A Syllabus for English 201.026, Fall 2004

A Primary Course on How to Read and to Write About Literature

Lecturer: Dr. Ellen Moody

Section 201.026, meets Tuesday, 4:30-7:10, Robinson A125
My preferred e-mail address is: Ellen2@JimandEllen.org,
My website address: http://www.jimandellen.org/ellen/emhome. htm. The URL for the Teaching Section of my website address: http://www.jimandellen.org/gmuhom e/emcourse.htm

Description of Course

The online catalogue of the GMU English Department describes English 201 as follows:

Close analysis of literary texts, including but not limited to poetry, fiction, and drama. Emphasis on reading and writing exercsies to develop basic interpretive skills. Examination of figurative language, central ideas, relationship between structure and meaning, narrative point of view, etc.

In this particular class our aim will be to read a good deal in depth. We will proceed on the assumption that our enjoyment of an experience is enriched when we understand it in thoughtful ways. The epigraph to this course is the opener to Richard Feynman's What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?:

"I have a friend who's an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, 'Look how beautiful it is,' and I'll agree. But then he'll say, 'I, as an artist, can see how beautiful the flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.' I think he's kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people -- and to me, too, I believe. Although I might not be quite as refined asethetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, I see more in the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells inside, which also have a beauty. There's beauty not just at the dimension of one centimeter; there's also beauty at a smaller dimension.

There are the complicated actions of the cells, and other processes. The fact that the colors in the flower have evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; that means insects can see the colors. That adds a question: does this aesthetic sense we have also exist in lower forms of life? There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds I don't understands how it subtracts."

There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of how to read critically. These questions when answered can lead us to understand our lives and ourselves better. What knowledge am I talking about? The specific conventions and procedures of interpretation that enable knowledgeable readers to move from the surface meaning of a text (the story, the types of characters, the setting, the images) to how a text is put together.

The goal of this particular 201 will be to make visible how literary critics think about written texts, to explain the assumptions behind the conventions which enable people to make sense of a text beyond simply repeating the story. Our aim is not to come up with a specific kind of interpretation, but to explain the facts about the forms the works take. We will discuss what is meant by a genre or kind of work (examples are tragedy, comic, satire and romance) and what is meant by a subgenre (gothics, fantasy, realism). We will look at conventions of characterization, narrative point of view and uses of archetypal imagery. We will try to understand what is meant by irony and how it is used in literary works. The focus will be on making explicit the grounds of an interpretation. We will try to make visible the journey from reading as a process to producing written and oral literary talk by explaining the special conventions that readers call upon when they produce ordinary interpretations which make the arts which spring from the human imagination and our emotional lives alive to us.

Required Books (in the order we will read them)

Required Films


In this class you will be asked to read and to demonstrate you have read all the assigned texts and to see and demonstrate you have seen all assigned films -- as well as thought about them -- by 1) writing four essays with guideliness at home; 2) giving one short talk or presentation to the class; and 3) passing one open-book final.

Four Essays following Guidelines

You are asked to write four essays following guidelines (or essay with guideliness) outside class.

  1. For the first you must choose between writing about 1) Carr's A Month in the Country; or 2) Patchett's Bel Canto.
  2. For the second you must choose between writing about 3) Bolt's A Man for All Seasons ; or 2) Graham Greene's The Quiet American. You may use details from the two film adaptations we see to reinforce one of your points, but your subject for your essay-journal is the text of the book, not its film adaptation.
  3. For the third you must choose between writing 1) a comparison of Carl Walter Van Tilburg's The Ox-Bow Incident with the 1943 20th Century Fox film adaptation; or 2) a comparison of Graham Swift's Last Orders with the 2001 Columbia Tristar film. While the film adaptations are now central to your purpose, you are expected to have read the books carefully and write a comparison of the two modes, not just a paper on the films.
  4. For the fourth you must choose between writing about 1) Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Teheran or 2) Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth together with Marge Piercy's The Moon is Always Female.

These are our "set journals" and are to be numbered (1, 2, 3, and 4). What is a essay with guidelines? See attachment entitled Guidelines for Writing Your Essay and student models. You are required to adhere to the guideliness strictly, e.g., your plot summary must not be more than 1 paragraph; your analysis of text must be 2-3 pages. You must follow the guidelines even if you write a comparison of a text and its film adaptation. See student models. The aim of this exercise is to help you learn to read more carefully and really write analytically about what you read.

Due dates for the set essay with guideliness: you are asked to hand your work in on the day specified in the calendar; if a journal or the story is a session late, I will take down the grade an element for every sessions it is late (a B+ becomes a B, then a B- and so on).

You can revise the journals if you like. If your grade for the second version is higher than the your grade for the first, I average the two grades together to form a single grade for the particular essay with guidelines. If your grade on the second version is the same or lower, I ignore it. You can also write "extra credit" journals on authors you have not yet written about.

One Seven to Ten Minute Short Talk

You are asked to give a 7-10 minute talk on a text that will be assigned to you in class. The talks will begin the third meeting of the semester. The idea is to practice inventing a clear thesis- statement which is supported by concrete details from a text or your own experience.

One of the aims of this course is to guide students into learning how to talk as well as how to write about texts in an educated way. To do a talk brings home two important truths about writing. To quote John Trimble, the "success of a communication depends solely on how the reader receives it", and thinking clearly with the ordinary language of everyday life is the basis of a readable essay. To do well in middle class occupations outside the classroom demands that you learn how to present yourself and your point of view attractively. By asking everyone to do a short talk we can learn from one another ways of presenting the self in a poised manner that can gain respect and charm. The whole class will listen and try to respond. The ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened may teach everyone something about communication skills.

To have everyone talk on a different short piece will also make the course more enjoyable and de-center the classroom. It is another opportunity for a student to practice the techniques and conventions of literary interpretation. We will also have many points of view and become something like friends. Each student is responsible to do his or her talk on the day assigned; it is to be taken seriously as an individual project. The class is turned over to the student and he or she is "on".

I have provided three student models. Two are on Last Orders, a third is on the French writer of Arthurian romance Chrétien de Troyes's Eric and Enide.

One Open-Book In-Class Final

There will be a final which will cover the whole term's work. Each student will be asked to write in-class essays on texts they have not written directed-journals about. There will be ten shorter questions which will require a paragraph to answer. You will be allowed to bring your books, classnotes, and any notes you have made while reading over the term.

Class Meetings

1) I ask that you attend class faithfully, read what is required in the books, and see the movies that are shown in class or assigned for seeing outside class. For most students, the less frequently they attend, the less they learn.

2) I hope that you participate in class. To do this, you have to have read most of the text due to be read for a given meeting. Our class is large, and some cultural history behind these texts may be unfamiliar so I will have to use some of the time to offer more background than is provided by our editions. However, I hope we will have good class discussions after each student gives a talk.


Your grade will reflect the work you have done over the course of the whole semester. By the end of this time I should have for each student a minimum of six major grades, one for each of four essay journals, one for a short talk, and one for the exam-essays. These grades will be averaged together to form one final grade. If a student has done extra credit journals, he or she will have more grades to be averaged in. I then take into account your participation in class; if you came for help if you needed it; and those journals which showed that you cared, that you really thought about your subject and made an effort to find something out about, explore, and something intelligent, coherent, and complete. I recognize the value of, respect, and reward hard work when I see it.

The Problem of Plagiarism

If I discover you have plagiarised, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail or report you to the Chair of my Department.

'"Plagiarism means using words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles consulted is not sufficient. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in an academic setting."

My view is plagiarism makes a mockery of the goals of this course.

The English Department has also formulated a midterm grade policy which I will follow:

In English 100, 101 and English 200s, students receive a midterm letter grade based on the work of the first seven weeks of the course. The purpose of this grade is to help students find out how well they are doing in the first half of the course in order to make any adjustments necessary for success in the course as a whole. Instructors calculate letter grades based on the completed course assignments as weighted on the syllabus through the seventh week. The work in the second half of the semester may be weighted more heavily, and so the midterm grade is not meant to predict the final course grade. Students may view their grade online at WebGMU.

How to Contact Me Outside Class

Without an appointment:

Write to me by e-mail. My strongly preferred address is Ellen2@JimandEllen.org Please do not write to me at emoody@osf1.gmu.edu. I rarely look at that address and cannot take attachments through it. You can write me 24 hours a day at Ellen2@JimandEllen.org; I look at my mail at least twice a day, and I write back. Be sure to type the e-mail address to which you wish me to send my reply at the end of your message. Please feel free to write me. I will provide thorough commentary on any drafts of essays that you send me through my e-mail addresses.

You can call the phone in the office I use (703-993-1171) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. My office is Robinson A455. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. Remember that I am scheduled to be on campus only on Mondays and Thursdays; the secretaries will not call me and simply put notes in my box. Also, leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way: no-one stands guard over the boxes. If you send an essay through an attachment, it doesn't always come through. The safest speediest way to get a late essay to me is still to bring it to the next class and give it to me warm hand to warm hand.

With an appointment:

Private conferences are available by appointment on Tuesday, 12:30 - 1:20 pm, and Thursday, 12:30 - 1:20 pm and 4:15 - 5:15 pm, Robinson A455. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets.

Other Help Outside Class

The College of Arts and Sciences runs a University Writing Center where you will find tutors to help you with writing. Their phone number is 703-993-1200. Here is a description of the place and its services:

"The George Mason University Writing Center is a writing resource open to the entire university community, offering free tutoring in a comfortable, supportive atmosphere. During face-to-face and online sessions, trained graduate and undergraduate tutors form a variety of disciplines assist writers at all stage of the writing process. Tutors emphasize positive attitudes and stratgies that help writers at any level learn to evaluate and revise their work in order to be more confident and effective writers."

To find out more and to start to use the services offered, go to http://writingcenter.gmu.edu.


Session 1: Tues, Aug 30th

In Class: Course introduction: We will watch as much of Pat O'Connor's 1987 film adaptation of J. L. Carr's A Month in the Country as time permits; brief overview of course and syllabus handed out; directed book journal forms; short talk schedule.

Outside Class: for next week (Thurs, 2/9) read over syllabus, Directed Journal- Essay guidelines, and print out, read and bring to class student model essay-journals on Three Anonymous Anglo-Saxon Poems, Thomas Middleton's play,Women Beware Women, and on Ann Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Bring any and all questions you might have. Read A Month in the Country. Buy all the books and browse.

Session 2: Tues, Sept 6th

In Class: Finish film. Class discusses techniques of literary and filmic analysis using Directed Journal-Essay guidelines and A Month in the Country, novel and film. The elements of literary and filmic works. Grounds of interpretation.

Outside class: for next week (9/13) read as much of Patchett's Bel Canot as you can; print out, read and bring to class student model talks on Last Orders and Chrétien de Troyes's Erec and Enide Pick three short talks; you will be assigned one short talk for the term. The short talks begin on the 4th week.

Session 3: Tues, Sept 13th

In Class. Assignment of short talks; how to do a short talk. What should be in the plan. Class discussion of A Month in the Country and Bel Canto.

Outside Class: Finish reading Patchett's Bel Canto. Write plan for Journal-Essay #1.

Session 4: Tues, Sept 20th

In Class: Plan for Journal-Essay #1 is due. Short Talk 1: The allegory in the painting and how it relates to the story of A Month in the Country; Short Talk 2: Religion as excluding people and making for communities in A Month in the Country; Short Talk 3: The presentation of the terrorists and hostages" in Bel Canto.

Outside Class: Finish writing Journal-Essay #1.

Session 5: Tues, Sept 27th

In Class: Journal-Essay #1 is due. Short Talk 4: Turning a newstory into a Novel in Bel Canto. Short Talk 5: Compare how music functions in Bel Canto and art in A Month in the Country. The class watches as much of the 1966 Fred Zinneman film adaptation of Bolt's A Man for All Seasons as time permits.

Outside Class: For next time (10/4) read for next time Bolt's A Man for All Seasons and as much of Graham Greene's The Quiet American as you can.

Session 6: Tues, Oct 4th

In class: Return and discussion of Journal-Essay #1. Finish film. How to read a play. Politics and literature. Short Talk 6: The role of the common man in the play by Bolt. Short Talk 7: The cost of one individual's idealism to others in A Man for All Seasons.

Outside Class: Write plan for Essay #2. Finish Graham Greene's The Quiet American.

Mid-semester week break (Columbus Day Recess)

Session 7: Tues, Oct 18th

In Class: Plan for Journal-Essay #2 is due. Short Talk 8: The individual versus a corrupt society in A Man for All Seasons and The Quiet American. Short talk 9: The presentation of colonial wars and politics in The Quiet American. The class watches as much of the 2001 film of The Quiet American as time permits.

Outside Class: Read for next time as much of Tilburg's The Ox-Bow Incident as you can; see the film. Finish writing Journal-Essay #2.

Session 8: Tues, Oct 25th

In Class: Finish film. Short talk 10: Personal Betrayal in The Quiet American. Short Talk 11: The connection of social pressure (bullying) to Lynching in The Ox-Bow Incident; Short talk 12: Definitions of manliness and despising of women in The Ox-Bow Incident.

Outside class: read as much of Swift's Last Orders as you can.

Session 9: Tues, Nov 1st

In Class: Journal-Essay #2 is due. Short Talk 13: The presentation of European-, African-, and Mexican- Americans in The Ox-Bow Incident. The class watches the 2001 film adaptation by Fred Schepisi of Swift's Last Orders.

Outside class. Finish Last Orders.

Session 10: Tues, Nov 8th

In Class: Short talk 14: Sex and women's fates in The Ox-Bow Incident and Last Orders. Short talk 15: Mutual disloyalty, friendship and myths of masculinity in Last Orders. Short talk 16: Fathers, sons, and daughters in Last Orders.

Outside Class: Read for next time Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth. Write plan for Journal Essay #3.

Session 11: Tues, Nov 15th

In Class: Plan for Journal Essay #3 is due. Short talk 17: The function of places and journeys in Last Orders. The importance of children's literature in our culture. Short Talk 18: Racism and male and female Stereotypes in children's books (Chapters 1-3 of The Girl Sleuth); Short Talk 19: A falsifying or unreal glamor ideal: Nancy Drew (as described and analyzed by Mason). Hand-out of Piercy's "Barbie Doll" and "A Story as Wet as Tears."

Outside Class: Read Nasifi's Reading Lolita in Teheran, Parts One and Two. Bring Marge Piercy volume to class and read two poems in hand-out.

Session 12: Tues, Nov 22nd

In Class. Short Talk 20: Alternative Girl Sleuths: Judy Bolton, Trixie Beldon, Cherry Ames, Vicki Bar (as described and analyzed by Mason). Short Talk 21: Nafisi and her students read Nabokov (Part One of Reading Lolita in Teheran): Lolita as a book about male power and possessing a woman in the context of Nafisi's and her students experience of the return of "sharia." Short Talk 22: Nafisi and her students read Gatsby (Part Two of Reading Lolita in Teheran): The Great Gatsby as a book about materalism and utter unconcern for the powerless. How to read poetry.

Outside class: Poetry and autobiography. Read Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Teheran, Parts Three and Four Nafisi and begin Heat and Dust; poems by Marge Piercy in The Moon is Always Female (to be assigned from the section called "Hand Games"). Finish writing Journal-Essay #3.

Session 13: Tues, Nov 29th

In Class: Journal-Essay #3 is due. Short Talk 23: Strong women in Piercy's "For Strong Women," "Morning Athletes," and "Crescent Moon like a Canoe" (from The Moon is Always Female. Short Talk 24: Nafisi and her students read James (Part Three of Reading Lolita in Teheran): The Nobility and Dangers of Ignoring Social Mores in James in the context of Nafisi and her students' experiences. Short Talk 25: Nafisi and her students read Austen (Part Four of Reading Lolita in Teheran): Parallels between what happens in Austen's novels (love and marriage) and Nafisi's students' lives.

Outside Class: Read poems by Marge Piercy in The Moon Is Always Female (to be assigned from the section called "Hand Games"). Write plan for Journal-Essay #4.

Session 14: Tues, Dec 6th

In class: Plan for Journal-Essay #4 is due. Short talk 26: Ambition in "For the Young Who Want To," "The Wrong Anger, " 'Poetry Festival Lover." Short Talk 27: The woman's point of view in "Inside Chance," "Right to Life." "The Moon is Always Female." Short Talk 28: Survival in "Night Flight," "The Long Death, "What It Costs, "Season of Hard Wind." Review for final exam.

Outside Class: Prepare for final exam and write Journal-Essay #4.

The final: Thurs, Dec 13th

Journal-Essay #4 is due. In class: writing final examination which will cover the whole term's work: 201.026: 4:30-7:15 pm.

Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 25 August 2004