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?