Monday, April 24, 2017

Paper #2/Final Exam: Welcome to the Course!

Somehow, I thought this picture would be appropriate for your final exam...
 INTRO: So you’ve just finished this class, generically known as “General Humanities II.” In one sense, this means it “generally” addresses the second half of the required Humanities survey through various approaches/books. Of course, that seems like a very uninformative and uninspired way to describe a course; it would be like calling Star Wars “a general action movie concerning various battles on and around alien worlds loosely tied into Eastern religious beliefs.” The better you describe a course or film, the more people want to take or see it, and the better the audience understands the connections between the various plots, characters, and texts. Even in the world of literature, a good title can make or break a book, giving the reader a hint of the author’s intentions: Pride and Prejudice, The War of the Worlds, Candide, etc..

ASSIGNMENT: For your Final Exam paper, I want you to give this course a better—a proper!—name. It can be anything that suggests the underlying theme of the course according to you (and who better to know, since you’ve completed the course?). I then want you to write a 4-5 page essay that explains why this title is appropriate and explores the way some of the books in class support, expand, and challenge the title’s theme/ideas. In doing this, I want you to choose at least 3 of the books in class to use as examples: quote briefly from each book to show some of these themes in action, and what the prospective student might look for in each one. You can also suggest other books that might go well with this theme that we didn’t read this semester, but might in the future. Consider this essay an “Introduction” to the class that would help a student know what he/she was getting into, and perhaps, function as a trail of bread crumbs through the course itself. But remember, it all starts with the title—so choose something that captures some essential element or perspective of the course.

  • 4-5 pages double spaced
  • Use at least 3 of the books from class: quote, briefly discuss, etc. (but no need to tell us the stories or summarize the plot—this isn’t Spark Notes)
  • Be sure to cite quotes correctly (see former handout about this): introduce quotes, provide page numbers, and include a Works Cited page at the end
  • Due by our Final Exam day: Friday, May 5th by 5pm (no late papers accepted!)

Good luck! And who knows, your course title may become the new name of the course (I’ve been trying to get it changed for years).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

For Wednesday/Friday: Heinlein, Starship Troopers, Last Chapters (see note below)

Since I forgot to post these questions until late on Tuesday, I'll let you turn them in by Friday. Sorry! 

Answer TWO of the following: 

Q1: Is Heinlein’s world more of a male fantasy than an equal opportunity utopia? Though women serve in the military—they apparently make the best pilots—they are rarely in the book at all, and those who are sport shaved heads and are often merely ‘seen’ as voices, such as when the narrator tells us, “the last thing a trooper hears before a a woman’s voice, wishing him luck” (161). Why do the women take such a back seat in the future?

Q2: The narrator reminds us that “the M.I. is a free man; all that drives him comes from the inside—that self-respect and need for the respect of his mates and his pride in being one of them called moral, or esprit de corps” (164). By the end of the book, how “free” are we supposed to see the narrator? Does he truly have free will, or is this “esprit de corps” its own kind of prison?

Q3: One of the most interesting innovations of the future army is that everyone fights, and that the “soft” jobs are always given to civilians. As the narrator explains, “many armies in the past commissioned 10 percent of their number [to be officers], or even 15 percent—and sometimes a preposterous 20 percent!...What kind of army has more “officers” than corporals?...An army organized to lose wars—if history means anything” (166). What do you think Heinlein is criticizing here, and why would this cause armies to lose wars?

Q4: In distinguishing human civilization from the Bugs, the narrator concludes that “If a man gets lost in the mountains, hundreds will search and often two or three searchers are killed. But the next time somebody gets lost just as many volunteers turn out” (176). While this is very true, do you think Rico’s civilization is losing this mark of humanity? Is this the inevitable evolution of human beings—to become more like ‘bugs’ or robots to survive? Does Heinlein seem to take a stance on this? 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

For Friday: CLASS CANCELLED! (see below)

Unfortunately, I had a meeting in Norman super early this morning and won't make it back in time for class on Friday (though I will be in my office by 11 or so). However, I won't penalize you for my tardiness, so we'll just pick up where we left off on Monday: Read Chapters 10-12 and we'll do an in-class writing on some important ideas found in these chapters. If you've already read up to Chapter 12, feel free to read ahead since we'll be wrapping up next week since the semester is nearly over! 

Sorry for the inconvenience! 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

For Wednesday: Heinlein, Starship Troopers, Chs.6-9

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In Chapter Six, the narrator overhears Sergeant Zim talking to Captain Frankel about the whipping of Ted Hendricks. What revelation does he have during this conversation about the chain of command and the “very nature of the world I was in”?

Q2: What about Jean Dubois’ letter convinces the narrator not to resign from service? How might this relate to an earlier statement he made in class that “nothing of value is free” (76)?

Q3: In Chapter 8, the narrator recalls a heated class discussion where Dubois lectures on the 20th century’s treatment of juvenile delinquents. He goes on to say, “Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not—and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind” (94). Why might this be one of the main themes of the entire book, and a critique not only of the time the book was written (1959) but of our own world as well? Is this why the book remains relevant and controversial?

Q4: Reflecting on his role in the larger scheme of things, the narrator admits, “I am not a professor of cosmo-politics; I’m an M.I. When the government sends me, I go. In between, I catch a lot of sack time” (81). Doesn’t this sound a bit like Candide’s statement “we must tend our garden” which he earlier seemed to criticize? How we are supposed to read the narrator and his lack of curiosity or agency as a soldier? Is he the ideal citizen-soldier, or a dystopian drone who never asks questions?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

For Monday: Heinlein, Starship Troopers, Chs.1-5

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: The doctor at the recruiting station bristles when the narrator assumes he’s in the military: “Me?...No offence, but military service is for ants. Believe me, I seem ‘em go, I see ‘em comb back—when they do come back. I see what it’s done to them” (29). How does this society of the future view the military and its role in protecting society? Why does the narrator enlist despite these warnings and the strict disapproval of his parents? Does it resemble anything we’ve read in the WWI poets?

Q2: By the first chapter, the narrator is already a battle-weary veteran, survivor of many battles and wars. What is his understanding and philosophy of the military? Is he like Owen, someone cynical of the business of war but willing to take his place in the ranks? Or is he more like Brooke, romantic about the sacrifice to preserve an eternal “England”? You might also consider whether or not he’s satirizing the military or trying to defend it.

Q3: In the future, war is even more technologically advanced and impersonal than it is today. Indeed, one of the soldiers, seeing the futility of his role in a world of nuclear weaponry and computers, asks, “What’s the point of a whole lot of men risking their lives with obsolete weapons when one professor type can do so much more by pushing a button?” (51). Given that Heinlein actually served in the Navy, how does he seem to understand the role of a single, well-trained soldier in the ranks of a futuristic battlezone? Are soldiers mere cannon fodder, or do they serve a more useful—and perhaps, critical—role in a world of professors and robots?

Q4: Despite initial fears that the military was run by cruel, sadistic bullies, the narrator later admits that “It was too scheduled, too intellectual, to efficiently and impersonally organized to be cruelty for the sick pleasure of cruelty” (45). What is the purpose of their relentless training and seeming hazing exercises, and why do you think the author spends so much time documenting it? Do you think this is specific to the space troopers of the book, or might it apply even to the soldiers of today—or of Heinlein’s time?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Remember, no class on Friday: instead, you can go to the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival. Here's a link to the schedule for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday:

You can go to 1 or 2 sessions for extra credit. But for each one you go to, make sure to answer the following 4 questions (just like our blog responses, except you have to do all 4!) in a short paragraph--a few sentences each. As long as you give a thoughtful, honest response, I can excuse 2 absences or 2 missed blog responses--or 4/4 if you do a good job on two. But remember, this is extra credit, so if you just give me hasty, one-sentence responses or try to BS about sessions you didn't attend, I can't give you credit. 


Q1: Which of the authors interested you the most and why? Why did you respond their poems and/or story and why might you read more from this author?

Q2: Which piece (if any) did you find difficult to follow or understand and why? Is is simply not your kind of material, or was it too vulgar, or depressing, or confusing? 

If you liked all the pieces you heard by each writer, answer this instead: how did each author's reading work together as a whole? Why did these 3 (or 4) writers work well together? Was there any common themes or ideas that seemed to link them together?

Q3: Discuss briefly how the authors presented their material: their reading style, introductions, gestures, and other details that helped you appreciate the stories/poems. In other words, how did the authors help you understand their work through their performance?

Q4: How did the audience react to these authors/works? Did certain works get more response than others--and if so, why? Did people laugh? Were they completely silent. Did people seem to 'get' these writers, or did some leave them scratching their heads? How could you tell? 

Hope to see you at the Festival! 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

For Monday: Graves and Hardy (see note)

Unfortunately, my post with the questions for Monday didn't post--and if I post it now, that still doesn't give you the weekend to read and respond. So we'll simply read and discuss the poems in class--so be sure to bring your book as always. 

Here are the poems I wanted you to read, a few of which we'll discuss in class:

Graves: A Dead Boche, The Next War, Escape
Hardy: Channel Firing, Then and Now, And There Was a Great Calm

See you tomorrow! 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

For Friday: World War One British Poets (see below)

For Friday: World War One British Poets

NOTE: No class on Wednesday--I have to be out of town, unfortunately. So we'll pick up on Friday. Don't forget to start memorizing your poems! (see post below with the recitation schedule) 

  • Sassoon: “Haunted” (34), “The Troops” (36), “Repression of War Experience” (37), “Picture Show” (38)
  • Graves: “To Lucasta” (39), “Goliath and David” (40), “The Last Post” (41), “When I’m Killed” (41)
Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: What does Sassoon mean by the metaphor, “life is just the picture dancing on a screen”? Is he talking about life in general, or life in the war? Do you think some of our previous poets, such as Owen or Gurney, would agree with him?

Q2: Graves’ poem, “To Lucasta On Going To the War—For the Fourth Time” is a slight parody of a 17th century poem by Richard Lovelace called “To Lucasta, Going To the Wars,” which is also about a soldier leaving his love to fight. The concluding lines of the poem read, “Yet this inconstancy is such/As thou too shalt adore:/I could not love thee, dear, so much,/Loved I not honor more.” How is Graves parodying or mocking this sentiment in his poem? How has war changed over the centuries, based on Graves’ soldier?

Q3: Compare Graves’ “When I’m Killed” to Brooke’s “V.The Soldier” from The Soldier (p. 3). How does this underline Graves’ essential philosophy of the war and of being a soldier? Do you think he’s mocking Brooke’s beliefs? Or are they merely slightly different ways of looking at the same experience or sacrifice?

Q4:  How does Sassoon conjure up what Owen called “memory [fingering] in their hair of murders” (22) in his poem, “Repression of War Experience?” According to this poem, why in some ways is it easier to fight and die in a war than to survive it?

Friday, March 24, 2017

For Monday: World War One British Poets: Owen, Gurney, and Sassoon

No questions this weekend, so be sure to read the poems below, since we'll have an in-class response when you come to class. 

Owen, "Mental Cases" (22), "Anthem for Doomed Youth" (25), "Apologia Pro Poemate Meo" (26)

Gurney: "The Silent One" (28), "To His Love" (29), "The Target" (29)

Sassoon: "A Working Party" (31), "They" (34), "The One-Legged Man" (34)

Also, if you missed class on Friday, be sure to see the Exam #2 assignment a few posts below this one. I've posted the recitation schedule below; if you haven't signed up yet, let me know a good time. 

Monday, March 27
11-12: Lyndsey 

1:30-2:30 Ben 

11-12: Tyler, Sam
1-2: Dylan

1:30-2:30: Roland

11-12: Courtney, Matt
1-2: Macey, Amanda

Monday, April 3
11-12: Joshua B, Bailey
1-2: Lauren M.

1:30-2:30: Joshua K.

11-12: Lauren J.


1-2:50: Lessa B

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

For Friday: World War One British Poets

Rosenberg: “Break of Day in the Trenches,” “Louse Hunting,” “Returning, We Hear the Larks,” “Dead Man’s Dump” (pp.13-17)

Owen: “Arms and the Boy,” “Greater Love,” “Insensibility,” “Dulce et Decorum Est” (18-22)

Only ONE question this time:

Q1: Choose one of the poems above, and pick a few important lines or metaphors to discuss. As we do in class, help us appreciate how the poem is saying what it says through it’s choice of language and syntax: why this word, why this image. Pick the parts of the poem that most interested, excited, confused, or disturbed you, and explain why it does this. You don’t have to discuss the entire poem, but discuss enough so that we can understand the poem in a new light (or explain how you learned to read it in a new light). 

Exam #2: British Poets of World War I

Instead of taking the traditional sit-down-and-write-a-bunch-of-long-essays exam, I am offering an alternative this time around (you’ll get another one of those soon enough!).

PART I: Recitation (60 pts.)

For the first part of your exam (the easy part!), I want you to memorize all or part of a poem from our book, World War One British Poets. To qualify, the poem must be at least ten lines long. You can choose any ten lines, or more than ten lines, so long as you recite at least ten lines. We’ll sign up for times to do this in my office, and you don’t have to get it 100% perfect, but are allowed 3 mistakes. As long as you make no more than 3, you’ll get full points for this part of the exam. More than that, and you’ll lose points.

HINT: Try to pick a poem you have a connection to—that created an image or emotion in your mind, and that is easy for you to read and think about. Read it out loud as you try to memorize it and hear the sounds and rhythms. It will help you remember!

PART II: Analysis (40 pts.)

After you recite your poem in my office, I’ll give you a series of questions (you will pick ONE) to respond to using your poem. This is a “close reading” response, meaning that you analyze your poem to provide your answer to the question. What is “close reading”? Basically, it’s what we often do in class—examining how individual words, syntax, metaphors, and sounds contribute to ideas and themes in a poem.

For example, if writing about “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, I might write:
“In the last stanza, the poet suddenly uses the word “ye” when he writes, “If we break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep” (12). This is important because “ye” is an archaic world, sounding Biblical or Shakespearean, which makes the reader hear this as an ancient law that cannot be broken, like one of the Ten Commandments. This makes the tone of the poem more serious and suggests that the soldiers have a heavy task before them; otherwise, the dead soldiers will never truly be laid to rest.”

NOTE: When writing about poetry, use slashes (/) to indicate line breaks, since this saves space in your paper (though you can transcribe them exactly as they appear, as long as you don’t do it simply to take up space!). Also, be sure to cite the page number the poem occurs on so I—or others—can find it.

DUE DATES: Recitation no later than Friday, April 7th; Analysis due a week later by April 14th.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

For Wednesday: WWI poems of Brooke, Sorley, and Thomas

For Wednesday: World War One British Poets
  • Brooke, “The Soldier” (1-3), “The Treasure” (4)
  • Sorley, “To Germany” (5-6), “When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead” (6), “Route March” (6-7)
  • Thomas, “This Is No Case of Petty Right or Wrong” (8-9), “Adlestrop” (9), “Tears” (9-10), “The Owl” (10), “A Private” (10-11), “As the Team’s Head Brass” (11)
REMEMBER: don’t worry if you don’t understand the entire poem, and don’t look for the overall ‘message.’ Look instead at the metaphors or just consider the sounds of the poem itself. Ask yourself, ‘what does this poem want me to see or experience as I read it? Why look at a plot of ground as “England”? How does this change how I see the world?”

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Why does Brooke see the experience of war—not just dying, but the entire enterprise—as a spiritual endeavor? What meaning does it give to his life that he lacked before? What does he mean by lines such as, “Safe though all safety’s lost; safe where men fall;/And if these poor limbs die, safest of all”? (2).

Q2: In the letter quoted on page 5, Sorley criticizes Brooke’s attitude toward war by saying, “He has clothed his attitude with fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.” How does one of his poems take the unsentimental attitude, then? How does he look at the realities of war without clothing them with fine words or romantic language? For him, what is the reality of war for the common soldier?

Q3: In Thomas’ poem, “This Is No Petty Case of Right or Wrong,” what does the narrator mean when he says, “Little I know or care if, being dull,/I shall miss something that historians/Can rake out of the ashes when perchance/The phoenix broods serene above their ken” (9)? Also, if this is how he feels about the war, what makes him  ultimately enlist as a soldier? What does he care about?

Q4: How is Sorley’s “Route March” a parody of most propagandistic poems, such as Kipling’s “For All We Have and Are” (63), and even Brooke’s “The Soldier”? What makes the poem satirical, and where do we hear echoes of these earlier poems?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

For Wednesday/Friday: Kumare = Handout

If you missed class on Monday, we watched the first half of Kumare, a documentary that loosely relates to some of the themes from our recent works. We'll finish it tomorrow (Wednesday) and then write about it on Friday. Remember that Paper #1 is due on Monday (see assignment below), and there is no class on Monday. 

Here is a link to the trailer:

ALSO, if you missed class, here is the handout I passed out:


THE GOAL: Remember, the goal of writing papers is to create a written conversation between you and the authors of the texts. It shouldn’t just be you saying “this happens, and then this happens, and this is important because of this...” Imagine that you’re actually having a discussion with the books in question, and in your paper, you speak, they speak, and you respond to their ideas.

AUDIENCE: Don’t write for me (the professor) and avoid saying “as we discussed in class,” or “like that one book about the X-Men said,” etc. Write for a general audience that is interested in the topic but wasn’t in our class and might not have read all the books. This way, you assume less and explain more. The more you assume, the less you represent the full conversation in your paper.

QUOTE: When exploring your ideas, be sure to quote passages from the books that would help other people see where your ideas come from, OR passages that you can respond to in order to examine problematic ideas. When quoting passages in your paper, make sure to follow the format below. Introduce the quotation (tell what author or work it comes from) and then cite it at the end (the page number, or if no page numbers are provided, simply cite the author). Don’t use stand-alone quotations.

EX: As Victor Frankenstein explains in Chapter Five of Volume Three, “I shall be with you on your wedding night.’ I should almost regard the threatened fate as unavoidable. But death was no evil to me, if the loss of Elizabeth were balanced with it; and I therefore, with a contented and even cheerful countenance, agreed with my father, that if my cousin would consent, the ceremony should take place in ten days, and thus put, as I imagined, the seal to my fate “(195).

After quoting a passage, be sure to respond to it: help us understand what this passage is saying and why it’s important to your discussion. Don’t assume the reader can read it the way you can, or understand why you’ve quoted it.

WORKS CITED CITATION: Make sure to cite all your works in a Works Cited page at the end of your paper like so:

  • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. [the basic citation is the author + the title of the work + publication information]
  • Claremont, Chris. The Uncanny X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. New York: Marvel, 1981.
  • Kumare. dir. Vikram Gandhi. Kino Lorber, 2011

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

For Friday: Finish X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills + Paper #1 assignment

Be sure to finish the X-Men comic for Friday's class; we'll have an in-class writing assignment about a specific scene. Also, I'm pasting the Paper #1 assignment below. Start thinking about it, even though it's not due for a bit. Keep all your daily responses, since they can all be used as pre-writing for your paper (it's all part of the same conversation). 

General Humanities II
Paper #1 Assignment

Option #1: Metaphors and Monsters
“I have known such fear and hatred from birth...but time does not make it any easier to take” (Nightcrawler, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills).

For this option, I want you to discuss how the ‘monsters’ in each work are metaphors for the “others” in our society. In Frankenstein, the Creature is shunned simply because he is grotesque, though he has more humanity than Victor himself. Likewise, the X-Men devote their lives to saving others, yet are classified as freaks and considered pests to humanity. What makes the “Other” so uncanny? What fears do they seem to awaken in our collective unconscious? How do both authors explore this in their works, and how do they attempt to exorcise these demons? Where do we see similar ‘monsters’ in our own society? Are the fears and the persecution the same?

Option #2: The Savior of Mankind
“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many  happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein)

For this option, I want you to explore the role of the ‘Great Man’ who feels called upon to save humanity even at the expense of his life—or those of others. We’ve seen three men who fall under this umbrella in class: Christopher McCandless, Victor Frankenstein, and now, Reverend William Stryker. Each one has noble intentions, yet each one (to a greater or lesser extent) is willing to sacrifice others as he pursues a single-minded vision of purity and salvation. What makes these men tick? How do they find their inspiration? Why do they persist when other men and women might fail? And how do all of them go over the edge in their pursuit for the ideal?


  • Show me you’ve read the books and listened in class. Don’t talk vaguely—respond specifically to the ‘big ideas’ of the books and discussions.
  • QUOTE from the books and use these passages to support your reading and explore the conversation of the paper topic. Don’t just summarize or generalize the topic. Show how complicated it can become and how the authors are struggling with it themselves.
  • Introduce and cite quotations according to MLA format (see post on the blog about Citation).
  • Should be at least 4-5 pages double spaced
  • DUE MONDAY, MARCH 6th BY 5pm

Monday, February 20, 2017

For Wednesday: Claremont, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

NOTE: Take some time to get accustomed to reading a comic book, since it’s a little tricky at first. Read both words and pictures carefully, and don’t assume the pictures merely illustrate the words (they often show you more than the words). We’ll talk about how comic books tell stories in class on Wednesday, along with the questions below. Read about half of the book for class (at least to the flashback of Stryker’s wife’s death), or feel free to read the entire story.

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: How is Stryker under some of the delusions and sense of grandeur as Victor Frankenstein? Though he doesn’t want to create life, what gives him the right to destroyt it? What makes him more than a simple comic book villain like Red Skull, Dr. Doom, etc.?

Q2: What is the advantage of telling a story about racism, bigotry, and misunderstanding in a comic book rather than a traditional novel? What can you do (or show) in a comic that helps underline the essential message? Discuss a passage that seems to do this effectively.

Q3: How is this comic also about the power of the media itself? How does Styker use the power of television to his advantage? Why isn’t Professor X able to use the same power/ability? You might also consider how Stryker would have used social media if this comic had been written today (it’s from 1982).

Q4: In many ways, Kitty Pride (aka Ariel) is a lot like the Creature, a young person who is given an education in the cruelty and hypocrisy of life. Where do we see her tested in the same way, and what seems to prevent her from becoming exactly what her enemies expect her to be—a blood-thirsty mutant?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

For Friday: Frankenstein, Volume III

For Friday's class, read as much as you can of Volume III of Frankenstein. We'll have an in-class writing over a significant passage in the book.

Some ideas to consider are...

* Why does Victor destroy the "mate"? What is significant about the Creature's response to this?

* What do you make of this passage: "The remains of the half-finished creature, whom I had destroyed, lay scattered on the floor, and I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being" (175). 

* How does the Creature's relationship change toward Frankenstein in these chapters? Why might this be? 

* Does Victor kill Clerval? While obviously "the Creature" does it, how does he react to the crime? Why do all the villagers assume he's guilty?

* How has Elizabeth changed in the ensuing year? Though she says relatively little in the book, what does Shelley reveal about her thoughts and fears?

* Why does Victor leave Elizabeth unprotected on their wedding night? Why does he assume the Creature means to kill him?

* Why does he "[embrace] her with ardor" (199) in death, though he never seems to show passion to her while alive? 

* Does Victor ever contradict himself about his Creation toward the last chapters? Does he think he's created a monster...or a human being? What does he want posterity to see? 

* How does Walton end the book? Has he learned from Victor's example, or will this only make him embrace his pursuit of "the wild" even further? 

Monday, February 13, 2017

For Wednesday: Shelley, Frankenstein, Chs. 6-9 and Chs. 1-2 (Vol.3)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In Chapter VII, the Creature reads more books borrowed from the De Lacey clan, as well as a strange manuscript he’s been carrying around since his ‘birth.’ How do these books further shape his education, and why might they definitively push him over the edge?

Q2: Twice the Creature says “I, like the archfiend, bore a hell within me” (138) and “it stirred the fiend within me,” (145) which echoes Victor’s earlier statement “I bore a hell within me that nothing could extinguish” (89). Are there other tell-tale signs in the Creature’s language that he shares Victor’s thoughts, imagery, and vocabulary? Is this proof that the Creature is Victor, or is it more a case of “like father, like son”?

Q3: When Victor bids farewell to Elizabeth (after planning to marry her), the text merely says that she “acquiesced; but she was filled with disquiet at the idea of my suffering, away from her, the inroads of misery and grief...she bade me a tearful, silent farewell.” However, the original 1818 version of the novel reads like this: “Elizabeth approved of the reasons of my departure, and only regretted that she had not the same opportunities of enlarging her experience, and cultivating her understanding...We all, said she, depend upon you; and if you are miserable, what must be our feelings?” What does the original text seem to communicate about Elizabeth’s experience that the 1831 version wipes away? What might this say about Mary Shelley’s feelings as she wrote the novel?

Q4: Why does Victor ultimately agree to creature a mate for his creation, even though he finds the work detestable and the implications frightening? Does he finally sympathize with his ‘son,’ or feel a sense of duty towards his creation? Or are there darker, more sinister motives behind his acceptance?

Mary Shelley Biopic on the Horizon

For those interested, keep on the lookout for a Mary Shelley biopic coming to theaters in the near future. Elle Fanning plays Mary, and it covers much of her tumultuous early life, including the writing of Frankenstein. Read the brief article below for more details:

Friday, February 10, 2017

For Monday: Shelley, Frankenstein, Chs. VII to (Vol 2) Ch.V

NOTE: I originally said to read all of Volume 2, but I’m backtracking a bit since we only covered Chapter V in class on Friday. So just read a few more chapters for Monday, or if you’re behind, hopefully this will help you catch up.

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Upon learning that the Creature has killed William and framed Justine, Victor reflects, “A thousand times rather would I have confessed myself guilty of the crime ascribed to Justine” (83). However, he never confesses or even tries to intercede on Justine’s behalf: why? Do you think he really would sacrifice himself to save Justine, or is he truly incapable of saving those he loves?

Q2: Remember that the entire story is being told to Walton, who is writing it all down for posterity, so his sister can read it. With that in mind, so you feel that Victor is telling the absolute truth? Is he a reliable narrator? Are there any scenes or moments that you feel he could be hiding actual events, or making himself seem better—or more innocent—than he actually was?

Q3: Though we expect the Creature to be a savage, mindless monster, he appears quite reasonable, and even sympathetic when they meet in Chapter II. Why does Shelley turn the tables on us here, and how she does make us consider the Creature as more than a mere monster? You might also consider whether or not Victor responds the same way as the reader does.

Q4: How does the Creature receive his education after being banished from Victor’s presence? Who becomes his ‘foster’ parents and what instruction do they offer him? How might these passages address the ‘nature vs. nurture’ issue that was a big issue in the 19th century? In essence, are people born human, or do they have to be taught to be human? 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Friday: Shelley, Frankenstein, Chs.5-8 and Vol.2, Chapter 1

Read the next few chapters (up to Chapter 1 in the Second Volume) and we'll have an in-class writing to discuss some of the big ideas in this section. Some ideas you might consider are:

* Why does Frankenstein create a 'monster' when he could have created anything he wanted? Why does his final creation repulse him? Didn't he see what he was creating before hand?

* How does the Creature respond to his master? Does he try to destroy him? Speak to him? How much does he understand what he is--and who Victor is?

* At one point he calls the Creature "my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me." Why does the Creature become his implacable foe, killing all those he loves--and especially the women in his life?

* How guilty is Victor in the deaths that follow? He wavers between blaming the Creature and then blaming himself as the "murderer." Is he? In a sense, has he killed Henry and Justine?

* What happens to Elizabeth throughout these chapters? How is she transformed by the events of the novel? What does Victor to do assist her or protect her? Why might Shelley include this in the novel? 

Monday, February 6, 2017

For Wednesday: Shelley, Frankenstein, Letters I-IV and Chapters I-IV (pp.15-57)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Most first-time readers of Frankenstein are surprised to find that the novel begins with a frame narrative: that of Walton, the arctic explorer, who is writing home to his sister, Mrs. Saville. Why do you think Shelley opened her fictional horror novel with a series of “real” letters from one person to another? Does this remind you of techniques we use today in films and TV shows?

Q2: Soon after Walton meet Victor, he writes to his sister, “I have endeavored to discover what quality is it which he possesses, that elevates him so immeasurably above any other person I ever knew” (30). Why is Walton so taken with him, especially since most people would dismiss Victor as a madman? On a related note, does Victor resemble McCandless is any of his background or personal beliefs? Could we see him as another man lost “in the wild” on an aesthetic voyage?

Q3: Frankenstein is full of description of the natural world: we read about terrifying glaciers in the North Pole, as well as thunderstorms and mountains in Victor’s native Switzerland. Why do you think Nature is such an important part of the book, less a backdrop than an actual character in the story? When does Nature seem to help us ‘read’ or understand the story itself?

Q4: Recalling his early education, Victor remarks, “And thus for a time I was occupied by exploded systems, mingling, like an unadept, a thousand contradictory theories, and floundering desperately in a very slough of multifarious knowledge...” Why is Victor attracted to old, arcane alchemists and philosophers who have long-since been debunked? What is his attraction to the writings of Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Magnus, men who are almost more magicians than true scientists? 

Friday, February 3, 2017

For Monday: Exam #1 (Candide & Into the Wild)

REMINDER: We have an exam in-class on Monday covering our first two books. it will have two parts, a short answer section and a longer essay section. Bring BOTH books to class so you can use them for your essay--you will not get full points without quotation. 

Be sure to have a copy of Shelley's Frankenstein by  Monday, since we'll start discussing it for Wednesday's class. Question to follow...

Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, January 30, 2017

For Wednesday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chapters Sixteen-Epilogue

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Technically, McCandless failed in his quest to live “in the wild” and many Alaskans mocked him for it. But some, such as professor/explorer Roman Dial, suggests that he actually succeeded. How is he suggesting we appreciate or understand McCandless’ accomplishment instead of only seeing death?

Q2: Krakauer writes that “In 1992, however, there were no more blank spots on the map—not in Alaska, not anywhere. But Chris, with his idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution for this dilemma: He simply got rid of the map” (174). Why might this also be a crucial component of McCandless’ philosophy of life? How is “getting rid of the map” a unique way of looking at and exploring our world?

Q3: At the end of Candide’s adventures, he is finally bitter and broken until he embraces a new philosophy—“we must cultivate our garden.” How does McCandless’ final days in Alaska also teach him a new (or revised) philosophy of life? Is it similar to Candide’s new acceptance of life? Different? Does it explain who McCandless might have become if he had lived to tell his tale?

Q4: According to Krakauer’s exhaustive research, what really killed McCandless in Alaska? Is his death a matter of youthful bravado and ignorance? Or would even a more seasoned traveler have succumbed to this hidden danger? Why are people so divided about how he died and why? 

Friday, January 27, 2017

For Monday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chs.10-15

No questions for Monday, though we will have an in-class response based on a big idea from Chapters 10-15. If you missed class today (Friday), be sure to turn in the questions by 5pm, otherwise I can't accept them. Even if you missed the questions, keep up with the reading since we'll have our Exam #1 over both books before long! (see syllabus)

Here are some ideas to consider as you read:

* How did Chris' childhood shape the man-to-be? How much of his philosophy might have been a case of nurture over nature?

* How did Chris apply his trademark intensity/obsession to other areas of his life before he set off "into the wild"? What might this say about his psychological need to perform and test the odds?

* What event happened in his life that made "his entire childhood seem like a fiction"? How does this help explain (if not explain away) his sense of anger and betrayal at his parents?

* Why did climbing 'matter' to Krakauer? Why did it make his world "real" in a way that nothing else did? How does this connect, possibly, to the way McCandless saw/experienced the world?

* How does Krakauer's quest to conquer the Devil's Thumb compare to McCandless' journey to Alaska? What makes them similar or different? 

* What does Krakauer mean when he writes, "I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic"? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For Friday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chs. 6-9

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Where does the line between fiction and non-fiction become blurred in these chapters?  Why might he include things that may not be 100% true?  How does this affect (or help us understand) the novel? 

Q2: In Chapter 6, McCandless writes a letter to Franz explaining his philosophy of life: “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.  The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun” (57).  Despite his own failings, does McCandless express something fundamental about the ‘meaning of life’ here?  Or is he simply terrified of settling down and assuming any adult responsibilities? 

Q3: The preface to Chapter 8 reads, “It may, after all, be the bad habit of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant thought or art.” How might this help explain many of the “types” who make idealistic journeys to Alaska, and who—like McCandless—are as much driven by their psychological makeup as any detailed philosophy?

Q4: Commenting on McCandless’ refusal to contact his parents, Westerberg remarks, “If Alex was here right now, I’d be tempted to chew him out good: ‘What the hell were you thinking? Not speaking to your family for all that time, treating them like dirt!’” (64). So much of McCandless’ identity seems to be based on a rejection of his parents, even more than his books and ideals. Is his trip “into the wild” basically an adolescent fantasy of running away? Do you feel he’s more trying to prove something to them rather than fulfill his own dreams and ambitions?

Monday, January 23, 2017

For Wednesday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chs.1-5 (pp.4-46)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Krakauer prefaces every chapter with quotes, some from the books McCandless read, and others from books which the author feels mirror McCandless’ journey. Discuss a specific quote that you feel helps illustrate the larger themes in that chapter. Where do we see a connection between life and literature in McCandless’ life?

Q2: In Chapter Three, Westerberg writes that McCandless was “extremely ethical. He set pretty high standards for himself” (18). How does this seem to balance with the young man who lies to his parents, leaves for Alaska without telling anyone (or ever speaking to his family again), and refuses to follow the rules of society? Is he a con man, who plays different roles for different people? Or does he simply define ethics differently from the average citizen (or from his parents)?

Q3: Does McCandless have a fully-formed philosophy of life as Candide does? Or do you feel he’s still working towards it by Chapter Five of the book? If he does, is it more like Candide’s notion that “everything happens for the best,” or does it more resemble Martin’s view that “the point of the world is to drive us mad”?

Q4: McCandless, after virtually starving on his journey in the Grand Canyon, he writes that “his spirit is soaring,” and “It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning if found” (37). What do you think he finds by living ‘on the road’? Why is this life more fulfilling for him than what he had before? Is he simply fleeing responsibility and expectations, or does this explain his actual philosophy of life?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

For Friday: Finish Candide

No questions for Friday--we'll have an in-class writing response when you arrive in class. Hint: it might be about something important at the very end of the book. So read carefully and ask yourself, "what philosophy wins out in the end? Does Candide lose his optimism? Does he gain something better? Or does he simply reject the world like Martin?" 

See you on Friday! 

Friday, January 13, 2017

For Wednesday: Candide, Chs.13-22

Answer TWO of the following, and remember, give a short paragraph response and be thoughtful. I would rather you respond with confusion and detail rather than too briefly being certain. 

Q1: In many ways, Candide is a book about education: how do young people learn to be adults in the modern world (of the 18th century, that is)? What lessons do Candide and Cunegonde receive in right and wrong, and are either of them forced to corrupt their “good” nature simply to prosper in the world? Does success require a moral sacrifice for Voltaire?

Q2: El Dorado is a fabled paradise in the New World, which many explorers, including Sir Walter Raleigh, spent their lives trying to find. Lucky for him, Candide stumbles right onto it. What does Candide see in El Dorado that goes against the very nature of European civilization? Why might this entire passage be an elaborate satire of tradition and the idea of “whatever is, is right”?

Q3: After the incident with the monkeys, Candide remarks, “What all is said and done, there is a sterling goodness in unsophisticated Nature; for instead of eating me, these people behaved most politely as soon as they learnt that I was not a Jesuit” (72). How is Candide guilty of adopting Pangloss’ philosophy too literally here? And what other views/voices does he seem to echo in this passage?

Q4: How do the two new characters, Cacambo and Martin add to the satire of the novel? What new perspective does one, or both, offer, and how do they help us see aspects of the world that Candide is too young and ignorant to notice? 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

For Friday: Candide, Chs.1-12

For Friday: Voltaire, Candide, Chs. 1-12 (pp.1-29)

REMEMBER: these questions are meant as a kind of guide to help you ease into the book and find ideas you might otherwise miss or ignore.  Ideally, by answering two of the questions, you will be forced to consider not only what you read but why Voltaire wrote it.  Don’t worry about being right or wrong; the important thing is simply to attempt an answer based on the ideas in the book.  Even a “wrong” answer can help our class discussion on Friday. Respond in a short paragraph--at least a few sentences for each question you answer. 

Answer TWO of the following--due in class on Friday or no later than 5pm: 

Q1: Describe Dr. Pangloss’s philosophy as it appears throughout these chapters, notably in the beginning of the book and during the earthquake in Lisbon. Is Pangloss the voice of “reason” in the work (Voltaire’s voice, in other words), or is he an object of satire?  Use a specific passage in the book for support. 

Q2: The name “Candide” means “candid, honest, or open,” suggesting that Candide is an innocent soul who believes the best of people.  How does Voltaire test Candide’s faith throughout these opening chapters?  Do you feel he agrees with Candide that mankind is essentially good, despite a few “bad apples,” or does he think Candide is an idiot for holding such beliefs? 

Q3: How does Voltaire criticize the Church in the passages about the Lisbon earthquake (which was a real event)?  Do you think Voltaire is an atheist (as he was accused of being in his lifetime), or is he more critical of how religion is used by those in power?  Discuss a specific passage in support of your reading.

Q4: At the end of the Old Woman’s Tale, she explains, “A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life.  This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics."  What, after all her trials and misfortunes, do you think she “loves” about life?  What can she still see that most people in her situation could not?  Also, do you think Voltaire agrees with this statement—or is he satirizing the Old Woman’s stupidity?  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Welcome to the Course!

Welcome to General Humanities II, or as I like to call it, "The Conversation Between Literature and Culture, Part 2" (and no, you don't need to have taken Part 1). This course is a survey of literature from around 1700 to the present. However, instead of reading one work after another chronologically, this class attempts to forge connections between the past and present, showing the ‘family tree’ of ideas that have flowered in our own century. To do this, we’ll look at a wide range of literature, from novels to poetry to comic books to help us analyze the cultural DNA of humanity. Are we fundamentally different than we were 50, 100, or even 500 years ago? What problems have we solved—and which continue to haunt us? Also, what role did literature play in forging our collective humanity: did it record our progress or provide the blueprint to follow? Hopefully this course will give you a few new questions to ask yourself on long, dark nights...and possibly, one or two tentative solutions to help you sleep.

REQUIRED TEXTS: (a) Voltaire, Candide (Penguin or other edition); (b) Krakauer, Into the Wild; (c) Shelley, Frankenstein (Penguin or other edition); (d) Claremont, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills; (e) WWI Poetry (Dover or other edition); (f) Heinlein, Starship Troopers

See you in class every MWF @ 10:00! 

[NOTE: The posts below this are from previous semesters--no need to read them unless you're curious. Our work will be posted above this post.]