Addendum to Syllabus for English 203.001 and 203.002 (Spring 2001)

Western Literary Masterworks: Traditional Communal Myth versus An Individual's Works
Dr. Ellen Moody


In this course, you will be asked to write at least three journal-essays or Essays with Guidelines; there will be no outside research required, and there will be no on-the-spot essay with the theme prechosen or long closed book tests. The idea is to read or listen and watch carefully and then on paper to show that you have read carefully, thought about what you have read, and had some genuine mature or intelligent response of your own to the material.

Guidelines for Writing your Journal-Essays:

The entries are to be numbered. Your name, the texts or films and authors or filmmakers covered, the date you wrote each entry, together with the number of the question you have chosen, are all to be put into a heading on the right-hand upper part of the page. The journal entry is to be typed using double-spacing. It must be at least 4 - 5 pages long. They may be longer than 5; but may be no shorter than 4; 2 1/2 is too short and fails; if you are on page 9 tell yourself you have said enough. Each is due on the day indicated on the syllabus. They will be graded and the grades will be taken down one element for every session an entry is late.

1. The first paragraph should give a very brief summary of the author's life or what we know of it that is relevant; you must try to relate the specific text you are dealing with to some incident in the author's life or period; you must shape the author's life so as to tell how the text fits into it; you can pick just a bit of the author's life which has to do with when the book was published; but you must connect the life to the text in question, and a connection between the author's inner life and the text is the most interesting kind of connection to make. This should be 4 - 8 sentences, or a short paragraph chock-a-block with dates and information.

2. The second paragraph should give a brief summary of themes or ideas the work explores; here you should show how these mirror the period in which the work was written or produced. A theme is a central idea or comment that the work makes on the human condition. To express what is meant by a theme is not the same as expressing the work's subject. The subject of a work may expressed as be love; you can state the subject in one word love. To express what is meant by the theme you may articulate through the use of a predicate what the author says about love. One of the subjects ofJane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is love; the themes or moral inferences she asks you to make are what she says about love. Thus one theme in Sense and Sensibility may be stated as follows: "In a society where money and status are most important to people's survival, people betray one another and themselves by marrying for position and money instead of love." A theme is a complete sentence in which you move from a concrete or particular situation and generalize out to state the work's idea in such a way as to make it relevant to analogous situations during the work's era and in our own time. Again, use the editorial material in your edition or classnotes. (In the case of a movie, you could instead tell how the director sought to convince the viewer that what he or she was seeing is a genuine recreation of the period in which the action of the story is supposed to take place in.) This should be 6 - 10 sentences, or a medium-sized paragraph just packed with ideas and concrete description.

3. The third paragraph should give a concise synopsis of the plot. Do not give a blow-by-blow account. For example, of the famous Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, you could write: "This book is about Holmes's investigation of Sir Charles Baskerville's dath, the attempted murder of Sir Henry Baskerville, and their relationship to an old west-country legend." Of a long complicated movie, Excalibur, which retells the legend of King Arthur, you could write: "this movie takes us from the conception of Arthur through the love of Lancelot and Guenevere and the entire Grail quest." I wish I could give prizes to all those who do this in one sentence. Keep it to 5 sentences at most, or a very short paragraph using general concise language.

4. Then you chose one question from the list below and write a detailed answer to it. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE BOOK JOURNAL; IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU FOLLOW THE REQUIRED LENGTH. First type the question (with the number) and then for the rest of your journal (3-4 pages) respond by answering your question as maturely or in as much depth as you are able in such a way as to use concrete details (describe incidents and characters and images from your book) and to quote from what you read as part of your answer (surround each quotation with quotation marks and follow it by a parenthesis with the page in the book it comes from). Let me be frank: you are asked to include these details and quotations to demonstrate whatever you want to say in order that I can know you have read the book and understood it.

  1. Describe briefly three memorable dramatic scenes from the texts (or movie). (You could explain why these would make a movie based on your text interesting and dramatic.) Explain why you chose these scenes; that is, why do you remember them particularly.
  2. Discuss the most interesting incident in your texts (or movie). What made it interesting to you? Or, discuss the most interesting character in your texts (or movie). What made him or her interesting to you?
  3. What kinds of conflict are dramatized in your texts?
    1. Discuss an internal one; or
    2. Discuss one or more conflicts among the characters; or
    3. Discuss how one character is in conflict with society in general; or
    4. Discuss how one character is victimized by or takes advantage of the circumstances in which he finds himself.
    What ideas does it seem the author wants to suggest by dramatizing this conflict.
  4. How does the natural setting influence or control the characters? (If this is about a movie, you could instead discuss the use of lighting, landscape, costumes, props, and so on.)
  5. How do the authors' tones influence the effect of their stories? (If this is about a movie, discuss the use of music or a particular actor's performance: how does one or the other influence the effect of the film on the viewer?)
  6. Does anyone's character in your texts or movie seem to change during the stories? What caused the changes?
  7. Discuss how a major character from each of your text comes to stand for a particularly important theme in the book.
  8. Do the characters or speakers in the books or movie behave like real people? (If this is a movie, you could discuss individual actors or the cast as a whole.) if they seem real, why? if not, why not?
  9. If the characters are not real, what themes do they embody and through what actions or words? Did it matter that the characters were not real?
  10. What forces of change or new beliefs are present in the texts? How do they affect the characters in the stories or the authors' view of them?
  11. Discuss the versification or prosody of your texts (if it is a poem), the style of the sentences (if it is a prose work), the use of the camera or stylization (artificiality) in the presentation of scenes or characters (if it is a movie). Tell and show how the techniques you describe enable the author (or director) to figure forth one or more of his themes.
  12. Analyze the connotations of the imagery in your texts (if this is used for a movie discuss the visual imagery on the screen). What themes are embodied here?
  13. Discuss the allegory or symbols in your texts. (Actually this is one aspect or way of working out imagery so can be regarded as a specific case of #14; it differs from #14 in that it includes characters and settings and whole phrases which, like imagery, can be used allegorically or symbolically.) Think to yourself, is some character or image made to mean the same idea as the story unfolds? What meaning is conveyed by this equation?
  14. What patterns of love (or sex) are depicted in the texts?
    1. or what patterns of family life;
    2. or what patterns of ambition;
    3. or what patterns of religion;
    4. or what patterns of political behavior.
    Is this pattern like or unlike patterns you are familiar with?
  15. What attitudes are expressed by the author or filmmaker or characters in the stories towards
    1. sex; or
    2. marriage; or
    3. family ties; or
    4. religion; or
    5. science; or
    6. the class system; or
    7. slavery; or
    8. money; or
    9. war (or violence); or
    10. authority or the political establishment (kings, princes, dukes, judges, politicians, the police, courts); or
    11. power; or
    12. ruthless action; or
    13. suffering; or
    14. criminals (or prisons); or
    15. literature (or any form of art, painting, music, &c); or
    16. death.
    Did the authors change your views or consolidate them on this topic?
  16. Are there similar kinds of events in the stories; that is, does the same sort of thing happen more than one time and perhaps to more than one character or group of characters? If so, describe the kind of incident which seems to repeat itself over and over, and discuss the thematic or dramatic effect of these patterns.
  17. If there is more than one plot or group of characters in your texts or film, do they mirror one another in some way? Is it that the situations in the stories are parallel and similar or parallel and contrasting? Without retelling the story (remember you've done this in Paragraph 3 of the introductory matter) describe the parallels and discuss how they operate in the text or film.
  18. How does the genre (tragedy, comedy, romance, satire) affect the action or mood of the texts? Here you have to try to define gothic romance, horror story, fantasy or whatever terms you are using.
  19. Has your text made you aware of any social problems in an earlier era or our own you hadn't thought much about before? Explain.
  20. Have these books taught you something about a place or culture that you did not know anything about before? Explain.
  21. If your texts were clearly autobiographical (from internal evidence or what we say in class or what your editor says), did this change the way you responded to what you were reading? Explain.
  22. If you feel you know enough about the authors' lives, how did their stories reflect their actual experiences. Point out parallels and show how each author changed the "real" story to suit his or her themes, or obsessions, or preoccupations, or genre.
  23. Left blank so that you can invent a new general question of your own in which you relate your own life to the texts you are discussing. Your journal entry would be only partly autographical because what you would do would be to talk about how you personally related to your text. As in all the other questions, you are expected to quote and to describe your text in detail here too; the difference is here you relate the text to your private life explicitly. If your text has hit on some personal issue or problem of yours, you can talk about the parallels between your personal life and what you have read. You might label such a journal entry "personal," and would not be expected to read it aloud in class. You can only use this option once.

A. The principle object here is for you to learn to communicate to someone else how you read a text or texts: thus, please 1) assume "with a pessimism surely born of experience" that whatever isn't plainly stated this reader will invariably misconstrue; 2) that you can express your profoundest ideas in simple words and sentences; 3) that I cannot know what is going on inside your head about yourself so you must explain any of your autobiography that you want to discuss or bring up at any time; and 4) that clarity and unpretentiousness are virtues we all appreciate when we read. I will evaluate you on how clearly you followed the guidelines and answered the question you chose, on the supporting details and quotations you used, and how carefully and thoughtfully you read your texts.

B. The secondary object is to make everyone read all the books and to judge everyone on the amount and care and thought with which they read.


1) If you do not like a book or movie; do not simply dismiss it with "I hate this thing!" Examine your prejudices. Try to think up a reasoned argument to support your dislike. If it is a matter of the book's style or message, analyze what is source of your distaste.

2) Don't try to show off or convince me how smart you are by using big abstract elegantly-varied words when little concrete ordinary ones will do. It is not so much that pretentious difficult and dead tongue called Formal English is boring; it's that it's coterie, and elitist and most importantly deliberately obscures what is the actual thought of a piece or is a substitute for clear ideas. But if there are some students here who have been lead or forced to believe that when someone's prose "is wondrous dark, 'tis wondrous deep," I want them to know I disagree. I take the view 'tis wondrous muddled.

The English Department Policy on plagiarism: if you plagiarize I am asked to fail you for the course. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. What is plagiarism?

"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."

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated: 17 December 2000.