Category Archives: Class Notes

Still preparing for the final exam

This will serve as the basis for our work in the first half of Thursday’s Wednesday class:

Instructions for the final exam:

  1. identify the title of the text, the author, the speaker/thinker/subject of the passage
  2. Then, in one paragraph, interpret and analyze the passage, calling attention to specific details and words in the passage.
  3. in another paragraph, apply your analysis of the passage to the argument the text as a whole is making.
  4. in another paragraph, compare how a moment/scene/event in another text deals with a similar issue or theme you identified in the argument. Be as specific as possible, including details and paraphrasing that moment since you cannot provide the passage itself.


  • How many passages will appear on the exam?
  • How many passages will you have to choose and write about?
  • How many different texts must you cover in total (identified and compared to)?
  • For comparisons, how many from the first half of the class, and how many post-midterm?

Preparing for the final exam

Here are the passages we identified in class on Wednesday that we would focus on for the final exam. In class on Thursday, we will add any additional passages and work to develop our responses to them, in addition to establishing the instructions for the exam.

If you have any additional passages you would like to add, please do so in the comments.

Quicksand: (these will be completed, but in the meanwhile, you can find them by going to the given page in the online version and looking for the beginning and ending word or phrase.

online copy 196-7 “It’s racial…I have offered you marriage…step”

231 “Don’t you ever intend to marry, Helga?” “Some day, perhaps. I don’t know. Marriage–that means children, to me. And why add more suffering to the world? Why add more unwanted, tortured Negroes to America? Why do Negroes have children? Surely it must be sinful. Think of the awfulness of being responsible for the giving of life to creatures doomed to endure such wounds to the flesh, such wounds to the spirit, as Negroes have to endure.”

6 “He hoped…prayed”

chapter 2 (p 45 in the4 yellow book) “But just what did she want. Barring a desire for material security, gracious ways of living, a profusion of lovely clothes, and a goodly share of envious admiration. Helga Crane didn’t know, couldn’t tell. But there was, she knew, something else. Happiness, she supposed. Whatever that might be. What, exactly, she wondered, was happiness? Very positively she wanted it. Yet her conception of it had no tangibility. She couldn’t define it, isolate it, and contemplate it as she could some other abstract things. Hatred, for instance. Or kindness.

The Shawl” by Louise Erdrich

There is something terrible about fighting your father. It came on suddenly, with the second blow—a frightful kind of joy. A power surged up from the center of me, and I danced at him, light and giddy, full of a heady rightness. Here is the thing: I wanted to waste him, waste him good. I wanted to smack the living shit out of him. Kill him, if I must. A punch for Doris, a kick for Raymond. And all the while I was silent, then screaming, then silent again, in this rage of happiness that filled me with a simultaneous despair so that, I guess you could say, I stood apart from myself.



First, I told him that keeping his sister’s shawl was wrong, because we never keep the clothing of the dead. Now’s the time to burn it, I said. Send it off to cloak her spirit. And he agreed.

When his father said those words, the boy went still. What had his sister felt? What had thrust through her heart? Had something broken inside her, too, as it had in him? Even then, he knew that this broken place inside him would not be mended, except by some terrible means. For he kept seeing his mother put the baby down and grip his sister around the waist. He saw Aanakwad swing the girl lightly out over the side of the wagon. He saw the brown shawl with its red lines flying open. He saw the shadows, the wolves, rush together, quick and avid, as the wagon with sled runners disappeared into the distance—forever, for neither he nor his father saw Aanakwad again.

The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick

Rosa did not feel hunger; she felt light, not like someone walking but like someone in a faint, in trance, arrested in a fit, someone who is already a floating angel, alert and seeing everything, but in the air, not there, not touching the road. As if teetering on the tips of her fingernails. She looked into Magda’s face through a gap in the shawl: a squirrel in a nest, safe, no one could reach her inside the little house of the shawl’s windings. The face, very round, a pocket mirror of a face: but it was not Rosa’s bleak complexion dark like cholera, it was another kind of face altogether, eyes blue as air, smooth feathers of hair, nearly as yellow as the Star sewn into Rosa’s coat. You could think she was one of their babies.

517: “Without complaining, Magda relinquished Rosa’s teats, first the left, then the right: both were cracked, not a sniff of milk. The duct-crevice extinct, a dead volcano, blind eye, chill hole, so Magda took the corner of the shawl and milked it instead. She sucked and sucked, filling the threads with wetness. The shawl’s good flavor, milk of linen.

It was a magic shawl, it could nourish an infant for three days and three nights. Magda did not die, she stayed alive, although very quiet.

What you Pawn I Will Redeem

“I’ve been homeless for six years now. If there’s such a thing as an effective homeless man, then I suppose I’m effective. Being homeless is probably the only thing I’ve ever been good at. I know where to get the best free food. I’ve made friends with restaurant and convenience-store managers who let me use their bathrooms. And I don’t mean the public bathrooms, either. I mean the employees’ bathrooms, the clean ones hidden behind the kitchen or the pantry or the cooler. I know it sounds strange to be proud of this, but it means a lot to me, being trustworthy enough to piss in somebody else’s clean bathroom. Maybe you don’t understand the value of a clean bathroom, but I do.”

“I took my grandmother’s regalia and walked outside. I knew that solitary yellow bead was part of me. I knew I was that yellow bead in part. Outside, I wrapped myself in my grandmother’s regalia and breathed her in. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection. Pedestrians stopped. Cars stopped. The city stopped. They all watched me dance with my grandmother. I was my grandmother, dancing. ”

You in America

” You did not tell him but you wished you were lighter-skinned so they would not stare so much. You thought about your sister back home, about her skin the color of honey, and wished you had come out like her. You wished that again the night you first met his parents. But you did not tell him because he would look solemn and hold your hand and tell you it was your burnished skin color that first attracted him. You didn’t want him to hold your hand and say he understood because again there was nothing to understand, it was just the way things were.”


How to Date a Brown Girl (A Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)

“Tell her that you love her hair, that you love her skin, her lips, because, in truth, you love them more than you love your own.
She’ll say, I like Spanish guys, and even though you’ve never been to Spain, say, I like you. You’ll
sound smooth.”
“Dinner will be tense. You are not good at talking to people you don’t know. A halfie will tell you
that her parents met in the Movement, will say, Back then people thought it a radical thing to do. It will sound like something her parents made her memorize. Your brother once heard that one and said, Man, that sounds like a whole lot of Uncle Tomming to me. Don’t repeat this.
Put down your hamburger and say, It must have been hard.”

Reading Junot Diaz

We had the option to read one of several stories. Today we will read and discuss “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)” by Junot Diaz

Read the story, and write about your reactions as you read.

offensive: only cares about getting girls into bed, also stereotyping: based on who they are that will determine how he treats them.


commentary about race: not someone we’d want to spend time with

ending: silly, circles back to beginning

You: instruction manual. sterilizing. removes his personality.

“Tell her that you love her hair, that you love her skin, her lips, because , in truth, you love them more than you love your own.”: if he can’t love himself, no wonder he can’t properly love anyone else

race/racism: shared across genders, immature

local vs outsider

“easy” vs. “uptight”

Is this:

  • cautionary: you have to be careful with how you present yourself to other people
    • protagonist is very careful about he presents himself, how others read him
    • women: hey, watch out for guys like this! (or is it?)
  • social critique: about race, about class, cultural background
  • bragging: does the author want us to think this is cool? this is what we should want to be like?
    • but bragging is a way to show insecurities


“The Shawl” by Louise Erdrich

In “The Shawl” by Louise Erdrich, who is the narrator?

first-person, “our people”

Ah, grandson of Aanakwaad and her husband.

What is the narrator’s relationship to the other characters in the story?



her husband

5yo son

9yo daughter

her lover

their baby

lover’s uncle

4 years younger: Doris (sister) and Raymond (brother) and their husband and wife (also siblings)

father (drinker, abuser)

Marriage in Quicksand

Last week, we discussed in groups each of Helga’s romantic interests.

James Vayle

Robert Anderson

Axel Olsen

Reverend Mr. Pleasant Green

What passages stand out in the novel as we think about each relationship?

What passages stand out about marriage in general?

What passages stand out about having children?

The New York Times published an article last month for Women’s History Month about women whose obituaries they did not publish at the time of their death but who now they would have memorialized; Nella Larsen was one of the women. Read the section of the article about her.

Quicksand and Project #2

roman a clef: look this up to understand more about biography read into fiction

Annotation: a separate document that can illuminate the novel in some way

Sources for Project #2: use at least 3 sources as you write your research annotation

Add a bibliography: in MLA format, we call it a Works Cited list

2 glossary annotations: like the ones you do for class already, but chosen wisely

Sample: I will link us to samples for a different class using a different text.

Copenhagen: racially homogeneous community, so what does this mean for Helga?

Helga’s 4 suitors

  1. James Vayle
  2. Dr. Anderson
  3. Axel Olsen
  4. Reverend Mr. Pleasant Green
  5. Or: what does Helga say about marriage?

Find a passage that represents their relationship, discuss it, and be prepared to share it with the class.

Ways of thinking about Helga Crane

How can we organize our discussion of Quicksand?

Geographical surroundings: The South (at Naxos); Chicago; New York; Denmark…

The Race Question: look at how Helga interacts with people of different races

Class surroundings: in New York with people of different socioeconomic status; Helga’s own relationship to money and class

Color (both race and not)

Family: as an orphan; as someone who has to tell her story; in relation to Uncle Peter; in relation to her mother and father; in relation to her Danish relatives

In relation to other characters: Mrs. Hayes-Rore; Anne Grey; Dr. Anderson (early and mid); James Vayle (early and mid); Uncle Peter.

Loves NY! Depressed and lonely!–no location can continue to make her happy until she reconciles what is troubling her. She’s trying to find joy in other things instead of finding joy in herself. She doesn’t want to be anything, not comfortable being anything.

Helga Crane leaving Naxos

What do we know about Helga Crane? About her surrounding environment and the people who populate it?

  • Dr. Anderson: the school’s new principal: she likes him; she doesn’t like him; he thinks she has good breeding and she reacts badly to this. He has grey eyes. (does this mean he is biracial as well?)

Are we sympathetic to Helga or angered by her? Can we relate to her?

  • her moods change so frequently
  • feels like an outsider, can’t connect
  • never satisfied–there’s excitement in her wanting something
  • lack of family support may be different than our experience

think about time: analepsis (flashback) and prolepsis (flash forward)

think about repetition: what gets repeated must be important somehow

Think about:

train scene (ch 4)

arriving in Chicago (ch 5)

looking for work (ch 6)

treats herself even though she’s low on cash, denies herself food

Mrs. Hayes-Rore (ch 7)