Category Archives: Homework Instructions

Blogging about Contemporary Fiction

For the rest of the semester, we will think about and respond to our readings with a focus on identifying important passages. This will prepare us for the final exam.

When it’s your turn to post,

  1. identify a passage you think is important and add it to your post (either type it or copy and paste it from the website where the story was posted)
  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 you think the story as a whole is making.
  4. in another paragraph, compare how a moment/scene/event/image/symbol/motif in another text includes a similar issue or theme you identified in the argument or in some way resonates with the passage you chose. Be as specific as possible, including details and from that moment.

For Wednesday’s class, volunteers should post by Tuesday at 8pm; everyone else can respond by 10am on Wednesday. Feel free to post about “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick, “The Shawl” by Louise Erdrich, or “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie.

UPDATE: For Monday’s class, volunteers should post by Friday night; everyone else can respond by 10am on Wednesday. Posts can cover “You in America” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, or “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie, or “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick, “The Shawl” by Louise Erdrich.

Whichever story you use for your post, please be sure to follow the structure listed above.

Reacting to Axel Olsen

In the scene in Quicksand in which Axel Olsen proposes marriage to Helga Crane, she lets him know that she was aware of the less formal relationship he had hinted at. Re-read the following passages from Chapter 15 and respond here with a comment to one or more of the passages below:

P. 116:

She said coldly: “Because, Herr Olsen, in my country the men, of my race, at least, don’t make such suggestions to decent girls. And thinking that you were a gentleman, introduced to me by my aunt, I chose to think myself mistaken, to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Very commendable, my Helga–and wise. Now you have your reward. Now I offer you marriage.”

“Thanks,” she answered, “thanks awfully.”

“Yes…Yes, because I, poor artist that I am, cannot hold out against the deliberate lure of you. You disturb me. The longing for you does harm to my work. You creep into my brain and madden me,” and he kissed the small ivory hand. Quite decorously, Helga thought, for one so maddened that he was driven, against his inclination, to offer marriage.

P. 117:

“You know, Helga, you are a contradiction. You have been, I suspect, corrupted by the good Fru Dahl, which is perhaps as well. Who knows? You have the warm impulsive nature of the women of Africa, but, my lovely, you have, I fear, the soul of a prostitute. You sell yourself to the highest buyer. I should of course be happy that it is I. And I am.” He stopped, contemplating her, lost apparently, for the second, in pleasant thoughts of the future.

To Helga he seemed to be the most distant, the most unreal figure in the world. She suppressed a ridiculous impulse to laugh. The effort sobered her. Abruptly she was aware that in the end, in some way, she would pay for this hour. A quick brief fear ran through her, leaving in its wake a sense of impending calamity. She wondered if for this she would pay all that she’d had.

And, suddenly, she didn’t at all care. She said, lightly but firmly: “But you see, Herr Olsen, I’m not for sale. Not to you. Not to any white man. I don’t at all care to be owned. Even by you.

P. 118

But more gently, less indifferently, she said: “You see, I couldn’t marry a white man, I simply couldn’t. It isn’t just you, not just personal, you understand. It’s deeper, broader than that. It’s racial. Someday maybe you’ll be glad. We can’t tell, you know; if we were married, you might come to be ashamed of me, to hate me, to hate all dark people. My mother did that.”

“I have offered you marriage, Helga Crane, and you answer me with some strange talk kof race and shame. What nonsense is this?”

Helga let that pass because she couldn’t, she felt, explain. It would be too difficult, too mortifying. She had no words which could adequately, and without laceration to her pride, convey to him the pitfalls into which very easily they might step. “I might,” she said, “have considered it once–when I first came. But you, hoping for a more informal arrangement, waited too long, You missed the moment. I had time to think. now I couldn’t. Nothing is worth the risk. We might come to hate each other. I’ve been through it, or something like it. I know. I couldn’t do it. And I’m glad.”

Thinking further about annotations

As you work on your annotations, please share out topics you’re developing, sources you’re finding, inspiration, clarity, anything that can help. I know the project has been confusing, and I’m working to make it clearer because I think the reward is worth it (I don’t say that like Axel Olsen talks about the reward for Helga holding out for marriage!).

I found a book that’s writing about the depiction of the circus performance in Quicksand:

Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe edited by Michael McEachrane.

Edited to add: I requested this book from John Jay’s library and will bring it to class if it arrives by Wednesday!

Edited to add: interestingly, when I search through Google Scholar, I have access to more of the book! I was curious where the Hutchinson citation was, and found it in the footnote I didn’t have access to initially. Now I see that it’s the book In Search of Nella Larsen, which I have and can bring to campus tomorrow (Tuesday) and have in class on Wednesday.

I was struck by the language I saw when I looked at the song title, “Everybody Gives Me Good Advice”–it had the subtitle “comic coon song.” So I worked that into my Google search and found the book, which might give more info for anyone looking into the circus scene for their annotation.

I hope you’ll continue this discussion by sharing what you find with the class here in the comments.

Brainstorming for Project #2

In class on Monday, we discussed possible topics for research for Project #2. You will do some research to be able to write an annotation about something that a reader (like you!) would want to know more about to better understand Quicksand.

For homework, comment here by 1-identifying what you might research to add information to the readers’ understanding, and 2- identify the passage or section of the text that would benefit from an annotation.

Some of the ideas we discussed in class:

  • one of the schools mentioned in the novel, or the whole system of schools mentioned
  • miscegenation laws in the early 20th century
  • any historical figure mentioned in the text
  • any literary references
  • any fashion elements from the text (we discussed decolettage, thanks to Brittney).
  • geography discussed in the text as it related then to the story (you couldn’t just explain where Harlem or Copenhagen are, but you would have to figure out a way that either is relevant and provide more than just a geography detail but instead understand how they relate to, for example, the issues with race that the novel addresses)
  • connections to other stories by Larsen. This is the reason that I ordered this edition of the novel, so that you could read other stories and connect them to Quicksand.
  • connections to information you found in the introductory materials in our book–biographical mostly.

Some of these broader ideas aren’t directly linked to a particular passage. As you develop your project, you will find particular passages to focus on as the appropriate points to which you can attach your annotation.

This is also a good place to ask (and answer) questions about Project #2, so please do use the comments to get input and feedback, ask for clarification, etc.

Discussing Quicksand

In class on Monday, we discussed chapters 3 and 4 in Quicksand in depth but didn’t devote as much time to chapters 5, 6, and 7. For Wednesday, you are reading chapters 8-12. To drive our discussion forward, please find a passage we haven’t yet discussed from chapters 5-12 that stood out to you, quote it, and write about it–such as what stands out, what you want to understand better, how it connects to another passage in the novel or in something else we’ve read or that you’ve read, how specific details in the passage add to the general understanding of the passage, or anything else that you want to address. You can write this as a short comment (quotation plus 100-150 words), and comment back to another classmate’s passage as well. We’ll generate a great collection of passages to look at further.


Getting into Quicksand

*** Reminder: Three of you who were supposed to post for Monday’s class are posting for Wednesday’s class instead. Please use these questions again, since we didn’t get through Chapter 7 in Monday’s discussion.***

Thank you to our five volunteers for getting us started with our discussion on Quicksand. Here are some questions to get you started thinking about the novel. If you have other ideas that you want to focus on, feel free.

Posters: remember to write approximately 300 words, use quotations to get us into the text where you are, and consider asking questions or including a statement for others to respond to.

Commenters: remember to write 2 comments, each approximately 100-150 words, responding to the ideas your classmates have generated. You can also respond to a comment. Try to include quotations so we can find what you’re referring to when we discuss the text.

* Helga and family: what is Helga’ s relationship to her own family, and how does that affect her other relationships?Her work? Her life in general? Reflect on this, using specific examples from the text.

* Helga and Naxos: Helga has strong feelings about the school, its treatment of students and faculty, its treatment of what gets referred to as the race question. Reflect on this, using specific examples from the text.

* Helga and race: in Chapter One, Helga is enraged by a white preacher who comes to address the Naxos community. He believes he is praising them, but he isn’t. Look carefully at that passage (where we ended class) and further to track Helga thoughts and feelings about this, using specific examples from the text.

* Other topics you might consider in relation to Helga: work, travel, love/marriage, art, beauty, appear.

For Wednesday’s class

Congratulations on completing the midterm exam! We’re moving ahead with work for Project #1 and with our next unit of literature. For Wednesday’s class, please do the following:

1-prepare as final a version of Part 1 and Part 2 of Project #1 as possible, and bring your work to Wednesday’s class. We will devote some time to peer review. If you have not already had your required meeting with me, please schedule one as soon as possible.

2-be sure to have bought/borrowed/rented a copy of The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen, and read Chapter 1 of Quicksand, pp 29-44. Bring your copy of the book to class on Wednesday.

3-respond to this post by 10am Wednesday with a comment (100-150 words) about what stands out to you in the first chapter about the protagonist or about the world she inhabits. Include a relevant quotation from Chapter 1.

Wrapping up “A Hunger Artist” and other Short Fiction

As we have now addressed all of the readings in this section of our syllabus, we can finish any remaining conversations and begin our preparation for the midterm exam. Posts due on Tuesday at 12:00pm and comments for Wednesday at 10am can reflect on the materials we have covered. Here are some thoughts for these posts:

  • We usually identify the narrator for each story. We didn’t for “A Hunger Artist”–so in a post, decide what type of narrator tells the story, and use quotations from the story to support your claim.
  • “A Hunger Artist” can be read as an allegory. What is an allegory, and what allegory do you see in this story specifically?
  • When we read “A Hunger Artist,” do we believe someone could fast in the way the protagonist does? If not, what do we do about its un-reality? Is this an instance in which we invoke a suspension of disbelief? What does that mean? You might compare this to other stories from our reading that aren’t as linked to reality as our real lives are. For example, how does the loose connection to reality relate to something like “Cinderella” in one version or another? Are there any other stories you’d consider for comparison?
  • More generally, are there two stories that you think speak to each other, and if so, what is that point of conversation? Include quotations from both to show why it’s helpful to talk about the two stories together.

Our midterm can include any of the stories we read, not just the ones in the public domain. Project #1, though, is only about the stories in the public domain (starting with “The Story of an Hour”).

For Wednesday’s class, we’ll spend a little time doing a peer review for Project #1. I have asked everyone to bring a draft (in whatever shape it’s in) of Part 1, and an outline (including a thesis statement) of Part 2. The goal will be to share ideas with others writing about the same story to get feedback about how to structure the comparison.

We’ll also have a lively review for the midterm exam, where we will brainstorm questions that will be on the midterm. Come prepared: bring your texts, re-read them, mark them up more, and be ready to think about connections and themes.

Sharing out the group work, plus more

In yesterday’s class, we had lively group discussions about “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and “The Cottagette.” Each group has a representative who will report on what the group discussed. It would be good to treat this like you are responding to the topic for a post, so 300 words minimum, sharing the ideas and linking them to passages from the readings. Choose the category Homework, plus Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and add any tags you find relevant.

Since there were 5 groups, there will be 5 posts, although two groups will have repeat-posters (thanks in advance for your enthusiasm), let’s all comment on these as we would do for the regular bi-weekly posts. Add your thoughts to a different group’s conversation, and add anything to your group’s discussion that you think needs to be added.

So we’re not overwhelmed with too many posts, let’s have 3 more posts about “Hills Like White Elephants,” “The Hunger Artist,” or “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.” Questions to follow (I’ll update this later today, just wanted to be sure there are three students interested in posting). Please respond to this post if you are interested in being one of these three posters!


Discussing Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s writing

In class today, we began our discussion of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and “The Cottagette,” both by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I also gave everyone a copy of “Why I Wrote the The Yellow Wallpaper” so we can consider how Gilman describes her rationale.

If you need to remind yourself of what blogging for homework entails, what your responsibilities are, or when posts and comments are due, re-read this semester’s blogging assignment.

If you want to know more about what I’ve asked you to think about, read all previous homework assignment posts, or your classmates’ homework posts.

Here are some thoughts to get our conversations started:

  • I had asked last time about the idea of an unreliable narrator, a narrator that the reader cannot trust to be truthful or fully depicting the story. Using quotations from the Gilman texts to support your argument, compare Malda and our unnamed narrator (or is she Jane?).
  • We can argue that some of the stories we’ve read offer endings that make the best of bad situations. Do you think “The Cottagette” offers a truly happy ending? What about “The Yellow Wall-Paper”?
  • In Susan Sniader Lanser’s groundbreaking study, Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice, Lanser argues that social pressures not only constrained the content of the narrative but the narration style itself. Early in her book, Lanser includes a letter that showcases one writer’s solution to the limitations she found in writing negatively about her marriage. When I read this letter and Lanser’s analysis of it, I wonder what techniques Charlotte Perkins Gilman employed to convey a positive message about the narrator’s feelings about her husband while also conveying something much different to a more tuned-in reader. Read the letter on pages 9-11 of Fictions of Authority and write a post that reflects on the ways in which we might understand information without it being directly narrated, particularly in “The Yellow Wall-Paper.”
  • We didn’t have a chance to discuss yet the words utopia and dystopia as they can be used to describe the two short stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that we read. What do those words mean? Which story is utopian and which is dystopian? Why?
  • “The Yellow Wall-Paper” was once believed to have been out of print from 1920 until feminist scholars re-discovered it in the 1970s. Here are two possible topics to consider based on this statement:
    • How do you read “The Yellow Wall-Paper” or “The Cottagette” as a feminist text? What does that mean?
    • According to one examination of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and its publication history, the story did remain in print in between its reprint in 1920 and its feminist re-discovery in the 1970s: in horror-story collections. In what ways do you see “The Yellow Wall-Paper” as a horror story? Include specific references to the text to support your claims.
  • What connections do you see among the stories assigned from the start of the semester and either or both of Gilman’s stories? Are there trends you can identify? Or contrasting situations/characters/styles that are worth noting in their difference? Be specific!