ll enjoy seeing history through the eyes of ‘real’ people and trying to identify with their joys, frustrations, pains, and passions.   I look forward to reading, discussing, and learning from your own responses to these famous people and their revolutionary works.  

Be sure you have the following books, all of which are required for this course.  We'll start reading next week, in the order that they are listed below and on the syllabus (see course calendar for details).  

  • Gay, Mozart: A Life
  • Austen, Pride and Prejudice 
  • Heinrich, Monet
  • Hughes, Selected Poems
  • Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale