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English 207 Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-15 16:58:49
Link to this Comment: 17629

Welcome to the on-line forum area for English 207: Big Books of American Literature. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to, but I hope you'll come to value it as much as students in other courses have.

The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a place for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're not worrying about "writing" but instead that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking, so you can help them think and they can help you think. The idea is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others, and theirs can help you.

So who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our class. But also for the world. This is a public forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in--others you might or might not know. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. Your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. I'm glad you're here, and I hope you'll enjoy and come to value the activity of working and playing together in this space.

turning the screw
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-18 07:41:26
Link to this Comment: 17645

Let's start this conversation by describing for one another our reading experiences of Henry James's 1898 novella, "The Turn of the Screw." What effect did it have on you/how did it affect you? What are your post-reading reflections about the text and your responses to it?

Medea and The turn of the screw
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-01-18 14:36:00
Link to this Comment: 17647

After finish the novel, I was quite confused to what had happened. The whole energy of the novel is toward the end, which we would assume that either the children or the ghost will appear to be very evil. The ghosts are lurking and appear to try to steal the children, while the children appear overly disobedient, and unable to be controlled. Miles describes that his desire is like any boy’s, which is to be bad, and to be free. Even the accusation of Peter Quint is that he is being to “free with Miles”.
As the focus of the novel is with the Governess, we have a hard time understanding her as an evil character, as all of her actions seem to be attempts to protect these very disturbed children. Up until the end, she is trying to protect poor miles, who appears to be killed by the sight of the devil himself, Peter Quint.
This ending is very difficult for the reader, as well as the protagonist, because is does not appear to make sense. Why would Miles die of a sight that we all believe he has seen before. Why would he die after he has repented for doing wrong by stealing the letter? Well, from a Christian standpoint, it could be seen that he is acting much like (I don’t know if this is the right character or not), the life of lot, who looks back at the city of Sodom and turns to salt. She has given up this horrible sinful lifestyle, and is forgiven, but when she disobeys that forgiveness, she is punished. Maybe the same is true for miles.
But this story is not about Miles, but instead the governess trying to maintain a home, and raise Children inside of it. This is especially hard, once she realizes that the house is haunted. Now, since she is the keeper of the house, one could see the house as a metaphor for her. The hauntedness of the house could represent the craziness of the governess, and that the children were threatened, being the fact that in her state she is unable to raise them.
This point brings me to my main idea, which is the children never see these ghosts. They are just children, acting like children, which is too much for the governess to handle. The innocence of them is best express when after pages and pages of wondering what terrible act Miles did, we find out it was the simple act of saying things to his friends. Not threatening things, but just things. The ghost are not conjured up by the children, but the suspicion of the governess, who might have created them in order to better understand her inability to take care of them.
So how is it that Miles dies? It is that he is smothered to death. The last line of his is not directed outwardly at Peter, but at the governess who is suffocating him. Her action is much like the Greece character Medea, who felt that her children would face a fate worse than death if they went off to the cheating husband and new wife, so she was forced to kill them. Whether the governess know it or not, she is unable to raise and protect miles, and therefore, in the only motherly role she can think of, she kills him, to protecting from what greater evil he might have had to encounter.

The Turn of the Screw
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-01-18 17:09:39
Link to this Comment: 17648

Laura Otten
Web Response

The Turn of the Screw
Henry James

May I just say that I started reading this book last night, in my dorm room, alone…and I was a tad wigged out! I’m not a big fan of Henry James’ writing style (slow moving, odd word order). It reminded me of Charles Dickens’ writing, which was long partly because he wrote weekly installments. However, my biggest compliment is that the drawn out story built suspense.
My difficulty was in understanding the whole story. I fell into the author’s trap of only believing the governess’ perspective. By the end, I didn’t know what was real or fabricated. I didn’t know which characters to believe. Hopefully, some class discussion could help to clear that up.
My favorite scene was the meeting of the governess and Mr. Quint on the staircase. Both earlier encounters between them had been during the day, but this time they were face to face in the middle of the night. And she totally sensed that he was in the house! That violation startled me and I was afraid because I realized the governess lacked the ability to protect the house and her children.
I would like to explore the repeated images of windows/window panes and fire/candles. Is it the author’s intent to frighten his readers by creating scenes set around fireplaces and having candles constantly blown out? If light represents goodness then maybe these extinguished candles symbolize the prevailing evil that infested the Bly mansion. This novel has very few uplifting moments, perhaps the author meant to show that in his story evil, the more powerful force, has won.

Name: Jessica Ro
Date: 2006-01-18 17:42:50
Link to this Comment: 17652

I'm having trouble feeling positive about this story. That may be because I am having an awful shopping week, getting lotteried out of things right and left, and am left somewhat hateful towards all of academia.

Whatever the reason, I am missing whole paragraphs; I find myself reading every other sentence or word, and it doesn't seem to make much difference. What interests me most is the way characters speak to each other in the novel. I hate both kids everytime they call an adult "dear." That seems pretty demonic in itself. And the back and forths between the governess and Mrs. Grose, where they only articulate half an idea, and the other one seems to get it, even if its extremely vague or makes very little sense. I found the governess to be a tiresome narrator, and possibly insane. But, there was no one credible in the story to be telling it.

Turn of the Screw
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-01-18 18:17:47
Link to this Comment: 17653

I was really intrigued by the way the Governess was always exchanging places with the ghosts, when either she stands in a place that one of them has just stood, or vice versa -- when she moves to the window where Quint was, when she sits on the steps in the exact same position that Miss Jessel did, when Miss Jessel and the Governess switch sides of the lake during the confrontation with Flora, and when the Governess discovers Miss Jessel at her desk. I'm tempted to believe that that might indicate that the Governess, in a very symbolic way, is a sort of a physical manifestation of the harm that she percieves the ghosts as intending upon the children. And in the end, she is (somewhat debatably in Miles' case, though, as the last bit is so unclear) an instrument of harm; she makes Flora upset and/or ill, and it's presented as possible that she kills Miles.

One thing that struck me for the first time during this reading was that Mrs. Grose may be more responsible and more in control of things that the Governess (and I, previously) had assumed. For once thing, take the apparitions. The only way that the Governess had any idea that what she was seeing were in fact previous members of the staff of the house was through Mrs. Grose; the only details she ever heard about the two of them were from Mrs. Grose. It seems to me that there are two possibilities. Either the Governess saw the ghosts of these two people and Mrs. Grose confirms it, or Mrs. Grose is, in some capacity, lying. And though she presents herself as an accomplice to the narrator, the time it takes her to switch to Flora's side is remarkably fast -- she assures Flora that "you never see nothing" and "we know, don't we, love?" It serves to make me suspicious of Mrs. Grose's motivations, and her actions.

And I have to agree with Jessica, though I hadn't articulated it until just now, but the children always calling the adults "dear" was horribly annoying to me too. I got the feeling the two children were always sort of talking down to everyone.

Turn of the Screw
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-01-18 18:34:43
Link to this Comment: 17655

I found it extremely difficult to get into the flow of this story, and like Jessica I kept having to go back and reread because my mind would start wandering. I found the governess as a narrator to be extremely unreliable, however, I didn't realize this until the end when it appears that nothing is actually resolved between the ghosts and the children. The connection between the ghosts and the children seems to be completely fabricated and then buoyed along by the governesses obsession. She projects her suspicions onto the children without any concrete evidence against them. I was surprised how much of her story was based simply on her feelings of just "knowing". She repeatedly says that she just "knows" something as if that alone is reason enough for her to treat the children as in league with evil. The emotional reaction I felt to reading thist story was relief that it was finally over. I was also somewhat disappointed in the structure of the story. I assumed that after the story of the governess was finished James would return to the original narrator to provide closure and finish the "circle" so to speak.

Something else I wanted to comment on that is unrelated to "Turn of the Screw" are the paintings that we looked at in class on Tuesday. Anne, you commented that you asked the artist to paint a picture of emotion and then when she showed you the hand with the apple you told her it was cliche and asked her to paint you something else. I was a bit surprised at this because it seems that you are implying that some emotions are more credible/viable/interesting than others? I found the picture of the hand and the apple to be much more stimulating than the second painting. To me it represented a moment in time, a moment of anticipation before the fruit of labor is finall acheived. In that moment between not having and having any number of emotions are possible and the range of possibility spoke in that painting spoke much more strongly to me than in the second painting.

Not very far at the moment
Name: Emily Feen
Date: 2006-01-18 19:07:10
Link to this Comment: 17656

Unfortunately, I'm less than half way through the story at the moment, but this is my only chance to post before 9pm. The governess has seen Quint twice and Miss Jessel once, but I feel like the book strongly resembles Wuthering Heights to some extent. The governess is the only person who has admitted to seeing the ghosts, since whether Flora actually did or not is unclear. It seems like the story is leading up to a disaster, but I'm not entirely convinced. At this point, I feel like Quint and Jessel probably didn't have accidental deaths, and they have come back for that reason. But I'm not sure that their intentions are bad, despite the dark forshadowing implied. I'll just have to read more to find out.

Delightfully Twisted
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-01-18 20:44:50
Link to this Comment: 17658

This little story was a more than welcome change of pace for me, and preceisely what I was hoping it would be. Usually, I don't like scary stories very much because I think they're kind of boring. I was also a little surprised because the last time I tried to read James (I think it was "Portrait of a Lady,") I became so frustrated with the language of his style that I stopped reading midway. However, the nouvelle is a much less intimidating length and I tore through this story, totally absobed by its characters, events and actions. It's very "Sixth Sense" meets "Village of the Damned" but was still engaging and felt completly original to me. I guess I would say that I felt curious, involved and in a way ambitious (I wanted to find out what happens!) throughout my reading of the book, but not really scared or nervous.

Ok, so it was pleasantly creepy and a quick read. But as I was reading there were a few points that struck me, keeping in mind rules and manners of 19th century high society (both Britsh and American) and transcendentalism:
1) What was the significance of the ghosts not wearing hats? Was that really such a display of bad manners? This is the first thing that the narrator mentions when decribing Quint's physical appearance to Mrs. Grose, this is also what Flora comments on when she is confronted by the governess and housekeeper. James also makes a point to mention that "little Miles" is playing with his hat during one of his more significant discussions with the governess. What's that all about?
2) Did anyone else notice that when something bad happens, the weather is beautiful, or at least, described postively? The narrator openly comments on this juxtaposition at least twice. The first time it is Douglas who says it, when relating the details of when he heard first heard the story : "I remember the time and the place--the corner of the lawn, the shade of the beeches and the long, hot summmer afternoon. It wasn't a scene for a shudder, but oh--!" At first, I thought that this might be a metaphor for the way that the evil spirits corrupt the beauty and goodness of the children, but thinking about transcendentalism, and how nature and emotion often go hand in hand, what was James trying to accomplish? Choices about setting are definately the result of the writer's intention, so what was his intention?

Response to Turn of the Screw
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-01-18 22:02:46
Link to this Comment: 17661

The ending of Turn of the Screw was so unsatisfying! I love ghost stories. I read it before bed on purpose because I was anticipating a good scare. It started off well, it seemed like it had the potential to be sufficiently terrifying - and then it let me down. Given that Henry James is the brother of a psychologist who was committed to studying spectres and other ghostly phenomena (as he believed they really existed and could be studied and explained), I was surprised that this James' work seems to suggest that the ghosts aren't real at all, but a figment of the governess' imagination. Ghost stories that end without real ghosts are no fun!
There were a few other things about the work that frustrated me. Firstly, I was annoyed by the use of the frame narrative. I feel like authors use this to distance themselves from the stories they tell - if I as a reader don't think it's a good yarn, well, I can't blame James (or the narrator), he's only repeating what he heard from a friend at a Christmas party who heard it from some lady who wrote it down in a decrepit old manuscript. It is possible that some people, particularly the earliest readers, might have found the story more authentic when told this way (it's not very plausible that the governess herself wrote the published version, but maybe, just maybe, we can believe that the friend of a friend of a friend of an author knows someone who found this manuscript ...), but I think it takes away from the story. Also, it annoys me that James can't just be brave and admit that he wants to write as a female narrator. He has to go hide behind this male character at the Christmas party, and further remove himself from the governess by having her story relayed through Douglas.
I was also bothered by the "my dear"s. Actually, they were a little creepy. I also thought the references to Quint and Miss Jessel being "too free" with the children to be creepy. Did anybody else read that in a sexual way?
Overall, I was disappointed with the book. It wasn't nearly scary enough.

Name: Margaret M
Date: 2006-01-18 22:49:55
Link to this Comment: 17662

Having read Turn of the Screw previously in high school, re-reading it brought back a score of old complaints and theories about it. I didn't enjoy it then, and, although I was certainly amused by the old theories (eg. Mrs.Grouse having somehow organized the whole thing) that came back to mind, I didn't have a much better experience this time around. When we read it in high school we discussed all of the Freudian moments that are present. I think that I approached it from the same perspective as I was reading and certainly caught on to many more of the moments. So yes, Laura, I did read "too free" in a sexual way. I thought that dear Miles had been sexually abused and had repeated these actions (or said he wanted to perform these actions) with the schoolmates he liked.

The main problem I have with it is that, unlike Laura, I don't like ghost stories. Whenever I read one I am always looking for some sort of logical explanation for whatever has occured. Perhaps too much Scooby-Doo as a child? As a read it again I kept wondering if the ghosts were real or if they were a figment of the governess' imagination (due to repressed sexuallity perhaps? or stress because of the troubles at home and/or her eccentric father).

frustrating stuff
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-01-18 23:10:16
Link to this Comment: 17663

Ever since my roomate and I watched the film "Knotting Hill" and saw Hugh Grant tell Julia Roberts that she should take a script by Henry James and heard my roomate's praises for the author, I've been interested to read what all the fuss was about. Some individuals find mysteries fascinating and look for the lynch pin that ties the story together. James is too ambiguous for me to truly enjoy "The Turn of the Screw."
I'm still not quite sure, and I finished reading about an hour ago, exactly how Miles died. At first I thought Miles was possessed by Quint's ghost and then seeing the sprite shocked and stopped his heart.Then I reevaluated the last few lines and doubted if Miles really did witness the ghost and perhaps the governess unconscientiously killed Miles during the hug. Also, were there many sexual innuendoes that I did not catch? When Miles said he "said things" to boys that he liked does that mean he was expelled for showing the boys inappropriate things? There are too many questions left unanswered for me to appreciate the storyline. The diction is beautiful and James can keep the reader on the edge of her seat and honestly, my heart stopped when I, yes I personally saw, Quint staring up close through the glass of the window. By the end of the story, my main emotion was emptiness... I felt cheated out of explanations.

Turn of the Screw
Name: Di Michael
Date: 2006-01-18 23:13:45
Link to this Comment: 17664

I was definitely getting freaked out when they kept talking about how the children would "go off alone" with Jessel and Quint, and felt bombarded with sexual implications almost every time they were mentioned. I thought there might have been something kinda funky, not necessarily sexual between Mrs. Grouse and the governess. When pretty soon after they meet Mrs. Grose wants to kiss her, and then they do (pg 308) that just seemed a little weird. The other thing that really annoyed me was that I couldn't figure out how old Flora was supposed to be. At one point the governess is putting a bib on her and putting her in a high chair. Then, Flora is practicing writing. Then, in the conversation with the governess on page 305, she says things that don't sound like something a child under the age of ten would ever say. And she paddles the boat, and runs just didn't ring true to me. Also, I don't know what is meant by "The Turn of the Screw." I don't know why that's the title. I think it's like some kind of phrase or expression, but I don't know what it means. The story started out promising, but then it just kept going. And going. I didn't feel like anything different was happening. Maybe I just didn't "get it." I definitely didn't get the ending. I don't understand why we never went back, at the end, not only to hear what became of the governess, but to hear the reaction of the people around the campfire. What was the point in having that part in the first place? Why didn't he just skip it? Maybe it adds something to the story that I missed. Overall, I liked it in the beginning, but as it went on, it seemed kind of repetitive. She saw a ghost. She was suspicious. She told Mrs. Grose. They both were scared. She suspected the children. Things got better until........She saw a ghost. She was suspicious...etc. And then at the end it was like James (and me, the reader) got sick of the cycle so Miles died. The end. Again, I feel like I must not be getting something here because I wasn't wowed, or even moved by the book at all. The main emotion I felt was annoyance at having read the entire thing and then been let down at the end.

Name: anna
Date: 2006-01-18 23:34:45
Link to this Comment: 17666

hmmm...well. i definitely felt that the book was positively charged with sexual energy. quint and the boy especially - but even the narrator and mrs grose had their moments of intimacy as well (though i think i may be reading into that a little too deeply). the aspect of the story that really struck me was the sense of voice in the narration. though the language was still fairly "proper" sounding (meaning, a little out-dated but familiar enough to keep up with), to my ear, it remained comfortably conversational as well. i liked how the book was structured, too - that it brought you up to the main secret with the narrator by your side...i dont know if traveling through a story with the narrator a common theme in 19th century literature (one story down is certainly not enough to see a pattern) but i enjoyed having a "companion"...if that makes sense?

oops...i meant to keep writing!
Name: anna
Date: 2006-01-18 23:39:51
Link to this Comment: 17667

sorry about that -
so that being said about the narrator...i did find the reading a little tedious. i had to read several sentences twice because the language was JUST a little unfamiliar - it was still clearly english, but it was also clearly older-fashioned. i hope im not the only one who found some of the sentences complex/confusing! they twisted and wove and sometimes wandered a little too far off topic for me...i found myself thinking about other things after some rather longer sentences (so then id have to go back and reread it!). this is not to say that the language isnt beautiful though - i started reading some of it out loud to myself (some of the sentences that didnt quite make sense right off the bat) and it came out easily. the words all make sense when i heard them, just, at times, on paper...i found myself a llittle lost.

Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-01-19 00:27:09
Link to this Comment: 17668

So far, I'm really enjoying the book but am having some trouble with the style of it. Lately, I've been trying to fight my natural inclination to skim passages. Unfortunately, my brain picks a few words out of a sentence and processes them without actually reading them. However, James's style is tripping me up. I read the phrase "Mrs. Grose considered as if it were perhaps a little a case for a sense of shades" 3 times and can only postulate on what he actually means. Did anyone else find these characters funny? The two women (governess and Mrs. Grose) seem to be pretty frivolous and hysterical to me, really overdramatic. I can see them swooning and declaring their opinions in the candlelight. One topic I'm interested in pursuing is how James writes from a female perspective, especially when the governess experiences a loss of identity while around the children. Maybe transcendentalism comes in here, experiencing a holy separation from identity when seeing pure innocence. Is there a film version of this? This seems M Night Shyamalan-ish to me.

Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-01-19 00:28:23
Link to this Comment: 17669

I'm about halfway through the novella, but I wanted to get some ideas down here before going any further. I like it a lot - and it eerily reminds me of Wuthering Heights, but maybe that's just a period thing. What keeps shocking me over and over again is the narrator's consciousness of her own dillusion, her own madness within madness - she says, "Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was. But I gave myself up to it; it was an antidote to any pain, and I had more pains than one," (315). This fantasy of protecting the children seems to be an addiction for her - she's willing herself to become obsessed with this fantasy to forget about some other disasterous "pain," and I'm anxious to discover what that experience was that it was so awful that she's hiding in grotesque fantasies.

I'm also finding that I'm beginning to not trust the narrator - she makes such dramatic statements like, "There was no ambiguity in anything; none whatever, at least in the conviction I from one moment to another found myself forming as to what I should see straight before me..." (327). No ambiguity at all? That seems slightly impossible in terms of viewing a ghost. At first, I found myself thinking that she must be dillusional, again playing on this idea of living in a fantasy escape world. But then I realized that maybe James is using her to manipulate the way we feel about women, to automatically assume that they are crazy and concoct elaborate stories to escape reality instead of using logic to rationally come to a conclusion about the situation.

I'm driving myself crazy here. I'll have to read more to figure it out.

The Turn of The Screw
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-01-19 00:54:24
Link to this Comment: 17670

I really did try to suspend my disbelief when reading The Turn of the Screw, however, I was unable to ignore the absurdity of the notion that young, religious, and educated governess would have stayed at Bly for so long after her encounter with the apparitions of Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel. I was disappointed that the “obvious” idea to run away did not cross the governess’ mind during her multiple bizarre “encounters”, but not until after Miles asks to continue his education elsewhere.
My greatest criticism of what I thought to be “too little too late” with the idea of flight, is however, what I thought to be the most interesting element of the novella. Although the setting of a large, gloomy, empty house located where none will here the cries of help, seems a bit cliché; the courage and determination of the governess are not, considering that Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw in 1898. Even in accordance with today’s standards the “nerve”, “boldness”, “lucidity”, and “pride” that the governess has while committed to protecting the children from the spirits of the dead, seem more likely associated with the character of the Kindergarten Cop than Mary Poppins.
My favorite example of this surprising heroism is when the governess sees the face of Mr. Quint looking inside the house at Miles through the window and then instead of screaming or locking the doors and windows, she rushes outside to find out exactly what’s what.

Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-01-19 01:26:05
Link to this Comment: 17671

I wasn't really thinking in complete sentences as I was reading, so I'm going to include the notes I jotted down as they're written.

-Elements of the story remind me of everything from Dorian Gray to Hamlet to the film The Others

-Narrator's name never mentioned, like in Rebecca (although unlike in that book, was not bothered by it)

-Lack of physical description a bonus in this case; allows the imagination to run wild, makes things twice as creepy


-pacing excrutiatingly slow at the beginning, didn't pick up until 2/3 of the way through

-Peter Quint's name possibly stolen from Shakespeare (Peter Quince in Midsummer Night's Dream)

-novel clearly written by a man; woman bold enough to write this book would not have have written "there was a little boy in the world who could have for the inferior age, sex, and intelligence so fine a consideration" (340)

-seems to be a mixture of ghostly influence/demonic possession going on; different from my previous understanding of how those types of supernatural events work

-not on board with the "Quint and Jessel's affair equals evil" spiel, although their interaction with the children did seem a bit suspect (aka lecherous) but only because the narrator and Mrs. Grose assumed it details ever provided (reader cannot draw own conclusions)

-the narrator finally grew a backbone! Hate weepy, soft lead females

-why is FLORA the one who gives into complete corruption first? goes along with Eve and original sin idea, woman as evil and more prone to wickedness

-Miles died? Was he so completely possessed by Quint that his body wasn't his own anymore, and when Quint was driven out, there was no soul to maintain it? Did Flora die? Was it death at all, or is there room to believe he may have been revived moments later? Just what was the relationship between the children and the adults like that they could (1) be completely brainwashed by them in life (although again, there's no proof they were), and (2) possessed by them in death?

-Lots of questions never answered, such as what Miles said at school, or even if it was him talking; could it have been Quint speaking through him? What did Jessel die of? Did Quint die the way everyone suspected? Why did Flora and Miles have to be together or working in tandem for the "spell" to hold? Just how much did Mrs. Grose know about what was going on with Quint, Jessel, and the children prior to their deaths?

-In the end, enjoyable reading, but I hate not having all the loose ends tied up (FRUSTRATING), even as I simultaneously love the rush from not having the satisfaction of knowing everything (re: closet literary masochist)

The Uncanny in 'The Turn of the Screw'
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-01-19 02:00:10
Link to this Comment: 17672

Reading this novel for a second time didn't make it any less frightening that the first time around. It gave me the same feeling of uneasiness as it did two years ago. I then started questioning why this novel has such an effect on readers and I then remembered that the last time I read it we discussed it in conjunction with Freud's essay 'The Uncanny'. In this essay, Freud argues that there's a kind of terror that is particularly frightening because it brings us back or reminds us of something that is very familiar to us. I think that this is true about 'The Turn of the Screw'. Of course, it is not likely that any of us have been haunted by ghosts while taking care on kids in a lonely house. But the way the novel is narrated, with Douglas opening the story and making it seem like a true one, makes it seem homely and familiar. We can easily sympathize with the governess when she first arrives at her first day of work, and it all takes place in a very familiar scenario. We've also all been kids terrified of ghosts, have taken care of kids at one point or another, and have also been taken care of. This is why there is something very familiar about this story that makes it even more terrifying and uncanny for the reader.

Awaiting the ending...
Name: Jackie O'M
Date: 2006-01-19 02:07:33
Link to this Comment: 17673

I haven't finished quite yet, but in general I agree with other comments on the writing style. I find it effective on drawing out the suspense, but difficult to keep my attention at points. I suppose it's true to the time period, but for me it added to the inability to trust what was going on in the story.
Personally, I love ghost stories, scary movies, all that... and this definately creeped me out in the begining. Mrs. Grose is the character I've been most wary of throughout my reading of this story so far. She is set up as concealing information or at least being a little weird about the children (particularly Miles and his misbehaving at school). I also agree that the narrator is unreliable in what she chooses to describe (briefly touching on problems at home before going right back into yet another example of how sweet and wonderful the children are in her eyes (p315)). The combination of these two characters makes it a rather tedious reading, as I never really knew who to trust. But I still have a bit to go. I have to say though that I agree with Alison on this being kind of "M. Night Shyamalan-ish" to me as well.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-01-19 02:38:47
Link to this Comment: 17674

Reading this novel in 2006, I don't think my reactions to it were as emotional as they would have been had I been one of James' contemporaries. An 1898 audience would have seen these children as pure and innocent, especially because they were considered beautiful. I just found them spoiled and annoying; their looks, once a mark of race and class, have nothing to do with how innocent they might be. The governess' obsession with them seems weird. I feel like she might have only loved them so much because of their association with their uncle, with whom she was in love.

I think that I was also not as emotional about the ghosts, or even about Miles' death, as a nineteenth century audience would have been. Compared to gruesome and violent television shows and books, including those involving ghosts, such as the Sixth Sense and the Ring, the Turn of the Screw was not very scary to me. Maybe modern texts and literature have desensitized me. (Or maybe I'm just feeling cynical because I have to deal with senior year.)

Turn of the Screw
Name: Muska Nass
Date: 2006-01-19 03:16:30
Link to this Comment: 17675

While reading The Turn of the Screw, I noticed an unnerving thing about my usual reading pattern. I noticed that whenever I approach a book that has been assigned to me for class, I never use my emotions to dictate how to read the text. For example, even before I started reading The Turn of the Screw I immediately figured out how many pages I’d have to read, then I divided it by two so that I could read half the book one day and half the book the other day. Then I sat down in the library and forced myself to read exactly halfway through the book the first night, and then forced myself to read exactly halfway through the book the second night. Now this might not seem odd, since I’m sure many students use this same method when completing assignments, but it wasn’t until we discussed the importance of our emotional response to texts that I realized how mechanical my approach to reading had become. Rather then reading the book and stopping when I naturally felt tired or bored with the text, I forced myself to plow through the chapters because I wanted to make sure I met my own reading schedule. On the other hand, when I got to the end of the first half of the book I was intrigued to find out what was going to happen next, but I restricted myself from going ahead because I didn’t want to impede on my reading assignment for the next day. This approach seems counter-intuitive, since it seems as if emotions should be the driving force behind how we approach a text. However, if I had let my emotions guide my method of reading, I would have stopped reading The Turn of the Screw after the first few paragraphs. I found the language, and the long sentence structure extremely difficult to follow. I found myself rereading sentences over and over again, trying to figure out what was happening, and felt no strong emotional response to the story, besides periodic moments of intigue. But since I knew that I had to read this story for class, I could not go by my natural impulse to stop reading the book when I stopped feeling a positive emotional reaction to it. This begs the question of what can be gained from reading something in which you don’t immediately experience a positive emotional reaction?

stick a fork in me, henry, i'm done
Name: Tyler Saga
Date: 2006-01-19 06:47:10
Link to this Comment: 17676

Well, it is the wee hours of the morning, I've finally finished The Turn of the Screw, I'm exhausted, and I'm suffering from madness. I've never read Henry James before, and if he is anything like William when it comes to humor, I will try to find some of his lighter-hearted works. James's prose is taxing, presenting heavily detailed, but buoyant sentences comprised of some vocabulary that one rarely finds in the New Yorker or Paris Review. I do applaud his attention to detail which vividly constructs the story in my own head, and furthermore, I applaud his use of the first person to close the psychic distance between the reader and the governess.

But, it is the attention to detail and the unnamed narrator, coupled with the plot's unfolding, that gives the story mystery. Are we willing to accept the narrator as reliable when many of her conclusions are ill-supported and logical in a far-fetched methodology? But, then again, how was the governess able to specifically describe Quint? And, concerning the tragic ending, was it the fright of Quint that stopped Miles heart, or was it the governess who unintentionally suffocated him? What boggles my mind is that these are questions that can be rationally answered many different ways. After I closed the book, I found myself insane, passionately heated in support for the narrator since her motives in the beginning seem noble, and her care for the children and Ms. Grose throughout the book appears genuine; yet, I was also confused, unable to completely piece together large chunks of the supernatural puzzle (for example, why did the apparitions come back to begin with?). In order to calm my mind, I've come to a conclusion that the narrator is, in fact, insane, with her delusions enhanced by a naive old maid in Ms. Grose, and that it was the governess’s delusions that did, in fact, kill Miles.

I would like to add that as I was reading the story, I was sitting by my room's large window. With the light dimmed as it was, my mind tired, and with my head close to the window, that, whenever the supernatural events involving the governess and a window unfolded, I paid attention to my peripheral, uneasily awaiting a hallucination of an ugly, free-floating ghost.

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-01-19 07:19:14
Link to this Comment: 17677

I'm not really sure how I felt about this book. I know that it was slow going for me; I expected to sail through an 85-page story, and instead I found myself getting a few chapters in and then needing a break to clear my head. I was telling a friend that every few chapters I'd feel like my head was too full; like there were clearly things HAPPENING that I was just missing, and I wasn't actually sure how this was happening, just that it was. Upon reflection, I'm still not sure if this was because I was missing something important, or because that's how the story was constructed.

I guess my problem was that I liked the story. I expected to go in and either like or dislike the text, as a whole. I actually asked a bunch of people who'd read it already whether they thought I'd like it, and they broke down into two camps- "slow, boring, sexist, and no", and "there's corruption and homoeroticism and it's really creepy, give it a shot". And after finishing it, I... agree with both.

Like, the thing is, I loved the story. I loved the story that was underneath the prose, the way that things HAPPENED. I liked how the suspense wasn't, you know, things jumping out; it was a more gentle, soothing suspense that I found far creepier. I liked that the kids were frightening in their goodness from the first page. I liked how the structure was perfect in terms of providing a bare-bones narrative; each piece of the text fit SOMEWHERE in the larger story, and every detail added to mood or scene or character or SOMETHING. I kept thinking of writing classes I've taken; this is what you're supposed to do when writing a novel.

Beyond that? Yeah. I loved the hints at corruption, and I actually really liked that they never said exactly how the kids were corrupted, or definitively if they WERE; anything you can imagine is probably worse than what could have been written. I mean, the more you read the wronger the secret seems. That's awesome, awesome storytelling.

At the same time, the style got to me. I kept getting tangled in phrases and couldn't quite extricate myself. I found myself unsure of what things MEANT, a lot; I don't know if this is because I don't normally read 19th century lit or just because the text is dense.

I guess the density is what a lot of this is- every sentence had so much weight that it felt a lot longer than 85 pages. I kept feeling like I periodically needed to come up for air; the text was almost suffocating.

Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. Just... that I'm still processing. And I kept hoping that I would have processed it in time to post something, like, deep and important, but honestly? I don't think that's going to happen for a while. Maybe by next Tuesday in class. Hopefully before I graduate.

One More Turn of the Screw
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-01-19 09:07:11
Link to this Comment: 17678

I first read The Turn of the Screw when I was in the eighth grade. It was one of those books my parents threw at me and told me to read over the summer when I complained I was bored. My mother told me I would love it, it had mystery, it had suspense, in short it was scary. I read it and was bored out of my skull. I still really looked forward to reading it again, however. After all, I’m older, wiser, and come with a better vocabulary than seven years ago.

I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. While reading The Turn of the Screw this time around I still was not scared, but I could appreciate the suspenseful senses. I was also able to grasp several veiled undertones and ideas I had somehow missed previously. There were all sorts of new questions for me. Did the governess really see the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel? Mrs. Grose did not ever see them, no one did except apparently the governess and her two wards. Could the whole situation have been in the governess’s imagination? Was she insane? Was she desperately seeking the attention of Harley Street? Were Miles and Flora really possessed by demons? Did the act of becoming disposed kill Miles or did the governess kill him?

There were times I was frustrated with the book. None of the characters ever came out and said what they were thinking. There were references to an unspeakable evil but no one ever directly stated what that was. While it made the story sometimes a little harder to follow, perhaps it adds to the story’s suspense. The reader is allowed to infer that the evil is in some way sexual but we are left guessing what exactly it could possibly have been. At the end of the book I wondered if Henry James were following the Victorian style or was in truth mocking it. Over all I would have to say I enjoyed this book better than I had before. While I might still be missing something, I at least have an idea what all the fuss is about.

Name: Laci Hutto
Date: 2006-01-19 09:13:21
Link to this Comment: 17679

Like a lot of other people, apparently, I had difficulty getting into and staying with the story. I found myself constantly distracted by little things that I found irritating (Miles calling his governess "dear", the governess and Mrs. Grose continually cutting each other off and finishing each other's sentences, all the lines left implied rather than stated...), and by the time I got to the end, I had to backtrack a few pages because I couldn't understand why all of a sudden Miles, who had just been "saved," had died. I disliked the ending because of its complete lack of resolution-- the governess realizes Miles is dead, the end. I also just kept wondering what the point was of the set-up framework at the beginning of the story was-- why not just have the governess's story rather than have her story told by one person to another person who was the original narrator of Turn of the Screw.... I just couldn't get a handle on the reasons for the layers of narration. But maybe that's one of those things I would understand if I'd been more into the story.

But while I had issues with reading the story itself, I was really struck by a line towards the very beginning, before the governess's story becomes the narration. The original narrator is questioning Douglas about whether he took down the governess's story himself. Douglas replies, " 'Nothing but the impression. I took that here' -- he tapped his heart. 'I've never lost it.' " Maybe this line struck me so much because I read it within half an hour of leaving Tuesday's class and I was in a mindframe of thinking about how stories affect the readers. I also remembered Anne talking about how the books we're reading had such a profound impression on her, so much so that she remembers the climate when she read Moby Dick back in '74. That line was my favorite part of the story because I think it says a lot about how we feel about the stories we read.

Name: Marie Sage
Date: 2006-01-20 02:36:26
Link to this Comment: 17695

Ok, so I’m a little late to post a comment, but I’m computer illiterate, and well, I was having some trouble.
I enjoyed reading the story, and I thought everyone’s comments in class today were very interesting, and I think they helped me to better appreciate the story. One particular comment that stuck with me was that Douglas might have been a grown up Miles. I think I heard someone say that, and though now that I am writing this, it seems a bit far-fetched, but still, it is interesting to think about. He says she was ten years older than him, and she was twenty years old when she started working as his governess. And though I originally thought that Miles died in the end, maybe his heart stopping was just an exaggeration, or even a kind of figure of speech for how scared he was at the time. Also, in the beginning of the story, Douglas taps his heart, and his heart is again mentioned at the very end of the story. Though this may be purely coincidental, it may be a slight connection between Douglas/Miles. And another thing, their last day together was hot, and both he (Douglas) and the governess note, within the story, that they both understood something, yet never actually spoke of it. I hope what I’m saying isn’t completely off but if it’s not, it could help explain why James includes the beginning part of the story, which before, to me, seemed unnecessary.

class last thursday confused me...
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-01-21 15:50:38
Link to this Comment: 17718

In class on Thursday, we were talking about what triggers our emotions. Do we feel emotion and then create stories in order to suppress those feelings? Or do the stories we hear cause us to experience emotion? I took a Psychology course last semester and I learned an interesting theory. The theory was that instead of our feelings producing physical reactions, our physical reactions caused our emotions. For example, we don’t cry because we were sad, instead, because our bodies released tears we then felt sad. A chicken and egg switch, but what a difference it makes! I was shocked and I rejected the theory. Of course, I like to believe I am always in control of my emotions.

Then I recalled times of moodiness as a young teenager. Each time I shared my distress with my mom her response was, ‘Laura, I think you may be a little tired, maybe you should try sleeping.’ When I got older, I realized how right she had been. I was tired and therefore cranky, not cranky and therefore tired.

So, not only am I unsure where my emotions come from, once they are triggered and running inside me, I am still debating what becomes of them. Do I simply feel those emotions, do I cover them in stories? I would like to think that I am capable of facing each emotion. I would like to think that we write and share stories for catharsis, not for distraction. But how often do I open a book and disappear amongst the pages? Books give us a taste of different lives, does that keep us distanced or more involved?

a thought on word choice
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-01-21 22:04:37
Link to this Comment: 17726

I was thinking about what we discussed in class about the sexuality in the text and I went back through the text skimming different passages to look at the specific word choice. And like others have commented, the language is - to say the least - difficult/annoying/choppy/over-winded/and sometimes just doesn't really make sense. Anyway, in the passage where the governess sees the ghost for the second time at the window, that paragraph is laden with sexually-conotative words: intercourse, intense, deep and hard, vibration. It really stood out to me as if James was trying to make it blatant to the reader what the governess has on her mind; she imagines this connection with a total stranger, not even a real being. She is lonely and often makes comments which seem to suggest she craves a companion desperately. The first time she sees the ghost in the tower, for example, she says, "An unknown man in a lonely place is a permitted object of fear to a young woman privately bred..." (310). Perhaps this is supposed to give the reader a hint that whatever she thinks of the children's sexuality is as imagined as is her "intercourse" with the ghost?

Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-01-23 20:09:18
Link to this Comment: 17754

I have found reading the above comments, after reading Turn of the Screw and enjoying the class discussion, highly entertaining and enlightening. I wish I had posted sooner, but - no excuses, I simply forgot. I got this story. I felt, when i had finished it, pretty confident what it was about, what James had been going for, and that he had reached me as a reader with what he meant to put out. I must admit I was deeply frustrated while reading the book; I kept feeling I was missing something, that James had left something out. About two-thirds of the way through an old memory resurfaced in my brain - something my grandmother had told me about vulgarity (she was an enormous fan of the nineteenth century) - and the story all made sense to me. I don't want to say that context is everything, but I do believe that without some of it, this novella certainly wouldn't mean so much. I wasn't SUPPOSED to know everything; James left out bits (what Quint and Jessel did with the children, what "horrible things" were so often alluded to but never explored) partially because they would have repulsed his audience and partially because he wanted us to scare ourselves. I found myself imagining things he certainly could not have gotten published, had he written them explicitly, and I recognized his cleverness. That, I think, is why James' book is considered so powerful and important - he holds a mirror to our own darkest corners and lets us populate his story with our own ghosts without offending the sensibilities of his readers. Fear without vulgarity. Normally I don't like ghost stories, but this one is different for me for just that reason; I wasn't annoyed at the all-too-common descriptions of detailed, gruesome and specific horrors, I was terrified by what my own mind filled in. I felt frustrated, and anxious for the governess, and almost frantic along with her; the story out-right gave me the heebie-jeebies. I loved it.

Turn of the Screw and reflections
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-01-23 22:41:48
Link to this Comment: 17759

Having joined class late, I hadnt actually read much of 'The Turn of the Screw' before our Thursday class. I found the discussion to be interesting, especially noting all the things about the book that vexed other students, determined to see whether it had the same effect on me even though I knew what the end of the story was going to be.

When entering into the book, I felt that I was going to enjoy it, especially because of its cryptic and unresolved nature. Turns out I was right. I agree with what most of the other students had to say, the sentence structure was quite dense and hard to follow at times, but at the same time, as someone had mentioned, everything was there for a purpose, and added to the effect of the story. I still found the story to be engaging, as it would grab my attention just as I was starting to get spaced out.

I found the layers through which the story was presented to be very interesting. I know most of the class found James to be a coward for the way he set it up. I felt that he wanted to put us in the place of those who were sitting around that campfire with Douglous, intrigued by this horrific story, and unable to really get an end result from it, making it all the more disturbing. From the way in which he sets up Douglous' character, as someone who offers little details and sticks to the way in which the story is told without providing any explicit 'vulgar' meanings, it seems consistent that he would actually just finish reading the journal and leave it at that. Which is what James did to us.

While a lot of people commented on the unreliablity of the governess, I can see how she could have been portrayed as the savior if the children were really possessed or evil (as much trouble as i have with that concept being a scientist myself). This actually is partially why I think the ending is successful the way it is written, because it allows us to draw from it what we want, whether that involves thinking about 'The Others' or 'Signs'. It accounts for the accessibility and effectiveness of the story decades after its written, because the 'horrors' referred to can be as far as our imagination is willing to take them.

Also, sidenote
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-01-23 22:43:40
Link to this Comment: 17760

This has not much to do with class other than in previous experience when using serendip it has often happened that when you post your email address on here you start getting lots of spam.

So, if its okay with Prof. Dalke, it might be best to exclude email addresses from posts.

James and James
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-01-23 23:09:24
Link to this Comment: 17761

As a psych major, I'm pretty familiar with James' theory on emotion - I've read "What is an emotion?" for at least two classes and the James-Lange theory of emotion was definitely on the AP Psychology exam I took in high school. However, I found approaching the theory via the other James an interesting way to think about it.

W. James' theory makes sense when thinking about emotions in a physical context - meet bear, heart races, feel scared - but how well does it apply to the experience of reading? As a reader, can I be brought to feel fear before I experience the physical symptoms? Is it possible that I can experience emotions through reading yet experience no physiological changes at all?

Someone earlier posted that they are uncomfortable with James' theory because it goes against their intuitive beliefs about their emotions. Initially, I was of the opposite opinion - James' theory makes sense to me, so I accepted it as an explanation of the emotions. It's a clever way of integrating our experience of emotions with the way we experience other sensations (although I'm sure James would be pleased to know that we have, in fact, found locations in the brain, separate from the sensory and motor cortexes, that are strongly linked to emotions). However, thinking about the emotional experiences I had while reading Turn of the Screw doesn't quite fit with James' description of how my emotions should have come to pass. Given the discomfort that the reading engendered, I should have had physical symptoms - perhaps tightening of the muscles, increased heart rate, etc. - that I do not recall having. I just remember feeling intellectually uncomfortable with the plot and not viscerally affected. Is it possible that the emotions we experience in our "real" life are somehow fundamentally different from those we experience through reading? Or is James' entire theory flawed and even the emotional experiences we have that result from physical reality are not necessarily mediated by physical sensation?

Time and Reality
Name: Allie Eisl
Date: 2006-01-24 00:23:00
Link to this Comment: 17763

In response to someone's comment last Tuesday about the problems with not being able to trust a reliable narrator, I said that I wished that there had been more dialogue sooner in the novella because I tend to trust what is said as actually having been said, and also that dialogue helps the pacing of the story. After class, I thought more about this concept of reality and time, the troubles of "getting lost" in the lengthy narrative passages and would like to expand.
Although what is said may not be true (in the case of Mrs. Grose saying that she did not see the ghosts), I'd like to believe that the conversations themselves actually occurred. And while dialogue does tend to make for a quicker read, I think that James may have purposely written a "slow read". By this I mean that the incoherencies and never ending passages added to the loss of "real time" and reminded me of how time seemed to pass in childhood. When I was younger, I had a much different concept of time then I do now: an event of only a few hours felt like days and the years passed from holiday to holiday with just a few events in between. This is similar to James infrequent mention of hours, days, or months passing).
Considering that The Turn of The Screw is a unique ghost story because it is about children, perhaps this loss of real time contributes to the notion of the Governess' mental illness being that of a childhood mental state and childlike perception of time and events.
By thinking of the Governess as a child, I have an easier time believing the comparative maturity of ten-year-old Mile's decision to continue his schooling elsewhere.
However, even if the governess did have a child-like mindset, she must have appeared to be at least normally functioning to Douglass; or else he wouldn't have hired her to educate Miles and Flora. Then again, maybe it was apparent that the Governess had a mental disorder and rather than being hired by Douglass, she was actually sent to Bly as a way to recover from “hysteria” at a secluded retreat?

Week Two: What Is an Emotion?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-24 12:52:23
Link to this Comment: 17771

William James engages in a curious reversal of (commensensical) cause and effect: we feel sad because we cry, afraid because we tremble, angry because we strike. What do you think of his "story"? Does it accord w/ your own experiences? (Laura and Laura have some up already.) Does it apply in any way to what you saw going on in--or what you experienced in reading--"The Turn of the Screw"?

And (or!) what do you make (either in terms of your own life or HJames's story) of Freud's account of the unconscious ?

Faking it
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-01-25 12:05:25
Link to this Comment: 17782

Convinently, I had an expereince this past weekend which exactly pertains to our conversation.

I work as a waitress in a restaurant and on Saturday had a rather unpleasant experience with a customer. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, for reasons utterly beyond my control, this particular man became very angry at me, informed me that he had had a "horrible experience" and furiously shook his finger in my face. I understood that he was angry with me but I didn't appreciate his yelling, so I decided it was an appropriate time to cry. I screwed up my face and stuck out my bottom lip and suddenly, there were tears in my eyes. After a time I found that my heart was racing and I was shaking and coughing, just as if I were really sad, but I just kept thinking that all I wanted was for this mean old man to feel sorry for me.

As soon as I heard the words "it wasn't all your fault," I felt a surge of triumph and let the manager take over. I walked away and asked one of my close friends if he thought it worked. He admitted that he had believed I was really upset and asked me if I was truly sad at any time. When I thought back on it, I recalled anger and indignance, could not remember a time during my discussion with the customer that I truly felt ashamed or sad. I wasn't really that upset about it, and I certainly wasn't upset enough to truly cry with real feeling. All I wanted was some justice. I wanted that man to see how mean and unreasonable he was being. I wanted everyone in the restaurant to know what a jerk he was being. And I got my way by faking it.

I'm not claiming that what I did was right, or ethical in any way, but I think that it is appropriate to mention in our discussion. James and Freud both touch on this subject--do we cry because we are sad or are we sad because we cry? As I was recovering from my performance, I found that I had trouble stopping. Physiologically, I got my body to think it was sad, but I knew in my mind that I wasn't. I didn't have that wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach or that uncontrollable ache in my throat which I find accompanies true sadness, but my pulse had quickened and my breathing was staggered. This really makes me wonder if all crying, or laughing, or any show of emotion (or lack thereof) is actually an act of the will. Do we cry when it's acceptable and because we know we should at predesginated times? I am really starting to believe that we might.

(As an aside, the one problem I had with these readings was the lack of differentiation between instinct and emotion. To use James's example, a hen cares for a white oval out of instinct, not emotion. I think we need to designate a line between the two.)

Not Faking.... Just Communicating
Date: 2006-01-25 13:32:01
Link to this Comment: 17783

I think Lauren brings up a very strong point in the discussion of emotions being not only a reaction to a physical discomfort or change, but then again it could be expanded to a reaction of a social discomfort. Before trying to extend it to the social setting, I think it is important to go over how James comes to his theory. His basic idea is that the body will have an automatic reaction to a stimulus, such as we squint when we look at the sun, or pull away when we touch a hot pan. His role for emotion is to be the language with which we understand the physical reaction. This is based on several observations, that being, we never feel hurt before we are hurt, and we rarely feel any emotion with something physical attached to it.
When brought to the social level, I think it is not saying that emotions are fake, but malleable and can be controlled. We may not be in pain, but do have an awareness of stressful or painful situation. Therefore, we can mimic the physical movements in ordered to conjure up a sad emotion.
Yet, I think in this particular case, the point that should be stressed is not the physical changes in the person, but the recognition of the customer. The customer was shaking the finger and raising his voice, which when interpreted means to the body that he is angry. Therefore, the body can go into a mode of trying to deal with his anger. The sadness was not a personal sadness as much as a use of emotion, but to calm another’s. Once the man recognized that his anger had caused sadness, he lowered his voice and stopped shaking his finger, in order to rid himself of the anger.
I really don’t think James’ theory is all encompassing and all explanatory, but it is extremely useful. When we believe that emotions are not the beginning moment, but a more malleable controllable thing like language, we can start constructing them and using them in communication. I would not say that it is to fake them, because I do not believe as much in the sanctity of emotions. I think that sometimes they can be so overwhelming that it is hard to sort them together, but I believe that through proper construction and combining, like combating anger with sadness, they are able to exist as a form of language and communication.

the last post
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-01-25 13:32:39
Link to this Comment: 17784

Was by me

Fear of running?
Name: Emily
Date: 2006-01-25 14:29:49
Link to this Comment: 17785

I had trouble believing James’s theory on emotion, mainly because of his examples of common perceptions. He wrote that a common perception of emotion is that “we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike.” No matter how I look at it, I can’t see the reverse as being true. Seeing a bear, running, and from the running becoming frightened makes no sense. This is to say that running is in itself frightening. This cannot be true, for people run in many different circumstances, including for competitions and for leisure. When competing one might feel anxious, but there isn’t the same emotion of fear as is accompanied by seeing a bear. And if running for leisure were frightening, no one would run.
I believe it is true that going through the physical motions associated with a certain emotion might very well make one appear to be feeling that emotion, as is the case with acting, but I don’t believe this means all actors truly feel scared, sad, angry, or depressed when they act the part.
Overall, although James made some convincing points, I continue to believe that it is the emotion which causes the physical reaction.

Name: Marie
Date: 2006-01-25 19:53:55
Link to this Comment: 17790

I just don’t think James can be right. Don’t we feel sad because something happens to make us feel sad? Don’t we feel angry when something happens to make us angry? Isn’t part of the emotion the experience of the emotion- can these two things be separated? James states, “The next thing to be noticed is this, that everyone of the bodily changes, whatsoever it be, is felt, acutely or obscurely, the moment it occurs.” So whatever is may be that the body does, it is FELT and therefore it’s a feeling, so isn’t that part of the emotion? Again, can you have one without the other? I guess an example would being saying,” I’m happy.” To me, these words by themselves are empty. Saying it is not enough to truly feel it. When one smiles and says this, it does become much more convincing, but still, are you really happy? Don’t you need an action to occur that makes you really happy, or is it that we really feel happy because we smile and laugh? I do feel happy when I smile and laugh, but not purely because I’m smiling and laughing- there is something else that goes along with my smile and laugh- an action or thought.
Even if what you are doing is crying out of happiness, I think that the action and feeling go together, and you cant have one without the other, unless you are faking it. And isn’t that also the case that when you are in love and you think of your loved one, and as a result, you feel happy? And though you may have a bodily response, isn’t that happening simultaneously with the emotion?
I really don’t know if what I’m saying is making any sense whatsoever.
Relating all of this to the Turn of the Screw, was the governess feeling lonely and anxious because she was crazy? I think she feels lonely because, essentially, she is alone. I know she isn’t technically alone, but one can still feel lonely while surrounded by people. Also, I think she feels anxious and afraid because of the dead people she purposively sees. She comments when she sees Quint in the window (for the 2nd time) she, “in the midst of dread… [felt] a sudden vibration of duty and courage.” Though she feels scared, she is not trembling- on the contrary, she acts with duty and courage. I may not make sense to anyone but myself, and maybe not even me, but either way, I can’t seem to agree with James.

The Better Brother
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-01-25 20:19:26
Link to this Comment: 17791

Laura Otten
Web Response

Course Packet Readings (James, Freud)

I think that William James is a better writer than his brother. I liked this text mostly because it left me speculating. I didn’t believe all of it, but I was fine letting him attempt to convince me. On the other hand, his argument made me tired. Who cares where emotion comes from or what causes it? The point is that it’s inside me and I feel it and have to deal with it. There is no desire, need or possible way to avoid it. Is it that peculiar that we go from happy to sad to angry? Come on James, prove something that really matters.

My favorite part of the Freud articles was about birth anxiety. I’ve been reading about birth and infancy in another class too so it was weird to look at this text and have the other in the back of my mind as well.

I agree with James
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-01-25 20:29:22
Link to this Comment: 17792

I hadn't ever thought about the possibility of James' reversed cause and effect but when I search my bank of experience I find several examples that seem to prove its truth. The most recent and best example I can think of happened in Italy last year while I was abroad. I had just spent the weekend with the guy who would become my boyfriend later in the year and I was boarding a bus from his town to go back to milan. At that point I didn't have any particularly defined emotion about the weekend or about our developing relationship, but when I got on the bus to leave all the sudden I couldn't breathe; I felt a strong constriction in my chest and my heart was racing. In the moment, I just let myself feel what was going on, and it wasn't until later when I had calmed down that I tried to figure out why my body had reacted that way and what that could mean about how I felt towards this new person. I told myself a story, as it were, to explain the physical reaction I had had to leaving him. After reading James and thinking about all the recent times when I have been highly "emotional," I realize now that in the moment I had a purely physical or bodily reaction which didn't get assigned a specific emotion (ie, sadness, fear, dread, etc) until later, when I reflected on the physical symptoms I had felt. The times when I have felt an emotion, for example, when I have felt happy and been aware of the happiness in that moment, the feeling was somehow fabricated. I am thinking of times when I decide that I need to perk up so I listen to upbeat, energetic music until I am eventually singing along and feeling a bit more alive. This reminds me of another idea that James suggests which is the idea of faking it until you make it. Pretend to be happy in some outward, physical way - whistle, perhaps - and eventually you will convince yourself that you are indeed what you had before only been pretending to be. Our bodies seem to hold the trump card over our emotions to the point where repetitive action can almost hypnotize us into belief.

New, not necessarily wrong
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-01-25 20:41:36
Link to this Comment: 17794

I must admit... when I started reading James' theory, I didn't entirely give it a chance. Accepting his theory would be to neglect what I had previously thought emotions to be. The thought of my feelings as formulaic, as locks that just need the right key, hurt. The theory makes us as robots, as just series of synapses. But on closer analysis, James does present points that I had not thought of. Can I separate sadness from tears or that nausea from the sight of blood? No, I honestly can't. I was all set to completely reject James' theory however he is wayyyyyyyy too charming. He includes sob stories that are gut wrenching and we picture him suavely explaining feelings that we constantly feel. He really is quite charming and it is hard to dismiss his theory entirely.
I read Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents" my senior year of high school and reading a pair of his other works does not shake my perception of this man. His writing is so arrogant that it is hard to be engrossed in the text. It is as if he expects and predicts we will not understand his concepts and deliberately writes in non-colloquial terms to make himself fell better and us worse. I'm sure his theories are correct but it is hard to care about a piece of work when the author does not care about his readers.

H. James made me feel....
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-01-25 21:17:25
Link to this Comment: 17795

I'm also not a huge supporter of James' 'see a bear, so run, so feel afraid' progression, although I realize that it's a gross simplification. It's true that a physical reaction can engender an emotional response (or not, as in Lauren's case - and bravo for getting back at that rude man, by the way). I would tend to view it more along the lines of, we see a bear, and something called 'fear' happens; various physiological reactions combine with a desire to get rid of what we percieve as negative feeling (why do we percieve fear as negative, what in our minds says "this is bad"? And what in our minds then, if fear = bad, goes to a horror movie?), usually by some obvious solution (run) -- run -- which combine with a cognitive realization, "I am afraid". All of these comprise fear. Maybe one of the issues in his arguement is that he doesn't (at least not where I could find it) define what exactly he takes as the emotion that we recognize after we react.

I'm really curious about the woman's testimony, on page 7/11 - does anyone have a perspective of what's going on with her? It seems really fascinating, and I'd love to have a further explaination of it.

Speaking of women, I was getting pretty annoyed with James by the end, with all of his "No woman can see a handsome little naked baby without delight". I'd like to say that, as a woman (or, at least, nearly one) I don't experience delight from naked babies, handsome or not. James as someone else argued above, I forget who, seems to indulge in crossing emotion and instinct quite a lot; this seems to be related to that, although I can't quite think of a way to describe my annoyance yet.

a mix of emotions for James
Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-01-25 21:20:40
Link to this Comment: 17796

I must admit, I've never been a fan of James' theory (I encountered it generally somewhere in high school, but it was never connected specifically to him, merely mentioned). Why I can say there are times in my life that support his argument, there are certainly times that do not.

For example, when I thought back for a time in my life when a physical reaction preceeded am "emotion," the first thing that came to mind was my one bout with jealousy (it's just not something I have much experience with). I distinctly remember, upon hearing some surprising news, feeling sick to my stomache, being sore like a lot of my muscles had just spasmed, and bursting into tears. I know, melodramatic. I didn't realize until later that I was feeling jealous - again, this was my first time with that emotion in its full force. My "gut reaction" could only be explained by this particular emotion.

Then again, in response to an eariler comment, I have to remember all my days as an actor and my training in what's known as "method acting." Method acting (which is wildly popular and considered highly academic; it's what Mark Lord teaches in our department here) disdains the common faking of emotions by way of presenting flase physical symptoms - one must truly feel sorrow, or joy, or love, or jealousy for example, to project it cleanly onstage. We as actors are trained to bring up these emotions through memory; think of a time when you were hurt like this, or surprised like this, etc, and FEEL that. The outward physical actions vary and can even be strictly dictated by the script, but the emotions come right out.

So I suppose that, while James has a valid enough point, I can't say he's got it all right or that his one theory discredits or devalues the "common sense" one he beings with in the text.

Repressing James
Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-01-25 21:39:01
Link to this Comment: 17797

I'm by no means a psych person, but what I found most interesting about James' essay was his few lines about how & why we teach children to repress feelings. He says, "When we teach children to repress their emotions, it is not that they may feel more, quite the reverse. It is that they may think more..."

Could that possibly be the reason why Miles and Flora have such few yet strange lines? It seems like they speak in extremes, saying either nothing of importance, or speaking a few emotionally-charged phrases. What is repressed in their unconscious, and who taught them to "think" their emotions instead of express them?

I'm also curious - how do you teach someone to repress their emotions? Does this depend on family background? Or do you learn in through social sitations at school?

Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-01-25 21:58:03
Link to this Comment: 17798

In response to:
"He wrote that a common perception of emotion is that “we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike.” No matter how I look at it, I can’t see the reverse as being true. Seeing a bear, running, and from the running becoming frightened makes no sense. This is to say that running is in itself frightening."

I just wanted to say a few words in James' defense, and perhaps help clarify a little.

James does not mean that our physical response (in this case, running) engenders an emotion in us, but instead that we label our physical response as an emotion. So in this case it is better not to think of the running itself as "frightening." It may be more helpful to think of the other components of the physical fear response, such as sweaty palms or increased heart rate, to make sense of the idea. It is not that these symptoms are in and of themselves frightening, but that we label our experience of them fear. James is not saying that we become frightened FROM the running, he is saying that running is part of our automatic physical response and that we come to label this physical response fear.

Does that seem any less counter-intuitive?

Good Time Island
Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-01-25 22:06:01
Link to this Comment: 17799

When I attempted to read James's essay earlier this week, nothing would go in. All I saw was qualifiers and Judith Butler type language. It would not stay in my brain. But tonight I understood James and Freud in the most miraculously clear way. I noticed Darwin spread throughout both of the essays in a way that surprised me. I appreciated James's statement that there is no way to walk across a stage the same as one walks across a private room because it brought to mind all the advice that people give you; like to imagine people in their underwear or to ignore the audience as if you can completely remove selfconciousness. James completely echoed an experience I had today. While reading USA Today, i read a story that shocked me emotionally. Without considering the emotions behind it, my body plunged into nausea and dizziness, as if my body was feeling a revulsion that my brain could not understand. To me, this is a good example of James's progression of body reaction to emotion. My body felt sick and only after the sickness hit me could I grope for the powerful emotions that may be connected to illness. I really enjoyed the Freud section, especially "Anxiety." I saw a paraphrase of Descartes in Freud's "The Unconcious" when he writes that conciousness only brings us into our own minds, very "I think, therefore I am." The beginning of these articles are always so unintelligible to me that I wonder if authors are aware of the delayed reaction and try not to include important information in the introduction.
ps. Steph Herold is very cool.

Name: Margaret M
Date: 2006-01-25 22:33:35
Link to this Comment: 17800

While reading James and Freud, I found that I developed a new sense of Turn of the Screw. Freud (who, after a class about Vienna last semester, I am pretty much sick of) made me wonder about the possibility that the governess’ anxieties about being alone and responsible for two children (can she take the place of the mother figure (assuming master is the father figure)? Or even the anxiety of being a little out of place socially as it didn’t seem she came from a lot of wealth?) lead her to create the ghosts as a way to explain her feelings?

I really liked the James reading. Not because I necessarily agree with every thing he is saying, but because it made me really think about my emotional experiences. Does physical arousal happen first? I don’t really know. I know that I can influence my emotions by acting differently, eg. I sometimes smile in the middle of a hard workout or test just to lift my spirits and stop feeling upset. In relation to Turn of the Screw, I thought it was interesting when he talked about the “shiver which like a sudden wave flows over us” when listening/reading a heroic narrative. Perhaps the reason that I never really bonded with or felt inspired by the governess (or believe that she actually saw ghosts) was that I never felt that shiver. What I felt, and perhaps because I had read the book before, was more of a shiver of dread, fear, or disgust about her.

The science of emmotions
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-01-25 22:52:41
Link to this Comment: 17801

James and Freud's text inspired such a reaction on me and provoked me in such a way that I couldn't help but trying to understand their theories and concepts of emotions through what I was feeling as I read their articles. James made me so upset that I could barely get through is text. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever to argue that you first have a set of physical reactions and that then you identify those as a particular emotion. Even if all those bodily reactions were recreated without a stimulus, just artificially, a person wouldn't experience the same emotion. There's something more psychological (and less physical) about emotions. The fact that I was so upset by his ideas while someone else may find them quite interesting is a clear example that there's more to emotions than James makes it seem. Sure, my body reacted in a certain way as it is typically associated with being upset, but not because of these reactions was I upset. There was something in the text that provoked me and made me angry while it wouldn't have the same effect on another person. This may be something in my unconscious that I cannot identify. That's why I tend to agree more with Freud, because he digs deeper into the mind and human psyche to justify or explain emotions. James seems a little too superficial with his explanation, just focusing on what the body tells you.

Name: anna mazza
Date: 2006-01-25 22:56:30
Link to this Comment: 17802

a purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity...


well, there are a few things - that do not necessarily overlap or go together - that i need to get down after reading. first of all, william james is a pretty enlightened cat... :-)
seriously, though: "our wrath at snakes and our fear of forth most particular mantal and bodily reactions, in advance of, and often in direct opposition to, the verdict of our deliberate reason concerning them". in feminist and gender studies last semester, paul grobstein came to our class to talk about biology at a deeper level. two examples he gave are still throbbing in my head. the first is of christopher reeves (who, as im sure you all know, suffered a fall horseback riding and was paralyzed from the neck down until he passed away last year). doctors preformed tests on reeves by sticking a pin into his foot. now, when asked, reeves said he couldnt feel anything at all, but the crazy thing was - his foot withdrew! it pulled itself away from the pin that was pricking it without reeves "knowing". the second example was of a lab rat, whose parents and grandparents were all bred in labs (so, theyve had NO contact with the outside world - they are completely safe, no predators, NOTHING). this lab rat gets placed inside a tank with a snake (snakes eat rats - duh). without ever having come in contact with a snake before, or being "taught" by it's predecessors that snakes are beings to fear, this rat freezes and then zooms about attempting to find a way out of the tank...HOW did it know to be afraid? HOW did reeves' foot "know" to withdraw??? James' article is still swimming around in my head...i mean, it's sort of a chicken or the egg kind of scenario, but really - which DOES come first?

the next thing was the laughter section - "they always must laugh, if they see a funny object". this puts a whole new meaning to the term "out of control laughter" which we have all become so accustomed. i mean, think about it - have you ever TRIED to STOP laughing at something? i wouldnt be able to...

then...fear...we dont tell our heart, "ok, im scared, start racing and thumping and flipping out" starts to do that. we dont tell the hairs on our arms, "stand, get bumpy" it just happens. or does it?

the last thing i want to highlight is the element of shame. we are, i fully believe, taught to feel shame. it is not something natural - which is what james' point is, i believe. in a movie i watched for csem last year, See The Sea, there is a baby with a dirty (no. 2) diaper. now, we, as "adults" see a dirty-dirty diaper and wrinkle our nose. this baby (it was the mothers/actresses actual child, so the baby had no idea it was doing anything special - it was just out for a day at the beach with mom) didnt notice ANYTHING odd about being covered in, well, crap! we all (viewers) cringed as the mother attempted to wipe up the mess, but the baby was as happy as a pig in shit <-- aw gee, im "punny" (twice).

as a last note about shame - think of the different connotations of being naked and being nude. i think they are not the same thing - we are trained to be naked, but we are born nude.

I'm irritated
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-01-26 00:27:22
Link to this Comment: 17803

I'm wavering between disagreeing with James just for the sake of being oppositional and believing him because his theory is somewhat plausible. His style irritated me and he seemed extremely presumptuous about the nature of emotions in people. I know for a fact that not all women melt at the sight of babies and not all men derive pleasure from women. He just seemed too cut and dry. It also irritated me that he kept asking "the reader" to think about their emotions. Reader do this, reader do that. I can't feel anything because I'm thinking about it too much! Actually, I take that back. I feel anger and frustration that make hurl the course packet across the room. But I can't even enjoy that sensation because I'm called upon to exmaine what my irritation is a result of- throwing the book or reading it.

I agree with Steph Herold- the parts that we're the most interesting were the ones he spent the least time on. I also thought the sentence about teaching children to repress emotions was interesting. It called to mind little boys and how/why society teaches them not to cry. My favorite sentence in the whole article, however, was "the most important part of my environment is my fellow-man"

I would also be interested to hear what people have to say about James and Freud in relation to each other because I'm slightly confused about where the two are in relation to each other.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-01-26 01:37:13
Link to this Comment: 17804

I’m not quite sure where I stand with regards to James’ account. Obviously, emotions involve physiological reactions, but even if these occur before we understand why we are feeling them, it does not mean that our emotions do not occur first. I think I’m getting a into Freud’s account here, though that is not necessarily what I meant to do. (Maybe it will fit in with Laine’s discussion, though.)

I found very interesting Freud’s argument that emotions are different from ideas because even when the unconscious becomes conscious, the emotion does not necessarily change. In my life, I can think of many examples of when this has been true. For example, if I have to make a phone call that I’m dreading, I might be upset about it, but I won’t realize that I was upset until after I make the call and feel much better. On another occasion, I might be dreading another phone call, and even though I will realize it, I still will feel dread I still will feel dread and will only feel relief after I make the call. The idea that emotions can be unconscious at all directly challenges that idea that physiological reactions come first because if we are just superficially relying on people’s perceptions of their feelings, there is no way of accounting for their unconscious other than by their physiological reactions.

I can see now that I am talking myself into circles – my point is completely circular. Now I’m more confused than I was when I read the articles.

William James! Yippie!
Name: Tyler Saga
Date: 2006-01-26 02:27:06
Link to this Comment: 17805

As I stated last week, I'm a fan of William James. I've read several excerpts from his abridged Psychology textbook, and wrote one my Haverford Honor Code essay on his principle of "effort to attention," or knowing how far you're willing to go in comparison to completing a task at hand.

On his "What is an Emotion," I found his ideas on emotion not only to be logical, but correct (this opinion comes from a non-Psychology major who has little knowledge of contemporary Psychology). I find it quite amazing that, as an inspiring writer and a person who has a general interest in human beings, I've never considered stimulated physical effects as a part of emotion. I've only viewed emotion in what James calls an "intellectual" sense - e.g. the idea of hate, not hate's essence.

While I read the article, I was reminded of a reading I encountered a few years ago. It was a pamphlet on the study of history by eminent Eastern European scholar John Lukacs. He divided time between the past and the future. The present didn't exist because of the tiny fraction of time that lapsed before humans could realize an event occurred. While he viewed the lapsed time as the time it took for consciousness to be aware of the event, I viewed it to be the sum of the reflected light of the fact to reach the eyes and the transmission of the light into information. The present, Lukacs argued, was merely the blur between the past that already occurred and the future continuing on that past.

The reason I recalled Lukacs is because James argued a sequential succession of events based on an external event. The stimulated impulses affect the involuntary muscles before both an awareness of the stimulus and the physical effects is achieved by the consciousness. That takes time, and a time so small that the concept of emotions is not the sum of parts, but one whole. I believe that is why some members of the class cannot recognize these parts - because they can't see that they exist.

As for Freud, his classifications concerning anxiety helped me distinguish between dread and hysteria, and for that, I was appreciative. However, I could not get into his writings or his ideas like I did with James. I believe the reason why is because of my personal bias of Freud as a whimsical philosopher and James the social scientist.

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-01-26 02:34:36
Link to this Comment: 17806

At first, honestly, I couldn't get into James's argument. It just didn't make sense to me. All of the physiology, all of the science- well, I'm a writing major. I was impressed I recognized most of the words. (Most.) And try as I might, I couldn't wrap my brain around the idea of, for example, amusement being defined by laughter. (I then got off-track for a second, thinking about laugh tracks on sitcoms and what they accomplish, and the feeling of being OBLIGATED to laugh, and how a laugh brought out of you through that is different from a genuine laugh- I was thinking of my reactions to Sports Night on DVD- but this is, as I said, off-track.) Basically, I thought it was crap.

Then I thought about panic attacks. Sometimes, my panic attacks come about when I am stressed for various reasons, and it is a physical reaction which follows a mental/emotional/psychological one. But just as often, I will have a panic attack for basically no reason, and the physical sensations will throw me INTO the emotional ones. If my heart is pounding, my body is shaking, and it's hard to breathe, I will inevitably FIND something to make me panic about; when asked what triggered my anxiety, my only answer is "the anxiety did". And if that's true about one emotion, it must be true about others, right?

...I still don't know, actually. I'm not sold yet. But at least I'm thinking about it, I guess.

Freud and Emotions
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-01-26 02:50:32
Link to this Comment: 17807

Disturbingly enough, I was most interested by some of Freud's ideas in this week's reading.

In his writings on the Unconscious, he touches on the difference between an emotion that comes from a conscious idea and an unconscious idea. I stopped reading to consider for a second, what happens in our lives when we express emotions that we have complete control over, or at least feel like we do, and what happens when we express emotions that we know, on some level, we do not know at all.

Hopefully I'll get someone backing me up on this at my women's college, but this phenomena happens for me once a month: I get angry, passionate, sad, irritated, everything goes wrong and I cannot handle it, I cry, a lot. I know that this is not me, not what I'm really feeling, not what I know to be a true reflextion of what's happening. Two days later I get my period, and everything makes more sense.

I know its a physical reaction, chemically based, and not what Freud means by unconscious, but its how I can think of an emotional response to an idea I have no control of.

James and Silent Film
Name: Muska Nass
Date: 2006-01-26 03:05:05
Link to this Comment: 17808

I really enjoyed William James's piece "What is an Emotion" because I found it applicable to the creative-writing component of my thesis. I'm in the process of writing a screenplay for a silent film, so I'm constantly bombarded with the difficulty of trying to tell an entire story solely through the "distinct bodily expressions" that James discusses in his article.

Through my experience writing this screenplay, I have to say that I’m not certain whether I agree with James’s notion that the bodily expression comes first and then the identifiable emotion to correspond with it. As a writer, I have an easier time understanding the distinction between emotion and bodily expression by thinking about the difference between the adjective and the verb in a sentence.

My interest in writing silent films really began with my interest in the relationship between adjectives and verbs. For much of my life I thought that adjectives were the most important parts of speech. I would overload my sentences with adjectives, thinking that the more adjectives I included, the more my readers would truly understand the depth of the story. So if I wanted to describe a hot day I would write something like: “The sunny, sticky, muggy day was unbearable.” However, the more I wrote and the more I read, the more I realized the vital role that verbs played in the storytelling process. Verbs literally propel the story forward and are often more effective in conveying detail. So instead of saying “The sunny, sticky, muggy day was unbearable” you could simply say “The day burned” and it would be, in my opinion, a much better sentence.

In silent film, the relationship between adjectives and verbs is more pronounced. For example, if there is a shot of a woman sitting in a kitchen table crying, the script might read “A sad woman sits in her kitchen” but the reception of that sentence needs to be expressed solely through body language. The noun (the woman) is automatically given to the audience. But the verb (sits) and the adjective (sad) are the elements of the shot that are necessary to tell the complete story. Technically, every shot in a silent film is a still-frame verb. The verb, however, cannot carry the entire story. How is the woman executing the verb? How is the woman sitting? Is she holding her head in her hands? Is her back slouched? Is she twisting her hair? Is she crumpling a napkin? All of these things would act as the adjective to the verb “sit.”

But as a member of the audience, are we first seeing the bodily expression of the woman, or are we seeing her emotion? Are we first seeing the verb (sit) and then the adjective (sad)…but most importantly, what does it matter what we see first, as long as the audience sees the shot and understands that the correlating sentence would be “A sad woman sits in her kitchen” ? Is the chronology of verb/adjective and bodily expression/emotion only important for the writer, in terms of how he/she decides to construct the script?

Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-01-26 08:21:14
Link to this Comment: 17809

The example being used a lot on the forum with regard to 'What is an emotion' is the one about seeing a bear, running and getting scared. It seems quite nonsensical on the first read, especially in this particular example. Reading this example through Freud's description of the unconscious can be of some use. If considering the existence of the unconscious and its workings in the manner that Freud describes, the man runs away from the bear because of instinct and an unconscious recognition of the bear respresenting danger (like Darwin jumping away from the snake even though it was behind a glass wall). This instinctual reaction would occur BEFORE the actual conscious recognition of being afraid. And that seems consistent with James' use of examples of bodily reaction, like quickening of the pulse and heavy breathing. So what I'm trying to say is that I think James was on the right track, I just don't entirely agree with his explanation. The reaction does come before the feeling, but the feeling doesn't come BECAUSE of the reaction.

An example - I was reading IM away messages of my friends yesterday and found a game that tests how steady your hand is. I'm sure some of you have come across this. I vaguely remembered it not ending well but tried it again anyway. After making it through three levels a picture of the girl from The Exorcist comes up with a scream playing in the background. I instantly jumped in my seat and felt my heart racing before I though 'DAMN'. The fright was so much more physical than mental at that point, that when I was reading the responses this morning, it kept coming back to my mind.

On a different note, something I had a problem with was how Freud concentrated on childbirth as the model of anxiety felt through a person's life. I myself don't really know if any studies have been performed with regard to that matter, and was wondering if any psyche students had something to say about that, because it just seems to simple of a source of all anxiety.

Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-01-26 08:29:59
Link to this Comment: 17810

I just thought of another example that might work for this discussion and thought I'd share:

When I was 15 I was going into surgery to remove my gall bladder (I had gall stones since 13). I remember the night before we'd gone in for preop check up and the doctor had offered a sedative to help me rest that night. My aunt had declined on my behalf, and I too was fine with that because I wasn't really stressed or anxious about the operation at all. I thought it was pretty weird, especially because I was living with a lot of doctors at that time, and they all were wondering why I wasn't more nervous (I know Freud would be very mad at my use of all these words in the same context, seeing his love for defining and boxing up words, but I'm going to do it anyway).

The morning of the surgery, more preop checkups were done for blood pressure and temperature and what not. Turns out I had a fever - I had no reason to other than the fact that it seemed to a be a physical bodily manifestation of any stress that I might have been unconsciously experiencing. This did end up making me consciously stressed because surgery got delayed, and having IVs stuck in your hand for hours on end is never fun. But this could be an example that might justify James' argument, again adding Freud's argument of the unconscious in it.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-01-26 19:22:28
Link to this Comment: 17817

In his piece What is an Emotion William James presents an interesting theory. What if we do not have the emotion first? What if we have bodily reactions first, then use emotions and build stories in order to understand them? Like many people in class today I had a hard time trying to wrap my head around the idea. What does come first? Even after today’s discussion I am no closer to finding an answer. I wracked my brains to think of some event in the past where I distinctly remember what I felt and why. I thought of two cases, one that would disprove James and another that would agree with him.

Every year my high school went on a camping trip to Catalina Island. I love to hike so one day I dragged my little sister and my friend with me. We were probably about two miles out. I wanted to climb one last mountain, my sister didn’t. I insisted, she complied. We were over and half way down the mountain when the ground became unstable.

Suddenly there was a rock cascade. I turned around and saw that one rock had sliced my sisters left hand. There we were, two miles away from camp on an unstable mountain, we couldn’t go back down but we couldn’t go back up. My sister obviously needed stitches, I had nothing to stop the bleeding and she was, understandably hysterical. The trip back was very slow going and there were several times the only thing that saved us from falling to our death was grabbing hold of a cactus. For my sister it was even worse because she only had one good hand. I have never been so scared in all of my life. The whole time I thought, you made her go on the mountain, if she’s seriously hurt, if she falls and dies it’s your fault. When we finally got back to camp I was so relieved I wanted to throw up. In this case James would have been wrong. I felt the relief first and then felt the bodily reaction. .

I would be prepared to dismiss James completely except for one thing. When my sister was first cut she knew she was hurt but she didn’t feel any emotion. It was only when she saw my expression that she looked down at her hand. When she saw the damage, she felt the pain more intensely and then panicked. For her there was a bodily reaction, or sensation before there was the emotion.

On a side note, one of the things that I thought was interesting was that when I tried to think back to the times I felt an emotion as well as having a bodily reaction they were mainly unhappy, or anxious times. With the exception of the feeling of relief above, I do not recall ever having felt a turning in my stomach, or shaky with happiness or joy. Is it because the times of sorrow leave more of an impression on us than times of happiness? Do we remember fear more than contentment? I still don't think I believe James or fully buy into his theory, but I am unwilling to throw it out altogether.

Freud and James
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-01-26 20:14:43
Link to this Comment: 17819

I started off the reading liking James' style, finding it much easier to muddle through than the Marx, etc. I've been reading for my soc. class. Also, I was familiar with James' theory from intro to psych last semester. Once I got into the explanation of his theory however, my interest died, and he became both frustrating and boring. I hate writers who talk around the point, as well as writers who bring up a point, discuss it for a paragraph, and then say, "but I won't talk about that or explain, despite the fact I've just given you all the background information".

Freud I couldn't even get through. I don't like his theories, I don't like him as a writer, and as man, he was a coke addicted sexist jerk. Why would I want to read that?

biology of emotion
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-28 08:04:19
Link to this Comment: 17829

This week we continue our discussion of the biology of emotion. Describe for a bit, here, the observations-and-questions you have from reading the first two chapters of Darwin's 1872 The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals and two middle chapters from Damasio's 1994 Descartes' Error. Peter Brodfuehrer, a bio prof whose research is on the neuronal basis of leech swimming (!), will be helping us along by joining our conversation on Tuesday. It might be a help to him to know a little of what we're thinking about before he gets here...

Examples are always good
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-01-28 15:09:40
Link to this Comment: 17833

I thought that the Darwin piece was interesting and easy to read: I liked all the different examples he gave, especially when he used both 'lower animal' and humans to demonstrate his point. One major issue/problem I found with his text though - which is also pointed out by the commenter within the text - is that he seems to have the underlying belief that learned behaviors/habits can be inherited from one's parents. To me, this makes his argument weak even though he offers a constant stream of examples, which usually leads me to believe in the truth an argument. As a side note, I found it difficult to read this version with the comments sprinkled in with the original text. It was good I guess because it allowed/forced me to question what Darwin was writing, but it seemed to break up the text too much which i found annoying.

This is really random but I couldn't help thinking when I was reading the part about dog behavior when interacting with its master versus how it acts with a stranger/perceived threat - my parents' new female puppy every now and again starts humping people's arms, most often my dad's. The vet said that this is a dominance behavior which is normal in dogs and not at all related to the sexual act it usually plays a part in. This seems strange to me though (especially since she's a female) and I can't help wondering how Darwin would explain it.

Not being a science person myself and lacking a background in anatomy/physiology, I found the Demasio piece more difficult to get into because it uses so much anatomy terminology and description. I found myself skimming after a certain point because I just didn't understand whole parts of the text. From what i did get though, I found Demasio intriguing in how he describes the interconnectedness of mind/body/emotion and how so much of our emotional responses are caused by processes built in at birth as a part of our neurobiological system. The example of oxytocin was particularly interesting. I remember reading recently in a magazine that some drug company is working on developing an oxytocin pill which would actually help people be nicer to each other...crazy world we live in.

Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-01-29 15:25:39
Link to this Comment: 17844

I do not think that Darwin clearly explained what differentiated his three principles of expression from reflexes, and why these kinds of expression should be said to constitute emotional expressions. It seemed to me that all of the principles - associated habits, antithesis and reflex actions - were all different ways of describing involuntary physical reactions to external stimuli. Moreover, none of Darwin's illustrations of the various principles sufficiently differentiated them from one another or from reflexes.
In particular, I was bothered by Darwin's characterization of the startle response. It seemed that he was calling this a learned response, especially by mentioning that infants under 14 days of age do not blink their eyes when startled (OK so I don't have an infant to practice on, but I think this is inaccurate. Does anybody have a baby around that they could go startle to test this theory?). This fear response, which Darwin seems to suggest has become an "associated habit," is, in my opinion, a very clear case of an innate, evolutionarily adaptive response. It is very adaptive to shut your eyes and pull your face away when a loud sound strikes somewhere near you, or an object is moving rapidly toward your face. Is Darwin saying that this is an acquired response?
I did not understand Darwin's differentiation between these three types of expression. They all seemed to me clear cases of either reflex actions or classical conditioning. I think this is very clear in Darwin's statement "when any sensation, desire, dislike, etc. [i.e. stimulus] has led during a long series of generations to some voluntary movement, then a tendency to the performance of similar movements will amost certainly be excited, whenever the same, or any analogous associated sensation, etc. ... is experienced" (54). Darwin relies on the idea that such behaviors were at one time voluntary and have become innate over successive generations; I think current theory would say that such behaviors have become innate because they are adaptive. If Darwin is describing innate physical responses to stimuli, then are we to assume that Darwin believes emotion is simply a physical response? Or is there a cognitive component to emotion?
One amusing thing I want to point out is that technology has provided a great illustration for one of Darwin's ideas - that "so strongly are our intentions and movements associated together, that if we eagerly wish an object to move in any direction, we can hardly avoid moving our bodies in the same direction, although we may be perfectly aware that this can have no influence" (67). I immediately thought of playing video games, and the various jumps and movements associated with trying to get your character to do what you want it to. In theory, I know that leaning to the left is not going to get Mario all the way over the hole in the ground, but I can't help doing so.

Tues. Web Post
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-01-30 17:37:45
Link to this Comment: 17876

Laura Otten
Web Response

Course Packet Readings (Darwin, Damasio)

Overall, I liked the Damasio articles better than the Darwin. Embarrassingly enough, for the first couple pages of Damasio I thought I was reading Decartes (title confusion), and I was like, ‘whoa, this is pretty advanced!’ Don’t worry, eventually I figured it out. I think his arguments appealed to me more because he is a new perspective, closest to our accepted views today.

I loved that reactions to snakes were mentioned in both articles (Damasio pg. 131, Darwin pg. 43) Darwin specifically said that though he tried to face down a snake striking at him through thick glass, he was not able to control his jump-back reaction. However, in similar attempts, people do bear down to face other terrors (shark cages, holding crocodiles, etc.). I would be curious to know how often people start at the sight of a shark surfacing from the murky depths or if they indeed tremble when their taped-mouth crocodile flinches. Although ‘safe enough’ I believe these scenarios would be difficult to master. Our instinct is very capable of overruling our brain.

Damasio had some more concrete categories for dividing our brain patterns. I particularly liked this quote, “In general, drives and instincts operate either by generating a particular behavior directly or by inducing physiological states that lead individuals to behave in a particular way, mindlessly or not.” (Damasio pg. 115) This connects back to our ideas about what is conscious or unconscious. Damasio seems to believe that the functions of our bodies occur with and without cognition.

I liked Darwin’s discussion about instinct in reference to a moth that had broken its cocoon and immediately knew how to fly (pg. 35). One day this summer while walking our new puppy in the backyard, my mom stated that she thought it was a good time for Lucy to learn how to swim. She then promptly picked up the dog and tossed her off the dock. Startled, I blurted out, ‘She can’t swim!’ only then to see the puppy resurface and paddle her way to the shore. She never had to be taught because she was born with that instinctive knowledge. What talents are humans born with instinctively?

"If you pet me, will my tail not wag?"
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-01-30 19:30:43
Link to this Comment: 17881

I am in the middle going through the Darwin reading, and have come to an interesting revelation. Does anyone else find it odd that Darwin describes his dog as looking "dejected," "joyful," and "dignified" on seperate occasions? Is that the way a scientist writes about his dog? (And are his observations of this one animal enough evidence to support his theory?) Can a dog feel dignified? Is a sense of dignity an emotion? Is joy an emotion? This takes me back to our previous discussion on the differences between "instincts," "reflexes," "feelings," etc. Based on what we talked about in class last week, I think (and correct me if I'm wrong,) that we were all putting reflexes and instincts the category of more "primal" (read, animal-like) sensations and responses to stimuli. Emotions are something a bit more complex. Are we all in agreement that animals even have the capacity to feel what we call an "emotion"? Don't emotions have something to do with some degree of self-awareness as the result of social conditioning and normal developmental psychology an all of that? Is it fair to say that animals have emotions at all?

(I'm just posing these questions to play devil's advocate and to help us gain a clearer definition for the word "emotion" since it is so important to every discussion in this class. Personally, I have a dog whom I am convinced has the full range of human emotions. Sometimes I swear I see her laughing at my expense or playing on my gullibility and pity to get what she wants from me. On certain occasions I almost expect her to talk to me but as you can tell, I have a very active imagination and not a whole lot of expertise in the scientific area of animal behavior.)

Darwin's artistic method
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-01-30 21:20:03
Link to this Comment: 17885

I don’t believe that my particular response to the text has a lot to do with our discussion of emotions, but it did strike me as a large contrast between the two texts. The contrast I though was very interesting was the different ways in which the two commentators looked at the question. For Darwin, his scientific method would seem kind of appalling to a modern scientist, as much of what he is doing is observing things around him. He is looking at his terrier, and wondering what the terrier is doing in certain circumstances. He is also looking at how his family members act in certain circumstances, and then comes to a conclusion. Other than the actions of those around him, he also looks at characters in novels and try and understand why they are acting in such a way.
On the other hand, the second reading was much more an explanatory text that drew explains from the outside to prove a point rather than come up with a point from the observation. Though the more contemparary writer does use literature as well, it serves as more as "science for poets", rather than a indication of actual theory. Unfortunately for me, those were some of the only times I understood the argument when they were put in terms of MacBeth or Tristan and Isolde. Otherwise, it was much like the idea PRofessor Dalke brought up in class, the idea of the unarguable point, which was it seemed like a good idea, and I am too illinformed about it to have a discussion.
While the second method seemed much tighter and profession, what I liked about the Darwin scientific method was it was much more a documentation of his thinking process, and a better idea of how a problem is approached. Darwins barage of examples really seemed like a window into what he was processing when he came up with his theory, which to me was more interesting then the theory itself.
It did surprise me how with all of his guessed ideas on how the brain works and the relationship of the body and mind, how much he got right based on what little knowledge he had of the cognitive system. I guess it goes to show the power of imagination.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-01-30 23:18:19
Link to this Comment: 17887

Wow! Finally scientific text that is comprehensible and captivating.That is a rarity! I found Darwin to be of particular interest especially his explanation of the principle of antithesis. It does make perfect sense that we and other species do the exact opposite position of facial expressions and bodily statures just to express the contrastive nature of the emotion. My only question is that of his proposal that humans originally performed certain actions that were beneficial to themselves but then as those actions became habitual, they became useless to those who did the performing. It seems to me that our coughing today is as beneficial to us as those who originally needed to scratch their throat itches. His case is composed of holes where human examples of such practices should be placed but they are instead filled with canine cases that support Darwin's point. I only wish he would have included examples from the homo sapien point of view.
Damasio I found to be a reading and writing contradiction. His attempt to simplify such abstract and subjective emotions to body processes, internal milieu, and neocortical structures completely overrides his true point in writing his text; explaining emotions in scientific language does not diminish their loveliness. This is ridiculous. I appreciate his criticism of James with research and proof that I myself would love to have done however, it seems in writing so much about these emotions, he forgot to include compassion himself for the reader in his text. How ironic.

Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-01-31 01:00:12
Link to this Comment: 17892

Though long, I really enjoyed "General Principles" and found it easier to read than I expected. Darwin can be a pleasure to read with his anecdotes but when it comes to pronouncing his ideas, I can't read anything but qualifiers: "Certain complex actions are of direct or indirect service under certain states of mind." That's supposed to be the founding principle of this essay? I liked reading about the various tics people employ but unfortunately, I start to look for tics in myself and that makes every movement look suspect. Darwin is funny in his crazy old scientist way: decapitating a frog, giving people snuff, startling infants. One idea I puzzled over particularly was the idea of acquired, inherited traits. Darwin claims blinking is inherited but the editor discounts this as debunked. Are reflex actions "acquired"? I thought "acquired traits" were things like foreign accents or something specific to the parents. Do survival techniques, passed down from generations, count as "acquired"?

Darwin & Descartes
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-01-31 01:58:58
Link to this Comment: 17893

I found these two scientists differed greatly from one another. Darwin seemed to be the type of man who was much less into testing and being in the lab and more into thinking about his theories while Descartes was just the opposite; he seemed to not be able to confirm anything unless it was tested in the lab.
I agreed with a lot of Darwin's theories (probably because they were mostly all common sense or at least seemed like it). I thought Descartes' theories were much harder to understand, but the theories that I understood, I generally agreed with because of all of the proof he found. I don't know if that is stupid. I know sometimes experiments that prove something can yield false results sometimes. But his theories also seemed realistic, well at least the ones I understood.
In Darwin's section I found the part about cats and kittens pounding warm/ soft substances especially interesting because my cats always do that to me and I never knew why until now. It now has become obvious to me that it is "the expression of a pleasurable sensation".

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-01-31 02:18:06
Link to this Comment: 17894

What struck me most from the readings was Damasio's point on culture and the environment. He writes that culture is a biological mechanism that acts to stop humans from acting in pure instincts that can be harmful to themselves and to others (123). He is "not attempting to reduce social phenomena to biological phenomena" but he does see a link between biology and culture. I have learned a lot about culture and its functions in my anthropology classes, and it is interesting for me to get a biologist's perspective.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-01-31 02:39:30
Link to this Comment: 17895

To expand my last post...
The idea of culture influencing emotions is interesting to me, and so is the idea of biology influencing feelings. The idea of biology influencing culture which in turn influences feelings adds a whole new dimension to the mix.

Name: Tyler Saga
Date: 2006-01-31 05:56:39
Link to this Comment: 17898

In Darwin's "Expression," I found the idea "that condcting power of the nervous fibres increases with the frequency of their excitement" novel, although I'm not surprised. It gives a neurological sense of validity to the expression "practice makes perfect." And I also appreciated Darwin's comments on servicable habits in relation to natural selection, because evolution and its processes interest me in general. And I've never thought of habits as not serving some purpose, as Darwin explains antithetical habits do. Outside of these outstanding points, I found much of Darwin's reading useless.

"Decartes' Error" I appreciated more, because not only did it clear up some questions from class and William James's ideas on emotion, but expanded them to evaluate "mentally the situation that causes the emotion," from which emotions could be divided up into primary and more complicated secondary emotions. I also found interest in the idea that consciousness expands an emotion's efficiency, and, throughout the readings, the relationship between society and biology (best displayed in the "oxytocin" excerpt). I've read a few works on biological sociology that focus on external genetic factors, like ethnicity and, to a lesser degree, retardation, and to read something about emotions and a consciousness of society really expand my view in a field where I know very little.

Reading (Feeling?) Moby-Dick
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-31 14:14:50
Link to this Comment: 17902

So: What are your initial reactions to Melville's "organic form"?
How does the novel "strike" you?
(For how many of you is this a re-reading?
What were the contexts of your earlier readings?)
In what ways do you think/feel that the context of this current course might be influencing what you are noticing now about the novel?
In particular: what from our conversation with Peter Brodfuehrer about the biology of emotion has crept into your experience (!) of reading Moby-Dick?

Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-02-01 21:49:16
Link to this Comment: 17919

This is my first time reading Moby Dick. I don't know exactly what to make of it. First of all, why the name Ishmael? I'm reading the Bible for another class and Ishmael is the first son of Abraham and Sarah, technically the son of Abraham and Sarah's maid Hager, who gets driven into the woods with her son once Isaac is born. What does this connection mean in terms of Ishmael's background/identity? There are so many mentions of the Bible in the narrative - Noah, Jonah, the flood - I'm anxious to see where all of those connections lead. The Arabs are also supposedly descended from Ishmael - what does that mean in terms of Ismael's ethnicity?

I also not sure what to make of the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. Is it just my 21st century mind that wants to make it homoerotic? I'm alternatively puzzled by Ishmael's poigninant moments of egalitarianism and shocked at his frequent pinning of Queequeg as "pagan/savage." What is Melville's agenda here?

Moby Dick
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-02-01 21:55:20
Link to this Comment: 17921

I'm pretty much overjoyed to be reading Moby Dick right now -- Melville's style is a welcome change from what we've been focusing on (either James, Freud, any of that scientific crowd). It's so much easier to read - and funny very frequently. At least, I find it funny. (Like the image of Ishmael having to restrain himself from knocking people's hats off in the street? I love it!)

I was talking to my father about Moby Dick, because he actually attempted to read it to me when I was ten or so. I didn't exactly enjoy it, and didn't really get past where we are now in the book (Chapter 28 or so), but when I read it I think of my father's voice, and then I think of his opinions on Moby Dick, and literature in general -- I even imagine what his opinions would be. It's pretty weird how I make that association so quickly, huh?

I'm loving Melville's names and the numerology he throws in! Names, because the biblical allusions (so wonderfully explained in the Norton edition footnotes) are fascinating -- and rather ominous, especially Ahab's. I noticed the numerology when the two captains were arguing over Ishmael's lay of the profits; one suggested 777% (7 is considered the 'perfect' number, and 7 three times repeated invokes eternal perfection -- hence why 666 is "evil", because it's eternal one-step-away-from-perfection) and the other says 300% (3 being, as I touched on above, the number for eternal/repeating, relating to the Christian Trinity as well as all those threes running around mythology/religion.) ... Yeah. I'm a huge dork for these mystic-type allusions. But Melville is feeding the dork in me really well, so I'm quite content.

Name: Margaret M
Date: 2006-02-01 22:04:20
Link to this Comment: 17922

Oh, Moby Dick! I simply adore this book! I’ve never read it before and began reading it assuming that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I really like Melville’s style of writing--I simply thrive on all of the details he gives about whales and life on the sea and the little bits about the soul and body. I love the way he writes about the relationships and the characters. (I didn’t find Queequeg and Ishmael’s relationship to be homoerotic, but that could just be me) When I began reading it, I was trying to see it through the lens of “how does this relate to emotions and what we are talking about”. Soon, however, I was far too rapt up in the story to remember to focus on emotions. I was focusing instead on all of the religious content and names (eg. Ahab, prophets, Job, and, of course, the very name of our narrator, Ishmael). I have thoughts on the name choice of Ishmael, but I think I will save them until we all finish the book.
In relating the book to the discussion we had on Tuesday, I would say that Ishmael is telling the story of his feelings, which are a story of the emotions, that he experienced on this whaling voyage. He is also telling a story of the story of the way he perceived the feelings of his crewmates, which are, naturally, a story of the emotions that they were experienced. (Sorry if that was a little too “old lady who swallowed the fly”-ish of an explanation) I think that the name choice and the reason he feels the need to tell the story are due to events at the end of the book, but, again, I’ll wait to discuss that.

On a side note, I work in Prof Schulz’s lab and we are currently doing an experiment about emotions. It takes about 60-80 min, during which you get to watch film clips AND play a game. You also get 10$ or Psych 102 credit for participating. We are always looking for more participants and if anyone is interested in participating let me know.

Moby Dick
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-02-01 22:06:46
Link to this Comment: 17923

This will be my second reading of "Moby Dick". The first time I read it I was a junior in high school and our class only read selected chapters (not sure entirely what the reasoning for that was) so this will be my first time reading the text in it's entirety. I don't remember having a very pleasant experience with it the first time, but so far this time around I have been enjoying myself.

In response to Anne's questions "How does the novel strike you?" I have to say that I am trying to avoid any immediate strong, visceral reactions. I realize that this might be a negative in light of the subject of this course, but since I had such a strong dislike of the novel the first time around I feel that in order for me to give it a fair chance this time I need to just let the story wash over me.

I found a quote from Ishmael that I feel perfectly describes how I have been feeling about all our discussion of emotion (see posting from last week about James). It is in the chapter called "Cetology" and Ishmael writes "To grope down into the bottom of the sea after them; to have one's hands among the unspeakable foundations, ribs, and very pelvis of the world; this is a fearful thing."

Although Ishmael is talking about whaling, when I read that sentence I thought "Yes! That's exactly it!" Talking about emotions and the reasons for them is not something I am particularly comfortable with. I feel like I am groping down in the very pit of myself and I'm wary of what I might find there. I consider my emotions to be the foundation of myself, and therefore to be examining them in a somewhat "non emotional" way somehow feels wrong. How can non-emotional about emotions? I feel as if I'm I'm sticking my hands down where I can't see them and it's anybody's guess what I might pull up.

All that said, however, I have enjoyed reading Melville with the topic of emotion on the brain. Ahab is such a complex character and there is so much going on between him and the whale. It seems that to a certain extent Moby Dick represents all emotion for Ahab because the whale is all he focuses on. His entire being is caught up in his hatred of Moby Dick therefore pushing out any other emotions or feelings he might have.

I have also read "Ahab's Wife" and it has been interesting to me to read Moby Dick after having read that. I think about the story of his wife and how little regard he seems to have for his wife and child in Moby Dick. He is consumed by the whale and it seems the strength of all his emotions have joined together to create one "super-emotion" directed towards Moby Dick.

Date: 2006-02-01 22:08:18
Link to this Comment: 17924

I was also impressed by the Biblical references. I've never read the Bible, and know very little about it, but my footnotes kept spelling out the illusions.
I'm also struck by the foreshadowing Melville includes. The fact that the captain's name is Ahab and that he is "unwell," that the Try Pots looks like a gallows to Ishmael, the sermon where the preecher stands under a painting of a ship in stormy waters, the memorial stones that look like gravestones. And Ishmael even says that he would stay side by side with Queequeg until Queequeg would take his last dive, insunuating that Queequeg drowns on the voyage. Everything is pointing to a bad journey, and Ishmael even sees the signs, but he signs up for the voyage anyway. He is superstitious, but not superstitious enough to take warning by these signs and change his course.
As far as Melville's writing style goes, I'm actually enjoying it. It seems straightforward enough to read without much concentration, although the Quaker dialect was interesting. But overall, the language isn't distracting, it just makes me more anxious to find out what will happen next.

Name: Emily
Date: 2006-02-01 22:08:32
Link to this Comment: 17925

I was also impressed by the Biblical references. I've never read the Bible, and know very little about it, but my footnotes kept spelling out the illusions.
I'm also struck by the foreshadowing Melville includes. The fact that the captain's name is Ahab and that he is "unwell," that the Try Pots looks like a gallows to Ishmael, the sermon where the preecher stands under a painting of a ship in stormy waters, the memorial stones that look like gravestones. And Ishmael even says that he would stay side by side with Queequeg until Queequeg would take his last dive, insunuating that Queequeg drowns on the voyage. Everything is pointing to a bad journey, and Ishmael even sees the signs, but he signs up for the voyage anyway. He is superstitious, but not superstitious enough to take warning by these signs and change his course.
As far as Melville's writing style goes, I'm actually enjoying it. It seems straightforward enough to read without much concentration, although the Quaker dialect was interesting. But overall, the language isn't distracting, it just makes me more anxious to find out what will happen next.

free-will and emotions
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-02-01 22:52:05
Link to this Comment: 17926

This is the first time I’ve attempted to read Moby Dick and so far so good. Although I’ve enjoyed reading what I have, I am very very grateful for the footnotes and not so sure how effective the reading would be without them considering all of Melville’s references.
From our conversation about the biology of emotion I liked the clarification that despite our mechanic hardwiring, variability and free will exist between the stimulus and the response. I think that this is essential to recognize because it gives the individual a conscious and a space of hesitation in which to apply forethought to a situation. Like the picture of the hand reaching for the apple, free will exists in the space of time between the stimulus, emotion, feeling, and the response of how the individual processes and deals with that emotion. It brings responsibility and human characteristics back into the equation which seemed all too scientific and automatic in the writings of Darwin and Demasio. For Ishmael, this hesitation is the time between being on land and choosing to board the whaling ship. Even though Ishmael has little experience with whaling and has heard of its extreme dangers, he travels on the Pequod at his own free will. Originally, I thought it was the depression of the “November in [his] soul” that causes Ishmael to want to go whaling to escape his troubles on land, but because he gains so many positive feelings from his new friendship, I think that his motives turn a bit more toward the desire to belong to the brotherhood of the fearless. Perhaps then, it is ones current feeling that influences or puts a lens on why they choose to respond to an emotional stimulus even if the response is the same. However, is this assuming that we have too much control (free-will) over our emotions and how we feel and react to those emotions?

Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-02-01 22:55:13
Link to this Comment: 17927

My initial thoughts when reading Moby Dick:

-"Call me Ishmael." Not, "I am" or "My name is". Also, the book footnotes the name and explain the Biblical this man hiding his name in order to disappear? Is he protecting someone? What's he running from? And what kind of issues with self-loathing are represented through the use of this particular name?

-Going to sea is at first described as cathartic for him, but the death imagery suggests it is a form of identity suicide/annihilation, particularly the Cato comparison

-Does he suffer the lack of respect and low pay of going to sea as a sailor because he believes it's what he deserves, given these urges and thoughts he experiences (whether of violence, or depression, etc. Hard to tell, but sounding a lot like psych class...)? Or is being on the sea and fighting the elements, etc. meant to distract him from his pain/improve his mood/balance his humors?

-Interesting that he alternates between first and second person perspective...

Loving the Whale
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-02-01 23:29:04
Link to this Comment: 17928

I’d never read Moby Dick before this class. My friends who have read the book all tended to have comments that ran along the lines of, “good God that book was so BORING” or “yeah I tried to read it, like once, but I kept falling asleep so I stopped.” I figured if the book was anything like The Deerslayer thanks but no thanks. I expected to pick it up and get the same amount of excitement from it that I would expect to get from reading an economics book. None.

So far, I’m about a third of the way through, I’ve found that I am really enjoying it. The imagery Melville invokes with his writing is quite enthralling, though at times the narration can be a little long winded. Surprisingly, (or maybe not so surprisingly since others have said the same thing) I found myself relating to Ishmael. Who could work in dining services, especially during finals week, and not want to knock people around just a bit? I found it interesting however that in order to avoid attacking people with ‘pistol and ball’ he decides to go on a whaling missions, which we learn is especially dangerous. In order to avoid killing someone he will risk killing himself?

As a result of this class I am paying more attention to the ways in which Melville describes emotion. I tend to view fear, next to grief, as one of the strongest emotions we feel so I was struck by Melville’s comment, “Ignorance is the parent of fear.” I wondered how we could try to put that into a biological context. Could it be said that the sensory input we are receiving from certain situations and individuals are incomplete and produce what Freud might describe as an objective anxiety, a defense mechanism to prepare us from the danger of the unknown?

I don't know if the rest of Moby-Dick will be as good as the beginning has been but I'm cautiously hopeful.

what's in a name?
Date: 2006-02-01 23:30:03
Link to this Comment: 17929

method acting is still something that makes me wonder. when tears it our body or our feelings that have revisited an emotion/recognizing the situation? and is it the physical falling of the tears that make you sad - in the same way that smiling can make you feel happy?

my lingering thought after tuesday's class was just one that was never fully addressed - possibly because it's not that important! it was said that we "name" things, and the ability to put a name to something has to do with our having a neocortex in conjunction with our ability to speak...though, mice have neocorteces and cannot speak and therefore we are never sure if they are experiencing pain or anything else. i wanted say it seems as if we are building a hierarchy based on the ability to speak....we use the word "self report" or just "report" but really all we're looking for is a word - a NAME. our line is not really at the neocortex - it's at the tongue.

moby d.
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-02-01 23:55:01
Link to this Comment: 17930

(an aside on footnotes I need to get out: I'm finding Norton incredibly intrusive into my reading of the story. I like the explanation of seafaring or whaling words, I don't mind the historical and Biblical references clarified, but I hate the notes connecting something in the text to Melville's life. I don't want to know that he went on vacation somewhere, and that's why Ishmael says it, or that something was an in joke with him and Nat Hawthorne.

Its making me too conscious of an authorial voice, and I like, when reading, to have my own association with places, and not to have to think about the author every few sentences. I want a good story without a critic or an author sitting between paragraphs telling me a "right" source. I think footnotes would be better if its your second read. but this isn't really a 'text' to me yet, its still a book.)

Now that that's out of the way, and I shall say no more of it...

Yes, I think its homoerotic, he's in bed with a fella, they wake up holding each other with a tomahawk poking him in the side, they're going to be harpooning things, men on boats, I think its okay to read it a little queer. What's the use of that, though, is my question.

I'm really enjoying getting to know Ishmael, he's a fascinating narrator and I like seeing the world, his world, through his eyes, his voice. I trust a man that feels as connected to something or some place natural as Ishmael does to the sea. And I feel so strongly in a place and time. I am wary however, I hear the real drop the book and run spots are smack in the middle. Hope I'm up for it.

Initial thoughts on Moby Dick
Name: Jackie O'M
Date: 2006-02-02 00:57:08
Link to this Comment: 17931

I'm really begining to like Moby Dick as well. As some of you have said, I came into the reading feeling a little reluctant. I've never read this before, and all I've ever heard is how "boring" or "long-winded" it is (I sort of felt that it was something that I SHOULD read...)

From the first chapter I was myself intrigued. I found I could relate a bit to Ishmael right off the bat because I sail. I've never been on any long, open-sea voyages (just tooling around Lake Erie), and maybe it was just the effectiveness of the description, but I could really feel the fresh air and the excitment of being out on the water. This then resulted in some thoughts and emotions about my personal experiences sailing: being at home in the summer, freedom from the stress of school, spending time with my family, etc. I thought this was interesting with respect to our discussion in class on Tuesday. Would I have felt the same way (that is to say, the same emotion) about the passage/description if I didn't have my own memories to draw on?

Another aspect about the sea that interested me is how alone one really is out there. When you get away from land, there's nothing to remind you of life back on shore except the people you're with. Especially if there isn't much to do, you end up just sitting around (with nowhere to go and no distractions... cause you're in the middle of the ocean) and it's just you and your thoughts/feelings/emotions about life, and you almost HAVE to face them.

The damp, drizzly November in Ishmael's soul
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-02-02 01:56:08
Link to this Comment: 17932

I'm so glad to see that I'm not the only one who likes the novel. I was ready to hate Melville and to be miserable for the next two weeks while we got past the whale in class, but I am actually fascinated by 'Moby Dick'. I had been warned about how Melville goes into long passages where he describes (or defends) whaling or a character and the plot doesn't really advance at all meanwhile, but that's one of the aspects of the novel which I like the most. Sure, the sermon seems never-ending, the description of the painting hanging on a wall at the Spouter-Inn is a long one, and he does take about three chapters in describing just about four characters. But it all adds so much vividness to the novel that it doesn’t really matter if the plot consequently advances slowly. It’s in those long passages (which are almost unrelated to the novel) where the genius of it lies.

I’m still wondering, however, what is the cause of Ishmael’s “damp, drizzly November”. Like the notes on the text suggest, his very name implies that he is an outcast (the first son of Abraham, born of a slave woman as he could have children with his wife, who is then separated from the family as Abraham’s wife bears him a son). Another fact supporting the idea that it is his being an outcast what is affecting his soul is the fact that he befriends Queequeg, a cannibal and a pagan. For him to become so close to yet another outcast indicates that he must identify with the loneliness and alienation that Queequeg suffers from. In fact, he decides to join the crew of the Pequod, could it be because he is so secluded that he needs to feel that he fits in somewhere? That he can at least be a part of a ship’s crew?

And still, what has Ishmael been separated from? Is he secluded from the rest of society? Is he an outcast because of certain ideals he defends? The story doesn’t provide us with much in this respect. And I’m afraid that these questions will remain unanswered.

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-02-02 08:42:09
Link to this Comment: 17935

Yeah, I got nothing. See, here's the thing: I am creeped out by fish. And fish-related creatures. I'm not scared of them, I just... dislike them. I have a visceral, gut-level reaction towards them. On top of that, I vividly remember nightmares from when I was little about sharks and whales. I still can't watch The Little Mermaid.

This means I'm reading the book with one eye closed, ready to toss it to the floor and run the second I decide anything that happens disturbs me.

Which is actually a lot.

Which, yes, shames me as much as it should, but is also making it a real struggle for me to get through. I have a fairly constant stream of friends reminding me that it's not a real whale, it's a METAPHOR whale, and whales are mammals anyway.

But it's still creepy.

Also? Weighing in- it's TOTALLY homoerotic. Really.

The Turn of the Screw
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-02 20:47:08
Link to this Comment: 17944

After reading The Turn of the Screw, I was really confused and definitely had to spend some time thinking about what happened among all of the characters. I couldn't figure out why such young children would be trying to fool adults. The other thing I thought was maybe Flora and Miles were insane. A lot of the characters seemed to be out of their minds. The story really didn't seem to have a point, but it wasn’t hard to read and it kept my interest. There also was a point in the tale in which I felt like the author contradicts himself. For example, in the beginning of the short story it is said that the uncle of Miles and Flora tries to visit them at Bly as frequently as possible, but later in the story, after the new governess comes, he never once visits. The other things that puzzled me were why Miles died and how, what some of his secrets about his school life actually were, what the ghost had to do with the story, and if Flora told the uncle anything when she went to his home in the end of the narrative. I guess I just felt it was not wrapped up very well.

Moby Dick
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-05 14:08:29
Link to this Comment: 17973

(This is the first time I have read Moby Dick.)
By starting out the novel with "Call me Ishmael" it seems like the character is either trying to step past formalities or hide from something.
I find that as of now I am actually semi-enjoying the book. It has yet become painful to read. The relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael did not seem homoerotic or homosexual to me. Waking up with a man’s arm wrapped around you seemed to me like it could happen to anyone. Also, I dislike the biblical references. I am not well versed on the Bible and it makes it hard to connect the little details that these references add to the book and having to read the notes at the bottom of the page all the time gets very annoying because it interrupts the flow of my reading and the story.
I found it really interesting that he found Queequeg almost more civilized than himself and the people around him that he used to consider civilized even though he started off by calling Queequeg a savage.
My thoughts about the November in his soul were that people can get depressed by weather and they need to move to other locations with more agreeable weather, so maybe this is what Ishmael had to do by going out to sea.
I just hope this book doesn’t become a painful chore to read.

Skip To The End For My Jokes!
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-02-06 13:17:15
Link to this Comment: 17988

Laura Otten
Web Response

Moby Dick

I haven’t yet wrapped my mind around the magnitude of this voyage. I constantly remind myself that they will be at sea for years when I read about the amount of food they have stored or how much whale oil they are able to carry. Therefore, initially, I was confused by the sudden appearance of Ahab’s crew (Fedallah and the rest). Wouldn’t you be aware of the rest of the crew? How many men are onboard exactly? How are these whalers hidden below deck? It’s pretty mysterious, I wonder what else this ship has in store for its passengers. Also, the stowaways add to the bigger picture of Capitan Ahab being creepy. This guy is in a world of his own!

I notice Ahab’s behavior whenever he makes public appearances on the deck of the ship. For example, there is a quote from one night when he is pacing the deck of the ship and Melville writes, “While his one leg made lively echoes along the deck, every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin-tap.” (pg. 192) This quote struck me as eerie and it is just one example, but in this book, there are so many references to death and coffins especially. I am going to try to start keeping track of how often these descriptions are attributed to Ahab. It seems like he is given more ‘dead’ qualities than the rest of the crew or the ship or Moby Dick. What does this say about his future? (Come on, who doesn’t know the end of this book?)

Lastly, I’ll leave you all with the most important part of my post. Not really, but the pun jokes on Thursday brought to mind a few popsicle stick jokes that I find corny, but fun…

Q. Why can’t a nose be 12 inches long?
A. Because then it’d be a foot! (haha)

Q. What kind of ring did the rabbit buy for his girlfriend?
A. A 12 carrot ring! (haha)

Ahab's power
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-02-06 22:32:26
Link to this Comment: 17994

The emphasis I see of these last hundred pages is the image of Ahab and how he dictates his authority on the Pequod. There is a way in which he becomes the center, and to quote a line he says later in the Novel, "All is Ahab". The scenes that best display this enaction of authority is the cabin table and the quarterdeck scenes. In these seens, there is a very foucaultian enaction of power, the silent all powerful character who seems to enact power, without even enforcing them directly. The feeling was the Ahab's power was so emense, that in all actions he is display rank and heirachry within the crew. In the cabin table seen, this is particularlly the case. The loudness and haphazard disorder of the deck among the harpooners is much different then the dark, silent ordered world of the cabin table. All eyes are placed on ahab, as are all comparisons. With such an ordering device, all characters not only must act like Ahab, but immediately become less than Ahab. Only Ahab can be the most Ahab.

Moby Dick
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-02-06 23:33:44
Link to this Comment: 17995

So now that I am about halfway through Moby Dick, the emotion that I am feeling most strongly is anger! I am so annoyed that I waited 19 years to read this book. In general, I am angry that books are labeled "Classics" and force-fed to us by overanxious parents and/or English teachers before we are ready to read them, because then we run away screaming from the genre. Or maybe that was just me ...

Anyway, I am really enjoying Moby Dick. I haven't yet found the part where I get bored with the story (or even the tangents). I find Ishmael to be a pleasant narrator - I like him, I find him amusing, I think he tells a good story. I like hearing about these various escapades on other boats. Overall, I was surprised by how enjoyable I found the reading experience (could you tell? I've used the word "enjoy" about 8 times already!).

Which brings me back to my "Classics" point - I think a lot of us approach classics either because we are forced to or because we think we should, but we don't really read them anticipating pleasure. Classics are like vitamins ... nobody likes them, but they are good for you, and not altogether too great an inconvenience, so we force ourselves to take them at regular doses. At least with this one I feel like I've lucked out and found a good one (perhaps Moby Dick is the cherry-flavored Flintstone of classics?)

(OK, it's late. Did that metaphor even make sense?)

a long slow sail in dark waters
Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-02-07 01:59:10
Link to this Comment: 17998

I'm going to keep myself squarely in the I-enjoy-this-book camp, although it's going very slowly for me. In response to last week's conversation, I did notice the actual beginning of the book (because I noticed it was inscribed ot Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, come on - there's a page that calls itself THE TEXT of Moby Dick) and I love that the story proper begins with "Call me Ishmael." It was the start of a very interesting bonding experience for me with the narrator, as I often introduce myself by saying "call me sky" and I'd never read this before. I'd quite forgotten, in fact, that that's how the book "starts" and was delighted ot read it. I should probably point out that I introduce myself that way because sky isn't my real name, but that's what everyone calls me up here.

Anyway, I kepe finding things I enjoy more about the novel. The cetology chapter didn't faze me at all, since he's so academically irreverent about it, and the encroaching stage directions are as natural to me as anything, and frankly make the action a lot clearer. I am enchanted by Ahab, rather a lot like Starbuck when he finally agrees to hunt the white whale, except I have no regrets. There's just something that leaps off the page at me whenever Ahab enters the scene or speaks. Sort of feels like literary charisma. Whatever it is, it's working on me.

Name: Laci Hutto
Date: 2006-02-07 09:06:50
Link to this Comment: 18002

I missed Ahab's entrance.

Talk about being disappointed in myself-- I don't even know what happened. I was reading along, enjoying it all, getting pulled in by the mystery of Ahab before he ever appeared on scene.... and then I guess I must have gotten to a point where I was skimming without really realizing what I read, because after about a page, I noticed that Ishmael was describing someone and I hadn't seen who-- so I backed up and caught the line "Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck."

I can't even tell you how much that damaged the story for me. I've been happily putting myself in the "enjoying this book" category, much to my surprise, and then, I guess because it was late and I was tired, I came unfocused enough to miss an event I'd been anticipating for quite a while. From the moment Ahab is mentioned, he's surrounded with mystery, and Ishmael looks for and wonders about him every minute he's on the ship. I was looking forward to my reaction when we finally got to meet the character, and all I got was this disappointment in myself.

Hark ye yet again--
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-07 16:37:45
Link to this Comment: 18009

So, I'm interested, right now, in hearing how you guys read the passage in Chapter 36 of Moby Dick about the pasteboard mask.

General Update
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-02-07 22:18:59
Link to this Comment: 18012

I missed posting last week in the madness of recovering, so I just wanted to check in and make some comments regarding my reactions. I'm not as far into the novel as should be at this point, I'm still catching up on lost time. However, I wanted to weigh in on the conversation we were having today with regard to humor and context. I am another person who's never read Moby Dick before, and have also never read the Bible. Additionally, I have the removed perspective of someone who grew up abroad, where I was not exposed to what would be famous biblical references as well as references to 'Big Books' like Moby Dick. That takes away a lot of the context that others have with regard to the book. And makes my reading of it that much harder. While fighting through the chapters I am faced with mostly the actual material the book is addressing and I didn't find myself trying to catch the alliterations and unobvious sarcasms. In a sense I have a kind of uneducated reading of the book as of now, which I'm trying to refocus as we proceed, by trying to spot references to the Bible and such, building context as we go forth.

That being said, I definately agree that readings are greatly context based, especially humor. An everyday example - I have friends who adore the show 'Arrested Development' I for one have never seen the show, so I often don't understand a lot of jokes they crack, which have to be followed them saying 'Arrested Development reference'. I can think of a number of other similar examples where understand comes almost entirely from a certain frame of reference.

This mostly disjointed post is trying to justify the times when I read passages and miss the fact that Melville is poking fun at religion, simply because my understanding of the branch of religion he is talking about doesn't really allow for me to pick up on this. I guess I'm reiterating what was said in class that humor, readings and sarcasm all need a certain level of knowledge and context for them to be effectively perceived as the author wants.

Name: Marie
Date: 2006-02-07 23:38:55
Link to this Comment: 18013

I too am a little late in my posting, but I just wanted to add one comment on something I found a bit funny- Chapter 21, Cetology. Though probably not intended to be "funny," I couldn't help smiling when I read it. It is so distinct from the rest of the book, and I've never read anything where an author went from novel to encyclopedia styled writing. It seems a more than a bit out of place, and the lengths Melville goes to describe the different types of whales, well I just find it humorous. And he calls the reader "gentlemen," which I also find funny, just because I feel like part of a country club or something. And finally, I was really struck by the quote, on page 123, "For we are all killers, on land and on sea." I guess I don't normally think of everyone I'm surrounded by as killers, and surely not myself, though I've killed a few bugs in my day. Still, I just found it an interesting line. Ok, now back to reading!

are you a stubb or a starbuck?
Name: Margaret M
Date: 2006-02-08 10:21:33
Link to this Comment: 18020

The discussion in class on Tuesday really got me thinking. I hadn't really caught on to all of the jokes that Melville was making (perhaps, as someone said, because I was paying close attention to what was happening and not the details of how he was telling me what was happening) and found few parts of the book funny. I found it all rather sad, especially because of what we know is coming at the end, and kept thinking about why Ishmael was writing/telling us this story. Is it to honor those who are (soon to be) lost like the tablets in the church? I was amazed in class how humorous much of the book is. This led me to think that perhaps the emotional experiences that we bring to the book, and the way we currently interpret these experiences, lead us to interpret passages of the book as funny or sad. I think that this is reflected in the characters of Stubb and Starbuck. They are so opposite each other in the way they interpret events/life and yet they are interpreting the same things. This is similar to the way that we are all reading the same big book, but interpret it differently. I think that Melville may be trying to tell us to be flexible and be able to look at things as though we were Stubb AND Starbuck when he writes funny passages. Are they funny? Yes. Do many have a serious meaning? Yes. We are warned not to become Ahab, tragically only able to interpret things one way. That being said, I am a little uncertain about what the pasteboard masks is all about. Are the masks what we bring to an experience and we can only interpret things in a way that the masks let us? When I think of a mask I think not only of a mask that we put on to cover our faces (and perhaps our expression of emotion which may be interpreted by ourselves and others as feeling--by wearing a mask we control what emotions and feelings we show the world), but also the limited sight that one has inside of a mask. It appears that Ahab can only see things through the mask of Moby Dick--or can only interpret things as they relate to Moby Dick. This may be an incorecct interpretation of the paragraph, but it has made me begin to think about what sort of mask I myself wear. What am I not able to see? What clouds my own interpretations of events and of the feelings I interpret in others emotions?

Why read?
Name: Emily
Date: 2006-02-08 14:41:54
Link to this Comment: 18021

I think it's really interesting to read the book thinking that Melville believes it's better to do than to read. This idea brings into question much of my life at the moment, as well as a favorite past time of much of the world. What good is it to read? In one sense, reading teaches us about different subjects, so that we are better prepared to go out and do things. Doctors, government officials, lawyers, school teachers, almost any profession must read in order to do their work.

But then again, this is a different sort of reading than I think Melville is referring to. He seems to be singling out reading for pleasure. Why does one read for pleasure? Maybe it's because we become too tied down to be able to go on adventures, and so live surreptitiously though books. A woman with three kids and a husband would rarely think of spending one year sailing around the world, and another bicycling across the country. It would be too great of a hardship on her family. And by doing so, she would be preventing her husband from following his own path of adventure, for he would have to take responsibility for the children in her absence. Reading allows us to visit places and do things we wouldn't otherwise think of. People may chose to live their lives doing the one thing most important to them, but this leaves little room for also fulfilling the infinite range of activities the world provides. So while one person might fulfill their true dream of being a painter, this leaves little time to travel around the world, so this they read about in books. Life is too short to do everything we want to do, so books improvise for reality where we fall short. I realize this meanders from Moby Dick, but it was an important idea in the novel I wanted to explore.

Almost Hypocritical
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-02-08 19:40:44
Link to this Comment: 18025

As an English major, I know that I shouldn't admit to reading Sparknotes, but the fact of the matter is that I do. (But to reiterate the fact that I am a complete and total nerd, I would just like to say that I read them in addition to actually reading the book to make sure that I am "getting" everything, as well as for a little hisotrical context.) That said, I was reading up on the context in which "Moby Dick" was written, and Sparknotes helpfully informed me that while Melville was out "living" the kind of life he advoacated "Armed with the voluminous knowledge obtained from constant reading while at sea, Melville wrote a series of novels detailing his adventures and his philosophy of life." Pretty interesting, huh? One thing that nobody has mentioned is that you have a lot of free time when sailing on the open sea. My Dad was in the navy for a few years and he says that all he remembers from being at sea is "grayness" and "waiting." As exciting as some people like to make it sound, life on the ocean is really, really boring most of the time. It only seems logical that someone would try to entertain themselves contructively. Reading to improve one's knowledge seems to have appeared to Melville as a worthy endeavor, did it not? The question I have is, was reading his last resort? Should reading be a last resort, an only slightly more enlightened form of killing time than thumb-twiddling? Might Melville have gone to sea specifically so that he could feel like he was out "doing something," and yet carefully chosen an activity that would give him a chance to read?
I like reading and there's nothing that anyone can say that will make me think that it's a pointless waste of time. Yeah, it might be a method of escapism, and yeah, it might be a poor substitute for experience, but isn't it a great exercise for your brain? You never know when you might learn something. You never know when a book might change your life. Isn't it (dare I say)

Name: Steph
Date: 2006-02-08 21:34:44
Link to this Comment: 18027

So I am the odd one out. I hate to admit it, but I am no longer in the "Moby Dick is beyond my wildest expectations!" party. I understand that it's a book about whales (at least using whales as a metaphor for..something), but Ishmael, how many times do you have to tell me about whales in paintings, whales in carvings, whales in literature..enough is enough. I feel like I'm missing key passages because I end up skimming through what feels like mountains (oceans?) of excess details. I like what pieces I can pick up about Ishmael, like his noting that he admires whales for being able to not be affected by their environment, but these little nuggets of truth seem so buried ridiculous detail that it's difficult to find them. I hate to be the complainer. And I know that there are so many fascinating parts to this book, I just wish they were more accessible.

Name: anna
Date: 2006-02-08 22:43:56
Link to this Comment: 18028

i honestly dont have a lot to say about the book at the moment. i'm still enjoying it - but there are still plenty of pages to go! one quote that still sticks in my mind is on page 82, where ishmael and queequeg are talking about religions in bed (interesting, since most religions do not condone homosexuality - which is a growing question in my mind). "besides, argued i, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be half-starved". i dont know...fasting...something practiced for religious reasons which then puts you in a state where your thoughts are "half-starved"...why do it if it makes you and your thoughts half? for such a religiously charged book, melville seems determined to make his book anything but holy (which is perhaps his point). his characters are sexual - if nothing else, they consistently make you JUST slightly uncomfortable (as if youve just walked in on two people kissing) - and his biblical phrases are tricky. it is hard to detect sarcasm or seriousness in his words...the whole book often feels like a mockery of the common, religous "fool". that's how melville makes me feel - like a fool...that life is laughable. the fact that im sitting reading his words is laughable. the fact that two men can love each other is laughable...even the bible is laughable. how is everything so funny, and yet his words - if taken literally and seriously - are so beautiful? they paint such wonderful pictures in my mind...but are they all a joke?

Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-02-08 23:03:18
Link to this Comment: 18029

WHY? Why is this book taking so long to read? I am fearful to believe that it actually takes me 4 minutes to read one page. Yet, all evidence to points to such algebra. The funny thing is, I really enjoy most of the pages I read and am careful not to skim, given that this is a Classic and thus every word is precious, but I get so little progress that I am terrified of reading more of this book. But, moving past venting, I find the "Pasteboard Mask" idea very interesting. Not that no one has ever thought of that before but I even enjoy the visual of the pasteboad mask. I imagine a thin, whitewashed, cheap mask with small holes for ventilation and crudely drawn on features. This seems particularly New England to me. I like Ahab's vehemence, love the idea that "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me." Melville continues his "I am mine own" mantra with Ahab but Ahab does it with more anger and combativeness. "Who's over me? Truth hath no confines"
I will keep reading but who knows if I will ever finish.
ps. Oddly enough, when we read the "pasteboard mask" section and Ahab describes the whale, I thought of Dick Cheney, "I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it."

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-02-08 23:11:49
Link to this Comment: 18030

I'm pretty sure that I am a failure as an English major. I'm just... not getting this book. I'm not getting it at all. And, you know, I'm trying. Because everyon esays it's so good, or at least it means so much, and most people I've talked to have said I'd enjoy it. But it takes me forever to read each page. I keep getting lost. I can't keep track of the characters. I find myself staring at the illustrations in my copy for long, long minutes, not completely noticing that I've stopped reading. I'm trying to get what everyone talks about in class: the humor, or the plays of language, or whatever.

Instead, I just keep getting questions, and they're the deeper philosophical questions that I'd love to work through, but I can't, because whenever they come up I still have X number of pages of Moby Dick to read and by the time they're done I have to let my brain decompress.

So pretty much the deepest thought I'm getting from this is that I'm almost at the point where I can read the name Starbuck and not think we're talking about Battlestar Galactica, or Queequeg without thinking of Scully's dog on X-Files.

Almost. But not quite.

Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-02-08 23:48:11
Link to this Comment: 18032

When the passage about the pasteboard mask was announced to be perhaps the most important in the text, I was ashamed that I hadn’t previously noted it while reading. On second and third read of it, I now think that what the Whale is for Ahab, the voyage is for Ishmael. Considering the questions that we as readers are left asking about Ishmael from his first introduction, perhaps the “call me Ishmael” is the narrator’s pasteboard mask, behind which he conceals his true identity, motives for boarding the Peaquod, befriending the cannibal, etc. If this is the case, then maybe Ishmael has indeed created a wall; therefore, taking the name Ishmael and going whaling may be his way of “thrusting through the wall”. I think that it is interesting in this passage that Ahab references being a “prisoner” and obeying “my master”, when it seems as if Ishmael and the crew of the boat have become prisoners of their jealous master Ahab.
Another aspect of this passage that I noticed, when taking into account of our discussion on categorization and pattern making, is the role of foreshadowing and its purpose in Moby Dick and through life in general. Should we, like Starbuck, fear the “predictions”, “verifications”, foregoings” around us? or, should we be like Ahab and follow our “innermost necessities” and “drive… on”? Perhaps we should categorize or discriminate at least a bit, because Melville shows us the dreary consequences. Rather than synthesize his thoughts and emotions, Ahab has lumped everything behind the pasteboard mask of the whale. Had he sorted out patterns or categorized instead, I’ll bet he wouldn’t feel such a drive to kill the whale and endanger the lives of his crew in the process. Conversely, too much categorization and we may find ourselves the lowly sub-sub.

pasteboard mask
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-02-08 23:52:01
Link to this Comment: 18033

I think this may have been the passage I was thinking of when I wrote last week that I thought that Moby Dick might possibly represent all emotion for Ahab, or more specifically, that Ahab is so consumed with Moby Dick and the hunt that he is not capable of feeling any emotion other than the hatred he feels for the white whale. Moby Dick is the end all, be all for Ahab. He says sometimes he thinks "there's naught beyond" and that seems very accurate in terms of his behavior on the ship. He has tunnel vision and all he sees is his hatred of the white whale.

I wonder though, if Ahab feels only hate for the whale, or if he feels the full range of emotions. Is it possible that Ahab also feels love for the whale? Can he be admiring or envious of Moby Dick? I think it is interesting to entertain the possibility that Ahab feels a lot of very complicated emotions towards Moby Dick and that they manifest as one super emotion of hatred.

That is what I took from the pasteboard mask passage. I read it as a commentary on the nature of Ahab's emotion, or emotions depending on how you look at it.

Also, just to comment upon an image that really struck me and that I'm not entirely sure I can fathom- I found his description of the peeling off of the whale's blubber to be both horrific and perversely satisfying. He says "the whale is indeed wrapt up in his blubber as in a real blanket" and goes on to compare it to an Indian Poncho. It was a humorous comparison, but at the same time it just seems so wrong. It's the whale's skin...not a blanket! and I doubt the whale himself would find this naming of his skin "blanket-pieces" to be such a "very happy and significant" term.

pasteboard and the pursuit of knowledge
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-02-09 00:04:47
Link to this Comment: 18034

"All visible ojcets, man, are buat as pasteboard masks...some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth...its features from behind the unreasoing mask...strike through the mask!...thrust through the wall...To me, the whie whale is that wall shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough."

I needed to type that to make sense of it.

I wanted to respond to this passage because Anne asked, but I wanted to respond more to the idea of the book being about the "inevitable incompletness of our pursuit of knowledge."

And I'm realizing, now while typing it, that's one (of the many) ways to explain the pasteboard mask. "Still reasoning things" hiding behind a mask, what are those still reasoing things? God, knowledge, human nature... all the unreachable, hiding things: the inevitable incompltness of our pursuit of knowledge. In a book, in a whale.

I'm writing in fragments, hoping that might be a better way to talk about this than in full sentences. Yet this is getting long.

Why I really wanted to start on the incompletness of knowledge theme was that part of me has been thinking about this book in the span of writerly history, not literary, not for criticism, but just the way this is The Whale Book. And from when this entered the canon through the forseeable future, you cannot write a novel about whales, really, about boats, fishing, the ocean, without referencing this book.

I'm not sure I'm making sense any longer. Hopefully there are some usefull ideas within the mess.

a turning point?
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-02-09 00:06:59
Link to this Comment: 18035

I was struck by a quote on page 225, at the end of chapter 58. Ishmael's been talking about how omnipotent the sea is, being controlled by none other than its own mercy and power. Then writes, "Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push off from that isle, thou canst never return!" It seems like Ishmael has pushed off, and from this point on (at least in what i've read so far), he seems obsessed with this idea of the horridness of life, especially the 'civilized' life, which sees itself as above the savage but commits the same atrocities in some masked way. One great example of this sentiment comes in chapter 65, at the end, when Ishmael points out in rebuttal to anyone who would say it is barbaric for Stubb to eat the whale meat by its own light, a landman that eats roast beef with a knife made of ox-boan. He proclaims, "who is not a cannibal?" This concept of the cannibal seems to be coming up constantly too. The whole world as cannibalistic, even the great, all-powerful ocean. I have to say, though I find Melville's portrayal of the universality of the horrors that exist in the world very telling and truthful, it is also quite depressing and a strange combo with the humor. I guess it makes sense what we said in class that the humor is what lets us go on - in life and in reading this epic book.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-02-09 00:50:53
Link to this Comment: 18037

I see the pasteboard mask as a feature of anonymity. That is why Ahab wants to strike beyond the mask -- he wants to strike at the core of real people -- at their very souls. Moby Dick may be a whale and not a "real person," but the fact that Ahab so passionately wants to take revenge on him personifies him. The rumors surrounding him further this idea of him as a person.

Having said this, I have to say that this is one instant where the Norton footnotes really get to me. Looking back over the text, I realize that when I first read the passage, I didn't quite understand it so I went to the footnote and immediately accepted Ahab to view the whale as "the embodiment or agent of some power outside the physical world of visible nature." It is only now that I can see that this is not the only interpretation of the passage.

On a separate note, I have been paying close attention to my own emotions and experiences while reading the novel, probably because of this class. When I think of the novel as both serious and funny at the same time, the word that comes to me is "poignant." The idea (though not necessarily the novel, at least at this point) reminds me of a time when I rented a houseboat with my dad, and the engine died in the middle of a storm, in the middle of a river, and we had no idea where we were on the map. Thinking back on it, it was a very frightening experience. But thinking back on it, I was surprisingly calm, because in a situation like that, all you can really do is laugh.

Behind the pasteboard mask
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-02-09 01:45:49
Link to this Comment: 18038

It seems to me that what is behind the pasteboard mask is a sort of spiritual force that cannot be reached or touched by humans, but we can begin to scratch the surface of it thanks to the pasteboard mask. For Ahab, Moby-Dick is a sort of mask for a spirit (good or evil) that is responsible for all his misfortunes. I believe that such spirit is God (maybe influenced by the Norton edition). This point is supported when Gabriel (the archangel) yells at Ahab for his blasphemous chase of the whale. Is Ahab chasing after the whale because for him it represents the same God that made him loose his leg? Is Ahab blind to the fact that it may just be a whale and not a mask that God is wearing to communicate with him?

Name: Marie
Date: 2006-02-09 02:17:38
Link to this Comment: 18039

At one point, Melville describes the biological similarities between a whale’s fin and a human’s hand. I thought this link between human and whale was interesting, though it seems like it is just one of the ways in which he relates the two. Looking at this “emotionally,” the sperm whale and Ahab seem to share emotions as well. I think that, like humans, Moby Dick also experiences emotions. Ahab and Ishmael and the rest of them treat Moby as if he is acting, not instinctively and biologically, but instead, as if he is enraged with the men and serving to fulfill the role of evil in their lives.
Further, I’m wondering- Does Moby act this way by habit of being attacked? Or does he actually comprehend what is going on in the world above him? In other words, does he know that he is a wanted creature, thought of as evil, and therefore, fighting back, and, in way, kind of messing with their heads? It seems like Moby Dick has a lot of power over Ahab, and, maybe this is what is really bothering him and thus, why Ahab feels such a strong need to “strike” at him. In reference to the pasteboard mask, the mask may then be Moby’s ability to hide as a creature of pure instinct and animalistic tendencies, while he is actually a creature who experiences, comprehends and feels, but can play it off like he doesn’t.

Captain Arab, Captain Ahab, and the Pequod
Name: Tyler Saga
Date: 2006-02-09 06:25:35
Link to this Comment: 18040

There have been a few times when reading "Moby Dick" that I've busted out in song. Being a big Dylan fan, I can't help but sometimes think of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" when I read the words "Ahab" and "harpoon" because in the song, which is an absurd parody of the discovery, colonization, and tribulations of the New World, there is a Captain Arab who says, to Dylan (or the narrator) "boys, forget the whale" and "start[s] writing up some deeds" and says "let's set up a fort and start buying the place with beeds" before he, Dylan, and the crew get "thrown in jail for carrying harpoons."

One cannot help but notice the stage directions before some chapters and the play-formatted dialogue in Chapter 40. In the Norton footnotes, it says Melville placed these directions in to heighten the tradegy of Ahab, but I think it does more. I believe, given Ishmael's nonconformity issues and the aloneness we should feel on the Pequod, that the directions enhance the Pequod by making it a stage for the "play," and furthermore, a universe the reader experiences through the "play."

And while on the subject of Chapter 40, I'm amazed by all the nationalities aboard the Pequod. I believed it all to be cannibals and Nantucketeers, but its also French, Manx, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and a few others. The name of the ship does mean "people," and, going back to a universalist theme, I believe Melville is suggesting evil as a worldwide phenomoenon and using the Biblical references as a backdrop to display this phenomenon to a dominantly Christian readership. Before reading, I believed the book to be a tale about a white Christian man's obsession with a whale in a pure world of Christian laws. Now, with Melville's equal comparisons of paganism and Christianity, I think "Moby Dick" displays evil much in the same way Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" displayed humanity to its readership.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-02-09 14:03:28
Link to this Comment: 18043

I know that when I think of masks, I transport myself back to Halloween. Tha ultimate goal of wearing a mask on Halloween was and still is to make yourself ultimately unrecognizable and to become something you're not. The pasteboard mask seemed to me not to be a mask through which Ahab relates everything to Moby Dick but rather it is concealing his true self. Was Ahab always this aggressive? even before encountering moby dick and he walked with two limbs? It makes me think about the question of whether Ahab's encounter with Moby Dick improved or worsened his life. My immediate feeling is to say that the whale turned Ahab into a crazy man obssessed with an animal that acted on his own survival instincts and happened to take a part of Ahab with him. However, maybe the encounter gave meaning to Ahab's life; a life which may have been characterized by boredom and unfulfilling missions. Finally, he is a man worth dying.

what do you say?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-09 18:06:11
Link to this Comment: 18046

Proposed Revisions to English 207 Syllabus
--do you see any problems w/ this new (more leisurely!) plan?

T, 2/14 finish discussing Moby Dick
Th, 2/16: Lecture on Literary Theory
F, 2/17: Moby Dick papers due

T, 2/21-Th, 3/2 UTom's Cabin
(first day back after break--
M, 3/13: UTom's Cabin papers due

T, 3/14 The Scarlet Letter
Th, 3/16 Guest Lecture on Psychology
T, 3/21-Th, 3/23 The Scarlet Letter, continued
T, 3/28 Guest Lecture on Philosophy
F, 3/29 The Scarlet Letter papers due

T, 4/4-Th 4/13: Huck Finn
F, 4/14 Huck Finn papers due

T, 4/18-Th 4/20 Emerson and Fuller

T, 4/25-Th 4/27: small group work/presentations

added detail/subtracted reading
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-10 07:30:50
Link to this Comment: 18050

Angeldeep's just reminded me of Jess's good suggestion (which I meant to indicate above, but didn't spell out) that we turn the theory (assigned for the days when there are guest lectures) from required to recommended reading. That way some extra time opens up for you to finish up whatever Big Book it is you haven't quite finished--and to have more time for writing your paper on it.

Apologies that my appetite (for imagining all we could do together) was bigger than your stomachs' capacity (for digesting it). Has to do w/ my being so Ahabian, I think: always overreaching.

Am glad we've been able to make this Ishmaelian adjustment together.

Have good weekends, all--

Let me not to the marriage of true minds...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-10 12:22:58
Link to this Comment: 18053

Me, again. I've incorporated the syllabus changes on the course web page ; that now trumps what you have printed out in your packet. Thanks again for working through this w/ me, and let me know if you see any further problems.

your dancing partner needs some serious therapy
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-02-12 23:16:02
Link to this Comment: 18088

I’m more than a little late with this posting. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say and then time seemed to slip away from me. Now it is Sunday night and I’m realizing, oh dear, better say something before it is too late. We spent a lot of time in class discussing the significance of the mask Ahab refers to in Chapter 36. Who is wearing the mask? What does the mask look like? What does it mean? Why is it important?

I was actually surprised by a lot of people’s interpretations because they were seeing ideas I had not. I managed to miss this passage on my first read through. When I did consider the question of the mask, however, several things came to my mind. The first was a paper mache mask I made in the fifth grade. It was ugly and was a sort of fragmented interpretation of what a real face should look like. I feel this is what the mask is for Ahab.

We use masks to hide our identities. We want to keep part of ourselves hidden and I imagined Ahab wearing a mask of “normalcy,” masking his true mental condition. Ahab had to wear a mask to hide the fact he had gone quite insane in his deranged attempts for revenge. Only by wearing a mask of sanity was Ahab able to convince people like Captain Bildad and Captain Peleg that he was fine, that he could again command a ship. Ahab’s speech reminds me of midnight at a masquerade ball when all the masks are removed and we see who is really who. It is in this moment that Ahab attempts to, “strike through the wall.” All illusions are gone. Ahab is no longer a brave man recovering from his injuries and moving on with his life. He has revealed himself to be a man who has been driven to madness by his obsession for a white whale.

Date: 2006-02-13 10:19:12
Link to this Comment: 18091

Finishing 'Moby-Dick'
Name: Jorge J. R
Date: 2006-02-13 10:30:44
Link to this Comment: 18092

Last nigh (and most of my afternoon and evening, actually) I spent trying to finish Moby-Dick. When I started I had about 90 pages left of the reading, but fortunately by midnight I was done with it. I was amazed by how quickly the last about 100 pages go by. It reminded me a whole lot of how the novel started. It seems to be that first and fourth quarter are very similar to one another in that the book is actually more like a novel: it's actually telling a story and giving accounts of even that actually move forward its plot. The two middle quarters seem to be more of a introspective journey of the narrator and it is in a way used by the author to transition from Ishmael's story (how he became a part of the Pequod) to Ahab's story (his chase of the White Whale leading up to his shipwreck and death). Now that I'm done with it, I can honestly say that it's one of my favorite books, particularly of American Lit.

I was very much interested in one of the chapters (or sequences) within these last 100 pages: 'The Candles' and Ahab's interaction/dynamic with lightning. One of the aspects that caught my attention was the use of the color of white: white as lighting and white as Moby-Dick. I read this passage according to my reading of the book in which Moby-Dick represents for Ahab the punishing god who took his leg and happiness away. If Moby-Dick is god, is the captain then the devil? It does seem to be the case according to this passage: he says that he is a sort of descendant of lighting, a kind of white light, or further more a kind of white fire (fire easily associated with Lucifer). Furthermore, from the flames produced on deck by such lightning he takes out his spear, the one that he wants to use to kill the White Whale, and says that it has been baptized by fire. It all sounds like a sort of demonic ritual lead by the biggest devil of them all: Ahab. After this point, the White Whale/white god who lives in water seems to go head to head with the white devil who with white fire wants to hunt the whale.

Name: Alice
Date: 2006-02-13 14:51:53
Link to this Comment: 18100

As I'm slowly stumbling my way through the last hundred pages of the book, I've started to realize that despite the infuriating way the book is laid out, I'm enjoying it. (In re. the layout, you get these awesome ideas about humanity/the world/life/kind of everything, and then all of a sudden you're right back to comparing the head of a right whale and the head of a sperm whale and that inconstancy is just driving me CRAZY). Maybe I'm just a forgiving reader at heart, cause I'll put up with all of the cetology and the talking about how the ship works and the history of whaling and all that, in order to get to Melville's (Ishmael's?) little gems of wisdom.

Actually, the layout of the novel might reflect the idea that you're supposed to go out and experience life or go whaling instead of studying it. The book is a lot like life, in that there are these moments of clarity and insight completely surrounded by sort of boring-blah-whatever things. If Melville had just condensed all of his insights and left out the everyday life, he'd be going against his own philosophy in a way, because he'd be giving you a finished and refined product instead of letting you come along on the (usually kind of boring) voyage.

And I found a passage I absolutely adored and which rang true for me, at the end of chapter 96 (page 328 in Norton edition); the one that starts "And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls...". I don't have anything particularly profound to say about it, unfortunately, other than it being one of my favorites so far.

James and Freud
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-13 16:00:55
Link to this Comment: 18103

I don't agree with James' theory at all. How can we be sad because we cry? That doesn't make any sense! There has to be some reason for crying in the first place. I was thinking about his theory and an experience I had this weekend. I was jealous about something and my whole body went hot and cold and then I realized I was jealous and angry, but I don't think my body had that reaction and then I was jealous and angry, I think I just didn't know what was going on until after my body reacted in that way. It seemed to me that I was not aware of the situation because I was so upset at the time, but that did not mean my bodily reaction caused my mental reaction.

I found Freud's writings on anxiety to be very interesting because I have an anxiety disorder and it can be very hard to understand at times why I am always so stressed out. It is kind of cool to know that most people have some mild nervousness about them.

It was a bit hard for me to understand Freud's concepts of the unconscious and the conscious emotions. His text was too difficult to understand; he needed to simplify his terms so as to make his concepts more clear.

Finishing Moby Dick
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-02-13 21:03:42
Link to this Comment: 18106

So now that I am done with the book, I can't decide whether I thought it was too long or too short. As I got towards the end, I kept waiting for Moby Dick to appear - I saw the pages I had left to read getting slimmer and slimmer, yet still - no whale! I was anxious - Moby Dick HAS to be in Moby Dick, RIGHT? I was wondering whether Melville was going to try to make a point about the futility of Ahab's quest by leaving the whale out entirely and having Ahab destroy himself through his own fanaticism. At least that didn't happen. Still, I wish Moby Dick had figured more prominently in his own book.

So this got me wondering ... in wishing I had seen more of the great white whale, was I missing out on the story? After all, Ishmael is our narrator. Even Ahab's quest is peripheral to Ishmael's own experience of the journey. We have many touching/intense moments in the end of the book - Queequeg's near-death experience, the interaction with the captain whose son was lost at sea, the typhoon - why did I need to experience the whale in order to be satisfied? Was I, as a reader, succumbing to Ahab's monomania?

I think in order to answer these questions, I need to go back and read this again. Part of this is that now that I know how the story ends, I can be a little less bound up by the suspense of the hunt (even though Prof. Dalke and Margaret totally GAVE AWAY THE ENDING! I was still somewhat hopeful that maybe they would all end up OK). Maybe a second reading will allow me to immerse myself in the experience of anticipation, secure in the knowledge that Moby Dick does show up, eventually.

Frustration with Castration
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-02-13 21:21:03
Link to this Comment: 18107

In the last section of the novel, the theme of anger over castration becomes a prominent force for the characters. The first is the case of the cassock, which the reader does not get a great glimpse of their personal castration, but the retaliation is presented on quite a grand scale. The image of the person putting on the phallus of the whale in celebration of the conquering of the whale not only shows a strange homo-erotic perversion, but a shame with the characters own masculinity. In order to take on this aggressive position of power, the character must immerse himself not in his own masculinity, but hide himself behind the masculinity of another. While that does not alone prove that he has been physically castrated, it does show a feeling of impotence in his own state. Going back to his action, the action is a mutilation an attempt to restore a masculinity that has so clearly been lost or stolen.
The other two examples that will be touched on are the two captains, the English captain and Ahab. While the English captain does not have the same fury and hatred as Ahab, there still exist an anger about his lost arm. As opposed to Ahab who directs his fear at the white whale, the castrator, the English Captain turns his anger toward the carpenter, the man who can not fix his condition. The parallel this can be compared with is the idea of a cancer victim. Either the victim would be angry at the cancer or at the doctor who could not cure the disease. For the English captain, the main anger is that more could be done to make him a complete person again, which is likely to be why there is such a crater in the carpenters skull.
Looking at Ahab’s anger with his castration could take many more pages than just a small response, so one example is all I will use to get the idea across. The example is how he ends up dying. The final scene shows Ahab trying to kill the Whale, but ends up stabbing himself in the neck with the harpoon. Going along the same lines as the discussion of the Cassock, the harpoon is a symbol of a representative phallus that is needed in place of something missing. Both his anger and his obsession lost puts him into a whirlwind of emotion and distress, so much that he cannot control his emotion and brings about his own demise.

Moby Dick
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-13 22:24:52
Link to this Comment: 18108

So I finally (!) finished Moby Dick and I really can't understand why it is considered a classic. So this insane captain Ahab wants revenge on a whale for taking his leg? Moby Dick is not even in the book until almost the end! This book drove me crazy. I really am concerned about how I am going to write a five page paper on a book I disliked so much. I found so little interesting about this book. That idea of the mask caught my attention...I also liked the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg or Ahab and Pip. The dynamics of certain relationships in this novel were fascinating.

I thought it was kind of weird how earlier in the story Ishmael talked about how each man became a whaler because he was suicidal but too scared to kill himself and everyone died except Ishmael in the end. Was that the reason Ishmael went to sea(because he was suicidal)? The November in his soul?

Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-02-14 22:40:11
Link to this Comment: 18122

First I would like to discuss the discussion we had today about the relevance of moby dick to modern day politics. Someone in the class mentioned that most people are afraid to go against such a powerful leader and that is why there are very few people who ACTUALLY avoid supporting the war. This is the best place to say it: I actually like Bush. The reasons I will not discuss and though I do not entirely endorse this war I support my president. I'm the one that's afraid to speak up. Here, I am outnumbered by liberal views that I absolutely respect however I feel this is a one-way street. I am afraid to speak my political views to others for fear of ridicule. Maybe fear is not the reason the crew does not revolt.
Anyway, back to moby dick. I was struck by the way the ending was such a contradiction in itself. There are men dying everywhere, limbs are broken, souls ripped out and up to the skies; these images all reflect the limits of life, that we are in fact mortal physically. However, Ishmael is floating on Queequeg's coffin which is carved with his tattoos. Though Queequeg's body is lost to the deep he will forever remain with Ishmael in this "living coffin." Also, though Ahab goes down with the whale, he is living and breathing in this narration by Ishmael. Therefore, we are also immortal. It's such a powerful statement supported by powerful imagery. It also makes me wonder whether Ishmael is writing this story therapeutically or as self-punishment.

response for tues. class
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-02-15 13:23:47
Link to this Comment: 18138

I don’t think there is a prompt this week, so I’m not sure what to write about…

I finished Moby Dick, and I like it. I don’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I’m mostly proud that I finished it.

Catherine’s comment about politics above has made me feel regretful. I also wish I had spoken up in class. Why is it disturbing to us if the majority of the ‘crew’ holds a conservative view, but we do not find it alarming if the majority of the ‘crew’ is liberal, as it seemed to be in class yesterday? Should we be concerned if we don’t strike a balance? I wish there had been more variety in opinions in that class discussion. Although I am against war, I do have strong beliefs about our (the United States’) place in the world. I think Moby Dick and Captain Ahab have little, if nothing, in common with our current political and global situation today.

writing, literature, narration: getting spit out
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-02-15 18:03:48
Link to this Comment: 18141

I'm thinking about the ending (the very, very ending(, Ishmael's epilogue where he describes:

"the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lenghtwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side."

Today, with its classic, big book reputation, many people know the end of the book when they begin. If not, there's plenty of foreshawdoing to the watery death most of the Pequod will come to. And with Melville's out look on life, I think it only gets more and more certain that they are not going to win this fight.

The more interesting mystery (that is, the thing I read towards), was not whether, when, how, or why the Ahab, the crew and boat go down, but how Ishmael survives. I'm interested in how Ishmael is saved because he is the writer, the storyteller. I know it would seem that he is the teller because he was saved, but if you look at the other men on board {All known to us by whatever Ishmael's bias was}, none of them could have narrated the story of Moby Dick.

He definitley wasn't the strongest on board, nor did he have the most experience. Within the logic of the book, one could ask: what fate, god, choice let Ishmael survive to tell the story. Looking at it as a piece of writing, why did Melville choose to write it in the first person, neccesitating a survivor, when he could have killed them all and narrated it from the 3rd person?

Name: Margaret
Date: 2006-02-15 19:19:26
Link to this Comment: 18143

ahh...the ending. While reading the book I was convinced that Ahab was making all of the stuff up about Moby Dick being an evil, evil whale, but at the end...well...Moby Dick was an evil, evil whale. Not having known many whales in my time, or any for that matter, I can only compare Moby's behavior with the other whales that the whalers in this tale have encountered...they all seem rather nice and I felt bad that we, as by then I considered myself part of the crew, were hunting them. When Moby Dick entered the book however, I was terribly upset that he was seemingly hunting US!! I certainly found it more enjoyable to be the hunter rather than the huntee. The ending was also incredibly fast-paced!! I kept hoping that there would be a chapter about whale heads or whale tails or something of that nature, but, no...just three chapters in a row leading to the death of all of the men save Ishmael. Thanks Melville, the ONE time I really, REALLY wanted to learn some tedious fact about whales you supplied me only with the death and destruction of the crew. And Ishmael, ok, I guess I'm glad he survived...but I would have loved it if Stubb had survived to tell the tale--how (wonderfully?) different it would have been.

End of Moby Dick
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-02-15 20:40:59
Link to this Comment: 18144

To be honest, I didn't get through as much of the book as I thought I would. I'm very glad we've changed the schedule around, and that I'll be able to focus on the upcoming books instead. While I didn't get frustrated with Melville in the same way that some other people did, in terms of expecting resolution, or sense, or anything novel like, I was often frustrated by my inability to understand references that, in his day, were contemporary, or at least well known, such as the biblical ones. What a joy to not have to try and get through all that anymore!

Chaos and Loneliness
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-02-15 20:57:56
Link to this Comment: 18145

In response to Jessica's comment, I just sort of see all of this chaos in the end as a part of an opressive existentialist theme that I have suspected was simmering beneath the surface of this entire text. All life is random, we tell stories to make sense of it and all of us are ultimately alone, abandoned and floating helplessly on the beautiful and dangerous sea among the broken debris of our lives. Isn't this what we said we saw in the text? I know it's kind of depressing, but then again, isn't our reading of the voyage as a suicide mission kind of depressing? As Anne mentioned in class Tuesday morning, tragedy comes from a sense of inevitability, and wasn't this ending inevitable? Like I said before--if the Pequod is a microcosm of the world and its journey represents life, shouldn't we have seen this coming? Death is the ultimate inevitability. I'm not saying I like it, but it's there; shit happens. "There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness." There's a difference between being a realist and being obsessed with the things that go wrong in our lives--like getting our legs bitten off by malignant whales. I felt like this is what Melville was getting at all along. It's all so very pessimistic and intellectual. It makes me want to wear black and drink espresso and take up smoking on the banks of the Seine or something. Tres chic.

one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-02-15 21:02:00
Link to this Comment: 18146

Our class discussion about the nature of our souls in relation to “fast fish” and “loose fish” inspired some thoughts about fish and how they live and I also thought about the nature of the type of book that Moby Dick is and what that does for Melville’s message. Considering that fish swim in schools and are limited to living in the water, rather than a tragedy or a comedy, perhaps the book is more realistic than anything else. It acknowledges the limits of a group of men, who as individuals in society are considered fish out of water. Driven by differencing needs to return to the water, their group is like a school of fish that seems to mindlessly follow Ahab, regardless of their logic to avoid the impending dangers ahead. Once fast fish men, Ahab’s goal was adopted by theses men turned loose fish. Each of these skilled whalers, gives up their experience and right to mutiny in order to travel together with a common mission, safely, or not. Is Melville’s challenge to the reader to stay fast and swim away to avoid the doom and the powerlessness of the loose fish? Ishmael’s survival leaves him as alone in the end as he was in the beginnings of the story at least aboard the Peaquod he had a purpose, a good relationship with Queequeg, and a community of belonging. So is Melville saying rather that because nobody would want to be like Ishmael and spin around alone in the ocean for eternity, it is better to go down with the ship and the rest of the school of loose fish? Actually, Ishmael was never a fast fish at all. He was a willing loose fish and wanted to be taken up by a system of ideals that would allow him to escape from his gloomy November, and he was.

Name: Emily
Date: 2006-02-15 21:23:25
Link to this Comment: 18148

I keep thinking about the question of fate: Is it Ahab's fate to hunt the whale, or is it his choice? I believe that there is a lot that relies on fate in the book: Ishmael meeting Queequeg, deciding on the Pequod, meeting the Rachel. But I can't help but believe that Ahab decides to hint Moby Dick, that it is not his fate, but his decision, although perhaps driven by madness. He is offered numerous opportunities to change his mind. The Rachel supplies him with an excuse to stop hunting the whale, and help the captain find his son. And Starbuck comes very close to convincing him that the love and warmth waiting for Ahab in Nantcket is worth stopping for. But Ahab decides to continue the hunt. It cannot be fate to decide to hunt a whale, to decide to lower the boats, to decide to continue the chase for three days, and to decide to continue to kill the whale even after a man has died. This is madness. This is Ahab's decision.

A passage I found particularly interesting was on page 622 of my book, where Ahab declares, "What is it... commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myslefon all the time; recklessly making me ready to do in my own proper, natural heart, what I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab?" Clearly, Ahab believes it is his fate to hunt the whale, or even more, that some other power is controlling him, making him hunt the whale against his own better jugement. But I believe that this is simply his madness speaking, and that his fate he himself is deciding.

Name: anna
Date: 2006-02-15 22:55:00
Link to this Comment: 18149

so i keep wondering what moby dick would be like as a choose-your-own-adventure-book...i want more choices with the literature (within the book). i wanted starbuck to speak up...or queequeg (which is HIGHLY unlikely) - SOMEONE! i know that ishmael is too passive and simply along for the ride, but i had so much hope for starbuck - he was questioning ahab's insanity from the very beginning (if questioning is even the right word - more like reaffirming!). i think there is a strong revolutionary/anarchistic/socialistic/communistic SOMEONE inside me that just wouldnt be ok on any level with being told "cmon, lets go drown". it came off a little cult-esque...i mean, perhaps that pack-mentality is a little cultish but the gung-ho attitude was foolish at best. i am torn because a big part of me pities ahab. he is a pathetic character. but the other part of me would have shoved him overboard and sailed home. why have a captain if he's not going to keep you safe? i know hes in charge...but really, just because one person jumps doesnt mean everyone should leap from the bridge. its hard...i mean, i know ive felt that sheeplike tendency within me to just follow the pack and go with the flow, but id like to believe and think that theres someone stronger inside of me who wouldnt let enjoyment of riding along for a journey turn into the journey riding me....i know that sentence is a little long-winded, but i think the point gets across. i know humans are pack animals, but i just keep shaking my head. that ship didnt have to sink. maybe im too optimistic. i know its not REALLY a ship - but...if the pequod sank, does that mean our world has to? i refuse to believe that we would let ourselves slip that far. id like to think of the world of politics in a pendulum-swing kind of way. riding from extreme to extreme, yes, but never completely snapped off or away. i just cant imagine this ship sinking. and over what, a whale? ok, i know it's bigger than that...but...what does the pequod sink for? does it sink for sanity? peace of mind? closure? insanity? certainly none of the above for ishmael. for WHAT does the pequod sink - it has to sink for a reason, and i dont mean a reason like, "the wood failed". i sank for ahab. it sank for brotherhood...cheers to_______??? a toast for______? it just makes me shake my head...

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-02-16 09:45:47
Link to this Comment: 18155

I've been putting off posting this for days. I feel like I've used up my random trivia and bizarre ideas for the past two weeks, and now my only choice is to react to the text, and I... don't know. To me it's either this Big Book, up on a pedestal and not actually touched, or else it's something that's not Great Literature, it's just a series of fragments that I can't quite piece togethre- and neither of these is a way for me to approach it for a class.

I am frustrated as hell, and not at all helpful in this conversation. And that annoys me, because I really do want to be part of the dialogue, but I just can't get myself to that point.

Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-02-16 11:06:03
Link to this Comment: 18157

I want to say first of all that I've had an incredibly hard time with this book, not because I haven't liked it, but because I guess I'm what you could call a "slow reader" and it goes on forever. But for the past week, this idea of social order on the Pequod and why the men follow crazy Ahab hasn't been leaving me alone. I liked a lot of the ideas that came up in class, but I want to add something - Ahab commands. He just does - that's something we know about him long before we meet him, since Ishmael hears it on shore (from the prophet, especially). You just don't argue with Ahab, and the one time a character tries he has bizarre dreams and wakes up the next morning thinking maybe it would be an honor to be kicked by his captain! Who could mutiny against that?
In this way, Ahab reminds me of some of the professors I have had, and of my coach. Not because they were monomaniacal or anything, but because whatever they said, I did. There just wasn't any room for argument, and that feels much simpler to me than trying to dissect the psychology of the crew - highly rebellious people don't become whalers, because they know there's a pecking order on the ship that they're going to have to respect. So no one rebels on the Pequod.
And for the record, if America is a modern-day Pequod, we are NOT all Ishmaels. Some of us are bound to be Queequegs - holding our own opinions and our own harpoons, ready to get the job done no matter who tells us to do it. I grew up with the Army, and I feel like the military occupies that role, of the harpooneers. They're not doing it because they like killing people or because they necessarily agree with the purpose of the war, they're doing it because someone has to and they happen to be good at it. My question is, is that ok? I love the characters of the harpooneers; is it ok to identify with the killers who don't much care who or why they kill? But then, Melville does say we are all killers. Worries me a little, since I plan to join the Navy after college.

"war is not a profession for doubters"
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-16 14:09:38
Link to this Comment: 18159

is it ok to identify with the killers who don't much care who or why they kill?...Melville does say we are all killers.

The center-front-page story in the NYTimes this morning (2/16/06) features one of my cousins, Gen'l Ben Freakley (a division commander who is about to lead his Army unit to Afghanistan), saying that they face "a very savvy, capable adversary" in "a very ambiguous battle-space." Along with the gloss that "war is not a profession for doubters."

All of which is to say...

that I do think a reflective interpretation of Moby-Dick might help us along in this process of making sense of why-&-how we are acting (or not) in the world today...

class today
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-17 01:46:56
Link to this Comment: 18169

I just wanted to say I really liked what we did in class today with the 4 chairs and the small discussion; it was a lot of fun. It also was interesting to watch and listen.

"Miss Feely" (?)
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-17 16:23:32
Link to this Comment: 18180

In her Preface to Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe says that the "object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling." What feelings has her novel (so far) awakened in you? What particular moments in the book moved you--to what sorts of feelings? More importantly: how--and how well--do you think such feelings can work as a guide to political action? Just what/where does "feeling right" get us...?

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-02-19 22:01:25
Link to this Comment: 18210

So I'm halfway through Uncle Tom's Cabin, and I still can't identify how I feel about it. As compelling as the narrative is, I have yet to be moved to a state that I would call "righteous indignation." I am caught between anger at the social system Stowe is portraying and at Stowe herself - who, for all her good intentions, is obviously still biased. I wonder if part of my inability to really FEEL the narrative is a necessary defense mechanism in the face of this country's history. In order to truly engage with the narrative and be brought to emotion by the plot, I would have to truly confront the daily realities of slavery. Although I can assess them intellectually, I think that it is very difficult to truly face them at a visceral level. Although I am aware that part of my brain is detaching itself from the story by rationalizing that slavery (in America) has been eradicated (at least in the form being portrayed) ... I am aware that this is only a rationalization, and that the legacy of slavery, and slavery in less blatant/legal forms, is still very much a presence in this country and the world. So then I am faced with the question - is there a way to force myself to really feel the story? Or is it necessary, for my own psychological health, to retain some distance from a topic so truly horrible? Another question that's been on my mind through the text - how do children like George and Eva grow up to be slaveowners? None of the children we have met have supported slavery or seen slaves as less than human. I can imagine their parents being the same way, as children (we know that Marie was very close to her Mammy as a child). What happens to these children as they become adults that leads them to perpetuate the system?

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-02-20 19:54:09
Link to this Comment: 18231

I am also stuck in my own historical context when I read the novel. I think that if I were unaware of the realities of slavery, I might feel more sympathy and, to borrow a word from Laura, “indignation” for Eliza and even for Mr. and Mrs. Shelby. Maybe I haven’t read enough of the book (as of right now I’m about 70 pages into it) to really feel for the characters, but I think the problem is more that I have read much more gruesome accounts of slavery, such as Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I am also preoccupied with the idea that this book was a triumph among abolitionists, yet it is still extremely racist. For example, Eliza is mistaken for a white woman, her husband is also part white, and Sam, whose skin is supposedly three shades darker than any other slave, is almost a clown character. Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Shelby seem to be patriarchal guardian angels of their jolly, not-so-bright, content slaves.

Nevertheless, I know that I have to learn to understand the novel within its own context. Harriet Beecher Stowe might have unconsciously (or not) used racist symbolism, but she did convey some of the unfair hardships endured by slaves. Over and over again, she seems to be asking the reader, “What would you do?” drawing on the common humanity between slaves and masters. This commonality is so obvious that today it would be easy to overlook the message as a given, but in antebellum America, this might just have drawn on the sympathies of Stowe’s white readership. The book might have racist undertones, but it was much less racist than much of the literature of the time. I do feel some sympathy for Eliza, and an audience which has not really examined the personal hardships of slavery, such as the separation of mothers and children, might even feel horrified at the lengths Eliza must endure. I can imagine a northern readership sympathizing with Eliza and acting to help real people who might be in her shoes.

Call to action
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-02-20 21:28:24
Link to this Comment: 18237

At the end of the discussion of Moby Dick, Professor Dalke brought up the idea of books during the nineteenth century were less meant to be works to analyze and contemplate over, but they acted as a call to action. Now I do think it is very important to look at some of the dozens and dozens of biblical references in the text and what they may mean, but I gather that this language and the use is pretty understandable. Lines such as “When Christ should reign, and all men should be free and happy” and “for the first shall be last, and the last first” are very explicit and to the point. Stowe does not want to dance around the issue. Slavery is against humanity, against being American and against God. In doing so she creates this two character set, a Cain and Abel if you will.
There are two main ways that Stowe goes about doing this, that being, the idea of being brave and truly Christian. While she contains debates between the characters, she clearly shows not idealism on the part of the abolitionists, but understanding as opposed to fear in the supporters of slavery. The ones in favor of slavery are afraid of the future without it, and like the congressman who votes to make slaves property. It is not that he is evil or without morals, it is just that he is afraid of sticking out. There is a discussion about how some support it because there is no way to maintain higher civilization with the exploitation of these people. They are like St. Clare who says “I’m not going to define my position. I am one of the sorts that lives by throwing stones at other people’s glass houses”. For this reason, in answer to a question brought up earlier, George and Eva could grow up to be slave owners as they are not actively fighting to end slavery. By allowing it to occur, it is the very same act as owning and enslaving the African Americans.
In their fear, they can not really be called Christian. As this book tries to advocate, the burden of morality is an active one, one that takes a lot of sacrifice and self discipline to endure. The characters who are the ones really helping the slaves are those who risk their status and lives in order to help free them. They are not worry about the economic potential of such actions (Like how Mr. Haley appreciates Tom’s act of righteousness as a way to sell him for more), but are driven by a desire to bring equality and the true kingdom of God to the world.
In using such strong an obvious language, Stowe is making her message clear. We need to be brave and we need to act to change this world. Our morality is not inherited from the ages as the wrong Christians believe the black mans evil is, but the morality is learned and worked for. Once people take their arms up and accept that they need to act to do what is right, the evil institution will end and the true spirit of equality and morality will reign.
Just to draw a religious reference not talked about in the text, but certainly implied is the story of St. Christopher. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:
One day, a small child approached the river and asked to be carried across. The giant began to comply, only to learn that the small boy was far heavier than any other passenger he had taken. The child revealed that he was in fact Jesus Christ, and that his unusual weight was due to the fact that he bore the sins of the world. The boy then baptised the giant in the river, acquiring his new name Christopher, which is Greek for "Christ-carrier" (christo-phoros).
The child then told Christopher to plant his staff in the ground. The staff miraculously bloomed into a fruit-bearing tree. This miracle converted many. Enraged at these conversions, a local king had Christopher imprisoned, where after cruel tortures he died as a martyr.
The task will not be easy to help the slaves and to do what is right. It is the act of tearing down a society so built on evil and exploitation. Yet, it is the responsibility of those who are called on, and the reward of victory is so much greater than the void pains of fear.

Stowe's Agenda
Name: Steph
Date: 2006-02-20 22:02:39
Link to this Comment: 18239

I was anxious to begin Uncle Tom's Cabin, since I've learned about it in so many American History classes and never picked it up on my own. I agree with what Adina said - there seems to be so much interwoven racist attitudes that Stowe herself perpetuates. Part of me wants to believe that Stowe knows she's putting in these stereotypes, and is doing so to make her novel less radical. But, on the other hand, would her audience really object if she even did something as small as call the slaves human beings instead of "creatures?" I don't know enough about Stowe's personal biography to make any statements about the "radicalness" of her abolitionism. In fact, I'm not even certain I want to intertwine her personal history with that of the novel, as the work should stand on its own, right?

The biggest shock has been how obvious the agenda of this book is. I thought Stowe would be more sneaky in her politics, but come on, she's inserting abolitionist speeches into the mouths of the white female characters! How could a 19th century audience not see this work (and disregard it?) as a blatant piece of propoganda? Or did they? And why, then, is it taught as one of the major causes of the Civil War?

The beginning
Name: alison rei
Date: 2006-02-21 01:13:22
Link to this Comment: 18254

I found the first thirty pages of this book particularly hard to swallow, as everything in my liberal, 21st century mind wanted to hate Harriet Beecher Stowe for every line or thought uttered by the characters. I even had a few verbal utterings. The words made my skin crawl. I realized I probably would have been the exact target audience for this story and that weirds me out. She makes points that clearly resonate with my opinions but to be so obviously manipulated... did it really work? How did the readers honestly react? Most women in the book seemed so silly, does she expect us to identify Mrs. Shelby, the Christian reformer? I want to know how many rabid abolitionists resulted from reading this book. After a while, the book went down easier and i was able to see it as a story instead of a mass of good versus evil. It's actually pretty impressive how she can give every character a moral escape hatch. It would be so easy to dwell on the obvious stereotypes and how blantantly silly women would adore such a romantic tale. I guess my task for this book is to not focus on the glaring cliches but to observe her methods and uncover what made this story so influential.

crying is a puzzler
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-21 12:10:23
Link to this Comment: 18270

Darwin famously said, "Crying is a puzzler." (I.e.: he couldn't figure out the adaptive use value of crying...) And if the point of studying the world is to change it, and/or the point of representing the world is to change it....well? What is the use-value of crying?

See, for a local illustration, Mrs. Shelby's visit to Uncle Tom's cabin on the eve of his departure: "for a few moments they all wept in company. And in those tears they all shed together, the high and the lowly, melted away all the heart-burnings and anger of the oppressed. O, ye who visit the distressed, do ye know that everything your money can not worth one honest tear shed in real sympathy?" (Ch. 10, "The Property is Carried Off," p. 84).

What's the worth of those tears? On the basis of what sort of calibration?

Name: Marie
Date: 2006-02-22 00:01:44
Link to this Comment: 18281

Just to comment on class today-
I feel like the book was meant for me, and I can’t help but get all emotional, and even cry a little- it’s just so sad when Tom leaves. In looking at the purpose of the book, it was written during slavery, and again, wanted to get us to act, and help with the emancipation of slaves, so I don’t see how looking at the book with purely literary goals in mind is useful. I think the most important part about the book is how it makes you feel, and what those feelings will turn into, especially during the time period it was written in.
Moreover, I’m just so empathetic with so many of the characters. I think it just pains a really good picture of how horrible slavery, even within the best conditions (like with the Shelby’s) really is. Nothing ever relents, yet, going back to Tom, he remains so optimistic, and that just really…inspires and speaks to me. I don’t at all feel that it is hard to swallow and I think that, so far, it is a really powerful work.

uncle tom's cabin
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-22 18:24:16
Link to this Comment: 18294

My initial feelings about this book? well I feel like it is okay, somewhat interesting, better than Moby Dick...but a story I have heard a hundred times before. It must be something with the classes I am taking this year, but all i have been hearing about and learning about is slavery and it is just annoying...I mean it is important, but getting old after hearing about it in all of my classes all of the time.
I also think some parts of the book are hypocritical. For example, when Tom wants to write to his wife and children but can't so Eva helps. If Tom has limited literacy, what makes anyone think his wife and children will be able to read his letter? That part of the book seemed unrealistic.
The other part of the book that was a bit unusual was how St. Clare didn't believe in slavery, yet he owned slaves. How does that work in his mind?
Maybe I feel like I have already read the books because these books are classics and many authors write books similar to these so they end up sounding trite in the end...I don't know. It just can get old at times.

Popular vs. Valuable
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-02-22 19:30:22
Link to this Comment: 18296

OK, so I know that this issue is probably over by now, but I'm still hung up on it. I wanted to clarify what I was saying during the last class about Jane Tompkins' theory. I believe that certain writings and books can have an insmense popularity and still have a literary/artistic value to them. Such is the case of Uncle Tom's Cabin which so far has inpressed me in how such a forward story can have so much impact on the reader. I don't believe however that because a novel/book is popular it should be accepted as valuable or as literature. This shouldn't be the standard. Similarly, a novel that is obscure and not very well known isn't necesarily a classic either. But from those obscure works every once in a while there is a book that people have looked over and taken for granted. This is the case of Moby-Dick. So, my apologies for repeating the same point, I just wanted to make clear my standing on the issue.

Name: Alice
Date: 2006-02-22 20:34:37
Link to this Comment: 18297

Before I started Uncle Tom's Cabin, I was pretty sure I would detest it; it looked to me like a piece of blatant, no longer useful propaganda. When I asked my father what he thought about it, and yeah, he's appearing a lot in my postings but let's not psychoanalyze that right now, he paused for a while and said, "Well, it's a very important historical piece". That was basically my opinion, that it was a relic that could be appreciated only in a historical context.

But I'm really enjoying it! The story is engaging me; I'm not deeply emotionally involved, probably because I'm so far separated from this reality, and probably because, like Adina said, I've been exposed to far more disturbing stories of slavery. To be fair, so far - I'm only in the 70's at this point, bad me, this feels a little like the image of slavery that I learned about in elementary school history class, right along with reading Addy's stories in the American Girl books. (Speaking OF those, does anyone have a better memory of them than I do? I can only remember that there was slavery, and that I never bought the doll because Felicity had prettier dresses.) But even though I'm not shedding any honest tears over it, I want to know what happens, on a level that I didn't with Moby Dick. In Moby Dick, we knew from nearly the get-go that the Pequod was doomed; Melville hit us over the head with the DOOMED-DOOMED-DOOMED stick. Stowe isn't doing that, for which I'm glad.

In response
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-02-22 20:53:15
Link to this Comment: 18299

In reading over the comments just above the one that I am in the process of posting I felt most inclined to respond directly to Anne's discussion starter and Marina's issues with the texts authenticity.
First of all, crying is useful. I don't know why, but crying makes me feel better. I know that a lot of people believe "there's no use crying, that won't help anything," but as a life-long crier, I just can't accept that. Crying does help. I do it approximately once a week. It makes me feel better physically, and also allows me to arrange my thoughts more clearly. Just like exercise releases endorphins, I feel like crying must release some kind of chemical in my brain that calms me down. (Does anyone have any real knowledge about this? Has this been proved scientifically, or am I just making it up?) There are times when I know I need to cry so that I can get over whatever is bothering me and move on. It's really one of my favorite feelings. It lets me know I'm alive and not just breathing. It's very refreshing.

About Uncle Tom's letter--if Uncle Tom could find someone to write his letter, don't you think the recipients could find someone to read the letter out loud to them? As the only form of communication dictating and reading letters alound must have been a pretty common practice among the illiterate.
As for St. Clare, I feel like he is the character that many of us most easily relate to. It's just like what we were talking about with the war in Iraq--a lot of us are opposed to it, but what are we doing about it? We're still paying our taxes aren't we? We're maintaining the status quo. We're still perpetuating the system that we ideaologically reject. Just like St. Clare. It's what he's used to, he personally is comfortable, so why change? It's the same thing.

First tears then action?
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-02-22 21:22:20
Link to this Comment: 18300

I agree with what others have posted that crying acts as a physical relief of tension that helps you to refocus and address whatever - life - with a clearer head. I think also that tears are, in most cases, a sign of true, overwhelming emotion. Sometimes I've had the experience that I start crying even before I have really processed that something has made me sad or angry or whatever. It's like what we were discussing before with emotion vs feeling. I think tears can be considered emotion - a bodily response to something. If this is accepted as true, the fact that they all cry together could be a signifier/proof that they are truly moved. And if they are moved, perhaps they will be moved to action? If this is the goal of the book (which it obviously is), then I think it is very significant that they cry together, but I think we also have to consider that they don't do anything - Tom goes, without protest. What does that mean? He cries but the emotion doesn't lead him to action. On the contrary, earlier in the novel, when Eliza arrives at the Birds' and is sitting before the fire talking to them, she asks, "Ma'am...have you ever lost a child?" (73) Mrs. Bird "burst[s] into tears," the children all sob, old Dinah and Cudjoe have tears streaming down their faces, and it is even hinted that Mr. Bird is trying to stiffle tears (73). They then are led to immediate and delibrate action: taking Eliza away that night to a safer place. Interestingly though, it is Mr. Bird, who stiffled his tears, that thinks of the plan. Also in this scene, Eliza - who has taken so much action already in running away and leaping across the frozen river - is described as "gone to a place where tears are dry" (73). What can this mean then? Maybe tears move us action, but in order to really act, to take the first step, they must finish and dry up?

Name: Margaret
Date: 2006-02-22 21:27:40
Link to this Comment: 18301

Crying...I think it serves quite a valuable purpose--it helps you communicate, helps you get attention, alerts people to your present emotional state and discomfort in the situation, and can also help motivate people to help you. You can be honestly moved to tears or you can fake it and cry on command. I was really quite suprised by Darwin's confusion concering the evolutionary value of crying--if it wasn't valuable to our survival, I don't think we would do it. In strictly no-feeling terms, crying helps us wet our eyes--quite handy when they are dried out due to the environmental conditions. In more social terms, crying helps us get what we want. It's our first real form of communication--we cried before we talked. We still cry for many reasons. Socially, some of us are more encouraged to cry, while others are punished. (eg. I still remember when a classmate "R." cried on the playground in 3rd grade because he struck out at kickball, and, due to the extent of teasing that ensued, I'm sure he probably does too.) Crying can be a relief, but it can also be painful and move you to act. The best example of this that I can think of is when I was in high school and crying and my father, who hates to see people cry--especially his daughter, screamed, "Stop Crying!" (yeah, like that REALLY helped--you can all imagine the scene that followed so I'll omit it--needless to say, saying this to a teenager doesn't solve anything)I've been contemplating the question brought up in class Tuesday concerning what Stowe hoped to accomplish with her book and why she aimed at the northern women. Perhaps it is because women are more free to cry and would be likely to cry at the stories in UTC, perhaps it is because their husbands would be moved to action because of the sight of seeing their spouses crying. I don't know. Crying is also featured alot in the book. Is this because she wants the reader to know it is ok to cry? To feel camaradie with the slaves who are also crying? To be convinced that the slaves are humans with emotions just the same as they themselves are?

Music can make me cry.
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-02-22 22:53:00
Link to this Comment: 18303

Right now, I am about 30 pages from finishing the second section of reading. No tears yet, but I am getting close. My emotions when reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin are determined not only by the text, but by the background music playing on my itunes… Odd? A little, but for me it makes a difference. The ‘Moulin Rouge’ soundtrack lends to a very emotional and involved reading experience. Or my roommate’s ‘Ayesha’ on repeat? I don’t know how, but it does the trick. I could be reading the text more soberly, but then I wouldn’t be allowing myself to get carried away. The only parts of the novel, which break this spell, involve St. Clare’s wife, Marie. That character sketch is so absolutely and ridiculously over the top that it pops out like an old, overdone joke. I hate it. Everyone and everything else I can read with genuine sincerity.

I can’t help feeling a bit offended that Stowe was depending on the ‘emotionality’ of women to propel her cause. Can’t our sex be given a little more credit? Yes, I am moved by this book, but I have many accompanying attitudes when reading. It just reminds me that at this time in history there were other social battles to be fought…

nice masters
Name: Emily
Date: 2006-02-22 22:57:31
Link to this Comment: 18304

I want to respond to Alice's posting. I likewise feel that Uncle Tom's Cabin presents a very sugar-coated view of slavery, and I'm trying to figure out Stowe's idea behind this. Mr. Shelby was very good to his slaves, and Uncle Tom, who we all thought would be sold to a hard master and put to work picking cotton, got instead another kind master. Maybe Stowe was hoping that by overlooking the physical cruelty, she could concentrate on the ideology concerning the institution of slavery. Certainly, she does do this, mainly through the women of the book: Mrs. Shelby, Miss Ophelia, the Quaker ladies. But I was surprised when she had St. Claire speak plainly against it, calling it a bad and unbreakable habit, saying, "Didn't you ever keep on doing wrong, after you'd repented, my good cousin?" (209 my book). The chapter "Miss Ophelia's Experiences (Continued)" is really the first time we hear a southern man's opinion of it, and it is once again against it. I feel like it would be much more realistic if bad masters were included, or at least if the voice of a southerner was heard who supported slavery. To me it would seem more effective. I can only guess Stowe was trying to avoid going into the mindset of the slavery supporter because she wanted to portray them as morally evil, with no room for empathy. She does do this, for the only true slavery supporters we've met so far are less intelligent, wielding pistols and spitting tobacco. She truly presents a good vs. evil scenario. I guess by making it so flat-sided, it is very clear for the little Christian housewives she seems to be appealing to which side to take.

Still, I can't help but feel that it would only add to the effectiveness of the book to include scenes of true, hard, mean slavery. That is certainly what would move me to act, more so than the G-rated, morally laden version that she wrote. I just have to remind myself, little Christian ladies. And maybe there’s still more to come.

Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-02-23 00:11:16
Link to this Comment: 18305

If Stowe's objective in writing Uncle Tom's Cabin was to "awaken sympathy and feeling", she's done it. However, I'm not sure it's entirely due to the writing itself. I think part of it may have to do with the associations I've made between this work and previous experiences. It makes me think of The King and I, and how Tuptin's experience mirrors Eliza's. It reminds me of Holocaust documentaries I watched in Hebrew school, films which taught me in no uncertain terms about the evils of discrimination, hatred, racial violence, etc.

It is this sort of feeling, this knowing and conviction and certainty that inspires people to take up the kinds of action that facilitate positive social and political changes. It's this sort of passionate belief in the wrongness of hatred and bigotry that made the Civil Rights Movement successful, is at work today in the Gay Rights Movement..."Feeling right" leads us to "right action" as we understand it.

Name: Marie
Date: 2006-02-23 01:41:37
Link to this Comment: 18306

Just a thought- it seems as though Stowe really exaggerates her characters and what they stand for/symbolize. Like St. Clare seems so relaxed and easy going, and everything a slave, especially one of the run, cannot be. And Marie is completely unchristian, self-involved and hypocritical, with no empathy for anyone but herself, again not like the slaves featured in the novel. And little Eva seems to belong to both worlds (of slaves and masters) and possesses a kind of divine innocence, which allows her to empathize with just about everyone, though, sadly, she may grow out of it. And Tom represents all optimism and goodness, and the Quakers true “christianness”, for they treat everyone with the utmost respect and charity. These brief descriptions may seem a bit simplistic but I’m just going with it…
And again, with St. Clare, the quote on 133, “In a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient, But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us. There is a most busy and important round of…all that makes up what is commonly called living, yet to be gone through; and this yet remained to Augustine.” This seems to be the very essence of the novel, Tom, Eliza, George, and all the other slaves, constantly face heartbreak and loss, yet they have no choice but to continue on with their lives and duties and everyday pains. Still, some, like Eliza and George, fight their fate, unlike Augustine who, overcome with laziness, simply goes on. Tom also goes on, but he, unlike Augustine, does not have a choice.
And about the purpose of tears, a short response: tears outwardly and strongly display an emotion. It makes you feel better.. it’s a release… well for me it is.

Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-02-23 08:59:12
Link to this Comment: 18309

I find that I am enjoying this book, but in a very roller-coaster sort of way. Yes, it moves me, and I've found myself crying twice so far, but I have always been the kind of person who cries at, say, particularly well-done Hallmark comercials, too. It does not, however, do what I had hoped it would do; perhaps this is just because I'm coming at it from a very twentyfirst century perspective, but I keep reading things a kind of racist. It sticks in my head every time I hear a good, kind, Christian character refer to the slaves as "creatures" (or critters, frankly) or when Mrs Shelby says it's her duty to Christianize and take care of them. It sounds to me like these characters believe black people shouldn't be slaves but aren't necessarily on the same level of humanity as themselves. And even the Cain argument doesn't hold up here for me - sure, Cain was cursed and marked forever, but he was a son of Adam and therefore not a lower species than Abel.
Then again, maybe I'm reading it this way because I'm currently immersed in a project about racism through my friend's dance thesis, and am thus more sharply attuned to the language than usual.

Is crying really that bad?
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-02-23 09:13:17
Link to this Comment: 18310

This is actually the third time I have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I have read it at different stages of my life and it has had different effects on my. I was introduced to it first in junior high and I became horribly depressed, it reinforced my belief that the world was a horrible place to be alive in. I read it in high school during my idealistic phase, and I was encouraged to be more active in my community, to make stands. And I’m reading it as a senior in college where the world is uncertain and more than a little scary.

Each and every time I have read the book, however, one thing remains constant, I cry and I cry and I cry. I’m not referring to delicate tears rolling down my cheek with the occasional sniffle being the only sound, but undignified sobs. Even though I know what is coming, or maybe because I do, and I try to distance myself I just can’t and wind up running through a box of Kleenex.

We’ve talked a lot in class about whether the tears were a good thing or a bad thing. Is it actually useful to cry? Is Stowe taking something away by perhaps exaggerating some of the characters? By pulling on our sentiments? I’m inclined to say no. There is something about the way Stowe tells the story that gets you involved. It is difficult to stay emotionally detached and I think that is the point. During the period she was writing in all too often there was a detachment to slaves. While Slavery was the cause of the Civil War very few were actually concerned with slave’s rights. I think that is what Stowe was trying to fight against in her novel. She wants the reader to become invested in the lives of Uncle Tom, Eliza, and George. She is working against the detachment. I feel she is making people realize that they can’t just say well, I don’t own slaves so it’s not my problem, or I am nice to my slaves so it doesn’t apply to me. So yeah, maybe the book is sentimental, and over the top in some ways, but it works for me.

exploring the descent
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-23 18:54:27
Link to this Comment: 18316

"It works for me."

As you go on reading the third 1/4 of Uncle Tom's Cabin, let us know more about "what is working" for you, and what not...

as well as reflecting on how the book might be "working" in the larger culture. I showed you in class today a clip from Jerrold Freedman's 1986 film Native Son, asking you to watch it with James Baldwin's challenge in mind:

"Bigger Thomas... is Uncle Tom's descent, flesh of his flesh...Bigger's tragedy is...that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub-human...The failure of the protest novel lies in its... insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended."

What are you, now deep into Stowe's novel, thinking and feeling about such matters?

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Name: Di Michael
Date: 2006-02-26 14:40:14
Link to this Comment: 18349

Well...the first 75 pages or so were tough to get to. And now, though I wouldn't say I "can't put it down," I'm on page 314, which I find impressive. So, I have much to say about the book. Firstly, in regards to the racism that is present in the book, I think that it is a useful tool for Harriet Beecher Stowe to use. She presents stereotypes through the dialogue of the characters, but then, without actually stating explicitly what she's doing, she refutes the stereotypes by giving the reader insight into the thoughts and emotions of the so-called "beasts." We empathize with the character (although perhaps we're not supposed too...might be to "specific" as opposed to general). Then, we, or at least I, realize how wrong the "bad people" are when they make stereotypical comments about the slaves. Also, I think she's being ironic. She talks and talks about their feelings and emotions, and then at the end of the paragraph says something like "But they're not really people, they're more like animals...right?" And that's what makes the reader question those stereotypes. She makes you think.
Also, I had a comment that I wanted to make in regards to particulars vs. generalizations. On pg 239 of my book, it says "Children do not usually generalize; but Eva was an uncommonly mature child, and the things that she had witnessed of the evils of the system und which they were living had fallen, one by one, into the depths of her thoughtful, pondering heart." I find it peculiar that the sentence starts with "children do not usually generalize" because it seems as though Eva is the only person who has a grasp on the entire system of slavery.
Oh, and having read Native Son a few times myself, the parallels are ASTOUNDING. I never realized it before (possibly because I've never read UTC before) but it seems in both books that, with some exceptions, the slaves in UTC and Bigger in Native Son all act the way that they are expected to act. They fulfill expectations. This is particularly true with the description of Legree's slaves. They are the closest things to animals that man can become. Nothing more is expected of them.
For me, though, the book rings true mostly in a religious way. Uncle Tom is a deeply religious and moral man, leading me to be shocked at the colloquial definition of Uncle Tom today (see next post). He does not kowtow to his owners. He does what he feel is morally and religiously right. Isn't that a good thing? Shouldn't that make someone proud to be an Uncle Tom? Perhaps not...
I love how they quote the Bible at each other, too. It makes me laugh. Because, truly, the Bible can be taken in so many ways. I believe Miss Ophelia comments on that at some point as well. No matter what your point of you, you can probably find something in the Bible that you can twist around to support it.
Blatant biblical references, though? Getting a little tiring. It actually started to seem kind of pretentious to me. She quotes like a million different books. I'm torn between being impressed that she did all that research, and jealous that she knows so much stuff. It's a little overkill...or maybe that's the green monster talking. Anyway, in case no one gets this biblical reference (and needs to be hit over the head with it), on my page 312, after Tom is whipped, he cries out "O Jesus! Lord Jesus! have you quite forgot us poor critturs? Help, Lord, I perish!" Huh. Remarkably similar to Jesus' last words "My God, my God, why have you abandoned (forsaken) me?!" I wonder what this means? Has Uncle Tom lost his faith? I guess I'll have to read on.
This post is getting rather lengthy, so I'll go. Oh, yea, and Alice? No one had Addy. I had Samantha, my sister had Felicity, and my other sister had Molly and Kirsten. Don't feel bad. Their outfits were so much better.

What is an "Uncle Tom"
Name: Di Michael
Date: 2006-02-26 14:54:34
Link to this Comment: 18350

Doing a little research on what an "Uncle Tom" is today, these are the definitions that I found on, the center for all teen slang. Please keep in mind that I did NOT write the definitions or the example sentences, and I am only recording what was written for educational purposes.


1. A black man who will do anything to stay in good standing with "the white man" including betray his own people. (My side note: isn't that ironic)

Example: "Leroy is such an Uncle Tom; he told the boss I took a 2 hour lunch; I had to go see my baby momma."

2. Uncle Tom is a term used by black people to try to convince other black people that working, education, living well, and setting a good example for their children is selling out.

Example: "De Shawn got a job? At Ameritech? He's a Tom"

3. Theatrical productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin played throught the nadir (post Civil War and Reconstruction); but since the novel's indictment of slavery was no longer congenial to an increasingly white society, rewrites changed Uncle Tom from a martyr who gave his life to protect the people into a sentimental dope who was loyal to kindly masters. In the black community, Uncle Tom eventually came to mean an African American who sells out his people's interests and still does today. In my opinion the phrase "uncle tom" should not be used today by black people because it degrades the status of a man who wasn't in fact a sell out but a hero who's name should be used with reverence not disgrace.

Example: "Uncle tom, a martyr who should be admired til the end of time."

4. African America male who kisses the white mans ass.

Example: "Look at shateque, always sucking up to the boss. He's such an Uncle Tom."

5. Black only on the outside.

Example: "Osama Bin Laden is an Uncle Tom." "I don't even know who that's offensive to!"

6. Originally used to describe a black man or woman who acted white or was subservient to whites. but expanded to include any one who sells them selves out or pretends to be something they are not.

Example: "that girl wants you to think shes the best and baddest but shes just a bitchy uncle tom"

7. The old man across the street from the 1191 balcony.

Example: "Look! It's Uncle Tom grilling up some grub!"

8. A black guy that acts white.

Example: "vito is an uncle tom"

9. A black person who is to like a white person and doesn't talk to blacks. A racsist term.

Example: "Vince is an Uncle Tom!"

10. A black person who is in with both blacks and whites (or vice versa). Not necessarily a person who betrays their own race.

Example "My boy future is an Uncle Tom" - B. Rabbit (8 Mile)

So....these are the definitions that various people from the internet decided to put up on I copied their definitions pretty much exactly. Please keep in mind that these definitions were not made by me, nor are in way associated with me. is a place where people from the internet make up words and put up what their personal definition is of them. I thought this might be of some interest, since it shows what diverse people think of Uncle Tom today.

Name: sky
Date: 2006-02-26 23:35:33
Link to this Comment: 18359

UTC is still driving me nuts. I have so many moments when I'm honestly moved, either to tears or to laughter or to whatever else, that it's clear to me this book can still be effective. But so many other passages move me to anger at Stowe, in a pretty irrational way - my modern brain shouts out whenever it picks up something that feels too obvious, or too obnoxiously sentimental, or racist, or blatantly propagandist. I don't have my copy in front of me (I'm taking a break from physics to read over some recent postings!) but I spent the afternoon reading at Plenary, and there were just so many times I wondered at her writing. Sometimes Stowe is so clever, so effective, and sometimes she is so obvious. For example (again, I don't have a copy right here with me), she manages to portray a secondary character like the Quaker Phineas with more than one dimension, since he's a pacifist who used to be a hunter, and says that while he won't fight then men pursuing them, he might be moved to hold one while George hits him, but then when Stowe is explaining a mother-figure (think about the Quakeresses, Mrs Shelby and Eliza vs Marie St Clare) she is either a paragon of Christian goodness and morality and completely straightforward in her need to care for people, or a total flake who can't even hug her own child and who speaks with languid certainty that slavery is the way to go. There is no middle ground! At least, not yet. Maybe I'm just a slow reader and there'll be some later.

Wasn't this novel published serially? and does that have anything to do with what I'm percieving as the discontinuity of style? Or is it just because I'm reading it on and off, not all in one sitting or even in big chunks? I just can't help wishing for something more substantial from the characters - sure, there's a lot of plot going on, but this book is AWFULLY long for having so little personal development.

Name: Emily
Date: 2006-02-27 19:54:11
Link to this Comment: 18375

For me, Uncle Tom's Cabin is way too Christian to be effective. Every call to action to end slavery revolves around and depends on Christianity. Stowe presents ending slavery almost like a missionary task; just as Christians go on missions to spread Christianity and "save" the inhabitants of third-world countries today, Stowe is urging Christianity as the means to save the slaves. Eva is undeniably the Christ of slaves. At one point, Stowe even writes that Uncle Tom gazed on Eva "as the Italian sailor gazes on his image of the child Jesus"(243). She dies for the slaves, as Jesus died for sinners. Every argument made against slavery is based on Christianity. It's too much. The book is clearly aimed at a very particular audience.

I'm beginning to feel like the book is little more than a very effective piece of propaganda. The story is lost in the stress on Christian goodness, Christian hospitality, Christian morals... everything Christian! Everyone in the book is either a Christian trying to do what they can to better the lives of slaves or, as a slave, survive and spread the faith, or a nonbeliever who is beastly and brute-like, with no morals and no care for the lives of slaves. Eva, Tom, Mrs. Shelby, the Quakers, all are strongly adhered to their faith and doing what they can to better the conditions of slaves. Haley, Legree, and Eliza's hunters show no signs of Christianity, and are consequently absolute horrors to the slaves. St. Clare is the one exception in the entire book; he is not a strong Christian, but he does care for his slaves. Then again, he basically has Christ for a daughter, so he does have a connection to the religion.

I still feel like it's too black and white, with little or no gray area. You're either Christian and kind, or a nonbeliever and basically evil. The complete dependence on religion for effectiveness doesn't work for me. It makes my modern head whirl and want to shout, "Anyone can be a good person, regardless of faith!" Darn propaganda.

just white appeal
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-02-27 20:39:18
Link to this Comment: 18377

I have enjoyed "Uncle Tom's Cabin" so far, but then again I fit the profile of the author's target audience. Though I do not have a child, I believe all females have an instinctive motherly instinct that pours out when she is exposed to circumstances in which a child is in danger. However, I cannot help but notice, and this might not be the right way of expressing it, the "whiteness" of the book. The character of Uncle Tom, as the most obvious example, is basically a one way street. Stowe does not deeply explore the inner workings of the mind of a slave but rather makes Tom completely obedient in all ways. Also, Stowe uses Eva, a white child, that reaches out to the white women readers to voice extremely radical notions. Using Eva is copping out, Stowe can talk about having relationships with slaves and it is ok, as long as the white girl says it. It seems cowardly. Maybe her ideas would be more poignant if she uses more black characters to convey her most important messages. I would have more respect for Stowe if she included more substance in her novel for Black Americans to relate to. The greatest novels are those that defy the boundaries of race and contain elements that despite the readers' cultural backgrounds, the readers can find themselves in the pages. I feel that if I were a black woman reading the novel, I'd feel empty.

Cry Cry Cry Baby
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-02-27 20:46:49
Link to this Comment: 18378

In reading Durkheim's essay Origins of belief, I wanted to suggest a new idea for the necessity of crying. In this essay, he discuss the identity of a person as composed of two people, the individual and the social member. When we think of the base human nature, much of the time we ignored the ladder identity, calling it a construction imposed by social pressures. Much of the current view of the individual comes out of a very Thoreauian ideal of the individual being able to exist completely on its own. The response Durkheim has for such an attack is that maybe we are predisposed to interact as a social being and our actions in the social realm are actually indications of our true personality. If it is so convenient for us to deny the basic needs of the sole individual to cater to a conformity to the group, then maybe this a part of nature that should be examined.
Therefore the act of crying may not be a individual survivalist bodily response, but instead a method for social inclusion. Even when moaning and cries for help are silenced, tears still emerge as an apparent call for help from either another individual or from an entire realm of the social. It is a nerve reaction for the social body, as those in contact with the crying individual feel a sympathetic response just as the brain has a response to a hurt leg. Whether or not the social body responses to help the individual is based on the idea of the group, but no matter what there is an awareness of the issue.
In conclusion, the act of crying is a survival tactic of the social being, acting as an expression of needing to be comforted or included. While I do not know enough theory to support this statement, I would assume that the basis of most sadness coming in the form of fear of abandonment or separation from the social realm. Under this logic, the fear of death is not the fear of the destruction of the individual, but the fear of no longer existing in the social realm. Therefore, the act of crying is a call for help, a call for inclusion to represent a free of being lonely and being set apart from the social body.

Name: alison rei
Date: 2006-02-27 22:55:54
Link to this Comment: 18385

I have to admit that I am uneasy about embracing this book as a parallel or such of the Bible. The impression I got on thursday is that we are supposed to see Uncle Tom's Cabin not as a piece of propaganda that is designed and motivated to end slavery through its readers, but rather as a intellectual literature that cleverly takes a popular moral narrative and reinterprets it for the audience's benefit. While i don't doubt that Uncle Tom's Cabin is definitely laden with Christian images and parallels, I believe giving the book so much literary credit removes it from its primary, and i hesitate to use these words but, intention. I think the value of each character lies in seeing how each one moves the audience and what his or her actions do to make the audience react. Some characters motivations, like Eva, are direct from the Bible and the reader experiences their effect through the lense of the Bible. However, I feel some characters, like Marie or Mr. Haley, are most useful not as new faces for old archetypes, but as characters that provoke reaction. Perhaps part of my discomfort is due to me considering a biblical reading as removing the readers farther from the realities of slavery. My opinion is if one wants to create action through media, real images and experiences are more stirring than fictious ones. I think that Tom is a character created from imagination, stereotypes, and archetypes with little connection to the actual slave experience. Although historians may argue over the realities of slavery depicted in Uncle Tom's Cabin, some of the characters are not reflective of real people. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this book knowing or at least hoping it would provoke great change, so she devised the most effecient way of communicating the evils of slavery. Instead of retelling the horrors of actual slaves firsthand, she wrote a dramatic piece, created from facts with myths and archetypes creating the base and core. To me, it seems as if the author did not trust her audience to be moved as strongly by realism as by myth, so she relied on myth. Her myth was extremely effective but i still wonder what impact the book would have had if it had been more realistic.

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-28 00:39:56
Link to this Comment: 18388

I agree with Emily in the fact that UTC is way too Christian to be effective in sending out any sort of message. I also think that it is hard to read books with so much religion in then when you don't have a good understanding of the specific religion. First with Moby Dick and now with UTC?! I hope this is not a trend...I am not a religious person and I don't have a deep understanding of most religions, so I am hoping that was not a qualifier for the course that I did not know about.

I thought it was weird how Cassy wanted to kill Legree, but Tom didn't want her to. If I were ever if that bad of a situation I don't think my religion would stop me...then again maybe I am not as "good" of a person as Tom or at least I know I am not as religious and I know that is what made him such a kind and good man. He thought killing was a sin and he didn't want Cassy to sin. In my mind I would think of it as, if Legree would treat me and everyone else this way then he deserves to die. That is pretty harsh, but it is how I think some of the slaves should have reacted.

first (and other) thoughts
Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-02-28 00:57:44
Link to this Comment: 18389

This will be my first posting on Uncle Tom's Cabin, so you'll all have to excuse some redundancy on issues we may have already covered.

My initial impression of this book was a positive one. Although I find myself having to force my way through it at some points (the St. Clare's are more than a little predictable), I'm surprised at how often I get excited about finding out what's going to happen next (particularly with George and Eliza). Character's and plot aside, I think that the politics of Uncle Tom are very interesting. Meaning, Stowe reeeally gets her point across. You're either good or bad; there's very little room for a grey area between the Christian and kind, and the ignorant and cruel. I keep thinking about how this was intended for women abolitionists, especially when Stowe is describing or introducing a female character. If the female character in question is "on the good side", she is pious, conscientious, a good mother, graceful... all qualities that a woman reading this could say "I would like to be like that". And "being like that" involves certain opinions about slavery. Sold. I even found myself thinking, at times, "you know, I don't go to church nearly as much as I should..." (which is a different issue entirely). And in the vein of religion, I agree with others in that the religious references are getting tiresome. But generally, it interests me how forceful Stowe is (or maybe felt she had to be) with the issues of religion and completely good or bad characters.

Crying is beneficial, personally. I've had times in my life where (in the words of my grandma) I "just needed a good cry". It's a difficult thing to articulate, but for me, crying is the release of emotions that, if I didn't or couldn't cry, would build up inside of me to who knows what end. My dad actually gave me a book "Overcoming Emotional Chaos". I haven't had a chance to start reading yet (he thinks it'll be good for me), but the premise is that strong emotions kept inside have a measurable, damaging effect to actual biological processes. (Kind of scary...). So without the act of crying as an emotional release, I know I would be lost. I'm also not sure I agree with what Chris said about crying as "a call for inclusion". While, this is definately true for some people, I rarely cry in front of anyone other than a stuffed animal or something, so I think it depends entirely on the individual.

If "the point of studying the world is to change it" (as Prof. Dalke said), perhaps crying over an issue can help to transport you to a state of mind where you are rational (or maybe passionate, depending on who you are) so that you can move forward to change whatever it was that upset you in the first place.

Class Thoughts
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-28 14:51:05
Link to this Comment: 18394

I had a few thoughts in class that I was not able to address and I felt that perhaps I could discuss them here.

In class we talked about giving stories meaning in English classes. That idea triggered so many thoughts in my head. I have always felt very strongly about this topic and it was hard not to shout out in class and jump around like a five year old to be called on. I feel like sometimes teachers and students (and also literary critics) try to give meaning to stories where there is none or give incorrect meaning and then claim it as true because they believe that they are correct. I don't see why people just think that they understand what the author's intended meaning was; what gives them the power to make up the meaning and not another person?
I have an example that might illustrate my point. I had an English teacher in 11th grade and he interpreted a lot of minute details in "The Scarlet Letter" to mean very unusual things that no one else in the class saw to understood. I only reason I got the answer correct was because my sister had him last year and warned me about his unusual tendency to make up weird hypotheses; everyone else in the class failed the reading quiz. We all had to get used to his way to thinking and then we all started getting A's on the test once we figured out what he wanted. Does that seem stupid to anyone else? It does to me! He even told the class we had to get used to the way he teaches and find out what he wants...he said that is what you have to do with very English teacher. I can see what he means in a very mild sense in every teacher, but with him it was so extreme that it made me angry and I feel like at times we need to stop trying to make up meanings to everything when maybe the author was just trying to tell a story. If the author is not here to explain...don't sit here and make up possible explanations because they could all be wrong and we could do that until we go blue in the face.

Name: sky
Date: 2006-02-28 15:20:03
Link to this Comment: 18396

I'd like to clarify my stance on the effectiveness of UTC - because it has changed. I'm a little behind, but I have to explain that I was deeply frustrated (because, frankly, propaganda annoys the hell out of me; blame it on my military-family upbringing) pretty much until a) I was introduced to Eva and b) Prof. Dalke and I talked about the book as a religious narrative (rather than as a slave narrative or a "realistic" story). I was reminded of Dante and of Pilgrim's Progress, both of which I have read bits of. I put myself in a different framework. And I started loving the book. I cried when Eva died, and it reminded me of when my own (saintly!) grandmother had died - I was moved then like St Clare is moved in the book. We miss them, and we are deeply affected by thinking about how their lives improved the world around them when ours have not. I can identify with this book on its religious level, since I am Christian (born and bred by a huge Southern Baptist family) and have the history in my head somewhere already. Suddenly UTC makes me want to be a better person - and I think I've found the use-value of the story for me. I still don't give a hoot about changing the government, really (never have), but I want to be more like Eva; generous and observant and compassionate and simple in loving everyone. And I wonder if Stowe prioritized - would she rather have readers who responded like I do, or with abolitionist fervor? Obviously she's fishing for both, but did she have a preference?

Blatant barbarians
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-02-28 16:27:49
Link to this Comment: 18398

In the sense that Melville’s message to his readers is “to do”, Stowe’s message tells her readers exactly “what to do”. Purpose driven, Stowe knew the readers who had to act, and so she wrote directly to them in order to get the message across, with no room for hesitation or interpretation. The largely homogenous population of the United States in the 19th century, made Stowe’s job a bit easier and enabled her to write statements to “You, the mother, father, Christian, etc…” Readers found themselves being directly addressed and had their accountability called into question—I imagine that this, in the context of a biblically based story had the effect of a church sermon in which Stowe was the preacher speaking to her parishioners, recounting a biblical story, intermittently interjecting to tell them exactly what they much do as good Christians. (Stowe seems to have lots of experience observing the way in which the masses could be moved by preaching, and obviously learned the tricks of the trade).
On an aside: In this context, if one considers UTC to be literature, are church sermons and other politically oriented speeches in the same category?
The average modern reader aside, if we consider that the student body of Bi-Co is purposely an exceptionally diverse group, in every sense of the word, then it is absolutely ridiculous to assume that UTC should “speak to us”. This would be like expecting a class of English only speakers to understand a lecture given in Japanese. Our criticisms of UTC (should have more character development, be more realistic, stop telling the reader what to do…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera) would be the same as our criticisms of the Japanese lecture.
The importance and significance of writing to your audience, or “Duh, she’s not talking to you” (as well as more framing fun), was very well played out in the King and I in the clip we watched in class. The King is distressed that the British view him as a barbarian, and so he is putting on the western Ritz to change their minds and show them exactly how gentlemanly and civilized he is. The most popular western book would seem a great way to show connection with western cultural ideals however, Tuptim turns the screw by directing the performance of UTC to reflect her own slave struggle and oppression by a ruthless ruler. Like Stowe, Tuptim is specific and narrates the play of UTC directly to “his majesty and honorary guests”. However, her goal is not to move the British guests, but only the king, and she succeeds in making him see and realize the critical comparison being made of him and the Simon Legree. At the end of the play, the British guests applaud enthusiastically at the performance, however, like us diverse modern readers, the play was not meant to speak to them and so they miss the point.
The huge and devastating political, cultural, economic, and ideological effects of European Imperialism, easily lend themselves to the notion that the gentlemanly imperialists were in effect barbarians in their global promotion slavery and oppression. In the context of a dinner party production, the British guests do not make this connection nor do they see how indeed they themselves are the global Simon Legree. The Imperialists continue thinking that they are more civilized and cultured, and therefore more deserving of power, domination, and wealth.
Trust in her readers is completely out of the question, they had in fact continued to support slavery in the United States one hundred years after declared that is was self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” Self evident!?! If the Declaration of Independence was not self-evident to get the message across in 100yrs, Stowe absolutely could not risk her readers missing the point for the sake of character development and subtlety.

Name: Margaret M
Date: 2006-02-28 16:45:05
Link to this Comment: 18402

I for one am deeply moved by this big book--it works for me. But, as someone said before, I am the intended audience. I'm white, I'm female, and I'm from the free northern state of Illinois. An added bonus, I was actually knitting while reading the part where Miss Feely brings out her knitting. Plus, I'm not an english major. In class while many of you were expressing your impulse to analyze books until they aren't any good any more--I was sitting there thinking, wow, I've just been enjoying the ride of the book. That being said, I have been drawn to the comments in the book by St. Clare about the way that the slaves act due to the way that they have been treated their entire lives and have spent more time thinking about the different repsonses of the slaves to their situations.

I've also been thinking about the different reality of religious people as someone brought up in class. I would argue that the reality is the same, it's the way that the people interpret the reality that is different. Religious people interpret things with a religious bent. I was shocked that people weren't moved by Eva's death and found it cliche. it was a little over the top now that I look back at it, but while I was reading it, I was deeply moved. I was thinking about the rather healthy way that Eva was dealing with her death--she wasn't depressed by it, she made it a heroic journey, she used her impending death to help others become better people (or her christian interpretation of a better person--aka. better christians). I admired this quality all while being saddened by her death, worried about the future of the slaves and St. Clare (I gave little thought for Marie), and being a little scared of this unyielding devotion to God. By not analyzing the scene as I read, I was able to put myself in the room with the slaves as she was handing out her hair snippets and, because of this, I was deeply moved. By being there while I was reading, I couldn't distance myself enough to say "Hold up there little Eva. This is a little over the top. You aren't Jesus and your death isn't going to save the slaves." If I hadn't been able to put myself there, I'm sure I would have found the whole affair outlandish and silly. But I was there, so I was moved.

In class today we were also discussing the issue of the rather simplistic characters. I like them, I'm not completely sure yet why I do, but I do. I think that it may have helped the intended reader relate to the characters. Maybe they had never met a slave before or, like Miss Feely, thought they shouldn't be slaves, but shouldn't be equals either. They may not think they had alot in common. By making the characters rather simplistic, I think the liklihood that the reader will be able to relate to them increases. The reader can think "oh, I'm just like that!" or "that reminds me of Mrs. B down the street" and not think about all of the differences in their psychological pasts. (differences I admit would have helped the reader realize the harshness of slavery, but in the context of this book I think Stowe acknoweldges this by periodically asking the reader what they would do in that situtation and, because the reader has been able to indentify with the simple characters they are able to believe that they would have done what the character would have done--eg. run away) We do get a little bit more detail about certain characters and I'm not quite sure I have a grip about why we get the certain details we do.It was certainly helpful to know a bit about Topsy's past, but was it helpful to know that St. Clare was in love with someone else before marrying Marie?--I guess. I mean, knowing Simon's background, while, yes, it does explain some of his behavior, can in no way be used as an excuse for the way he treats his slaves--if he has this background and is likely to act so violently against his slaves, he shouldn't have them in the first place (ok...just to clarify I don't think anyone should have slaves, i'm just saying that if having slaves is going to tempt Simon to act this way, he shouldn't have them--just as an alcoholic shouldn't tempt themselves with alcohol). I would almost argue that the fact that the characters are more simple and we don't have detailed psychological backgrounds or information about them almost makes it more "real." In books we are (sometimes) given all (or most)of this information, but in real life we aren't given this information about everyone we meet and even those we think we have all the information about can still suprise us.

Name: Marina
Date: 2006-02-28 18:51:21
Link to this Comment: 18409

I saw an article about UTC that might interest some people in is the link :

Mid-semester evaluation
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-28 22:51:54
Link to this Comment: 18411

Before leaving for break, please record your thoughts here:
what's working? what isn't?
Any suggestions for the second half of the semester?

Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-03-01 12:23:26
Link to this Comment: 18413

I was intrigued by our discussion on Tuesday's class about what seemed real to us in the novel and what was particularly unrealistic. In my opinion 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' has a bit of both: Eliza crossing the ice is particularly unrealistic and miraculous, but the description of these characters' emotions is more than realistic, for instance. HOWEVER, why is this important? Why do we truly care if the novel is realistic or not? Is art defined by what is real? It seemed to me that we were trying to figure out the literary value of the novel by it's ability to seem real or not. So what if it's melodramatic and thus unreal? This doesn't diminish the artistic value of Stowe's writing. I guess my point is that I am not entirely sure how useful it is for our appreciation of the novel (this or any other!) to judge it from the standard of realism.

course evaluation
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-03-01 15:23:29
Link to this Comment: 18417

So far I've truly been enjoying the course. I like the way we are handling discussions in class as they motivate me to read books that I never thought I would enjoy reading. The one thing, however, that has been driving me insane is that we don't get grades for any of our work. I know it's kinda silly putting so much pressure on a little number posted on an essay, but it helps me keep track of how I am really doing in the class, if my work from one essay to another has improved, and how much more committed do I have to be for the writing of the next one. Besides, if we receive a grade at the end of the semester, I don't see why we shouldn't get grades during the semester so we can make the proper adjustments during the course before it’s too late to change anything. That's my only complain. Otherwise I'm delighted with the course.

Melting Pot
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-03-01 17:29:48
Link to this Comment: 18419

After watching both the clip about Bigger and the scene from The King and I, my understanding of how Stowe's novel works in multiple cultural and social contexts has been expanded. While, at first, I was looking at the novel in terms of how it must have worked when it was published (as a piece of anti-slavery propaganda), I can now see not only how it applies in our contemporary culture (in ways we discussed in my soc. class, such as racial equality and distribution throughout social, economic, religious, and political sectors), but also how it applies in more recent situations the world over. Watching Tuptim's interpretation of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and how she used the book's underlying message to highlight her own complaints, I wonder now if the same can be done here; that is, can UTC be applied to other factors, not just race? How does Stowe's work speak to all people of all kinds, and how do her ideas tranform when put up against the modern day melting pot in America?

Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-03-01 17:35:54
Link to this Comment: 18420

I am really liking the course so far. I find the discussions very interesting to listen to, but I find it hard sometimes to put in my own thoughts because the pace is very fast and I take a bit longer to process my thoughts. Also, I liked what Anne said about if something has already been said we should let it pass on; no need to reiterate 5 times. I feel like this still happens a fair amount though. Maybe that's something we could all work on. I for one, know I need to talk more, and I hope that with a bit more space in the discussion some of us who don't process and talk as quickly can find our voices... Otherwise, I really like the class and all the different perspectives people are bringing to the issues we're discussing. The games/activities are nice change of pace sometimes too. The lack of grades that Jorge mentioned doesn't bother me so much, I have to admit. I think Anne's comments give a good idea of how she felt about your paper, and I get the sense that as long as you keep developing your ideas, keep the thought process moving along, you'll be ok. that's all i have -

Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-03-01 17:37:58
Link to this Comment: 18421


-Using movie clips, critical analyses, and excerpts from other works to understand and examine our assigned texts from new angles
-The "games" we've been playing/having to explain why we took certain positions in those games
-Broad range of discussion topics in class

Not Working:

-Lack of focus questions on writing assingments (would like to have some guidance there--too many options at present)
-Pre laid out discussion plans; not enough room for students to lead/deviate from "the plan"
-Tendency to have same points repeated multiple times

UTC...The King & I...Buddhism
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-03-01 18:04:03
Link to this Comment: 18423

For my writing conference with Anne this morning I re-read an article that I had found for my last paper: "On the Nonduality of Good and Evil: Buddhist Reflections of the New Holy War" (, if you want to look at it). It mainly focuses on the current "war on terror," examining it from a buddhist prospective. I found it really interesting because it shows that both Bush and AlQaeda think they are fighting a war on evil, and they even use the same rhetoric, changing a few words here and there. The author of the article claims that the most evil in the world stems from our attempts to eradicate what we perceive as evil. That in reality we all have good and evil inside us, but if we externalize 'evil', make it an object or a caricature, it is easier to fight. We can fight it as a group, instead of it being an individual struggle. A great line from the article: "Think of every plot of every James Bond film, every Star Wars film, every Indiana Jones film, etc. The bad guys are caricatures: they're ruthless, maniacal, without remourse, so they must be stopped by any means necessary. We are meant to feel that it is okay to tell the truth, it's pleasurable to see violence inflicted upon them. Because the villains like to hurt people, it's okay to hurt them. Because they like to kill people, it is okay to kill them. After all, they are evil and evil must be destroyed." What do you guys make of this? Think it's appropriate with regards to UTC?

In my meeting with Anne this morning, she pointed out that in the King and I version of UTC, they sort of "buddhi-size" the story, but do they really or does it remain a really christian, dualistic tale? I would say the latter without any hesitation. In Christianity there is good and there is evil, God and the Devil, black and white. All those dualisms that we discussed as permeating this novel. We suggested that these sharp polarities are supposed to make it obvious to us what is good and what is bad, in order to make us choose sides and act. I agree with some others though that the simplicity of this scheme doesn't move me. It bores me more than anything. I know that life is never so simple, and I like the Buddhist idea that we need to examine the good and evil within ourselves instead of externalizing the struggle with evil. I think I might be more moved to action had Stowe provided some more human examples of right action; had she focused maybe on one person who struggled to do the right thing, who wasn't perfect but wasn't totally evil either. Angels, saviors, martyrs are nice, but I can't relate to them because I know that I am human and imperfect. I think that many people who know the right thing to do but don't do it, like st clare for example, look at role models like the Christian savior, and they don't see that they can ever live up to the perfect example so they don't do anything. Perhaps, if they had a more fallible, human role model, they would feel they too could join the cause and do something?

UTC & Midterm Stuff
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-03-01 22:19:22
Link to this Comment: 18424

First, as it always is in class, the course-keeping stuff; I'm really enjoying the on-the-screen outline for each class and the multimedia, especially when it's media that you wouldn't at first think of connecting to the book (like those bird versions of Moby Dick and the Uncle Tom's Cabin scene in The King & I, which I'll admit I didn't remember from seeing the movie when I was little). I like the broad paper topics, because they give me room to do almost whatever I want. I'm not a big fan of having each class's discussion completely designed in advance, as Jill said, although I really don't know to what extent things are or are not allowed to deviate from the plan. But I like almost nothing better than a discussion or tangent that comes out of nowhere and sends me off to strange, strange places that I never planned on.

Now, back to the Small House of Uncle Thomas. (By the way, seeing as I either forgot or wasn't old enough to appreciate the Uncle Tom scene in King & I when I first saw it, it was great! Tickled me almost to death. I did feel sort of guilty for finding its odd cultural mockeries funny, though...) I disagree with some of the postings above, that the only good characters are good Christians--St. Clare, who is definitely my favorite character, is a very good person and he's very much not-Christian. He's a more believable person to me, because he has all these right ideas but not doing much about them (though he does take some right actions, like treating his slaves comparatively well, and that's important for me). He isn't superhuman, like the Quakers who are risking everything for Eliza and her family (and yes, I know that's what Stowe wants her readers to do, or at least it seems that way to me), he's just a regular joe, just an occassionally upstanding sort of regular Joe. I think that's what we're also called to be; yes, we're called to act more than St. Clare does. Maybe I'm just letting the fact that I like him cloud my judgement on this one.

Also, I've started looking at the book through a Christian lens, as it's something that's in my upbringing (funny enough, my family is Southern Baptist, too!); the more I think about it in terms of Christianity, the more I see. The "last supper" before Uncle Tom is sold down river, Eliza fleeing to save her child as a parallel to Mary and Joseph in the Gospels fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod. Does that make Harry Jesus too? This book will have more Christ-figures than I can keep track of soon! What is going on there, that Stowe, who we believe to be a devout Christian, would put in multiple Christ-figures, some of them black, some of them children, and one of them female? Is that rather against the general idea of monotheism? Or is it just having more than one reality at once?

Name: Allie
Date: 2006-03-01 22:28:23
Link to this Comment: 18425

Overall, I look forward to coming to class and the hour and a half tends to go by quickly. I like the reading material and am interested in our approaches to, or jump offs from, discussion through other literary criticisms and the class forum.

In response to complaints of belaboring points or being repetitious as a class-maybe the use of specific examples or quotes from the texts, as used to support individual comments/arguments, would help to ground and direct us in a more linear discussion.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-03-01 22:47:36
Link to this Comment: 18426

I'm enjoying the class and I do like that the discussions are somewhat prepared in advance because it gives them a focus. I feel like we still have enough room to talk about what's on our minds, especially because much of the preparation comes from the forum.

Like others who have posted, I also feel overwhelmed by the broad essay topics, but the writing conferences can help with that.

Final UTC + Comments
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-03-01 22:56:46
Link to this Comment: 18427

I have finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I will admit that I cried when Eva died, when St. Clare died and again when Aunt Chloe finally found out her husband Tom had died. I do tend to cry easily, but I honestly thought this book was so beautiful and well written. You may think the book is a hoax, but it worked like a charm for me.

I thought it was interesting that we have been discussing the ‘reality’ of this book in class and then in her final chapter the author writes specifically on that topic. “These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion. And from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a living dramatic reality. She has endeavored to show it fairly, in its best and its worst phases. In its best aspect, she has, perhaps, been successful; but, oh! Who shall say what yet remains untold in that valley and shadow of death, that lies the other side?” (pg. 383) From this quote, I can assume that Stowe believed her account to be accurate. She does admit though, that her worst accounts are nowhere near the true horrors of slavery.

Also, there was a link the other day on the AOL homepage about Uncle Tom’s Cabin due to the celebration of Black History Month. If anyone would like to read the article, I have put the link below.

Lastly, comments on our first half of the semester together…

What is working…
-Class games(!), they give many different people a chance to share, I feel like we hear more variety in opinion that way
-Personal opinions/reader response type commentary, because they seem to invoke more engaged discussion than pretentious abstract dribble which tends to confuse me
-The new Not-Raising-Hands-While-Others-Speak Policy, with this new trend I personally find myself better able to listen and absorb others’ comments

What is not working…
-The pre laid out discussion plans also stress me out because we never seem to get to the end of the webpage of ideas. It makes me wonder whether or not we have accomplished enough.

For next semester…I’d just like to request that we try to cover both books (letter and huck) because they are amazing! I read both in high school, and I would really like to have a second go in college with this class. So let’s read on!

Enjoy the break!

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-03-01 23:36:10
Link to this Comment: 18428

I can't help but read this book in relation to other slave narratives that I have been reading in an African American Lit class that I am taking with Professor Beard. In that class we have discussed the different realities of slavery, and as Jessica pointed out in class on Tuesday, that reality differs widely across geography, gender, slave population, etc. I think often people have one idea of slavery (I know I certainly did when I began the AA Lit class) and therefore when other accounts don't mesh with that on idea we question the reality of that account.

I was interested in our discussion in class on Tuesday about reading for pleasure vs. reading for school. Is it a commonly held belief that the two cannot coexist? I feel as though I heard many people saying that reading books for school ruins the experience of reading for them. I would be interested to know exactly what that "experience of reading" is and how it differs from reading a book for school. To ask a question using one of Anne's favorite terms- is one experience of reading more "useful" than another? I felt as though on Tuesday we were placing reading in an either/or category and placing a higher value on reading done for class, even though it seems to be less enjoyable.

I guess my question that comes out of this posting is- if we were to read UTC in a way that was both enjoyable, but also allowed us to analyze it as we do in a class, what are the elements/feelings/concepts that we would take away and are they different from what we are getting out of it now?

Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-03-02 00:03:41
Link to this Comment: 18429

As usual, I always struggle with the question of how/why is somthing "useful" to you. Although I think I am coming to terms with the reasoning behind the question and have learned through this class and the evoluction class I took how I can answer that question so that it is most "useful" to me.

Overall I am enjoying the class and I am looking forward to the next half of the semester.

Religion in UTC
Name: jfrosenb
Date: 2006-03-02 02:24:58
Link to this Comment: 18432

Reading the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin, I've been thinking about religion in the text (how can one not) and our relationship to that part of the narrative. I think a lot of our responses of "too religious," "too Christian" are based on how we feel about Christianity today. Not to generalize (but I"m about to), Bryn Mawr is politically liberal place, and, unfortunatley, liberal today has become "anit-religious." The conservative, Christian right has seemed to be the cause of a lot of political choices that many of us dislike (pro-life, anti-gay, etc), and now we think of all very religious people, and any time religion touches politics, as dangerous.

First, I worry about using any unexamined 2006 judgements and assumptions to asses 1852 writing. But specifically, I think we need to work on an understanding of religion that doesn't automatically read it as evil. Religion can be a force for good, Christianity can be uplifting. The devices Stowe uses can be read as "cheesy" or "unbelievable," but she doesn't even ask us to believe blindly:

"The psychologist tells us of a state, in which the affections and images of the mind become so dominant and overpowering, that they press into their service the outward sense, and make them give tangible shape to the inward imagining. Who shall measure what an all-pervading Spirit may do with these capabilities of our morality...?"

(Much more to write... maybe an essay. And we have to talk about George's letter and Stowe's imagining of the UN or EU, it blew me away. Meanwhile, it's 2:30 in the morning.)

Midterm Eval
Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-03-02 20:50:52
Link to this Comment: 18436

What's working for me:

I actually do like the structured aspect of the discussions, and (as much as I am a slacker about doing them) the online postings. I'm really enjoying the books we've got, although I hadn't entirely expected to and I'm worried about Huck (never gotten past the first chapter before). I'm frankly sort of thrilled to be in an English class at all, since I'm a hard science major and was afraid I'd be swallowed whole by English majors who actually know what they're talking about, but I think the way our discussions are run they can be very inclusive and that looking at the text in a different way actually gives me an "in" into the conversation, rather than shutting me out.

on the other hand...

What isn't working for me:

I worry that I don't have enough background in the culture of the period and in literary analysis (read: none) to keep up sometimes, and that we collectively need to figure out the difference between what a book meant 150 years ago and what it means for us now. I know I had to come to terms with that for UTC, and that it helped me immensely. But maybe that's just me. And I hate to sound so picky, but I get antsy when a class goes past its time on a regular basis - I know it's only a couple of minutes, but that means a lot when you've got to get across campus for the next one.

Otherwise, I'm having a blast!

Mid-semester evaluation
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-03-03 00:05:26
Link to this Comment: 18440

I keep putting off writing this because I think maybe I'll be more coherent about it later, but that hasn't happened yet. So it's rambling you get.

-the books! I thought I was going to hate "big books of American literature" but I felt like I should read them. Pleasantly surprised that they're actually enjoyable reads.
-the interdisciplinary stuff. As a psychology major, I really like being able to incorporate the way I have to think for psychology in the discussion/in my papers. [However, when we were focusing on theories of emotion, it was somewhat frustrating to have a class discussing psychological theories without some of the basic commitments that make such discussions possible in the psychology department - particularly operational definitions of key terms.] Also, uber-excited for Prof. Ross & Schulz' visits.
-the structured activities. Although unstructured discussion is sometimes very productive (and necessary in an English class), I think that sometimes we get to the point where our discussions are just not generating new ideas. The structured activities helped us get past that.
-the freedom with assignments - having choice of when to turn in the papers and what to write about. I actually prefer having no guidance(although I can see how it could be frustrating).
-the writing conferences and in-depth feedback on papers.

Not working:
-like Jorge, I would love grades on my papers. Just so I know where I'm heading. I don't like surprises.
-this is probably just a matter of perception, but there was a point in class today where I felt a little personally attacked. While I appreciate dialogue about intellectual issues, I prefer that responses be addressed to my ideas, not me personally. It would have been more fitting if the response had simply opened up the possibility that opinions and comfort levels can develop over time, rather than focusing on whether I personally will ever want to dance naked in public.
-I wish there were more dialogue on the forums. I feel like we do a lot of what we do in the classroom - say what we have to say without responding to others' ideas or letting them change our minds. I wonder if maybe this is the result of the once a week posting policy? I know that in my mind it makes me feel like, "Well, my once a week is done." I wish we were talking to each other more!
-On that same note, I wish we were dialoguing about our papers. They are all there, and I am reading them, and I wish we were using this forum to share ideas and responses and feedback with one another! I think we are missing out on a really valuable resource here.
-$20 packet. Since we're not using it. And since half the stuff was accessible on the web. Maybe in the future it could be Blackboarded? (Blackboard's forums might also provide a better place for forums to become more dialogue-oriented - the format makes it easier to respond to particular posts)
-Please stop giving away the ending.

Sentimental power? Not quite.
Name: Steph
Date: 2006-03-05 19:38:51
Link to this Comment: 18454

I am embarassingly not yet done with UTC, but I am close. And as the ending draws near, I am constantly reminded of the Tompkins/Baldwin debate. It seems to me that sentimentality is a very dangerous kind of power - and what frustrates me is that it seems to be the only kind of power Stowe allows the women in her novel. The novel's female characters often speak of their feelings (the white women, feelings about slavery, the black women, feelings about the experience of being enslaved), while the men are the ones who take any kind of action, even if this action is a negative one, such as the selling of a slave. I think Stowe's novel might be less frustrating if the women took a lesson from Bryn Mawr women (well, hypothetical bryn mawr women) - stop bitching about problems, just DO SOMETHING about it.

Midsemester evaluation
Name: Steph
Date: 2006-03-05 19:51:00
Link to this Comment: 18455

Why did my comment about UTC show up here? Technology is bizzare. Alright, midterm evaluation:

not working:
- lack of paper topic focus: it would be nice to get some general suggetions, nothing mandatory, but just ideas to get our own brainstorming started, especially if we can't make it to a conference with Anne before every paper
- class discussions that spiral in every direction: i like that we can talk about a variety of subjects each day, but like others have said above, it makes me a little anxious about our actual discussion of the novel, and what points we're missing by discussing something else instead.

- i like the no grade system, it takes away a lot of the pressure to work for a specific number. it makes it more difficult to write the paper, however, since you have to like the topic enough to want to write about it without getting the immediate gratification of a grade.
- discussion of class dynamics: i like that we can try to change classroom behavior in the classroom, and think it's a great way to actually make these changes happen (hopefully).

How Bollywood Can You GET!
Date: 2006-03-07 19:31:16
Link to this Comment: 18470

Did anyone else notice how much UTC is like a Bollywood movie? The melodrama of the book is a decided factor. In fact I was discussing the melodramatic aspect with Lauren S. the other day before class. We took a course in Melodramatic film last spring, and one of the films that we saw was 'Way Down East', a DW Griffith silent film. One of the lasting images from that film is of a fallen woman running away from the man who had ruined her and crossing an icy river. When reading about Eliza's divine crossing of the icy river, I could not stop thinking about the scene from Griffith's movie, and the melodramatic rush that came from that made me just feel sickened by the scene rather than be moved by it. Returning to the Bollywood reference, near the end when George and Eliza Harris' extended family is reunited among tears and hugs, once again I was overpowered by the cliched melodramatic scene that envoked in my head, because reuniting families this way is an old Bollywood trick. So, needless to say again, the melodrama was very overdone.

That being said, there were still definately a lot of moving aspects of this book. I was one who got very upset at the book and would have to put it way for a while. From something as simple as George H.'s dog being drowned to the intensely horrific treatment Prue receives (the concept of being used to breed children was sooo angering and sickening, especially because i'm looking at the book from a biologists' view to aid my paper writing process). There were just times I was so mad at the book and the unfairness in that world that I had to take time away from it. So the book was definately successful and useful with respect to Stowe's aims. And I'm sure it wasn't as cliched to readers then as it is to us as readers now.

Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-03-07 19:32:33
Link to this Comment: 18471

Did anyone else notice how much UTC is like a Bollywood movie? The melodrama of the book is a decided factor. In fact I was discussing the melodramatic aspect with Lauren S. the other day before class. We took a course in Melodramatic film last spring, and one of the films that we saw was 'Way Down East', a DW Griffith silent film. One of the lasting images from that film is of a fallen woman running away from the man who had ruined her and crossing an icy river. When reading about Eliza's divine crossing of the icy river, I could not stop thinking about the scene from Griffith's movie, and the melodramatic rush that came from that made me just feel sickened by the scene rather than be moved by it. Returning to the Bollywood reference, near the end when George and Eliza Harris' extended family is reunited among tears and hugs, once again I was overpowered by the cliched melodramatic scene that envoked in my head, because reuniting families this way is an old Bollywood trick. So, needless to say again, the melodrama was very overdone.

That being said, there were still definately a lot of moving aspects of this book. I was one who got very upset at the book and would have to put it way for a while. From something as simple as George H.'s dog being drowned to the intensely horrific treatment Prue receives (the concept of being used to breed children was sooo angering and sickening, especially because i'm looking at the book from a biologists' view to aid my paper writing process). There were just times I was so mad at the book and the unfairness in that world that I had to take time away from it. So the book was definately successful and useful with respect to Stowe's aims. And I'm sure it wasn't as cliched to readers then as it is to us as readers now.

(trying to repost on the right forum, so if it's double, i apologize)

Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-03-07 19:36:17
Link to this Comment: 18472

So far so good, discussions are interesting, and I do like that there is some structure but room to wander. I particularly enjoy the multimedia accompaniments we had for UTC. It offers new and interesting ways to deal with the material, making the process a lot more engaging.

I contrast to a couple of comments I read, I like the ability to work on whatever we choose for papers, it challenges me to find something I WANT to write rather than have to.

I also appreciate the effort everyone has put in to aid the understanding of Christian references :)

Onto The Scarlet Letter.

Name: Emily
Date: 2006-03-08 19:26:13
Link to this Comment: 18476

Sorry this is late, but here goes.

So far, I've enjoyed the various ways we've approached the novels. Incorporating film clips, games, and artistic images have helped me find greater meaning in the books. One game which I really enjoyed, after overcoming my initial fear, was fishbowl. The ideas were quick but concentrated; it prevented the conversation from getting repeated and seemed to breed new points of view on the spot. I also enjoy the weekly web postings. They seem to initiate the flow of ideas the continues in class. By reading the postings of fellow students, I constantly get new ideas and perspectives.

Now for what would be nice to change. My first is almost silly, but when in class, I find it difficult to concentrate on passages that are read aloud. I never seem to take them in, making it impossible for me to have a response to them. Another probelm I sometimes encounter is discussing everything on a full class level. I think it might be useful at times to divide into smaller groups to form ideas, and then come back together as a class to explore them further. This might make it eassier to form ideas, and might lead to more productive class discussions. Finally, it would be helpful to know a little more clearly how I'm doing in the class overall. I like the idea of no grades on papers, I'm just afraid it will come back to haunt me at the end of the semester. I'm trying to think of some half-way alterantive... the conferences were helpful, but I'm still ot sure where I stand.

Anyway, the class is a very welcome alterante style from most. I love that it constantly feels like an experiment.

Name: Marina
Date: 2006-03-09 16:40:35
Link to this Comment: 18479

-I really like how we don't receive grades on our papers, but instead get comments to help us improve without the pressure of seeing the numbers. It makes me feel like I can actually concentrate on improving my writing.

-I enjoy the small discussion games we play; they keep the class interesting.

-I don't like not being able to raise my hand. It is not one student's responsibility to try and not talk so that the other students (who may not want to talk) can get up their courage to speak in class. We are in college and if we have something to say we should be able to raise our hand. (I don’t think it is fair to be penalized for having something to say; that is the way I learn. Raising my hand and participating in class helps me to pay attention and stay involved in what I am learning.)

-The class is too rushed. We are expected to read these books at much too quick a pace. It is very hard to try to understand the book, or even enjoy it, when you have to rush through it. I definitely liked the idea of eliminating one of the books, which will allow us a little more time to spend on each book, to take it in, and learn from it.

I am enjoying taking this class having the opportunity to give some feedback.

Name: Margaret
Date: 2006-03-12 12:15:23
Link to this Comment: 18483

what isn't working:

-I agree with previous posts that the class seems too rushed and there seems to be little room for discussion, I myself limit what I say because I feel that it is most assuredly not in the direction the discussion has been designed to go. It is slightly confusing whether we are supposed to actually discuss (which I believe rarely happens) or just regurgitate what we have previously discussed/posted online.

-I also had a problem with the first day we did for UTC--without having read the entire book it was difficult to form an opinion of which critic I agreed with.

-doing mid-semester evaluations online

what is working:

-the class games

-the pace of the books


On to The Scarlet Letter
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-12 15:06:53
Link to this Comment: 18485

Welcome back!

One thing that makes The Scarlet Letter so "big" is the prefatory material. My advice: start reading with Chapter 1, "The Prison Door." Read through chapter 5. THEN go back and read "The Custom House" (it's as long as the first five chapters, but pretty important for getting a handle on what Hawthorne's up to...)

Post here what you see for Tuesday's class--
looking forward to hearing....

Better Late Than Never... ?
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-03-12 22:28:18
Link to this Comment: 18492

To repeat some of what others are saying, but the only things that I would try and fix: the repeatetiveness of conversation, and how we can get sidetracked on personal annecdotes. I think that's why class sometimes feels so short. It's great to have a friendly, open group where people feel they can share, but these texts are so rich, I get annoyed when we get too distracted. The only way for us to fix this, though, is to be aware of it. While ofcourse Anne could just cut us off, I think everyone involved would prefer if we self-regulate.

I mainly wanted to post b/c I wanted to voice a pro-plan opinion. I like the webpage, and that Anne has some form for discussion, points she wants us to get to. I don't know everything (usually v. little) about the critical background for the texts we're reading. I think we can stop worrying about how fast we go; whatever we get to is what we need to get to. I find it extra helpful, because its so much easier for me to comprehend and remember theory when its attached to a text.

Scarlett Letter: woo hoo. This book and the thinking about American Literature as a genre is one of main reasons I became an English major. So excited to be stopping by again.

The Scarlett Letter
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-03-13 16:05:47
Link to this Comment: 18496

I am really excited to read "The Scarlett Letter" again . It was one of my favorite books that I had to read in high school.

After reading about the prison door and the rosebush I have decided I like the contrast the author made with the two things; it is very strong in the sense that the door is hard and cold with the metal and spikes, while the rosebush is soft and beautiful. I love how there is so much meaning in this book. It seems to me that the author is trying to show that nature outlasts man (nature being the rosebush and man being the prison). It is also that Hester is going to "last" longer than people expect her to in the face of all she goes through. For example she stays instead of leaving the town. Perhaps she is facing her guilt/punishment or trying to show the others that she will not be driven out of Boston, but for whatever reason she stays, she reminds me of the rosebush when she does.

I'm so weak
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-03-13 20:21:34
Link to this Comment: 18497

Reading Hawthorne again is bringing back so many memories from high school especially that day my junior english teacher made the entire class wear an "A" of our own throughout the entire school day. I remember feeling so self conscious when I was alone but when I walked with a fellow classmate also wearing the brand I felt pretty cool and almost priviledged. Thus, the exercise worked to teach us that feeling of being isolated. That experience might have made this reading of "The Scarlet Letter" even more richer because I realize now that Hester Prynne is a much stronger woman than I am. The fact that she chooses to live amongst the same people that branded her with that beautiful letter when she had the complete opportunity to escape and start a new life is a very strong female empowerment statement. My old feelings about Dimmesdale have resurfaced. I truly despise him for his cowardess and completely frustrated by the fact that the town is so clueless to the fact that Pearl's father is Dimmesdale especially after he makes that obvious speech to Hester on the pedestal. I also noticed this time around that Hawthorne, in the first five chapters, does not mention what the "A" actually stands for. It is up to the reader to fill in the word "adultery." Perhaps by not naming this sin, it proves we are all victims and perpetrators of it. The fact that the sin is nameless makes the act even more potent. Or it could be just my imagination.

I Hate Hawthorne.
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-03-13 22:55:28
Link to this Comment: 18501

This is the one part of this class I've really been dreading. I have a hatred for Hawthorne that really is not his fault. See, my eleventh-grade English teacher was related to Hawthorne. Some seven-genrerations removed cousin of some sort. She was *obsessed.* And this was the first book we read for her class. It was MISERABLE. It was the second time I had read the book - I also had to read it as a summer reading book for ninth-grade English (which I feel is a really inappropriate place to deal with this book!) and had deemed it boring as a 13-year-old (SERIOUSLY, who makes a 13-year-old read Hawthorne?). I was ready to not like the book, and my 11th grade teacher made that very easy. Looking back on it, there is so much that could have been enjoyable - adultery! illegitimate babies! vengeance! - but I feel like we were forced into a very strict - borderline Puritan - reading of the book.

So I'm wondering ... how do I get past this? How do I throw away the baggage that I already have associated with Hawthorne and read him without dread? I've enjoyed the other books we've read so far - I suspect that Hawthorne could, perhaps, be enjoyable. I'm a grownup now (ostensibly), I'm not 13, and I should be able to get over this. Right?

Any suggestions? Did anybody actually LIKE it?

Name: anna
Date: 2006-03-14 00:01:44
Link to this Comment: 18509

funny...ive never read the scarlet letter nor did i ever particularly know anything about it. this became more and more evident as i read the book thinking, "when is someone going to write a meaningful LETTER" there was my, "because he was a little horse/hoarse" moment...i'm not minding the story. it drags on a little more fully than i find necessary, but it's a pretty interesting story. it's reminding me of another story that i read in an english class - i'm blanking on the author/title but it was about a newly married couple and the girl had a birthmark on her cheek (i think the name was "the birthmark" or something along those lines) and the husband is a chemist and works out a way to reduce the visibility of the spot and when he completely removes it, she dies (sorry to ruin the ending! hah). i'm wondering if the "A" is holding the story together in a similar matter...only a few chapters left...!

Scarlet Letter
Name: alison rei
Date: 2006-03-14 00:16:04
Link to this Comment: 18511

I admit I went into Scarlet Letter full of prejudice left over from high school. I believed it was the most boring, useless book ever to plague american readers. But now I marvel at how unexpectedly good it is. My first feeling of panic came at "The Common House" section. I have a terrible feeling this part of the book will be somehow important later but I had to skip it in order to preserve my wellbeing. I suppose I'll have to read it later but after a few pages, the sense of pointless overwhelmed me. Two things are making the book pleasantly surprise me and disarming my prejudices: Hawthorne's wit and snappiness as a writer and his ability to give everything two conflicting sides. The way he describes the ruddy and crude gossips is amusing. Moreover, Scarlet Letter reads like a modern suspense when Chillingham arrives on the scene. Like something out of a scandalous novel, the long lost husband shows up right when his wife is being shamed for adultery. A look of deep meaning passes between them and he craftily seeks out information without revealing himself. The most striking aspect of the novel, that "something" which raises it to classic standard for me, is how Hawthorne gives everything several painful layers. Example, Hester stares into Dimmesdale's eyes and refuses to say his name out loud when he demands it (sorry to spoil the ending for anybody). The silence between reads her protection of him, her repugnance towards his hypocrisy, her self-isolation, her disdain for Puritan society, and her reverence for the rules of the Puritan community. Hester's entire relationship with Pearl is tortured because Hester's only love in the world is also her constant torture. I think knowing the ending while rereading the book will make it more suspenseful and enjoyable.
ps. When Hester says Pearl's only father is the Heavenly Father, I was reminded of a funny scene from the movie "The Wicker Man." A christian visitor asks a new age pagan why the women have so many weird fertility rituals and the pagan replies that isn't it every girl's dream to be impregnated by a sacred god rather than some pockmarked cashier?

Name: alison rei
Date: 2006-03-14 00:25:36
Link to this Comment: 18512

I am really enjoying the class so far and find it very interesting and intriguing. I have been pleasantly surprised by the other students and how often they share the same boredom or excitement that i have. I like how the class is run with various topics and sources put up and Prof Dalke acting as traffic cop and contributor to the discussions. I don't mind not getting grades directly on papers, trusting my end grade will be reasonable. Sometimes, the discussions get a little to philosophical for me and i forget what we are talking about and how we arrived at a point. I was worried the discussions would fizzle out but people seem to have a lot of interesting points to make, even if sometimes we seem to be sharing too many anecdotes. I would like to keep our class the same for the rest of the year and the discussions as organic as possible.

Hawthorne, Morphine, Gender
Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-03-14 00:59:48
Link to this Comment: 18513

The first time i encountered this book was as a summer reading assignment that happened to be during the summer when i had back surgery, so i was on oxycontin and perkaset while "reading" Hawthorne. That said, my memories of the book are vague and somewhat dillusional. I always felt a little guilty about not giving the book a fair chance, and am relieved to have the opportunity to connect it to something more than a scoliosis operation and morphine.

From what we've read so far, the thing I'm most conscious of is Hawthorne's narrative slant as a male author. Alison mentioned the jeers of the women in the crowd while Hester is displayed before the town - and i also think this moment is dripping in sarcasm/wit etc, but I also find it eerily tragic in that there is absolutely no female solidarity. It seems like a strange betrayal of the stereotypical female - instead of being overly emotional and sentimental, like Stowe's female characters were, Hawthorne's have nothing but insults to throw at their compatriot. I know it's troubling to assume that Hawthorne creates these repulsive women because he's a man, but after being so innundated with UTC's female saints, I feel a little shell-shocked at the contrast.

Hawthorne So Far
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-03-14 09:43:50
Link to this Comment: 18517

Not having got Anne's direction to read 'The Custom House' after the first 5 chapters, I went the other way, and read the intro first. What I got out of it that I enjoyed for preparing for a structurally non-fictional/emotionally fictional novel. Never having encountered 'The Scarlet Letter' before, and already having rejoiced over yet more christian allegories I won't get, I'm interested in seeing how this develops because I've heard people describe it with equal fervor of love and hate.

thinking without thinking
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-14 15:44:35
Link to this Comment: 18521

In preparation for Marc Shulz's visit to class on Thursday, please read pp. 3-17 of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking (which you'll find in the course packet). Some questions (from Mark) for you to ponder in anticipation of his visit/our conversation w/ him (and respond to here):

How do you know what emotions someone is expressing or feeling? What signs do you depend on most to decipher emotions?

What role does thinking have in the generation of emotion?

Can emotion be studied "objectively" or scientifically?

I'd love a Greek statue in my house...even if it w
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-03-14 16:53:52
Link to this Comment: 18522

I feel like we’ve already had this conversation. I am frustrated. The piece I just read by Gladwell doesn’t quite match the questions being asked. Couldn’t we at least use the language the author did?

You know what emotions someone is expressing/feeling solely because of your own interpretation. However, according to Gladwell’s theory, your ‘fast and frugal’ conclusions are probably very accurate. Yet, Gladwell’s theory doesn’t explain why certain people would be better at ‘reading’ others. If we all have this ‘adaptive unconscious’ then do people’s conscious, thought-out decisions explain the variance in people’s responses to the same stimuli? I guess I’m just trying to understand if the difference between individuals begins with our ‘adaptive unconscious’ or our conscious rationalizations.

I believe the role of thinking happens after the generation of emotion. You experience the emotion and then, through thinking, grapple to understand its origin. However, I also believe that thinking can afterwards alter the initial emotion. For example, if you initially feel jealousy, and then think about it and decide you’d rather not feel that jealousy so strongly, you can change it. You’d erase the initial emotion and substitute your new creation.

The study of emotion, to me, seems nearly impossible. As humans, we cannot separate ourselves from emotion to look at that exact subject objectively. Our work would be influenced by our emotions. But, if there is no way for humans to avoid that consequence, then maybe it just becomes part of the experiment. A study of emotions with emotional influences could still be valid because the fact that there will always be emotional influences just becomes a constant in the study.

I enjoyed Gladwell’s ideas. His writing seemed to have a lot of energy and it woke me up. Reading this piece, I realized that I trust my ‘adaptive unconscious’ or my snap judgments often, whether I doctor them up with rationale or admit that I acted on instinct.

On another note, I am loving The Scarlet Letter right now! Also quite curious to see how Marc Shulz uses the Blink piece to look at the novel…

interesting...veryyyy interesting
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-03-14 19:31:42
Link to this Comment: 18524

Wow, I just finished reading Gladwell's "Blink," all 40 pages of it and I think I did some thin slicing of my own. The introduction was fascinating, an account I had never experienced at the beginning of a book. From the first instant I knew that there would be a discussion to follow and that the book would not continue the story throughout its 40 pages but analyze the story deeply. I also knew the statue was a fake. Just the way it was presented to reader in comparison with the other kouroi. I have had countless instances when I knew a situation would not work out because of that feeling in my gut. I probably wouldn't go into as much analysis about that one instant feeling as Gladwell did but I do support him in his acknowledging that that initial feeling is just as strong as a thorough analyzation of the exposed elements. The whole bit about the German morse coders being read by American morse- decoders was probably one of the most fascinating things I have ever read. Just from the reading, I'd like to encounter Gladwell face to face. I can't wait to see my dad and tell him about those morse coders.

Scientific emotions
Name: Emily
Date: 2006-03-14 21:48:19
Link to this Comment: 18527

Very interesting. I just finished all of Gladwell's piece, having intended only to read the first chapter. With that in mind, I think we can determine other people's emotions in much the same way as Gottman does with couples, although in a day-to-day atmosphere, we determine emotions more subconsciously. We listen to tone of voice, look at facial expressions, and notice bodily movement. Put together, we can determine pretty acurately what someone is feeling, unless, of course, they're acting.

In generating emotion, thinking is also mostly subconscious. We can have emotions arise instantaneously at the sight of a dead animal, upon learning we have received a scholarship, or discovering an essay is due in two days. We don't think through these emotions; they just appear. We instantly feel sad for the animal, happy about the scholarship, and anxious about the essay. However, I do think some emotions arise only after thinking through a situation. For instance, we might be happy to learn we can go to France over the summer, but upon thinking it over further, realize that by doing so, we wouldn't see our friends, we would have little time to relax, and we are likely to become homesick. After thinking it through, we become almost anxious about the information, unsure which path to chose, and afraid we'll make the wrong choice.

As Gladwell points out by looking at Gottman's study, emotion can be studied scientfically, to some degree. I found it very interesting that by measuring the emotions of couples in a 15 minute recording, Gottman could determine with over 90% accuracy which ones would divorce. This must prove that emotions can be determined scientifically. I also believe they can be measured scientifically because each emotion has a cause, meaning that there is an explainable, scientific reason for feeling a certain way. After all, psychology is a science.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-03-15 16:29:21
Link to this Comment: 18539

I really enjoyed Gladwell's piece. I thought it was interesting but I still feel uncomfortable with the idea that we can get accurate ideas of whether a statue is real or weather a marriage will work in a matter of minutes or seconds. It just seems like this makes the rest of our time useless and not worthwhile. As uncomfortable as this makes me feel, I do buy into his argument.

I can see several ways that this article helps with the Scarlet Letter and with reading in general. With many styles of writing, it is possible to guess the end of the novel right from the beginning. Even more so than the social interactions that Gottman observed, one can often predict the ending of certain books such as mysteries from a formula apparent from the very beginning. We get better at this as we read more. The most obvious example that comes to mind is from the television show Law and Order. I'm getting good at picking out "who did it" early in each episode.

From parts of out discussion in class yesterday, it seems that "Nathaniel" empathizes with Hester, but that the novel condemns her. I have not yet finished the novel, but I did not see the novel as condemning her. Someone pointed out that the way that the novel portrays Hester and the adultery she has committed very neutrally. This could be part of the reason why I see her as a heroine. But I could also be influenced by my knowledge of the time period in which the novel was written. Alternatively, I could be tuned into some clue other subconsciously. Of course, I could always be wrong.

Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-03-15 20:00:50
Link to this Comment: 18543

All I can say is thank goodness. I always knew the saying "you can't judge a book by its cover" was a load of baloney and now, not only do I have evidentiary support for this argument, it's (semi)scientific evidence uncovered by a reputable source. This is great! I'm a proud and life-long snap-decision maker and here I go again making another one by writing so enthusiastically after having read so little. (I'll be sure to check back in later and let you know if any regret has kicked in)

Name: Marina
Date: 2006-03-15 22:57:52
Link to this Comment: 18545

I didn't read the directions for homework and therefore I read all of the "Blink" section in the course packet. I have to say that although it took up some time I could have used to do other homework I thoroughly enjoyed reading that and I am now interested in buying the book.

I tend to look for others emotions in their facial expressions and the tone of their voice when they speak.

Thinking plays a part in this generation of emotion because we need to think to be able to understand our (and others) emotions. I believe that the two go hand in hand.

My first instinct would be to say that emotions are studied in an objective way, but when I put more thought in to how we should judge emotions and I have decided that they should be done scientifically just like it was show in the chapters in "Blink".

The Scarlett Letter is still going well and I am still really enjoying re-reading it. Yay!

Name: Margaret
Date: 2006-03-15 23:55:25
Link to this Comment: 18548

I really liked this reading and think that it is really helping me look at The Scarlet Letter differently. As per my fist pattern regarding our class discussions, I really would like to talk about the end of the book, but in an effort not to I will instead address the first half. One of the things that has interested me in reading/hearing others comments is that many didn't think that they would like The Scarlet Letter when they began reading the Customs House. What interests me is that they made this judgement of dislike, but then many have admited that, having actually begun Hester's story, they now like the book. Does this mean that their first judgement was inaccurate? I'm not quite sure as I think that the fist patterns in the two sections vary greatly. I have been particularly interested in the way that the letter A is supposed to lead people to make snap judgements about Hester. When strangers/townspeople see her and notice the A, the word that is intended to come to their mind is, I think, Adulterer. As we discussed in class the letter A begins to take on different meanings so the snap judgement is no longer the intended one, but takes on different forms. This is a little perplexing as while we have read in Blink that our snap judgements are pretty accurate, the judgement of the letter A changes over time. Or perhaps the first judgement of the letter A is incorrect because the puritans so wanted her to be punished and considered a sinner. I've also been thinking about how Hester is forced to acknowledge her sin and display it for everyone to see. If others are not forced to do so and do not do so on their own, can others still tell what their sin is through quick judgements? Perhaps the knowledge of the unacknowledged sin is enough to change the person's fist leading to the ability of others to make quick decisions that the person is a sinner? Can a person's fist even change over time or due to traumatic events? Perhaps only people who are prepared to accept that others are sinners can recognize them as such. Forced to wear the A, Hester now feels that she can recognize fellow sinners. Her husband says that he will be able to identify her lover by his actions and looks--perhaps he has spent his time learning how to listen to his intuition? As regards the question concerning the role of thinking in emotions, I can honestly say that I really don't know. I can think of examples where thinking has everything to do with emotions (when you are purposly hiding them or a thought makes you sad), but perhaps the emotions are really instinctual and concious thinking doesn't really play a role (you instinctually feel sad, but think that you should hide it or you instinctually feel sad, but think of an explanation for it). I would be interested in knowing how the theory in blink would answer how we know what a person is feeling. Personally I think I go by a person's actions (or inactions) and facial expression. I also think that I am better at deciphering the emotions of people that I have known for a while better than people that I have never met before. Am I really better for people I have known for a long time? The text gave an example study where strangers who saw a person's dorm room were more accurate about a person's personality than their friends, perhaps it is the same for emotions. Perhaps I am just as good at deciphering the emotions of people I know as I am for people I have never met before. As for the final question, if emotion can be studied scientifically, I think that it really depends on how you define emotion. As we have often discussed in class, emotion has many definitions. I am under the impression that some of these definitions can be studied scientifically and that others may not.

Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-03-16 00:26:35
Link to this Comment: 18549 first response to this reading was that a lot of students here at Bryn Mawr could benefit from a little less thinking and a lot more of just going with that gut feeling. I am just as guilty as the next person, but I think we all tend to think through and over analyze way too much sometimes, so in that sense the introduction to "Blink" really struck a chord with me. I am not sure, however, that I agree with his claims towards the end of the chapter that if peoeple relied more on the gut instinct that the world would be a better place. That seems rather far-fetched, and I would like to read the rest of the book to see what kind of argument he uses to back that claim up.

To answer the questions that Anne posed- I have trouble with the question about how much thinking has to do with emotion. I think there are emotions that come from gut reactions, but there are also emotions that have a lot of thought behind them. I don't think one is necessarily better or more valid than the other, they both have their place. As I said before, however, I think here at Bryn Mawr there are a lot of "thinking" emotions where we just process and process and process until it's impossible to remember what the emotion was about in the first place.

Scarlet Letter
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-03-16 01:28:42
Link to this Comment: 18550

I just can't make myself read the Customs House. I can't. I tried, and I couldn't. It's just not nearly as interesting to me as the rest of the book. And the rest of it Is interesting. I'm not sure what it is about the way it's written, but I love it. Also, I've got my suspicions regarding Pearl's father...a possible paper topic, perhaps...and about Hester's husband, but I won't give those away just yet.

Am very interested in this "thinking without thinking" concept. It's something, I realize now, we all do all the time, without even "thinking" about it. It's good to finally be throwing a psychologist into the mix we've been working with, although I do wonder how things might have been different if we'd introduced psychology as a focus during, say, Turn of the Screw. Regardless, this should prove to be interesting, no doubt.

Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-03-16 02:31:38
Link to this Comment: 18552

My initial reaction to the "Thin Slices" chapter was one of disbelief. Like Gottman himself says, I thought, good lord, maybe they're just having a bad day. Then as I read on, I thought, wow maybe this is for real and that just astounded me. But the more I think about it the more it makes sense. The fact that he studies not just what they are saying, but how their bodies are reacting (body language and movement) seems like he is looking more at how their relationship is manifested in each interaction. THe words themselves weren't that important. It was the anger or mistrust or contempt that somehow showed up in the space between words - in their faces, their heart rates, their slight movements. I still think, however, that some of that may be short-term emotions. I find it hard to believe that a relationship doesn't change over time. To contradict myself though maybe he's not saying that the relationship doesn't change, but instead that just the essence or core of it doesn't change significantly. That first impression sticks deep in our hearts, maybe even subconsciously?

Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-03-16 08:34:17
Link to this Comment: 18554

It’s more than a little scary to think that within fifteen minutes a person like John Gottman can identify key aspects of an individual’s personality and make an almost accurate prediction whether or not a marriage is going to last. We like to think that we are deeper, that it should take more than a brief interaction to sum us up, yet a 90 to 95 per cent range for accuracy is a little hard to argue with.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Gottman is able to pick up emotions and characteristics. I mean I find myself doing it all the time with close friends and family. There are one or two people that I am especially close with and our relationship has gotten to the point that we can tell what a person is thinking without the person saying anything. I was once mad at really upset with something one of my friends had said off hand. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to seem petty for being upset over something insignificant. So for about half an hour I did everything I could to not let on what I was really feeling. I was in the middle of saying something when my friend suddenly threw his hands up and was like, ok your upset, what’d I say? When I said nothing he proceeded to tell me all the ways he knew I was lying, just from my face. He knew I was mad he knew what my actions and feelings were going to if I let it fester.

I suppose in a way I should view it as a good experience. I told him what upset me, he apologized, I knew he honestly was and we were able to move on. But part of me felt uncomfortable, just like part of my felt uncomfortable reading Blink. On some level I feel uneasy because it’s as if I have been exposed, as if I don't feel I have any secrets from anyone.

Name: Allie
Date: 2006-03-16 14:17:45
Link to this Comment: 18560

I really enjoyed the excerpt we read from Blink as well as today’s class discussion with Marc. I think that it’s amazing that in such a short amount of time, scientists (or even undergraduates) are able to pick up on patterns in out emotional responses in relationships that are so consistent that they can predict the outcome. It’s amazing this slice of relationships captures so little to the people in the experiment and so much to the psychologists. It seems like our emotions and behaviors patterns are our destiny.
It is frightening to think that I am so consistent and predictable because it shows a loss of self control and an inability to change that which I do not like because I am unconsciously reinforcing myself. I am reminded of the saying “wherever you go, there you are”.
When I signed onto the forum, I noticed the E.E. Cummings poem that we read in the beginning of the semester:
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you
In relation to the lecture, in which Marc described how he and his colleagues pay great attention “to the syntax of things” and are able derive quantitative measures from patterns of emotions and feelings and use these measures to make accurate assessments, maybe the poem is wrong. It certainly seems a waste of time and energy to spend years finding out the same answer psychologists are able to predict from a slice, then again, is the kiss worth it?

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-16 19:25:57
Link to this Comment: 18561

Will be most interested to hear, over the weekend and after, what you learned from our conversation w/ Marc today (and what you didn't: what questions did his presentation raise for you?). Further: how might his ideas be helping you to make sense (or not?) of The Scarlet Letter....

Hawthorne's Spoiler
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-03-20 11:31:44
Link to this Comment: 18610

Having already read "The Scarlet Letter" in high school, I feel that I have a bit of an unfair advantage in saying this, but as soon as I reread that opening scene at the jailhouse, I remembered exactly what happens throughout the rest of the book. Thinking about the descriptions of Hester and the other characters in terms of what we discussed in class with Marc, you know exactly who everyone is, who has done what, and what they will do in the course of the novel's events. You can tell that Hester is resilient and proud and good. You can tell that Chillingworth is (literally and figuratively) twisted, and you can totally tell that Dimmesdale's guilt is eating him up inside. My question is, if I know what's going to happen from the very beginning, why do I still feel compelled to read it for myself? I've torn through this book at breakneck pace, but for the second time. How does our dear friend Nathaniel do that?

Rereading The Scarlett Letter
Date: 2006-03-20 19:13:00
Link to this Comment: 18614

First, I have to say that my mom read this book to me when I was 8 years old.

Yeah, really. It's so funny now to look back at the books she chose to read to me between ages 7-10, and this was actually about par for the course. My mom's a brilliant woman, and I get that she wanted me to love reading as much as she did, but come on, who reads THIS book to an 8 year old?

I remember hating it, although I'm sure I didn't understand most of what was going on. In 10th grade, when I had to read it for high school, I hated it even more because of the way my teacher (a would-be Puritan herself) taught it. I don't really even remember it now except for what I've reread (except for who the father is; that knowledge didn't fade), but what's striking me most is that it's NOTHING like I remembered.

Maybe we didn't read The Custom House; maybe the way my teacher taught pushed us into interpreting Hawthorne's tone as one of judgment against Hester.... and now I'm wondering how I could possibly have read it this way. Anne asked me in our conference about something I'd written on my intro sheet the first day of class about how I used to love to read, but how I'd lost that reading-- and I think I've finally found the answer. The way these books were taught in my high school always came out on the overly moralistic side... the "we SHOULD hate Hester for her sin" side of things. I never would've picked up this book again if it hadn't been for this class, and I would've gone the rest of my life thinking that Hawthorne had just written a preachy novel about a trampy woman. I'm so glad I've gotten the chance to change my opinion.

Name: Laci Hutto
Date: 2006-03-20 19:13:48
Link to this Comment: 18615

Sorry, the above comment was me; I just forgot to fill in the name space. Whoops.

"I think you should sew a great big
Name: Amy
Date: 2006-03-20 19:50:34
Link to this Comment: 18617

Wow, I haven't commented here in a while. Oddly, less because of having nothing to say than too MUCH to say. I don't know what it is about The Scarlet Letter. I ostensibly read it in tenth grade ("ostensibly" because I read the first two pages and stopped- and hey, Mr. M, if you ever stumble upon this? I'm really sorry about that! Except I'm not, because wow, did I not care about this in tenth grade, and I think it would have ruined the text for me if I'd tried), but all that I remembered was, you know, "Woman! Daughter! Letter! Embroidery! SHAME AND GUILT."

So the part that I'm most focused on, with this reading, is how that shame and guilt works. Because I've always seen it as a book drowned in the concepts- I feel saturated with them more and more with every page I read- but everything I read/hear about it is more like it's a book about shedding those labels/ideas. I mean, that's what we talked about last Tuesday in class, and that's what I remember most from tenth grade, and that's what the Popular episode about the Scarlet Letter said. But... yeah, I don't feel it. I just don't. Don't even know why, but yeah.

(Side note: Anyone else remember that Popular episode? Anyone? "Caged"? With the six-person feminist lit class and the gay teacher and Mary Cherrys' webbed feet and the bizarre salad bar S+M scene and "My Scarlet Letter is C. For Confused"? I... realize no one but me watched the damn show, but it was brilliant and so very wrong and not at all WB material and yet perfect for the WB all at once. Seriously, that show was fucked up and awesome. I hope to God it is not coloring my interpretations of the novel, because seriously, man. Fucked. Up.)

Hawthorne, you are a tricky bastard.
Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-03-20 22:25:48
Link to this Comment: 18620

The Scarlet Letter was not this crafy the first time around. I am convinced that I'm reading a different novel than I perused (I can't call what i did actual reading) three years ago.

That said, WHY does Hawthorne make Dimmesdale's guilt so painstakingly obvious? Everywhere the minister turns, he has a pang of guilt, some evil feeling shoots up him, he feels intrinsically connected to sin/Pearl, etc etc. Yet..the suspense lingers, maybe because the thought of a badass priest is so intriguing. Seriously though - what is Hawthorne's motive for not performing the ever seductive witholding dance with the evidence of Dimmesdale's guilt?

I love the irony of Hester, the pariah/sinner/"witch" woman becoming the most moral, empathetic, respected citizen in town, more so than even the preists. I was confused, though, by Hawthorne's description of womanhood in chapter 13 - what is he getting at/what specific change is he advocating by saying, "woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change.."? very vague of you, Hawthorne.

Name: Steph
Date: 2006-03-20 22:26:36
Link to this Comment: 18621

by "crafy" i mean "crafty." just clarifying a stupid typo.

America, Emotion, SL
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-03-20 23:26:52
Link to this Comment: 18624

Since many of us are reading this in the context of a high school reading, I've got to start with: I loved this in high school. I think since there is an even more limited view of literature we take in high school (that is, concidering how limited our life experiences are at that point, and how limited they still are as mere undergraduates), so much of our opinions of texts have to do with where they were placed and how they were taught. I read Scarlett Letter as the first piece of prose in an American Literature course, and it set in motion a train of thought that followed through for a year of texts; thinking about the founding of America, the supposed ideals the country was based on versus what actually happened: the intersection of religion and state, morality and judgment, sex and love, crime and punishment, women and men, moral conflict an inner termoil.

So I hope we spend some time considering this in the context of American Literature which, though it is this that we are pulling our Big Books from, it seems to me has been missing from our analysis. [extra interesting in this text, as it is a pre-revolutionary text written a generation post-revoltion. But notice we call it "American" literature and not "Literature of the United States"]

Applying blink: I was very interested in Dr. Schultz's boiled down sentences defining emotions. No squabbling over motivation or expression, misdirection, truth, the gap between what people think, think they're portraying, and actually portray (I'm sure they've had these debates, and will have them, but they can agree on a few key sentences: Sadness is "irrevocally losing something dear." Anger, as Professor Schultz defined it, "someone being inconsiderate and demaning against me and mine."

So I'm wondering how to categorize what the townspeople feel towards Hester. Of all the complex emotions happening in the novel, this is interesting me the most. Literature is often extrmeley useful at describing the emotions of a group of people in a time and place in ways that let other people in other times and places understand it, and in ways that, for me, history, sociology, anthropology and the like aren't as succesful and convincing. (Ironically, I suppose, it often takes fiction to convey truth).

Though there's much to elaborate on, and I'm not sure I've explained anything, its almost midnight so I'll just throw down some examples and keep thinking for tomorrow. On how the town regards Hester: First!: "'This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die.'"(36)

Then: "Hatred, by a gradula and quiet process, will even be transformed to love... In this matter of Hester Prynne, there was neither irritation nor irksomeness." (110)

111: "They said that it meant Able, so strong was Hester Prynne with a woman's strenght."

Is A for Anarchy?
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-03-20 23:43:48
Link to this Comment: 18625

In reading the novel in high school, I read into the text that the A was for adultery, and Hester was being condemned for her sexual impropriety. Yet, in reading it again, hopefully this is true, I realized that there is no explicit message that the A is specifically for adultery. Yes, she is does have a child out of wedlock, and once she finds out her husband is alive, it is not only a bastard child, but an adulterous child. By a rational deduction, one could arrive at this being the conclusive meaning for her “A”.
You could, but I believe Hawthrone is a bit trickier than that. The action is much more than just an act of sexual impropriety, but an action against the community as a whole. Aside from the sex, she is redefining the community. A spiritual center, Dimmesdale, becomes a sinner, a respected scholar becomes a cuckolded husband, and a town based in morality has become a house of sinners. And that is not even including the implicatiions of a fatherless child. Her action has become a disturbance to the community, unhinging and unsettling it, and even a threat to refound it.
It is not just in her action, but how the action is received. The “A” has no power when it is removed from society, it is merely just a piece of clothing. Her sin is not the blood on her hands and her children’s, but a symbol she is free to interpret. In the forest, away from society, she is able to discarded it and be free from it.
However, when she comes back into society, the letter has meaning. It is not a piece of cloth that she has a discretion to place meaning over, but rather the property of the community, or even a pillar of the community. In a sense, the communities awareness of itself is rooted its belief in the reality and permanence of the letter’s meaning. The communities fear of a uprising within it comes to be it's definition. Intial action and the attempts to free remove the communities defintion of the letter are attempts to break from apart the society, replacing it with one Hester has an ability to shape and mold her ideal vision of what it should be. However, the reader sees that society is too large, too power fulfor her uprising to be any more than a feeble attempt, that in the end strengthens communities' belief in itself, even more than before.

Hot for Hawthorne
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-03-22 00:52:14
Link to this Comment: 18641

I thought a lot about Marc’s idea of ‘hot’ ___ (forgot the name, but the HAMs) when reading The Scarlet Letter this weekend. This book does a wonderful job at stirring up my emotions and judgments. I don’t fully trust my snap judgments when reading, but they are strong. By their strength alone, I might be convinced of their accuracy.

It’s also funny that with this novel I feel it is my right to participate in the storyline. But, unlike most times with books, I feel powerless as the reader. Instead of looking down from above and watching the plot unfold, Hawthorne has placed me unwillingly side by side with his characters. I feel uncomfortably close to them. My newly assigned position is dangerous and addicting. That’s the spell of The Scarlet Letter. Now that I’ve read this novel, while living alongside the people of this town, I don’t want to experience a book any other way.

Because of the way this book makes me feel (hot – ie. full of emotion and response) I must disagree with the idea that Hawthorne was a coward. The themes in this novel and especially the way Hawthorne wrote the ending, I think are brave. I leave this novel feeling anticipation of more, I still have questions, I’m still rattled with confusion, and overall, I leave with a sense of uneasiness. The fact that I remain restless after that final page is testimony to the power of this novel. It doesn’t come neatly packaged, but it still blows my mind.

Upon reading 'A'
Name: Jorge J. R
Date: 2006-03-22 11:50:37
Link to this Comment: 18643

Having finished the novel a couple of days ago, I keep going through the ending in my head trying to fight the feeling of disappointment in my head, but either I really didn't understand what Hawthorne was trying to achieve with his novel or I really don't agree with the decisions these character made at the end of it.

I was really engaged in the reading after all the (obvious) suspicions that I had been expecting to unfold turned out to be true. I was eagerly awaiting to see if I was right about the mark on Dimmesdale's chest, whether he was running away with Hester or not, and most of it turned out to be the way I expected it. But, what does that say about the characters?

I never truly believed that Dimmesdale would run away with Hester. It didn't seem to be that it was in him to do such a thing. But what was the use of confessing in front of such a huge crowd his sin right before his death? Sure, in terms of his beliefs it would have sent him to heaven. But in terms of our world and the practicality and use of things, what was the purpose of such a revelation? What did he solve? Did he absolve Hester of her sin in front of all these people? Not really; she even continues to war the 'A' upon her return. Was his honesty of any value to them? Did he teach them a lesson with his honest death? Probably not, as he would have soon been forgotten and if remembered at all his memory would have been stained by his scarlet letter. It seems to me that such a revelation from the minister should have come much earlier in the novel to be of any use for him, Hester and the rest of the community.

trying to contribute, not sure I've processed enou
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-03-22 14:37:44
Link to this Comment: 18647

...but the beginning of my ending thoughts (for now) on SL:

At first it was Dimmesdale who really got to me, and it was many things about his character, most of all the way he claimed that his own suffering in silence was some how quantifiably worse than Hester's public shame. And though it came from the 3rd person narration, I think my mind turned it into free indirect style; where the narrator slips into the thoughts of a character. It is meant to be thoughts, and not the narrator's or authors opinions (directly, I mean) but to represent the mind of the character.

Yet the closer I got to the end, the more it felt like it was not Dimmesdale, but Hawthorne telling me what he thought of the difference in the relative value or worth of Dimmesdale's versus Hester's punishments. THe final scene upon the scaffold seems to confirm this. Dimmesdale gets to proclaim that Hester's scarlett letter, "with all its mysterious horro, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast." (174)

Is this really what Hawthorne thinks? Not that authrorial intent is important at all, because I truly believe it is only one reading, no intrinsiclly better or more useful than any other interpretation. But I'm curious, at this point, if anyone else has any answers? Am I reading Dimmesdale as the schmuck Hawthorne wanted him to be seen as? Or is a modern reading of him?

In my quad group on Tues, we dubbed Dimmesdale the ultimate dead-beat dad.

In response
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-03-22 18:58:10
Link to this Comment: 18652

I was just thinking about what we were saying in class about listening and responding, and felt it my duty to respond directly to something that has been posted on this forum. I know that its a bit late in the on-going conversation, but there was one phrase that Chris wrote in the posting "A for Anarchy?" that struck me.
Ok, so I understand where you're going with most of the argument, but "Her action has become a disturbance to the community, unhinging and unsettling it, and even a threat to refound it." Where? I don't mean to be annoying, but where do you see this happening? How is her action threatening to untie the fibers of the community? Is the community disintegrating around her? If so, I really don't see it. More than anything, I think you could make the case that she makes the community stronger by removing herself from its midst. It becomes "Hester" v. "Not-Hester" and this faceless, amorphous character of "the town" gains something more like a structure by the mere fact that "she" is not like "them." I don't know. Just a thought.

Name: Margaret
Date: 2006-03-22 19:59:31
Link to this Comment: 18653

As a member of Jessica’s quad group, I agreed with our dubbing of Dimmesdale as the ultimate dead-beat dad. However, I did feel sorry for him in the beginning. Here is this sincerely religious man who strays a bit and decides to punish himself for the rest of his life for his sin. He is stuck with this fist of being a sincerely religious man. I think that his fist doesn’t fit his new situation as a sinner and he is unable to handle it and eventually breaks down. Is it his inability to change his fist that leads to his downfall? I’ve been having some issues with the ending of the book. During the rest of the book I wasn’t really moved to emotion. Don’t get me wrong—I really liked the book, I just wasn’t having the radical emotional shifts that I had gotten used to with UTC. But then the ending, and oh, was I angry at Dimmesdale. He was so close to being free with Hester. So close, and yet so far away. Could he have ever been happy again? I seriously doubt it. I had been moving along in the book feeling sorry for Dimmesdale and then he loses it and I no longer feel sorry for him. No, I still feel sorry for him as he clearly needs some help and has been needing it for a long time, but my immediate reaction was anger. How could he be so “inconsiderate and demeaning against me and mine”? What is the take home message of the book? I think I would have preferred to do the exercise we did on the first day of class now after everyone has read the ending. After class Tuesday I was left thinking about how Carpenter said that Hester and Dimmesdale had an “authentic American dream of a new life.” I can see his point, but what does it mean (if anything) that their American dream is leading them to leave America and go back to civilized Europe?

Chillingworth + Dimmesdale = ?
Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-03-22 20:34:12
Link to this Comment: 18654

Okay. Finished it. I'm left with so many questions, one being: What's the deal with Chillingworth and Dimmesdale? Why does Chillingworth try to "save" Dimmesdale from public humilation at the end when he had spend the entire novel seeking subtle, sneaky revenge on the priest? Is this some kind of male bonding thing I don't understand?

Also wondering - what was the 19th century reader's reaction to Hester being so much more commanding/authoritative than the priest? In the episode by the brook, he becomes so childlike, begging Hester, a "sinner," yet someone who is stronger than him, to make all his life decisions for him. I am weary to label Hester as a "strong" woman, as Hawthorne imbues her with so many conflicting feelings about herself and her situation, but I think there's something to be said for the stubbornness of her character.

Name: Emily
Date: 2006-03-22 22:19:56
Link to this Comment: 18657

In finishing the book, I'm left with a different question: what happens to Pearl? The impression is goven that she is married, but that just doesn't fit with her character. She is always described as elfish, disobedient, full of evil, witchlike... the list goes on. She has a constant intrest in "the black man" and his mark, and seems not to care for religion or a Puritan lifestyle. If anything, I saw her as becoming a sort of Mistress Hibbins or her like.

With all this in mind, it makes no sense that she would end up married, with a child, content to live in wealthy fancy. It seems like Hawthorne completely changed her character in order to give her a happy ending.

a call to arms?
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-03-22 22:25:38
Link to this Comment: 18659

Towards the end of class on Tuesday we began to discuss how the political beliefs of Nathaniel Hawthorne might have been reflected in The Scarlet Letter. The question emerged concerning whether or not Hawthorne is advocating action. From other pieces he has written it could possibly be argued that Hawthorne argues that taking action is wrong. Characters like Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and Hester Prynne are used to highlight the importance of regulating action and motion.

I have to admit that as I finished the book this was not the sense I got. I actually saw the story as a call to action rather than sitting around and hoping everything will sort itself out. There are several passages in the novel that I think emphasize the point but none more apparent than Hester’s plea the Dimmesdale at the end of chapter 17, “Preach! Write! Act! Do any thing, save to lie down and die.”\

By the end of the book I was frustrated because so much of the agony that the protagonists faced could have been avoided if anyone of them had taken a definite action. It did not make me hate the book but it made me walk away with the feeling that sometimes, no matter the personal risk, it is better for all involved to make some sort of stand.

identification with characters
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-03-22 22:32:31
Link to this Comment: 18660

Anne, you asked a really great question in my group on Tuesday; who do each of us identify with in the novel? I was just about to say hester when I realized, I'm really not like her at all. To me, Dimmesdale is not a man I would considers protecting. He's so cowardly. I'd like to read more of Mistress Hibbins. To me, she's just the most fascinating. Hawthorne probably knew that too because he keeps us yearning for her and only tempts us with the few words she speaks. The sister of the governor is a witch. How awesome is that?! She invites Hester to a covenant in the woods and I can just hear her seductress-like voice luring Hester to join the other women. Wouldn't it have been great if Hester said yes. Then again, Hawthorne would not have been able to include his line about Pearl saving Hester from such a fate. Though, a little witchcraft in her life might have been so fun.... so fun it's against Puritan rule... Hawthorne should have taken my advise.

Good Times
Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-03-22 23:28:58
Link to this Comment: 18663

As I get further into the book, I'm still enjoying it and I've moved past some of the past questions that were plaguing me. When Dimmesdale is first introduced, he seems like such a pale milquetoast that I couldn't imagine him having sex. And Hester seemed so passionless that any sex between them seemed unbelievably awkward. My modern mind kept saying, "How often? It couldn't have been more than once. Did she even enjoy it?" But during the interview in the forest, Hester is so tender with him that I could see how a caring relationship could have developed between them. I keep wondering about Chillingsworth. He's definitely a villain but everytime an example of villainy arises, he manages to turn it around to make it seem out of his control and that he is a victim. In this way, he's similar to St. Clare because we know he's a villain for keeping his slaves when he knows better but he always manages to spin the blame away from himself. Both men escape being evil, kind of like in Batman cartoons; some of the villains have good and bitter reasons for being the way they are. I was surprised Hawthorne doesn't let Hester tell her story about the Black Man and goes to a long pastoral description instead. Another question that keeps popping up for me is how the Puritans believed in witchcraft and evil. Where were these women supposed to learn about dark magic? If everyone knows everyone else in the town and their business, how would any woman become a witch without suspiscion?

The A is for...
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-03-22 23:43:23
Link to this Comment: 18664

As I'm reading the last chapters of the Scarlet Letter (yeah, I haven't finished, but that's my project before going to bed! I swear!) I'm really, really wishing that things could work out for Dimmesdale and Hester. Even though they look doomed--why, exactly, does so much "great literature" have to end so depressingly? Whale sinks boat, good people die, governess strangles child, romance ends badly? Is this just our class, or a greater trend? I don't know, maybe there's something about an unhappy ending that makes it seem more valid to us; maybe we're all, as Jill has said before, secret literary masochists.

I arrived at a rather odd idea of what Hester's A might stand for: Alchemy, the way that the A is the catalyst for changing her life and her character so much. But it doesn't just transform her, it transforms the community around her (there was talk of this being an anarchist idea, I seem to remember, although I couldn't tell you the context or the speaker right now). One of the things that actually helped me arrive at this odd conclusion was a painting by a friend of mine; she's working on a series of paintings called Alchemy, which are amazing. Her art portfolio is at and I highly reccommend checking it out if you feel like it-- especially this particular image,, really invokes the tragic-doomed feeling of the end of the book for me. Of course, this will all look silly if, after I read the next 15 pages, things turn out well. But I don't have much hope for that. That's one thing I've learned from the study of literature; don't expect a happy ending.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-03-23 00:03:16
Link to this Comment: 18665

Out of all the books we’ve read so far, the Scarlet Letter is, without a doubt, my favorite. I am of two minds in interpreting the novel: part of me agrees with the romantics who believe that “social determinism caused the disaster: Hester's passions are good, and society is evil for condemning her,” but I can also see Carpenter’s reading that “Hester sinned in putting romantic love ahead of ideal truth: she sacrificed her own integrity by giving everything to her lover.” I am not comfortable with the orthodox reading that Hester sinned through her passion and caused the tragedy.

I see Hester as a very strong woman, and I see Dimmesdale as pretty weak for letting Hester take all of the public blame. I wouldn’t have gone through all that trouble of keeping the secret for him. But then I see Hester as strong for enduring all that public humiliation and still maintaining her personal dignity. I don’t believe that Hawthorne wrote the book as a cautionary tale against adultery; but then, maybe that is because I don’t want to believe it. It’s not that I think it was great that Hester cheated on her husband, but the circumstances of the “sin” (she did not want to marry him in the first place; she had not seen him for years; she thought he might be dead) make the passionate romance that she could have had with Dimmesdale all the more forgiving.

But I’m just assuming that her sexual affair with Dimmesdale (the first time) was passionate and romantic. As Anne pointed out in class on Tuesday, we never actually get to read that scene. I’ve spent the last week grappling over the question of why I loved the book so much and I think that part of the reason is that there is so much room for interpretation. I think that makes it timeless. I love it that so much is left unresolved (especially after having just read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.) I really like the fact that Hawthorne says that Dimmesdale might have had an A on the flesh above his heart but that he might not have had one. I also really like the fact that we never know what happens to Pearl. Hawthorne suggests that she might have died or that she might have gotten married. But I hope that she became a witch like Mistress Hibbins.

Name: anna mazza
Date: 2006-03-23 13:56:12
Link to this Comment: 18672

so i really don't want to go back and forth on the scarlet letter...i'm a little overwhelmed with how much we've been discussing it - i feel like i'm breathing sneaky sex!

on another vein of thought, i was really impressed with class today. i know, for the person who really needed to zone out and relax that period, jumping around was the last thing s/he wanted to be doing, but i thought it was amazing. people who hardly allow themselves to be noticed in class were up - i thought it was liberating to see. being someone who rarely has trouble being noticed, it was wonderful to have the whole class up, moving, energized - oh i left feeling so jazzed. i hope i'm not the only person who is feeling this way... :-\ moving around made the class zip by at a clip and i loved the concept of literally thinking on your feet - performing without a script...ahhh, i thought it was such a success!

some feeling, late articulated
Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-03-24 00:29:52
Link to this Comment: 18675

Anna - I loved it too. You know me, always performing; but it was wonderful to jump in as a director-type, as the one manipulating someone else's words into new ideas. That's something I have trouble with in my papers - I guess I'm still wedded to the idea that the author's trying to say something and it's my job to figure that out.

So tonight I'm going to break away from that, a little.

We asked today what feeling gets us, what our emotions about/from/in/through the book do for us or to us, and I've been thinking about that. The words that came to my mind (which may or may not make sense, since I was trying to A-words) were admission, admonition, advocation and absolution. This book is Hawthorne's confession to me personally, and his warning that society can be crueland hipocritcial. It's also him advocating passion and love, despite the consequences - I sympathize with Hester and I think she's a strong woman, so I'm less afraid to be like her. Hawthorne and Hester tell me that if I must sin, it's better to sin boldly and bravely and honestly than to suffer like wussy Dimmsdale. I also see Hawthorne seeking absolution through the dying-breath confession of Dimmsdale; Hawthorne is confessing his own sins to the world and revealing his scarlet letter.

It may or may not be less painful to have your scarlet letter show to the public. But I certainly feel, from reading this novel, that it is more noble, more worthwhile, more natural to let it show. Hester is Able, Angel, Amazing, Above. Dimmsdale is Almost, Authority, Awful, Abominable.

And that drawing at the end of class today? I can't get it out of my head - I also saw half a donkey and half an elephant, but I saw a big red A and an animal without enough legs to get anything done. In the light of the title, Hunger, I saw a stigma, a lie, a fatal label - and a cumbersome creature that can't do anything about it.

But maybe that's just me.

Name: Laci
Date: 2006-03-24 10:47:41
Link to this Comment: 18679

Some thoughts from yesterday's class, that I couldn't really articulate in a 30 second period (and might not even be able to articulate now)--

I keep going back and forth on how I feel about Dimmesdale. I can't just write him off as "wussy," saying that he should have stepped up from the beginning and been publicly shamed along with Hester instead of bitching through the rest of the book about how much more difficult it is to keep his sin hidden. I think it *is* more difficult-- in addition to carrying the same kind of guilt as Hester, he has to deal with feeling like a hypocrite. Also, any time someone says something bad about Hester to him, he has to apply that to himself. Anytime someone from town speaks of Hester's sin, Dimmesdale must think that the same is true of himself.

I think from the very beginning he wanted to be open about the fact that he was Pearl's father. When he asks Hester to name the father for the townspeople, I think he's giving her the chance to share the burden. She's the one who makes the decision to take it on herself-- and thereby pushes him into his role of silent suffering. Throughout the book, I think he wants someone to find out and make his guilt public. When he's standing out on the scaffold at night, I think he's hoping someone will walk by and question why he's there... and connect the dots.

I think (in answer to Jorge's question about why Dimmesdale confessed to everyone before his death) the confession was just to ease his own suffering. He wanted all along for people to know, and he reached a point where he just couldn't hide it anymore. Maybe there were other reasons as well, but I think that was pretty much the point.... Easing his own pain.

So yeah, he's a wuss for not stepping up. But I think he's a little masochistic, too-- he suffers and suffers and at the same time wants to be publicly shamed.... I just think that he's got more serious problems than just being a "wuss."

Final thoughts on 'A'
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-03-27 00:19:46
Link to this Comment: 18690

First of all, I wanted to clarify that I didn't feel that I was 'wasting my time' while reading the end of the novel. This was mentioned in class this past Thursday and it's not entirely true so I wanted to clarify it. Yes, I was disappointed, but not because things weren't answered (I actually like the fact that some aspects of the novel remain unresolved and that I have options to fill in the gaps with). I was disappointed because I couldn't understand the motivations the characters had (particularly Dimmesdale) to behave the way they did in those last couple of chapters. But I didn't feel at any point that I was wasting my time with the novel: I still consider it a good novel, enjoyed reading it, and although I would've liked to understand these things better, I still feel the text has many other useful passages to contribute to our discussion of it.

Having said that, I've kept on thinking about the use of Dimmesdale admitting in such a pointless manner that he had sinned and I became curious in the idea that he may have done it not only for himself, but mostly for Pearl. When he is dying the elf-child comes over to him and cries. The narrator tells us that "a spell was broken" (p. 162) at that moment. It seems that by confessing his sin to the community, Dimmesdale set Pearl free. He set her free, first from the suspicion and disdain of the town for being a bastard child, but also he set her free from herself. As we know, she was an angry child, an odd child. She kept alienating herself from everyone and seemed to want to act violently against them. But by confessing, Dimmesdale sets her free from this anger she felt... he breaks the spell it has over her. And in fact, Pearl seems to be able to go on and live a happy, normal life without having to fight Puritanism in every corner as it seemed she would end up doing otherwise. There are still some aspects of this theory that I have to figure out (I'm actually partly talking about this in my essay), but I think that makes it better for me to cope with what before seemed to be a senseless confession at the end of the novel on behalf of the minister.

The end of the novel (SL)
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-03-27 20:01:35
Link to this Comment: 18700

After finishing SL for the second time in my life I am once again pleased with this novel. I was no less entertained the second time around, which I found gratifying. The only thing that was particularly annoying was Dimmesdale's actions at the close of the novel. Why does he insist on confessing his sin and "showing his A" ? It seemed to me like he couldn't leave well enough alone! Could he perhaps have survived to live on with Hester and Pearl (maybe he would have been weak, but still alive)?
The ending was good, but sometimes I am put-off by certain characters that, in my opinion, make bad choices in their lives.

I liked that activity we did in class where we moved from talking with one person to talking with four people and so on. What I liked was when we got to talk to one other person...that or in groups of four or less people. When we had larger groups I felt like the focus to the discussion was lost. I also liked the reading of the scene/acting was different.

belated thoughts on A scarlet letter
Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-03-28 01:30:38
Link to this Comment: 18708

I have to throw myself in with those of us who read this in high school and like it much better now. I was really pleasantly surprized with my attitude towards The Scarlet Letter.

With regards to Dimmesdale, I think he needs to man up. Yes, I agree with Laci, it is harder to not only bear the sin but also to be a hypocrite as a result of that sin. But at the same time, it was cowardly of him to try and get other people to confess for him (Hester on display) or hope that someone figures it out (on the scaffold, etc). At the end, it seems like he finally says "this is me, and this is what I've done", which I think is an interesting view of life. No one is going to confess your sins for you: it is your responsibility to own your mistakes.

I also liked what we did in class with the scene. I have to admit, I was relieved at first to be an audience member, but after I let myself get into the actual theatrical aspect of what we were doing, it presented a way of looking at the material that I hadn't realized before. To say "how would I be doing this -- what choices would I make -- if I were acting in this scene" helped in my own personal interpretation of the book.

That picture at the end of class has been disturbingly bored into my mind all weekend... what in God's name IS that? To me, it's a bizarre rendition of something that should be familiar (an animal of some type) that just looks grotesque and confusing. After looking at it for awhile, the only part of the picture I found pleasing (or, at least, less bothersome) was the A. A single "A" -- one of the first things you learn in school -- pure and clear and bright red. It seemed to me to be the salvation of the picture as a whole: without that A to look at, I would have driven myself crazy. I'm not really sure where to go with these thoughts though... just some observations.

philosophizing, economizing...and Big Books?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-28 13:23:12
Link to this Comment: 18714

We are hosting two visitors this week: We were given a "mini-lecture on the philosophical history of the passions and emotions" by Amelie Rorty this morning; on Thursday we'll be having a discussion w/ David Ross about "rational choice and economic behavior." Please post here your anticipatory and reflective comments, and/or musings on the relevance, to the BigBooks, of all this philosophizing and economizing....

Hester; The Ideal Citizen?
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-03-29 18:45:48
Link to this Comment: 18722

I found the guest speaker from Tuesday, Amelie Rorty, to be interesting. Her most staggering concept was about females not ever being able to be citizens. Obviously, I’m struggling with the idea that my whole life, I have just been preparing to become a good mother. However, there are worse jobs :)

Contrary to this sexist point, I think that Mr. Hawthorne gives women a vote of confidence. Within The Scarlet Letter, Hester’s identified first as an adulteress and secondly as a mother to Pearl. But, the story of Pearl disappears at the end of the book. I think that if Hester’s main job was to be a mother then the book would have followed her relationship with Pearl. Yet, Hawthorne doesn’t write that. He separates them and brings Hester back to the site of her social power.

What about the A for Anarchy? Was she not spurring on social change by challenging her community? I don’t think she was first motivated to have an affair by the thought that it might provoke revolution, but it is interesting to note her strong impact without aggressive intent. So, I think that Hawthorne writes about a very powerful and influential female citizen in his novel. I think his central theme surrounds her presence within the community, not her status as a mother.

still thinking about SL
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-03-29 19:35:33
Link to this Comment: 18724

So...I have come up with another theory of why Dimmesdale had to confess his sin instead of just letting it go. He was worried that Chillingworth, who knows Hester was going to reveal her secret to Dimmesdale, would expose them both publicly.

Amelie Rorty
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-03-29 19:45:52
Link to this Comment: 18725

Amelie Rorty's ideas about stoics were really cool. I think I had vaguely heard of some of that before, but it was really interesting to hear her talk about emotions and stuff like how stoics saw dying in their way versus a non-stoic.

I also wanted to comment on the "women not being citizens" thing. That sort of behavior has gone on for a long time and after that there was the feeling or idea that women were inferior to men so I find it hard to believe that there are people in the class that would be surprised by this idea. Maybe I didn't get the message correctly, but I didn't get the idea that she was saying, in todays world, women are not and cannot ever become citizens.

I didn't see much of a connection to SL...I guess it connected in the sense that Hester did not have as much power as the men did. I didn't see Hester as a stoic and I don't really think she was a non-citizen in any other way than the fact that she was not as powerful as the men in the town.

melodramatic again!
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-03-29 20:38:03
Link to this Comment: 18726

I began this book knowing about nothing about it. And at the end, once again I am struck by the melodrama! Dimmesdale's constant inner turmoil is fascinating from a psychological standpoint, at the same time it is SO MELODRAMATIC! Which doesn't necessarily take away from the book's effect, but is just something I can't seem to escape in these books!

I do think that Dimmesdale is the most interesting character in the book. While I agree with a lot of the other comments that he just needs to stand up and be a man, but at the same time his inability to act is something that can be understood seeing the consequences he could suffer and cause. His true suffering of his own mind in some sense is so much worse than anything society could have made him suffer. While excommunication is harsh, he was causing his body to physically suffer because of his mental suffering. I think a lot of us have experienced the times when you kick yourself harder about a mistake than anyone else can. That's Dimmesdale, case in point. That being said I have a strange almost clinical fascination to study how he manages to create such a physical manifestation of his fear, shame and sadness. I feel that the book does this question justice quite well indeed, which is something that struck me about the book greatly.

Owning Cancer
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-03-29 20:43:39
Link to this Comment: 18727

I found Amelie Rorty's lecture very interesting, especially the contention between different definitions of the passions/emotions/sentiments and the usefulness of it. The point that stuck with me was about taking control of your suffering by indentifying it - much like the ideas we discussed with regard to understanding emotion is taking control over them.

Her example about cancer was specifically appealing to me. The refusal to be victimized by a situation (as Anna said) by seeing its root in yourself is especailly effective in the case of cancer, which really is your own cells growing uncontrolled within your body, thus causing problems. It really is part of you and not this external force infringing on your space. While understanding that doesn't alleviate any symptoms of suffering, it does allow one to find a new source of anger - you can't really keep hating your cells for getting messed up, they are part of you.

stoics & buddhists
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-03-29 22:33:30
Link to this Comment: 18730

i also thought that amelie rorty's discussion of the way that views on emotion have changed throughout history was really interesting. like angeldeep i was struck by her explanation of the stoics. i have written my papers based on a buddhist perspective of good and evil and the first thing that stuck me when she was talking about attachments and suffering was WOW, THIS IS BUDDHISM! I wrote down in my notes that she said that we form attachments to people and places and things even though these things are not a part of our essential self. It is these attachments which lead us to suffer, but if we can learn to react in a different way when, say a friend dies (I think that was the example she gave) then we can engage with our pain and thus escape suffering. I am by no means a buddhist expert but from what I understand, buddhism teaches that the origin of suffering is attachment: to our bodies, to other people, to belongings, to anything. I did a search for the 4 noble truths, which focus on these concepts of suffering and attachment and found this website, which gives brief and clear descriptions of them if you're interested:

One thing this site mentions is that we can also become attached to ideas. This made me think about the categories of good and evil, which have been so much a part of our discussions of these big books. Perhaps our attachments to these ideas are what lead us to pain. Because we are attached to a conception of ourselves - the idea of the self also being a "delusion" or "imagined entity" according to the above website - we cannot avoid categorizing our "selves" and those of others as good or evil. In this sense we are attached at two levels: 1st to the idea that we are each a "self," individual and real, and 2nd to our notions of good and evil. Buddhism does offer a way to the end of suffering, which it describes as an eight-fold path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfoldness, and right concentration. It would be interesting to look at Hester in light of these eight steps to end suffering and see if she seems to do any of them. Perhaps I have a paper idea...

I'm still wrapping my head around these thoughts, but I thought I'd throw them out there if anyone else finds them interesting or thought-provoking...

Political motherhood
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-03-29 22:44:37
Link to this Comment: 18731

Please, someone, correct me if I'm wrong or missed a huge point or something, but it seems to me that there is a major, paradoxical flaw within Rousseau's system of thinking. Just let me see if I can get this straight: 1) Only the people who are truly autonomous are completely free; 2) Anyone who exists within a social system loses her/his freedom because s/he acts to please others; 3) Mothers are never truly free because they willingly sacrifice their autonomy to act on their children's behalf; 4)Politics is the key to re-obtaining autonomy. So far so good?
Ok, so what about politicians? What kind of politics are we talking about? If this is a monarchy with a single ruler, shouldn't he be acting for the good of his people? Isn't a good king one who acts in a way that will benefit the nation as well as himself? Isn't that the key to the prevention of revolt? What about in a representative democracy? Even then the representatives are acting on the peoples' behalf, right? Am I crazy? Am I too idealistic? It's the same concept as motherhood. In an "ideal" society, (and that is what we've been talking about isn't it?) the government serves its people. The stipulations of citizenship are based on precisely this of self-posession, and yet in a social situation, it seems that it is utterly impossible to be completely free, and politicians are the worst of all. They're just as bad as mothers for making decisions to support the common good, only they choose to serve this function in the community. You can't "accidentlly" become involved in politics the way that Hester got knocked up and "accidentally" became a mother. This is a decision to give up one's autonomy. Does anyone see the problem?

Amelie Fan Club
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-03-29 22:56:24
Link to this Comment: 18732

Listening to Amelie's history of the philosophy of emotions, particularly love, was absolutely fascinating. She put things clearly and simply, and had a vibrant classroom presence that made her endlessly fascinating. The Yiddish didn't hurt.

As for the content of what she said, it felt a lot like listening to the history of psychology, or the bits and pieces of it Prof. Rescorla sprinkles into her lectures. At first thought, the way things were concieved of in earlier times sound silly, even downright ridiculous. But then you get to thinking about how we got to what we "knew" then to what we "know" now, and therein lies the value of the history. Pondering the mental evolution of man, and making your head hurt because of it, are definitely things that I feel like we don't do enough, especially in English classes. We rarely talk about the evolution of literature, of storytelling as an art form...

I seem to have lost my train of thought. In conclusion, Amelie rocked.

Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-03-29 23:33:55
Link to this Comment: 18733

I found Amelie Rorty's lecture very fascinating; I was in particular interested in the little bit of time she dedicated to discussing the time in philosophy when people began to separate the body from the mind. It's generally treated as a good thing, I think (we have the stoics separating from their pain, both physical and emotional). I like their idea that you have to experience your pain in order to deal with it, but I don't like the idea of detatching. (The example of the person who said, to a man who'd recently lost his daughter, "What, you thought she was immortal?", made me horribly angry. That's just horrible to say, whether or not you think you're a great philosopher.)

What's the point of detatching from the pain of losing someone you love? Doesn't that mean you detatch from them, too? It's possible I really resist that idea because I'd much rather immerse myself in what I consider my "essential self"--at this point, it includes my body, and any pain that I might experience through it. I think I'm rambling here--but suffice to say that while I think the Stoics were rather clever, I really wouldn't want to experience life so detatched from everything. What would be the point of living if you weren't immersed in life?

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-03-30 00:03:54
Link to this Comment: 18734

Let me jump on the bandwagon: I liked the lecture a lot. And I, too, am stuck on the part where to be an ideal citizen, the woman needed to give up her citizenship. I mean, in a way it's the snake eating its own tail: to be a good member of society, one of the things you need to do is sacrifice your place in society.

And the ways that I tie this to Hester don't necessarily work; they're a little too tangled. But. Like. She had to give up her place in society because she did something which broke the norms, but then her place in society BECOMES, like, The One Who Breaks The Norms. So by being outside of society she finds her place in society.

...And then THE SNAKE EATS ITS OWN TAIL. Yeah, I don't know.

(Does anyone else feel like the books made more sense at the beginning of the semester, before all the work from all the classes wore you down to the point that forming basic sentences seems challenging and nearly insurmountable?

I... yeah. Me neither.)

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-03-30 08:29:36
Link to this Comment: 18738

I feel that a lot of the different ideas about emotions, feelings, and sentiments that Amelie Rorty discussed resonate in the Scarlet letter. Professor Rorty explained that people are often confused by and mix up ideas about emotions, feelings, and sentiments because these different concepts all have very diverse historical backgrounds. I think that Hawthorne was able to capture different emotions, feelings, and sentiments, and different readings of the book could easily highlight different perspectives.

When we read books for class, we often read them as stoics. We let ourselves be influenced by our emotions (which might really be sentiments) which come from an outside source. On one level, that source is the physical book that we read; and (although the stoics might not have agreed with me), another level is things that happen to the characters. Hester is forced to wear the A, so we feel grief and a certain kind of freedom because of that.

Having written the above, and in light of out class discussion, I am beginning to realize that maybe Hawthorne took on the complete opposite view of the stoics. As we have discussed in class, not a lot of things happen to the characters in the book. They commit an action and then the consequences of that action cause them to feel many different emotions and sentiments. Going over my notes, I can’t really pin point any theory within which this can fit. I guess I’ll need to think this through some more.

Irrational? But of course!
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-03-30 11:59:36
Link to this Comment: 18742

I am sitting in Guild and we just finished our class with David Ross about 15 minutes ago and I keep thinkning about what Anne said about how the literature that we have read in this class is all about characters that behave irrationally. Isn't that true of all novels?

Let me back up for a second. Economics studies trends. Economists are interested in group behavior and studying statistics and polls and finding out what the majority is up to at any particular point in time. They are concerned with the mainstream, with conventions and what some might call conformity. That's BORING. Who wants to read a novel about group trends for entertainment purposes? That's not Literature, (with a capital "L"), that's observational social science. That's graphs and charts and numbers. I want to hear stories about mavericks, individuals pioneers--the subversive freaks who behave unconventionally and do NOT conform. They're the one's that do interesting things. They're the ones worth writing about, and the ones that MOST people would prefer to read about. I want to read about the guy who wakes up in the morning and thinks he's a cockroach. I want to know more about the king that gouges out his eyes because he unwittingly kills his father and marries his own mother. I want to hear about the Puritan woman who has an affair with her minister, bears his child and is shunned from the community. Interest in the individual is not particular to the novels we've read in this class--that's entertainment.

Name: anna
Date: 2006-04-03 18:28:59
Link to this Comment: 18810

i dont know...i'm still left thinking about the economics discussion that we had last thursday. how does it relate? it was interesting, yes, but without help from allie (ally? allison!), i wasnt really able to make the connections from economics to the scarlet letter or emotions or...anything! where was that supposed to take us? did it do it's job? should i feel fulfilled when i clearly feel confused?

i dont know - it seemed a little off the beaten path - and we've been working SO HARD to carve out room for emotions and how to read them and what they mean...

amelie seemed more on the right track, but still a little ... "off". she was a trip and a half though, so it was great to sit though. philosophy is weird though - i was so relieved when she made that comment about how philosophers question and question and question, talk and talk and talk, but really all theyre doing is going around in a circle - getting nowhere...funny that she's changed her tune to ambivalence <-- i think THAT is truly hitting the nail on the head.

Name: Emily
Date: 2006-04-03 23:11:25
Link to this Comment: 18816

This has nothing to do with economics. I've been reading Huck Finn, and really enjoying it. One thing I was struck by right away was the similarities between it and The Catcher in the Rye. Huck has a voice much like Holden: it's a boy, in dialect, speaking about a rather mixed up life. Neither is exceptionally intelligent, and both occasionaly make very stupid decisions, but you can't help loving them. Of course, Huck doesn't seem to have the anger Holden does, but I'm still surprised. I wonder if Salinger used Huck as a basis at all, or if it's just a funny coincidence. Or if I'm making it up entirely.

One of my favorite aspects is how Huck can seem so dense when it comes to school, but he has incredible survival skills. He knows how a dead man floats compared to a dead woman, how to feign his own death, and how to make up inticate stories off the top of his head, just as if he were reciting his ABCs. I also love how he doesn't judge people. Everyone starts off on the same page for him. He doesn't mind the widow after a while, just as he doesn't mind living with his dad after a while (until he starts beating him too bad). He doesn't mind living with Jim on the island, or the Grangerfords in their home. He adapts to all sorts of people and all sorts of situations like a leaf in the breeze. I have trouble putting down the book because I'm so anxious to know what he'll do next!

Huck Finn
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-04-03 23:35:41
Link to this Comment: 18818

I started reading Huck Finn by skipping over the "Notice" and "Explanatory", however, I remembered what happened with Moby Dick so I backtracked and reread them and now I'm stumped. If we are not supposed to find a motive, moral, or plot in this story, what's left? Emotion? What is Twain's purpose in providing this disclaimer at the beginning of the book? The only answer I can come up with is that Twain seems to be taking the usual literary focus of motive/moral/plot off this novel and asking his readers to focus on something else- possibly a first impression, gut reaction, emotional response?

religion and language in Huck Finn
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-04-04 00:06:05
Link to this Comment: 18820

In reading the first section of Huck Finn several things stand out to me:

1. This book seems to have a lot less religion in it than the others that we've read so far. More so than religion, it seems to be overflowing with superstition. It is interesting that whenever religion does come up, it's never really understood. Religion is essentially metaphor and the metaphor seems to be lost on the characters in this book. For example, when Jim says that Balum decides to invest his money in the poor because he hears in church that "whoever give to de po' len' to de Lord, en boun' to git his money back a hund'd times" (57). He sits back to wait for his return, but when it doesn't come he decides the preacher was lying. The idea of spiritual pay off is totally lost. On the other hand, the superstition always seems to prove true. I'm thinking of the chicken/bird that predicts its going to rain.

2. The other issue I have is that of language. I am finding it difficult to read the passages where Jim talks for any length of time. I know that Twain warns us that he uses different dialects on purpose but Jim's speech is so choppy that sometimes I find myself skimming liberally just because I get tired of trying to decifer the words. The fact that Twain makes explicit in his "Explanatory" that he has "pains-takingly" reconstructed the different modes of speaking particular to each character makes it clear that it is important, but i wonder if it's value is not somewhat diminished in estranging the reader?

Huck FInn
Name: Marie
Date: 2006-04-04 00:42:15
Link to this Comment: 18823

I like Huck Finn so far. I feel like it kind of jumps around, but that's ok with me. I don't know how far we were supposed to read, but I just got to the part where Huck plays a trick on Jim (with the canoe and the raft and the dreaming). At first, I didn't understand what was going on, but finally I figured it out. And it was a very mean joke, and it really hurt Jim, and the whole thing really touched me cause Huck feels really bad about it and it makes me never want to be mean again. That sounds a little childish but oh well! I really like both Huck and Jim. I think Jim is very smart and wise- he offers different interpretations and though Huck thinks Jim doesn't really get it, he just sees things from a unique perspective, and one that I wouldn't have really ever thought of. And Huck is awesome, I would be so scared living like he does! But these difficult things don't faze him. And even though he lives this hard, unpredictable life, he is still really sweet and good, although it seems that most of the society of the time thinks differently of him.

Huck FInn
Name: Marie
Date: 2006-04-04 00:42:41
Link to this Comment: 18824

I like Huck Finn so far. I feel like it kind of jumps around, but that's ok with me. I don't know how far we were supposed to read, but I just got to the part where Huck plays a trick on Jim (with the canoe and the raft and the dreaming). At first, I didn't understand what was going on, but finally I figured it out. And it was a very mean joke, and it really hurt Jim, and the whole thing really touched me cause Huck feels really bad about it and it makes me never want to be mean again. That sounds a little childish but oh well! I really like both Huck and Jim. I think Jim is very smart and wise- he offers different interpretations and though Huck thinks Jim doesn't really get it, he just sees things from a unique perspective, and one that I wouldn't have really ever thought of. And Huck is awesome, I would be so scared living like he does! But these difficult things don't faze him. And even though he lives this hard, unpredictable life, he is still really sweet and good, although it seems that most of the society of the time thinks differently of him.

playing with Huck Finn
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-04 08:31:20
Link to this Comment: 18826

So..a couple of you got the jump on me! We're turning, this week, to the last of our big books. What strikes you, now, in this particular context, about Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? How does Twain's book looks different to you now from in h.s.? What were you taught to notice then, what are you noticing now? What do you think Huck Finn has to add (so far) to our conversation about the individual and the social? In particular: what advice does Huck (Twain?) give about the role of books/reading in our education? in our living? And (not forgetting the twined themes of emotion -and- reading/ emotion- and- thinking) how closely are your responses being guided by the child narrator? How much leeway do you have (do you give yourself?) to see things differently than he does?

first impressions
Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-04-04 09:25:11
Link to this Comment: 18827

I'm really enjoying Huck Finn. It's interesting for me, reading it again (especially after Uncle Tom's Cabin) and knowing what it means to be "sold to Orleans" and things like that, which I wasn't made aware of in high school. I also like the Picaresque-ness (can I say that?) of the novel -- the lack of a proper plot... a nice change from The Scarlet Letter. In response to Laine's question, I'm not really sure what we're supposed to do with this novel if there isn't a plot or a moral, etc, but I'm enjoying it for what it is at the moment, and maybe that's all that was intended by it...

I guess it's also the time of year when I can appreciate something a bit less formal... Huck's a great narrador, in my opinion, and I wonder what the book would be like had it not been written from his point of view. It is interesting though, what Prof. Dalke asks in her post, I'm not sure I leave myself much room to see things differently than Huck does. Up until now (when I was just made aware of it) I've been grooving along not thinking to question what's happening in the book. Maybe it has something to do with Huck being a child -- I'm more inclined to trust him. Did Twain indend this to be the case? If so, should we go along with it? I'll be interested to pay more attention to this as I read...

Name: sky
Date: 2006-04-04 09:53:47
Link to this Comment: 18828

i must admit I came into this book with a lot more trepidation than the others - in the past two years or so, I've tried to read Huck Finn three different times and never made it past the second chapter.

I'm proud to say I'm doing much better this time, and I think I understand why. What always stopped me and bothered me before was the use of dialects, which threw my brain into loops partly because my mom's nuts about grammar and spelling (so informal writing freaks me out) and partly because, being from the south, I kept trying to hear the voices and failing. I guess I just haven't ever gotten comfortable with Missouri accents.

This time around, it's such a relief after Uncle Tom's Cabin that I'm sailing right through. Also I'm remembering my own (misspent) youth and the fact that I was always a little in love with Huck Finn when I was a kid - my father read parts of this and Tom Sawyer to me years ago.

What advice does Twain give us about books/reading? It struck me very early on that he seems to share Melville's opinion that life is for living, not reading about, but that books and stories are worthwhile for learning and inspiration and shouldn't be used to distance us from the world. Rereading that, it looks a little complicated - let me try to explain. We read books to read stories to have access to things we can't otherwise feel (like nearly dying on a mad whaling voyage, or growing up as the woods-wise son of an abusive drunk) and to inspire us to seek more in our own lives (to make our own stories). At least that's what I'm reading into it.

Huck as the Narrator
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-04-04 12:14:56
Link to this Comment: 18831

Compared to the first time I read this novel in high school, this second round through I’ve noticed how fairytale-like it is. Not only is this a book about adventure but the main character, Huck, is constantly tied into nature. For example, when Huck is lying in bed (pg. 16), he describes listening to the sounds outside. He explains it as if different parts of nature (animals, the wind, etc.) are speaking to him. This element of the text makes the whole book more mystical. He’s a nature boy, a different version of Peter Pan, as Anna said in class today.

When it comes to looking at the ‘adventures’ in this book (another component that makes it like a fairytale), I think taking into account his child narrative is especially important. More generally, if you look at his life, with an abusive father and a mother who died early in his life, you understand that his tall tales and pursuit of adventure may be part of his coping method. I mean, if your father had you locked in a cabin in the woods, that’s a terrifying situation, and yet, the perspective he cares to describe to the audience is about his clever means of escape. He diverts attention away from the reality of the situation.

I think Huck might actually be a mature child because his abnormal place in society (essentially as the orphan and everybody’s burden) has caused him to grow up faster. I understand the idea that we cannot accept Huck’s narrative as whole truth, but I guess I am still willing to trust him in a different way. He may see many things throughout the story but only relay so much of that ‘truth’ to his audience because to say it all is more overwhelming than a child his age should have to notice and deal with. By painting his somber life with adventures maybe he is making it more colorful for his audience and more bearable for himself.

With this notion, I will continue to read Huck’s account suspiciously, but not viewing him as a liar or even as an exaggerator, but just as a boy whose purpose may be distraction.

Reading Huck Finn ... again, and for real.
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-04-04 15:43:49
Link to this Comment: 18834

It was interesting for me to think today about the "trajectory" of my readings of Huck Finn. I didn't actually read the book in seventh grade, but it was enough a part of the canon that I could use the book to write an editorial against censorship. Although I am still appalled that any book would be "banned," I wonder if my opinion would have been the same in seventh grade had I actually read the book. I don't think I would have been "allowed" to, at least not for a school assignment - and that is probably a good thing. I don't think a class of 30 12-year-old white kids could have dealt with the racial issues in the text in a mature way. But I wonder about how I developed my opinion of the book without having read it at all.

This was another book that we read for eleventh grade English, and I honestly didn't read the whole thing. Again, I think it is so much a part of the canon that it wasn't necessary to read it. Even without reading Cliff's Notes or Spark Notes (which my teacher accepted and even condoned - she claimed that we couldn't do well in her class if all we had read was the condensed version. I don't want to burst her bubble, but I came out of that class with an A) I had a pretty good grasp of the plot and themes. Huck Finn seems to be such a part of our cultural memory that it isn't even necessary to read it to sound like you have (or to write an editorial about it).

Then again, actually reading things is often very different from "knowing" them in a general sense. I'm thinking about my experience of actually READING the Bible, and how many discrepancies you find - between things people say are in there and what the words actually say. Will I find the same with Huck Finn? We'll see.

The Use of Reading
Name: Jorge J. R
Date: 2006-04-05 12:14:37
Link to this Comment: 18843

I find it very interesting how both Twain and Melville in their most famous novels both argue how reading is not really that important compared to the lessons we can learn if we go out there and live the same experiences ourselves. I had not noticed this similarity until we mentioned it in class yesterday and I am curious now about what is the value of reading a book. What is the use of reading? If instead of reading about whaling we should go out there on a whaling ship and experience it all for ourselves, what do we gain from books? Is Uncle Tom's Cabin only an important piece of literature because it helped raise awareness about the problems with slavery back in the day? Is the Scarlet Letter only relevant because it portrays a Puritan society that is unfamiliar nowadays to us? Why do we spend so much time reading? I don't know if I have any answers to these questions. I do love reading and I'm glad that every single day I get to spend hours and hours doing it. And it teaches me a lot about many different things and helps me reflect and develop an analytical mentality. But if I can gain the same skills from going out to the real world and living outside of a book, is then reading useful or helpful at all then? These writers thought it wasn't, or at least that seems to be the case. Then again, they did spend so much time writing such long books. And I'm sure that they expected others to read them just like I expect people to read this short rant about the use of reading. Maybe it is that the power of the written word does not compare to that of the spoken word. Maybe it is simply more practical to write an explanation or an account than to expect everyone to have the same experience. And in the end, I cannot drop everything in my life and go whaling like Melville would like me to do. But I'm glad that I was able to pick up a book and learn about it.

I used to be Huck
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-04-05 18:16:48
Link to this Comment: 18848

I'm getting very nostalgic reading The Adventures of Huck Finn again. I remember absolutely enjoying it and loving to play Huck when our class read out loud.. though I couldn't say Jim's words for anything. What I'm realizing now is that I seemed to have grown up since my initial reading. The best way to describe this feeling is that during my first reading, I was Huck. I was naive, I never questioned the authenticity of his information. I even looked up to Tom Sawyer like Huck does, thinking that Huck's usage of Tom's antics as justification for his dangerous acts was completely "cool." Now, I realize Tom is cruel... He is that friend that suggests you put the firecrackers in the old woman down the street's mailbox. The idea sounds so fun when you're 13 ... but after graduating high school, the reality of that dangerous activity seems to outweigh the fun thrill you would get by performing the action. As a grown up that mailbox blowing up wouldn't be something a 13 year old did on a summer day with his rascal friends... but incriminating action. I miss the innocence of that first reading.

going with the flow
Name: Emily
Date: 2006-04-05 21:37:33
Link to this Comment: 18854

Even after our discussion Tuesday, I can't help but feel that seeing the story through Huck's eyes is just as good as anything else. It gives a different view of the story, but it's a story nevertheless. This is the story of a boy on a raft trip, so it makes sense that it is told by a boy. I've found that I like seeing things through Huck's eyes. Everything is simple, with no thought for the past and no concern for the future. He lives life day to day, adventure to adventure. I think that Huck's narrative gives a unique view of the story, one that I'm not ready to give up yet! When I read the story critically, as I know I'm expected to do, I feel like I lose the true essence. Reading it for enjoyment seems like the best way to me. After all, Huck is just about the least critical character that ever existed, and all he does all day is sit on a raft and get into trouble. Reading it simply goes with the character of the novel. I know I'll have to justify myself more, but I'll leave it at that for now.

Huck Finn
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-04-05 22:15:53
Link to this Comment: 18856

1) I really like the beginning of the novel with the "notice" about not trying to find a moral to the story. I have already ranted about being pressed to find morals and how that can often detract from the enjoyment of reading, so this is a refreshing start to a classic book!

2) I also enjoy the lack of apparent religion in the book. It is not as in-your-face as the other books we have read and that fact makes the book open to focus on new ideas.

3)Laura said she sees Huck as a mature child and I do at times as well, but I can also see him as immature. For example, when he plays tricks on Jim, I don't easily envision an adult performing those actions. I suppose, though, that Huck is a child and I have to realize that he is mature for his age and what he has gone through (being basically on his own at this point and having a bit of wealth etc.).

Sometimes I want to be Huck
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-04-05 23:27:07
Link to this Comment: 18857

Unlike most of the class I have never read The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn before this course. My high school teacher decided he wanted us to devote time to the Deerslayer instead. I must say I am bitterly resenting his decision since Huck Finn has been fun to read so far. Huck has all the adventures we dream about having as children. His ambivalence towards schooling and becoming civilized hits a cord with me. Haven’t we all experienced the urge at some point or other to say to hell with it, and strike out for parts unknown?

In a way Huck is almost endearing because of his ability to set off for adventures in a way most of us cannot or will not. There is also an apparent honesty about Huck. As he tells his tale he makes no attempt to hide that he is less than perfect.

I do not, however, buy into the Notice at the very beginning of the story. The idea that the novel has no plot, moral, or, most importantly, motive is somewhat absurd. I tend to think this type of statement only makes the reader try even harder to find a point to the book. Huck’s account of everything from religion, his relationship with Jim, discussions of politics and monarchies, description of people living in the North and South, and the total humbuggery of the ‘duke’ and the ‘king’ all seem to be part of a greater critique of American society.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-04-05 23:44:27
Link to this Comment: 18858

I’m reading Huckleberry Fin for the first time, and I seem to be very self-conscious about my responses to the child-as-narrator aspect of the book. When I read “Turn of the Screw,” I trusted the governess more than I probably should have. (There was something in the back of my head telling me not to trust her, but I didn’t listen to it.) Now, I feel like I don’t trust Huckleberry Fin enough.

The novel will not let me forget that the narrator is a child. This is partly due to the incorrect grammar and humorous vocabulary mistakes, but more pressingly, to the pace of the book. It seems like Huck is telling us “this happened and then this happened and then this happened.” It’s as if it’s one big run-on sentence; a little kid telling a story. Huck is very impressionable and he has the psyche of a child; he’s constantly being influenced by different people. Because of this, it’s hard for me to trust him.

It’s not that I believe that he is lying or that the events I recounts never happened, it’s just that his reality is the reality of a child. The reality I knew as a child is very different to the reality I know today. I feel as if I have to go through the chronological list of events that Huck recounts and his impressions of these events, and analyze them more extensively. Nevertheless, that is not exactly what I am doing. I sort of prefer to adopt the mindset of a child and to just run with the flow of events. Maybe this is partly because of the fears I have of graduation…

Name: Marie
Date: 2006-04-05 23:56:52
Link to this Comment: 18860

I like reading with Huck as my narrator. I like hearing what he has to say and I like hearing his opinions and I don't see why I have to worry about trusting him or not. He may be young, but that shouldn't matter. I trust him as much as I would anyone else. This trust issue makes me think of the song by Simon and Garfunkel called The Boxer and in it there is a line that says, "A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest." It doesn't matter then who the narrator is, everyone sees thing as they see them, and you may see them differently, but then is it a matter or trust? A difference of opinion? an acceptance of other's opinion? There is a lot of focus on trusting Huck particularly, but isn't that just what happens when you read a book? I'm kind of confused but anyway,I still think that Huck is pretty good for his age- he provides for himself just fine and in a lot of ways, doesn't act like a child at all. If I lived like him, I'd be an emotional wreck, and always worrying, and he does worry too but generally he lives for the day, and isn't that what people are always saying to do?

Just some ideas
Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-04-06 01:04:15
Link to this Comment: 18868

I am enjoying my first reading of Huck Finn very much so far. I am a little intimidated by Mark Twain’s reputation as a wicked satirist. Whenever any writer is witty, critics say “he’s the Mark Twain of our generation.” I don’t know the differences between humor, satire, wit, etc but I know Mark Twain has a reputation the size of a steamboat. I’m still thinking about the racism in Huck Finn; I can’t really say “nigger” aloud and there is some obvious stereotyping. I hope this class won’t be an exercise in getting me to admit I’m a racist. Some classes that discuss race degenerate into guilt, anecdotes, and pointed questions. I’m enjoying the child’s narrative but, like kids do, Huck doesn’t edit his thoughts, so they include many more minute details than are necessary. I was thinking about Melville and Twain and their sort of anti-intellectual, outdoors man attitude and part of it annoys me. I enjoy reading the descriptions of nature and stories about people who break away from society and live wildly, but honestly, where do they get off as writers telling me reading is a waste? If books are counter-embracing life, why are they writing and publishing books instead of hosting safaris and hunting? Just a thought.

ps. is there any way to cover my email address from past postings? i started getting spam for prescription durgs and i think the forum is why

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-04-06 02:34:04
Link to this Comment: 18869

Reading Huck Finn is like coming home.

At first I wasn't sure why. I mean, I saw a play of Tom Sawyer, I had an illustrated biography of famous writers, and I think I had a paperback copy of either Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn when I was younger- I don't even remember which, which probably tells you a fair amount about my investment in it at that point.

Then I realized. I study YA lit. After a semester of struggling through books which, whether or not they were thrust at you in high school, are clearly aimed at adults? Here we have a book which can be read as a forerunner of YA lit.

I am almost freakishly excited at this change.

I find the dialect frustrating, but I'm so pleased to be approaching from a child's POV that it's far outweighed; Huck provides a way of looking at a text which is completely different from that of our previous adult narrators, both because of innocence which makes some parts of information, and for honesty which adult narrators are all but incapable of achieving. Child as narrator to tell the truths that adults have been trained not to tell: it's so crazy, it just might work

feelings and awareness
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-04-06 09:26:04
Link to this Comment: 18871

The “trash” conversation between Jim and Huck in ch15, in which Jim is very hurt that Huck would worry and lie to him, was a real indicator for me that Jim has taken on the role of Huck’s parent .When Jim ‘terprets the dream into a lesson aimed at teaching Huck to behave himself and to keep on track of their goal of reaching free states, through his ashamed response to Huck’s lie, Huck also learns that his actions affect others and can cause them emotional pain. It is a very typical parent thing to say something along the lines of “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed”.
It is also interesting that Huck seems to be of two minds with regards to Jim: On one hand, Huck knows that society places him above “niggers” and he has contempt for Jim as a nigger and on the other, Huck knows and loves Jim as a person and as his friend/father figure. This dichotomy is seen in Huck’s response to Jim’s trash conversation when he feels both remorse and pride for his lie. “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go an humble myself to a nigger—but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d known it would have made him feel that way” (end of ch15).
Unfortunately, Huck’s “conscious” is torn by these conflicting views of Jim and feels guilty in “helping” to free him. Especially striking for me is the passage about Jim stealing his children. First, Huck a child who is running away and relying upon and enjoying the help of Jim, and second, Huck attributes more ownership of Jim’s children to the slave owner than to Jim himself.
I think that Jim’s analogy of the Frenchman who is not treated like a man in America because of his language and cultural differences, even though he is considered free, indicates that Jim was aware of how Huck is of two minds and is trying to show him how to think otherwise.

Huck Holden
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-04-06 09:31:07
Link to this Comment: 18872

I agree with Emily's post at the beginning of this thread. Huck reminds me very much of Holden Caufield (whose story I loved, by the way, probably because I didn't have to read it for school). The two tales definitely start out on similar notes, with a young boy living in a situation that makes him distinctly unhappy, and it following that he goes out into the world to have some unusual and not so unusual things happen to him in his search for happiness, wholeness, and meaning. Granted, I feel that Huck is far less apathetic and depressive than Holden, but the general idea is the same.

I'm interested to see how reading Huck Finn will measure up to my previous experiences with it (aka the BBC--I think--audio presentation which I still have on tape somewhere at home). For one thing, I believe the version I know is slightly abridged, and made a tad more suitable for children. Also, there's just a big difference in general between hearings something and seeing the words on the page. I wonder how they're going to impact me emotionally, as well as in my visualization of the story.

Huck So Far
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-04-06 14:59:03
Link to this Comment: 18878

During discussion in class on tuesday I found myself in a group with two others who never read Huck Finn in high school. So to discuss the question at hand we chose to use our general impression of how books are taught at the HS level and trying to understand how then would Huck Finn be taught. We decided that it would be taught so that by the end of the teaching session students woudl be able to fill out questionares that ask questions like 'moral of story is ..' 'main theme of story is ..'

I was also one of those who didnt read the few notes at the beginning of the book, entirely missing the Notice at the beginning telling us to not try and find motive, moral or plot. These are probably three of the key questions that would be on the aforementioned questionare that would tell teachers whether kids understood or didnt read the book.

Huck is asking us to come and experience what he did and accompany on his playful adventures. Moral and logic be damned. While I do see the problem with entirely trusting a child like Huck as a reliable narrator, I do still want to preserve the playful part of the book, just coz it'll make the last Big Book go by a lot faster,

An amusing sidenote
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-04-06 15:02:38
Link to this Comment: 18879

An application of Huck Finn to real life:

A fellow classmate lives on the same hall as me, and yesterday (on my birthday) i found a note on my whiteboard that pictured two boys on a raft on a river saying 'Huck and Tom couldnt just go by without wishing you a happy birthday'

Race in the classroom
Name: Chris
Date: 2006-04-06 19:42:52
Link to this Comment: 18883

I don't think talking about race is brave. I think that it is an example of the key problem with the current state of academia, and shows a distinct fear of race.
Racism is not based on rascist. That would be very simple to understand. Even growing up in a community with great racial tension, there was very few "rascist" that existed. In our discussion, we construct a world in which racist can be identitified and villified. Yes, they do exist and what they believe is harmful, but it is not the particular rascists that are the problem.
The community is the problem, as the community is racist culture. I am a part of that culture. In the action I do, in the decisions I make, I perpetuate a culture of racists that continue to suppress Latinos and blacks. This is not because I am rascist, but it is because I am part of a community.
Putting the "liberal" nametag on makes one feel like they stand above the horrible things. “I am not prejudice, I am accepting according to the ideals of liberalism. Therefore in dealing with the issue of rascism, I am only there to analyze and criticize, and hope a better world will come along”.
That is a bull shit. To think that there is an imaginary line that separates us from the people "enacting racism" is a childish idea. In every action that complies with the current system, we are helping to perpetuate a system in which Blacks are treated as lesser people and women are thought of as second citizens. We are building a glass ceiling.
But how do we face this problem? We talk about it. We discuss what are the societal consequences of a racist community. We talk about how racists jokes are bad. We are that community. There is a part of the joke in each and everyone of us. Yet, we still distance ourselves, standing behind the infallible armor of the analytic to give terms to this. Instead of hugging the beaten child, we label. We worry about the “Economy of Warmth in a broken home” instead of trying to make an effort to fix it. Then in an hour and a half, after class is over, and we goto lunch. Nothing is solved, and outside of the classroom still exists a world that is full of sadness, injustice and hate.
I don't mean to say that I have an answer, I just believe that we need to be more honest. When we bring ideas of race into a classroom, we need to understand that we do not stand wholly separate from the evils that exist in the world.

First Impressions (from Tuesday)
Name: Jillian
Date: 2006-04-06 21:30:19
Link to this Comment: 18884

To be honest, I never read Huck Finn prior to now. I grew up listening to the BBC radio drama on tape (ironically enough, with some of the same voice actors who did BBC's Lord of the Rings). Back then, this story, to me, was purely an adventure tale, and I never once thought to question the validity of Hucks' claims. Lately, I've been wondering whether or not he might be a bit prone to exaggerating. Also, I didn't ever really think about the role race played in the story, although age was a definite preoccupation. Huck being so young, and his traveling companions being adults, is strange when you think about the fact that Huck is, really, the least childish of them all. He is, as much as a fourteen year old boy can be, rational and responsible, and in his journey for the adventure of it, whereas the adults tend to fall under the categories of impetuous, impulsive, and self serving (perhaps with the exception of Jim).

As for the concepts of "the group" versus "the individul", we don't exactly get a lot of good representations of the former category in this book. The mob that went after the Duke and the King, the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons; anyone who is part of a group in this book seems to make poor decisions that involve hurting other people. Where the are examples of that in individuals, such as in Pap, the Duke, and the King, others, like Huck and Jim, seem to be better for it. Left to their own devices and forced to make choices for themselves, they're much more apt to reason things out and behave in a somewhat logical fashion which, in the end, makes them a hell of a lot more likeable, and their stories far less irritating to read, because you're dealing with characters you don't want to beat over the head with their own ignorance.

Name: Margaret
Date: 2006-04-06 21:45:26
Link to this Comment: 18885

Just to clarify, the drawing on Angel's board was of Huck and JIM, her hallmate is completely aware that Jim is Huck's companion on his voyage, not Tom...

Moving on, I found our discussion in class today regarding the issue of race and how you would address it in a high school classroom interesting. When we read the book in my high school class, we voted whether we would use the word. Our teacher explained that if anyone in the class felt uncomfortable with using the word (voted no) then we wouldn't use it. No one voted no but we, the students, still avoided saying it as much as possible. I don't quite know where I stand on using the word, but then there are alot of words I'm not quite sure I know where I stand. I've also been on the lookout for these racist jokes we are supposed to bring to class and have been having no luck. I even resorted to calling home and asking my parents who responded with "no, of course we don't know any" and "what kind of class are you taking anyway?" In many ways, it isn't so much the racist terms themselves that are the most offensive, but the way that they are said. My mother used to tell me that it was the tone that made the music. The confusing thing about racist terms is that the term/music itself comes from an offensive place. So when we use the terms in academia, and, hopefully, aren't using an offensive tone are they still offensive? I think the main issue I have with this topic is that I can't really speak from experience. After asking my father about racist jokes we got to talking about this issue. I mean, yes, someone could call me a cracker, but I don't get offended. I don't think being told that you are a slaveowner (as in crack of the whip) is really offensive (the fact that my family has always lived in the north and no one ever had enough money to even have a slave anyway also reduces the offensiveness). So, yeah, I guess the gist of this is, I don't know what I really think about this issue.

Huck Finn
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-04-06 23:32:35
Link to this Comment: 18887

So, I'm halfway through Huck Finn (and yes, I'm reading for real), and I think I'm finally getting the humor. I never really understood why people thought Mark Twain's novels were funny (although I have definitely heard some good individual quotes), but that's probably because SparkNotes is such dull reading.
I enjoyed our discussion today, particularly when my group was discussing whether we think it is important to look at group or individual action in literature. The first thing that came to mind for me was our context in an American lit. class, reading only novels. I'm iffy on genre definitions, but I am pretty sure that being a novel has something to do with looking at an individual character. American literature, as inspired as it is by our individualistic culture, almost HAS to follow the development of an individual. When we have been looking at "group behavior," we tend to think of "the group" as a singular character - specifically, I'm thinking of how we frame some dichotomies, like "Hester versus the town" or "Ahab versus the crew." I think our mindset when coming into literature makes us very attuned to issues of the individual.
I also enjoyed getting to "practice teach" with the class (obviously ... apologize for my possibly overbearing enthusiasm). One of the only things that I really miss about high school was the opportunities to teach other people. It may have been good pedagogy or it may have been my teachers' excuse to not have to plan a lesson on their own, but we frequently had to "teach" the class or lead discussion. I enjoyed the challenge of doing so and it really reframed the way I thought about literature in high school. I wasn't just thinking about how/why I personally enjoyed books or related to them - it got me to think about what I thought the book was saying, how it was saying it, what I thought was important ... and then it made me think about how you construct an hour in the classroom to share that with other people. I think the fact that I enjoy that process is why I'm becoming a teacher. Fun stuff, that.
Unlike Margaret, I have had no problem finding racist jokes. I had to start typing them because friends/family/boyfriend were telling them too quickly for me to keep up writing by hand. I don't consider any of the people I asked for jokes to be "racist," but they were all very familiar with lots of racial jokes. I asked in the beginning of a sociology class on Wednesday, and the TA had one to share - she went to school quite a long time ago, and said that it was acceptable in her school to tell jokes like that in public. She had lots to share. I've been thinking about my reactions to these jokes. Part of me feels uncomfortable laughing at them, because they are undeniably racist and offensive. But they are also "good jokes" - there is something clever in them that makes them effectively racist. Is it wrong to laugh at a joke like that, even when you recognize the underlying belief is wrong?

the Elephant
Name: Jessica
Date: 2006-04-07 10:49:01
Link to this Comment: 18891

I'm very struck by Chris's and Margret's thoughts on racism, which seem to reveal a fundemental split in the way some people talk about racism. Chris (and correct me if I'm misquoting you), wanted to stress that it is aculture of racism at work, and we are all a part of it, inevitably perpetuating it simply by being a part of it.

Meanwhile, Margret expressed that she has trouble talking about the issue because she has never faced racism directed towards her. Following Chris's line of thinking (but not trying to know what he would say exactly), it figures that of course Margaret hasn't experienced racism in this way. She's part of the system of it. (?)

This divide, the insitution of racism versus the individual experience of racism, does seem like an important one to clarify before whe jump in, because so often people sit down to discuss these issues and don't know where they, or each other, are at. Which one does this class want to deal with? Are we going to share anecdotes, relate things to ourselves, read the racism using academic criticsm, make sweeping generalities about "society," ?

We are a college with ghosts and guilt in our closets. I've taken two African American Literature classes in English House. During the second class of each, the primarily not African American (though not white, just not African American) students need to spend at least an hour dealing with the fact that they are going to be talking about African American literature. Can we critcize it? Can we ever understand it? Are we allowed to relate? Should we bother to compare, contrast?

Virtually every student in the room trots out their own minority status (Jewish, Muslim, Native American, poor family, immagrint family, Lesbian, Latina, Indian, Korean American, Female, Budhist, Ba'hai, etc), talks about the time they or their people were the victim of oppresion. Then we have to admit that while other attrocities help us understand, the situation of blacks in America is unique and complicated in its own right. Then we accept that we're going to read this as a work of literature, and that the race we are cannot stop us from that, or we'll never move forward. And then we start the class for real, and inevitably we have an amazing semester of academic and persoal challenges.

None of this would be possible without Professor Linda Susan Beard's brilliant piloting. I asked her in January if it got exhausting teaching a class where everyone brings in such emotional baggage, if she ever wished we would behave just as we did in, whatever, "18th Century Poetry." And she said, "Oh, '18th Century Poetry,' if it's taught right, has just as much baggage."

Since that conversation usually takes so long, I thought I'd put it up here, we could review it, make like(Tom Sawyer style)we'd had it, and dive in.

teaching HF
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-04-10 23:00:45
Link to this Comment: 18949

After reading what TS Eliot had to say about Huck Finn, I agree that although it is a book about a boy, it is not appropriate for boys Huck’s age to read it. Considering the difficulty that we had coming up with lesson plans for a high school class reading Huck Finn, perhaps the book was banned from many curriculums not only to due of with the excessive profanity, but also because it was hard enough for adults to deal with the novels themes, let alone teach them to children. The idea that there is no moral or authoritative adult interjecting narration and judging the characters actions in HF, as there is in Tom Sawyer, definitely puts a huge amount of pressure on an adult who would attempt to teach this novel in terms of a childhood, an account of the antebellum south, a runaway’s escape from an abusive home, all of the side events(Duke, Shepardsons), and have to “moralize” the actions and beliefs of the south, an unreliable narrator, and deviant adult characters.

multiculturalisms, racisms
Name: Steph
Date: 2006-04-10 23:01:29
Link to this Comment: 18950

After reading Jessica, Chris, and Margaret's postings, I have to confess that despite almost a year at bryn mawr, i still feel very caught up in high school conceptions of racism, multiculturalism, etc. racism is something we talked about from a distance, and only when reading novels by authors like ralph ellison or toni morrison. we "celebrated" the 50th anniversary of brown v board by having a poster contest with monetary prizes. no discussions (or "conversations" as we call them here) or even mention, really, of the MEANING of this event to the people it affected.

with that said, all of these ponderings about racism and how we approach it, can't escape it, etc make me nervous and anxious. i see the racism over and over in huck finn, and i don't know what to do with it, i don't have the tools to deal with it, to analyze it, to crack its code for some kind of meaning. i'm not even sure that those tools exist.

no matter how enlightening our discussion about race is in class this week, it will still always bother me that there seems to be absolutely nothing we can do about racism, i will never understand it in all its intricacies. how do you deal with these frustrations in the classroom? as much as i share alison's dislike for twain telling us to get out there instead of read the book, it seems like that's the only way to actually encounter and positively change (?) anything relating to racism, or any other -ism.

race in the classroom
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-04-11 00:00:22
Link to this Comment: 18951

I have to say (to be honest) I did feel uncomfortable when HF was being read and the specs were in the class because they were the only black students in the class and the particular scene being read used the word "nigger" many times. I have no qualms with using the word in the classroom in a teaching manner (not outside of the classroom), but it seemed like we didn't really discuss the word at all before we used it and it was like that saying about the elephant in the room. It was soooo uncomfortable! I liked being able to say how I would have done things differently if I was teaching a class and that word was being used in readings.

teaching Huck Finn
Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-04-11 03:03:59
Link to this Comment: 18957

I think the issue of Huck Finn's appropriateness for high school students is very interesting...

While I agree that this is a novel that tackels many important cultural issues, I don't think it's beyond the capacity of high school students to grasp and talk about those issues. Maybe I'm being naive and idealistic, but I think that part of a way of addressing these "uncomfortable" topics of race, class, etc is to expect that high school students should be able to handle them. By banning books like Huck Finn from the high school classroom, we are sheltering individuals who could, and should, have an understanding of race relations in more than just their own lives. I can't help but feel, whenever there are discussions about book-banning, that, for whatever reason, it is a discussion about choosing to ignore certain unpleasant parts of our history. Banning Huck Finn seems to be saying "let's pretend that white Americans were never as racist as this book says we are" or, at least, "let's wait until our kids are in college before telling them about this part of our country's history because they just can't handle it before then".

(...and it's getting late and I'm getting tired... so my appologies if this is a little rant-y)

Black Cats and Haunted Houses
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-04-11 09:24:47
Link to this Comment: 18971

The thing that's struck me up to this point is something that's often talked about concerning this particular tale; namely, Huck's superstitious nature. The impression I got was that he picked it up from his father, although the only evidence to suggest that is (1) the cross in pap's left boot heel, and (2) all his rantings about the devil and ghosts and whatnot. Sure, Huck has some of those religion based types of superstitions, but he also adheres to mundane ones, such as the one about spilling salt, and other ill luck omens. It makes me curious as to what his childhood was like, and what happened to him to make him wary of -all- superstitions, not just a few specific ones that he may or may not have had experience with.

Also, a question that's been weighing on my mind for some time. What was Huck's mother like? And who the heck would marry a guy like pap? Was he not an alcoholic before his wife died? What's the story there? Inquiring minds wants to know!

Name: Amy
Date: 2006-04-11 09:42:41
Link to this Comment: 18974

So I was just going to check in before class, so I'd know what we're doing, but now I feel compelled to respond.

Most of the discussion about if this is going to be appropriate in high school or middle school classrooms hinges on whether WE find it appropriate. Like because we're all uncomfortable using certain words, or discussing certain topics (and, yes, I am as well), younger students won't be able to handle it.

And, you know, they probably won't, in some ways; the complex political satire and everything might not go completely above their heads, but they'll certainly have a different view of it than we will. I mean, seriously, I know that I'm getting a shallower view of it than I should be.

So let's say they're reading Huck Finn as a story. They're sitting down and enjoying it as a tale about a kid and a man and all the things happening around them. Maybe they're getting a little bit of the race. Maybe they don't care. Maybe they're getting their feelings about racism from Walter Dean Myers and Chris Crutcher instead of Mark Twain, and from him they're learning how to interpret 19th century language and maybe a little bit about what satire means. Is that inherently bad? Do we have to understand the entirety of a text to understand the text at all?

Because, I mean, seriously, if we do? I'm just giving up now. Let me know, and I'll give back my copy of Huck Finn and go back to Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists. That one might not be a classic, but I'm pretty sure I'm getting all of what I'm supposed to be. Also, it has an exclamation point in the title.

chew on this...
Name: anna
Date: 2006-04-11 12:56:57
Link to this Comment: 18981

forget trident and check this out - ernest hemingway was noted to have said this:

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. ...all American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! hemingway is telling us that we should ONLY be reading huck, when twain tells us to bug off!

one more thing...
Name: anna
Date: 2006-04-11 13:01:24
Link to this Comment: 18982

i have a thing hanging in my room with this quote on it, which im sure lots of you have heard, but i thought it was related to today's lecture: "blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves for we shall never cease to be amused"

i cant help but agree - there was a comedian i saw once, who was one of the MOST un-pc people ive heard speak (no, not chris rock) and this guy literally made fun of EVERY SINGLE ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background...and i think theres really something to just LAUGHING!

tragedy, comedy, revolution, & avoidance
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-04-12 10:29:16
Link to this Comment: 18995

I am having some trouble regarding the deterministic aspect of tragedy that was presented in class on Tuesday. Certainly of with the example of the Scarlet Letter, the entire trajectory of the novel was present to the reader in the first chapter of the Customs House, however, despite its comic elements it think it would be hard to completely separate Huck Finn from the classification of tragedy in terms of this definition. If HF is a recollection of childhood events or a compilation of memories, then isn’t the outcome already known by the author/narrator who has experienced the events and for whom these events determined his life course? Also, I think that we need to give more consideration to the mechanism of the river. There exists a clear distinction between the Mississippi River and the land. On land, the characters seem to be able to have more control over their own actions and situations, whereas on the river they are at the mercy of the current (ie: when Jim and Huck pass by Cairo). Inasmuch as the river is a distinct course, it is a deterministic force in the novel and carries with it an element of tragedy and helplessness, despite the space for comedy that it puts between the characters and tragic land events.
This space for humor is also interesting because it seems that what one needs is actually physical space or distance rather than space of time to foster comedy. In the SL, seven years passes from the time of Hester’s ignominy on the scaffold, but life in Salem remains pretty grim and Dimmesdale certainly doesn’t joke about the adultery or lighten in spirits as time goes on. Maybe this is because all of the characters connected to the tragic event find themselves somehow attached to the site of the crime, as does Hawthorne finds himself connected to Salem. Perhaps this example suggesting that people would rather suffer than do anything to conquer what is causing them pain.
Contrary to this example, Huck is constantly running (or floating away) and so avoids having to think or judge his situation and behaviors for any length of time. The last line of the novel: “I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest” tells the reader that Huck will keep on separating himself from being “sivilized” and so can continue to make tragic events humorous despite the deterministic aspect that they will occur. I’m doubtful that humor is revolutionary for Huck, in terms of helping him to destabilize norms and show their absurdity, if all he does is to avoid those norms. On the other hand, a bit of Huck embraces the norms of boyhood as they are embodied in Tom Sawyer, so that he strives to emulate rather than expose those norms that he admires.

HF...the lucky nightmare? a wake up call?
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-04-12 19:54:44
Link to this Comment: 19006

Anna’a postings make me smile. I’m not so keen on Hemingway, but I do adore equal opportunity offenders. All people are ridiculous! How can you not laugh at everyone and yourself almost all of the time?

Now, to HF…How badly does everyone just wanna bash the heck out of Tom Sawyer? What a weasel. (grrr) Tom Sawyer is disappointing, but so is the end of this novel. As Anne would say, it all turned out ‘cute’. Everything wraps up nicely just in time for Huck to say adieu. But, then what’s the point? Why bother to write such a troubling book only to have it end happily? I feel like Twain is throwing me a false trick. Perhaps, he wants to give us an ‘out of place’ ending so that we’ll do a double take and say, ‘Hey, life wouldn’t work that way!’ Then our acceptance of evil (and consequentially, our shock at the ‘happy ending’), forces us to call into question our passivity in society. It is Twain’s challenge for us to push for change. I don’t know how much of an optimist he was, but after reading his story I feel uncomfortable knowing that I should be expecting more good out of this world and helping to produce it myself.

This book is like a nightmare. It startles you, but then you get to wake up. Yet, you’re scared bad enough to realize that you won’t be so lucky next time around. In real life, you can’t escape just because you’re in a story, that doesn’t happen.

i don't know
Name: Margaret
Date: 2006-04-12 19:57:04
Link to this Comment: 19007

First off, I'd like to say that I found Allie's comments about the river really interesting. I had never really noticed that before.

And now, to continue the whole "should we teach this in high school?" discussion, I'd like to add my two cents. I don't know. I can understand why you should read it (as many of you have already shared), but I can also understand why you should not read it. I suppose that it really matters what you read it with and what you focus on. Should you discuss race when reading it? I think it would be hard to avoid it. I also think that when you discuss it, the teacher should make clear the fact that it is an uncompfortable topic for most people. It's hard to think that you are different than someone else, and, perhaps, even harder to say that out loud for fear that others may think you are racist or for fear that you may in fact be. Some people have suggested using Huck Finn to teach about the time period or satire. I aggree that it could be used to teach these things. I was thinking that you could also use it in conjunction with Tom Sawyer and talk about the issue of reading and what you can believe. I vaguely recall reading Tom Sawyer (I most certainly saw the movie) and remember thinking that Tom Sawyer seemed like the type of friend I would want. After reading the ending of Huck Finn, I no longer wanted Tom Sawyer to be my friend. I didn't want him to be my enemy either, I just didn't want to know him. He comes across as just plain mean. A high school class compare the two texts and the different ways that people/events are portrayed or how they deal/don't deal with certain issues. They could discuss how people can interpret the same event different ways (side note to Laura: perhaps a way for the MAP to booster it's first grade program?). I've been trying to think back and determine if it was a good thing for me to have read Huck Finn in high school. I can honestly say that I don't think my life, including my academic one, would be any different if I hadn't.

black Huck
Name: Emily
Date: 2006-04-12 22:33:44
Link to this Comment: 19010

Somewhat related to race, I'd like to address the question of "is Huch Finn black?" In my opinion, there's no way he could be black, judging by the way he is received throughout the book. Huck is adopted by a white widow. When Huck goes into town and talks with the woman while dressed as a girl, he is received like a white person. The Grangerfords take Huck in like another son. If he were black, he would have been housed with the other slaves. When he meets the Duke and the King, they ask what he's doing with a black man; if Huck was black, he would also be suspected to be a runaway slave. Finally, and this is the real giveaway, Aunt Sally thinks Huck is Tom Sawyer. Aunt Sally is certainly a white woman, which makes Tom a white boy. By thinking Huck is Tom, Huck is undeniably identifiable as white.

It is still interesting to think of Huck as black in his less social moments. When he is just sitting on the raft with Jim, there is no racial distinction. The two get along famously...with the occasional prank. But Jim seems to care fo Huck like a son, and Huck cares for Jim like a true friend. Everything is shared equally and they treat each other equally overall. Additionally, Huck has very simple speech (although not as choppy as Jim's)and very little education (although he can read and write). I think that although Huck is definitley white, he is less aware of racial boundaries than many of the other characterss (Tom, the Duke and the King, the doctor).

Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-04-12 23:27:11
Link to this Comment: 19011

Weighing in on Huck Finn -- I read this book a little less than a year ago, for the first time and I absolutely adored it. The experience I'm having is pretty similar this time, which makes me wonder if I'm growing as I read/if I've grown in the last year, or what.

About the discussion of "Black Huck", maybe this is symptomatic of my own personal way of dealing with race/racism, which is repression, denial, or "there's no such thing so we all should just get along", but I think that the whole point of being on the raft isn't to make Huck black, Jim white, or anybody any color -- the point of the raft, in my mind, is to try and eliminate color. Also, I remember reading about a scandal a little while back, regarding a high school performance (I think in my hometown's area, DC, but I could be imagining that...) of the musical Big River (which for those of you who don't know, is the adaptation of this lovely work) in which the actor for Jim was white, and the actor for Huck black. The people who granted the school the rights to perform the play came in and complained, saying that that bent the entire meaning of the work out of shape by reversing the racial roles -- and the high school countered back that the actors were right for the parts, and the actor and his talent mattered more than his skin. (Which is just the right thing for anybody to say, if you ask me.)

In a broader question; I haven't seen Big River, but can anyone speak to how that interprets the book? In as radical a way as 'Spike Lee's', or less so?

child vs adult behavior
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-04-12 23:41:51
Link to this Comment: 19013

In this last part of the book I was thinking about our discussion of whether or not Huck acts like a kid or in the end seems like the most adult figure in the book. When we see him and Tom next to each other so strongly in the passage, it really struck me that Huck is very mature, thoughtful, and considerate. While Tom is in it for the adventure, Huck really cares that Jim gets set free. Albeit Tom already knew that Jim was free...actually, the fact that he kept this bit of info to himself for so long is the perfect example of what i'm talking about. Not only does he put Jim through spiders and rats and snakes unnecessarily (cause it's in the books) but more generally, he puts him through weeks and weeks of unnecessary imprisonment for a little fun! I found that Huck's comments made sense, that they seemed like the voice of reason. WHile Tom seemed like the consummate child Huck proved himself a mature adult. Except when he went along with Tom. That made me think of the two little girls I nanny for that I mentioned the other day in class. It's like when the older child says something really just dumb, all the other kids go along with it, even if they realize it doesn't make sense what they're following. I was thinking about this interaction between children and about how Huck seems so much like an adult, sometime even more so that the actual adults, and it occurred to me that maybe we never grow out of this "going along with it" behavior. That's kind of what I wrote my paper on for Moby Dick: why so many go along with the maniacal leader even when they realize he's crazy...interesting thought. Fellini once said something about how we never really grow out of adolescence. seems like Twain might agree?

Name: Marie
Date: 2006-04-13 00:12:30
Link to this Comment: 19015

I'm seriously annoyed and I'm also completely stressed and its all because of Tom Sawyer. Why can't they just let Jim escape? Why does it have to be so complicated-----> TOM. I can hardly stand it. Jim is getting bit by rats and the boys are eating saw dust. You would think common sense would kick in and show that there is something wrong with all this. Tom Sawyer is a bad influence. He is causing so much trouble. I need to keep reading and hopefully I'll be able to relieve my stress.

Name: alison rei
Date: 2006-04-13 00:54:17
Link to this Comment: 19022

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm experiencing some end of semester burnout with Huck Finn. My brain can't rustle up the energy to keep discussing the book or the characters or whether Huck has a mature vs immature attitude or what about the child's narrative. I thought looking for an underlying homosexual relationship would be interesting but i haven't found much evidence. My brain is just floating along with the story. A few things I have noticed is how neglectful Huck is of Jim. When he's living with the Grangerfords for what sosunds like months, he never mentions worrying about Jim and Huck seems to leave Jim alone on the raft for weeks on end without noticing. I thought they were best friends and jim being a runaway would create more concern. Also, I have been noticing how events just slide off of Huck without much moral or psychological impact. He sees the town drunk Boggs shot in cold blood but it doesnt have any lasting impression on him. I thought a child might be scarred from beign beaten on a regular basis by his father but Huck never mentions it. Events happen, Huck dictates them, case closed. I suppose this could be fodder for more discussion on whether Huck is building a protective layer around his psyche. I'm going to go finish the book now and I hope everyone is having more luck than I am.

Tom you're kind of a drip
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-04-13 03:39:52
Link to this Comment: 19023

Maybe I am excessively cranky because my thesis is due on Friday and haven’t slept and I therefore don’t have the patience I might have otherwise, but I have to say by the end of the novel I found myself absolutely detesting Tom Sawyer’s character. I agree with Erin that he is most likely supposed to be the embodiment of juvenile behavior but the brat is just down right mean. To put Jim through all that fuss and to create all the turmoil and stress for everyone just so he could have an adventure seems almost cruel.

Huck make act like a child in many points of the book like his trying to fool Jim into thinking their separation on the river was all a dream but I feel he gets something that Tom never does. Huck realizes when he has done something wrong, he feels guilt, he ‘humbles’ himself to apologize. I don’t get the sense Tom feels any remorse for what he does to Jim.

At the very end of the novel when Tom and Huck decide they would like to go out west with Jim to have adventures with the ‘Injuns’ I found myself thinking, you have got to be kidding me! How very presumptuous. If Jim is free why on earth would he want to spend any more time with these two? It obviously only ever leads to trouble. Besides in the beginning of the book Jim does say he has a family he hopes to be reunited with.

I also wondered who did Twain right this book for? What was his target audience? I still firmly believe that Huck Finn is supposed to convey a message or a moral to the public. If so, whom is he trying to reach?

Groups for Final Presentations
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-13 14:58:46
Link to this Comment: 19024

These groups got organized in class today:
Group 1: Angeldeep Kaur, Laci Hutto, Adina Halpern, Emily Feenstra, Catherine Wimberley
Group 2: Steph Herold, Catherine Durante, Alison Reingold
Group 3: Alice Bryson, Jill Davis, Amy Stern
Group 4: Jackie O'Mara, Laine Edwards, Jessica Rosenberg, Chris Haagen
Group 5: Marie Sager, Erin Bagus, Laura Otten, Allie Eiselen
The A Team: Margaret Miller, Lauren Sweeney, Laura Sockol, Jorge Rodriguez

Anna, Marina, Sky--would you either please declare yourself a group (and let me know) or get in touch individually w/ the folks in the group you would like to join. Class roster (for e-mail contacts) available @


Transcending Emotion: Reading Emerson and Fuller
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-13 15:08:25
Link to this Comment: 19025

And so we approach the end of the semester's journey, and turn back to the questions with which we began:
  • what is the role emotion plays in thinking?
  • what is the role it plays in reading?
  • what is the role it plays, in particular,
    when we are reading-and-thinking about 19th century books in the 21st century?
What is Emerson's take on these activities? What advice does he offer about how we are--and how we should be-- in relationship to the world, both the natural world and the world of culture in which we live, and by which we are surrounded? How does that advice jive (or not) with your own experiences of reading/thinking/feeling the big books this semester?

self-reliance: the whole thing!
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-14 07:42:40
Link to this Comment: 19029

I was embarrassed to realize, last night, that the copy of Emerson's 'Self-Reliance' you have in your packet is only 1/2 the essay. You'll find the full text @

cross-class comparison
Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-04-14 13:44:32
Link to this Comment: 19032

I'm currently taking a Spanish class on Afro-hispanic literature (Span 215), and we've been having some interesting discussions that have often paralleled what we've talked about here with Huck Finn. (So I just thought I'd share...)

Most recently, in my Spanish class, we've been discussing the Bildungsroman (and I have NO idea how that translates into English... maybe someone else does, or one of you English majors has heard of it before... I think it's German). Anyways, they're novels or stories in which the principal character is traveling down some life path. He starts with nothing and at the end of a journey of seemingly unrelated events will (hopefully) learn some larger lesson (be it intellectually, spiritually, physically, etc). We've talked about A Catcher in the Rye, Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quijote, and I brought up Huck Finn. The only problem that I saw, was that in these stories, I couldn't really decide on a "grand lesson" that the main character had discovered by the end of the novel. Holden just gets institutionalized at the end of Catcher in the Rye (if memory serves). And Huck decides he better "light out for the Territory" to keep from getting "sivilize(d)". So what did they actually learn? What do we learn from them? I know we've been discussing this off and on throughout our reading of Huck Finn, but I still find it puzzling.

last comment
Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-04-14 13:45:55
Link to this Comment: 19033

Was intended to go under the Huck Finn discussion thread...

Sorry! =)

huck and kids
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-04-17 09:13:28
Link to this Comment: 19054

Something that came up in class discussion on thursday that was later touched upon - we were questioning whether Huck Finn was meant to be read by children or not. In comparison we had The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which was always thought as a children's book. But the level of content and layers in Huck Finn made us question if it was being incorrectly targeted to children.

Then, in response to someone's comment in class, Anne mentioned that the target audience for the book was not children, but adults who were still struggling to find their place, looking for a step into adulthood but wanting to linger in the childish playfulness of the book.

I thought it was very interesting how Huck Finn is a great example of how books can grow as we grow, coz we learn to see things in it that we'd missed before and get so much more out of it. I think everyone who spoke of having the book read to them as a child will agree.

(don't be) Another Brick in the Wall (?)
Name: Steph
Date: 2006-04-17 23:39:15
Link to this Comment: 19070

Why didn't anyone give me Emerison to read when I was 13/14/15? "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of its members"/ "I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you.." I swear I wrote all of this in terrible angsty poetry in 8th grade. I had to laugh a little at these statements, maybe because they seem so cliche to me now ("Insist on yourself. Never Imitate." Come on, that's gotta be a bumper sticker)

I like a lot of what Emerson has to say, especially this idea of living for yourself (i discriminate with cliches. i like this one). And I love "I cannot consent to pay for a privlege where I have intrinsic right." How is this not every banner at every gay rights/reproductive rights/etc etc march? And this idea that the soul "becomes" - that is so refreshing. A constant state of becoming, not of actually sticking to one concrete identity forever, but instead embracing fluidity.

What I DON'T like is this idea that "society never advances. it recedes as fast on one side as it gains on another." Okay, while that maybe true if you skew things a certain way, it is not very empowering. I want to change things. Get in there and kick ass. I don't want to sit around watching the grass/leaves/flowers, however beautiful and divine and self-reliant they may be. There has to be room for both, yes?

And what was that wishy washy bit about "feminine rage?" Come on Emerson, you're smart. Don't give me that.

"Take me for what I am"
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-04-18 00:01:34
Link to this Comment: 19071

I actually really liked Emerson's essay. I found myself lost in places, i admit that, but I was also actively engaged in other, furiously writing down quotes, and other random ideas that come into my head as I read his argument.

I wanted to comment of Steph's reading of his vision of people as fluid and changing. I found him to be contradicting himself on that note. He began with urging the us to "accept the place the divine providence has found for you," which made me think of predestination and prescribed places for each soul in the universe. But then he talked a great deal about reevaluating situations and not relying on memory to be consistent in one's action, suggesting the fluidity that Steph was referring to. That was something to I picked up on, may be I was misreading it?

I found his arguments with regard to society making us conform to be espeically striking, as I'm reading "Fast Food Nation" for another class and talking about the chain store takeover of the market, such as something like McDonald's where everything is homogenized and made part of the "system".

His sentiments with regard to standing up to one's own beliefs and speaking the truth irrespective of what society thinks of as proper stirred emotions with regard to my frustration with the passive aggressive and overly PC environment that many mawrtyrs will crib about in the confines of the Bryn Mawr Bubble. But I did find his idea that doing what you think is right is so much harder than playing along with society to be very convicing. I wrote along the margin of that paragraph "you are actually harder on yourslef that ppl will be on you" drawing from my personal experience. An example I wrote along that paragraph was of Dimmesdale, who was so wracked by his guilt that he made himself physically sick without any active role being played by society to demean him.

What about his views on reading? He talked about the process of learning as we define it, in classrooms at least upto high school, where we are taught what to think, what he would see as us being incorporated into evil society. In keeping with the rest of his essay, he contests such reading, instead suggesting that "if we live truly, we shall see truly" and that is more important than knowing verbatam the words uttered by a wise man.

This is just a part of all the stuff that's written all over the essay that I read! I'll spare you the rest for now, hoping to have it be more fleshed out in class tomorrow. Needless to say, it was a very engaging essay!

Name: alison rei
Date: 2006-04-18 00:42:43
Link to this Comment: 19075

I find this reading amusing because the idea it begins with, every man is capable of individual genius due to G-d's gift of humanity, is an idea I find extremely noble and I feel like I've thought it before. I suppose Emerson would laugh at me thinking "That's genius! I've thought that before!" Somehow, he managed to grab that flickering spark he descbribes. I was a little shocked when he spoke against Abolitionists and providing the poor public with a standard of living. If everyone subscribed to his view, yes, charity is wrong but I can't help feel that this is a rich man's philosophy and if he was the father of a starving family, kept down by viciously capitalist owners, he would feel differently about the duty of men. Perhaps he thinks that because each person has a divine spark, everyone is equal and therefore needing another person's charity is a social and wholly unfounded weakness. Emerson seems to share Twain's contempt for the common man and the masses. I liked his comments on consistency, it reminded me of the 2004 debates when Kerry couldn't escape "flip-flopper" and how somehow, being flexible has become a great character defect in our society. Overall, I found the essay pretty inspiring

ps. Do I sound like a rabid communist?

again, the second time around
Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-04-18 01:15:50
Link to this Comment: 19076

As with Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter, I read some Emerson in high school (although I don't think it was this essay). But the fact that I can't remember WHAT I read makes my point: I'm really connecting to this material this time around. In high school I mostly tuned out the Emerson that we did read saying, "wordy, a little dry... whatever". Like in the other texts of this course, I can appreciate the messages of Self-Reliance more now that I have a few more years under my belt (or find new messages that relate to my life at the moment). I'm especially suseptible tonight after a long weekend of "what to do next year" discussions with my parents (I'm a senior). They have very strong opinions, so it was refeshing to be able to be "misunderstood" along with all the great minds of the world. In short, I really enjoyed this reading. What I had brushed off as wordiness as a freshman in high school is now an impressively direct and active writing style. It feels like reading a political speech.

I'm curious to see how this reading ties into some of the issues we've been discussing in class. Do we all just find our own meanings from the texts we've read? Which characters opperate in this "self-reliance" way? The bit about consistency reminded me of Hester and her actions towards the community, and also of Huck and his opinions on Jim as a "nigger" and as his friend.

Name: Laci
Date: 2006-04-18 09:15:13
Link to this Comment: 19081

I just had the wonderful experience of finishing an essay and realizing that throughout I'd been highlighting lines that I recognized but had never known the source of. I'd thought that I disliked everything of Emerson's that I had to read in high school, but I actually really enjoyed this reading. (Wait, strike that entire last sentence. How many times on this forum have people said "I hated this in high school, but now it turns out it's not so bad"? I'm so cliche.)

The last paragraph was my favorite-- "With consistency a great soul has nothing to do," and "To be great is to be misunderstood." All through, though, I found myself, like Allison, thinking "I've had this thought before!" and congratulating myself on my own genius and then laughing at myself for that thought.

I've realized lately how impressionable I am when I read, especially theory and philosophy-- so in the space it takes me to read an essay, I become wholly absorbed in the state of mind of the writer, and almost everything they say makes perfect sense to me, even if I wouldn't normally agree with their sentiments. I felt a pull away from Emerson on his attitude toward the poor, but not that much of a pull-- I can still understand why he would only want to take care of "his" poor. On the rest of the essay I was pretty much in line with what he had to say, agreeing that we should trust ourselves and not be conformists-- conforming to Emerson's point of view. This complete belief in what a writer says fades as I distance myself from the work, so now I'm waiting to see how much of Emerson I agree with after I've had a little more room to think about it....

whats the point?!
Name: anna
Date: 2006-04-18 12:44:00
Link to this Comment: 19084

emmmmmmerson...the guy i wanted to strangle in 10th grade, and now want to high-five. he's "wordy", sure...but i dont know that it's TOO excessive. i mean, youve heard me say this before - read it out loud and it comes out totally different. i want to put him up with beat poets...i think his essays could be tweaked just a teensy bit and made into something more accessible to younger generations - i mean, "teen angst" <-- what the hell is THAT anyway?? doesnt everyone have angst at just about every moment of his/her life? i dont like putting him in that category, for sure!, but beat poets are pretty feel better about it if i were him at least! todays class shed a little bit of light on the matter of poetry and (not that im expecting to do this in class on thursday) i think rather than structuralizing his words (which are SO unstructured at times), we could have ran WITH the lack of structure and taken it to a new level...and im back to beat.

Revised Schedule for final performances<
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-18 13:11:08
Link to this Comment: 19085

Tuesday, Apr. 25:

Group 1: Angeldeep Kaur, Laci Hutto, Adina Halpern, Emily Feenstra, Catherine Wimberley
Group 2: Steph Herold, Catherine Durante, Alison Reingold, Marina Gallo
The A Team: Margaret Miller, Lauren Sweeney, Laura Sockol, Jorge Rodriguez, Sky Stegall
Thursday, Apr. 27: Group 3: Alice Bryson, Jill Davis, Amy Stern, Anna Mazzariello
Group 4: Jackie O'Mara, Laine Edwards, Jessica Rosenberg, Chris Haagen
Group 5: Marie Sager, Erin Bagus, Laura Otten, Allie Eiselen

Fuller & Emerson
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-04-18 22:52:55
Link to this Comment: 19089

Although Emerson may write like an 8th grader (as someone mentioned in class today), his prose is still very entertaining and insightful. Having loved his essay 'Self-Reliance', I was expecting to fall in love with Margaret Fuller's 'The Great Lawsuit. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. As interesting as it was for the most part to read about the situation of women in the 1800's, it was a little difficult for me to identify with the text considering that the issues affecting women in today's society are much more different than back then. It was helpful to compare and contrast women's situation in the nineteenth century with the current one, but I didn't find the essay to be particularly illuminating on what needs to be done today to correct such inequalities.

However, there was an interesting passage that truly caught my attention. I am sure that many people caught Fuller's passage on the self-reliance of women and found it similar to what Emerson was discussing in his own essay. She says: "I must depend on myself as the only constant friend...the position I early was enabled to take, was one of self-reliance" (p. 166). I found it interesting how both authors talk about the independence of the individual and take it to be more valuable than his/her participation in the rest of society. In her essay, Fuller establishes it to be a mater of 'trust': one cannot truly rely on anyone else because one cannot be truly certain of the worth of that person, but we are aware of our own.

Along this same line, Fuller seems to build on what Emerson said. Why must we not trust society and learn the value of self-reliance? Her answer to this question is provided a little later in the essay: "each wishes to be lord in a little world, to be superior at least over one". We oppress and abuse in order to feel stronger and superior to those who belong to our community or small society, Fuller says. If we escape society, if we learn to only trust ourselves like Emerson taught us, we will then be free of this circle of oppression.

For these reasons, although they have written two very different essays, the fundamental principles surrounding both may not be truly that far apart.

Name: Jackie
Date: 2006-04-18 23:07:37
Link to this Comment: 19090

I really have to say that I didn't find Emerson too unbearably in need of editing, which scared me in class since everyone else seemed to think the opposite. Sure, there were contradictions along the way, but I was surprized that I wasn't bothered by the wordiness as much as everyone else was. I'm usually more a fan of writers who can say a ton and still be concise... maybe it's been 4 years of Bryn Mawr/lib arts classes that tend to encourage excessive descriptions...

I <3 Transcendentalism
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-04-18 23:54:50
Link to this Comment: 19092

So I wasn't in class today to share my deep love for Emerson, but we have the forum, where I can sing his praises to my heart's content.

It's not even Emerson in particular, but all of the transcendentalists. I think they make such beautiful use of language. I know, I'm an English major, I'm not supposed to make value judgements. I'm not allowed to say I like a poem because it's "pretty." I can't say I like Emerson because he "touches" me. But I'm also a psychology major, and even though I guess we're probably not supposed to make value judgements, nobody ever explicitly told me not to. So I'll say it: I love Emerson because his writing is BEAUTIFUL.

Take the first page of Self-Reliance. How many "quotable quotes" does he get in?
-"To believe that which is true for you in your private heart is true for all men - that is genius"
-"Imitation is suicide."
-"The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it may testify of that particular ray"
-"God will not have his work made manifest by cowards"
-"Trust thyself"

It is all so beautiful and inspiring.
I guess the reason I find it "beautiful" is that it gets at the transcendentalist idea that all beings are connected to the divine (< moving into safer English major territory, here). Focusing on the idea that all men have the potential for genius and need only trust his intuition ... that is beautiful. It makes me feel like life is valuable and worthwhile and ... it's late, the next adjective that came to mind was "Sparkly."

So I am sorry I was not there to enjoy Emerson with you.

Did Emerson and Fuller like each other?
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-04-19 16:50:30
Link to this Comment: 19096

Emerson was long and I wholeheartedly agree with the ‘need for an editor’ idea because I felt certain paragraphs lacked a point. I think Emerson is, in general, selfish. Though his ideals are admirable in some sense, I’m a realist and I know life could never be lived that way, nor would I ever choose to live in his prescribed manner. I think it is far superior to have multiple abilities and well-rounded qualities. I value my independence and treasure my relationships and I see no hindrance caused by either attachment. Emerson is cowardly in staking his claim at one end of the spectrum and refusing to budge. His choices become easier when he strictly follows such narrow, isolated regulations. He also trips over himself and writes hypocritical things so you know he’s not totally secure in his own point. If he’s not convinced, I’m certainly not!

Margaret Fuller is the type of reading I envisioned doing at Bryn Mawr College all the time. Ra ra feminism! :) I think she’s spot on with so many issues, I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the class thinks. One quick note – she mentions other races, a point Emerson missed completely and his forgetfulness was questioned in class…hmmm, I’d like to say it’s her ‘feminine’ awareness of relations that causes her to incorporate others (shocker, I know) in her theory, but that’s just my bias.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-04-19 23:48:36
Link to this Comment: 19100

I think Laura and I have the same notion. As soon as I started reading, all I could think was, "God! This is soooo Bryn Mawr." I especially loved the dialogue she wrote at the beginning that pointed out that it is a woman's choice, not her husband's to decide her duty is outside of the kitchen. I feel Fuller is the answer to every anti-woman joke I've ever heard..... and I've been looking for a good comeback for a long time.

Date: 2006-04-19 23:55:47
Link to this Comment: 19101

I'm surprised that we didn't read Fuller earlier in this class. I can see how she could relate to some of the earlier texts we read (Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom's Cabin, possibly Turn of the Screw), but I'm not sure I see how her essay relates to that of Emerson's. I enjoyed reading this essay and agree with Laura that this essay seems very "Bryn Mawr", but I'm kind of disappointed that this is where we ended. Like so many other people, I really got into the Emerson, but Fuller seemed very typical to me. And by typical I mean I didn't feel like she said anything new or anything that particularly touched me. I would be hard pressed, I think, to find a sentence in this essay to turn into a Fibonacci poem. I thought writing those poems on Tues was a GREAT exercise and it was "useful" to me to focus on one particular sentence that struck a chord. I will be interested to hear what everyone else thinks of Fuller and if they found her to be more impressive than I did.

Fuller an Emerson
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-04-20 00:24:02
Link to this Comment: 19102

I would like to say that although Emerson is most certainly wordy, I enjoyed reading him and I like all of the little quotable things he said. Also, I find it funny that we admire certain writers who were in reality very bad at writing, but are non-the-less considered to be great at what they did. I hope that last sentence made sense. I guess what I mean is, none of us have to be very good to be considered good at what we do. As it was said in class, he was too wordy and he wrote like and eighth grader, but what he wrote was good stuff.
I really liked trying to make "fibs" in class; it was hard for me to do so quickly, but fun and interesting.
I didn't like reading Fuller. She seemed like a major feminist and that made me crazy! I don’t get very riled up when anti-women references and I think that is probably because women also make anti-men comments. I know that Fuller was trying to show the oppression of women, but I think it was just too much for me. In the writing they likened the oppression of women to that of slaves and I agree that Fuller made it seem like that, but I don’t think it was that bad for women. It almost seemed like an insult to slaves. I enjoyed reading the parts about fathers bringing their daughters up encouraging gaining knowledge and it was hard to read about the father who wanted to keep education from his daughter. On the other hand, that was part of the times and he was looking out for her in a way that he thought would be best for her future so as she would be safe and taken care of when he was gone, unfortunately most women don’t see that side of the argument, they just get angry and think he was trying to keep her down.

about that lawsuit...
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-04-20 20:17:01
Link to this Comment: 19110

After today's class, I was left thinking about a few things -- first, the "Great Lawsuit" is a pretty fitting title, in my mind, for a fight that never ends. As the daughter of lawyers, I've learned that some lawsuits never die. My mother's still working on a few that are older than I am!

Also, to move back a little, that Emerson says "to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men" is genius is completely ridiculous to me. Maybe I'd make a horrible Transcendentalist (or.. Emerson-follower perhaps), but I think that what's true in a person's heart might be true for another, or completely false, but it's unreliable. We shouldn't always be applying our own personal truth to everyone--it's just bound to fall through at some point or another. Of course then you run into the problem that all we percieve is filtered through our own experience, so everything that's true is personal truth... Oh boy. It's getting a little complicated now. Is Emerson actually telling us (or me, as one interpreter who should depend on my personal truth?) that I should have faith that what I experience is true and not worry about what other people are experiencing because most of the time, their interior experience isn't as important to me as mine is?

Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-04-23 19:52:29
Link to this Comment: 19124

This has nothing to do with Emerson or Fuller. But it does have to do with our overarching theme of the relationship between emotion and cognition. I hadn't thought of its relevance until I noticed the title of a journal article I am reading for another project (coincidentally, for a course being taught by Marc Schulz, who came to visit). The article is buried under a giant pile right now, so I can't remember the exact title, but it is something along the lines of "The Relationship between Emotion & Cognition." I realized that the whole model upon which I have been basing a paper about postpartum depression is an interesting theory to bring into this course. It is basically a model by which to explain how stress can lead to depression - it's called a "Transactional model" of stress, and basically says that events are not stressful unless you perceive that they tax your resources beyond a point that you can comfortably handle. The process that we go through that determines the emotional outcomes of our experiences is this:
event (potential stressor) -> appraisal -> coping -> emotional response
in a nutshell, appraisal means determining your "stake" in an event and the possible means you have of coping with it. "Coping" is the your immediate behavioral/psychological response to the event. And the way you appraise and cope with an event determines your emotional response.
I thought this was interesting in comparison to James, whose theory I liked so much in the beginning of the year. In contrast to James, we don't have an immediate emotional response to a situation, which we then appraise. Instead, the appraisal actually determines which emotion we experience.

I just wanted to share the joy of having material from two courses work so well together =D

Oh 11th grade
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-04-24 01:24:13
Link to this Comment: 19130

Reading Emerson is very hard for me, not because of the material, but because of where I have been with the text. The first time I ran into this text was in Lisa Nanney’s 11th grade English class. Growing up Dyslexic and ADD, it was never hard for me to get into reading because of how difficult it was for me. I found reading entire novels to be a never difficult task that at points seemed insurmountable. To think that I would be inspired by a reading was quite a leap to make.
That being said, when I first read Emerson, I was shocked. It was everything that I wanted to here. I was an individual. I am the best ruler of my life. I needed to go out into nature and find the good that was inside of me. It must have been fate that fight club came out near to the same time.
In my reading of the text, I became a new person. I was endowed with a confident academic attitude that shaped much of my interests. My choice to come to Haverford was very much influenced by the new identity I assumed as a lover of this text.
Coming back to with the cynicism I have gained from theorist such as Foucault, I can’t believe in the same magic. The utopia that seemed certain just appears to be a childhood fantasy that has faded away. Emerson is no longer the drive, the answer that defined me, but a memory of a more hopeful attitude a younger Chris had.
I hope his words come back to me, because I so loved to believe them, but along the same lines, I’m not imagining any middle school birthday parties are coming back either.

Gather ye transcendental notions while ye may
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-04-24 19:34:38
Link to this Comment: 19136

I had a similar experience to Chris's in highschool. We read Emerson and Thoreau and I had already had an ongoing thing for Alcott, so I completely identified myself as neo-Transcendentalist. I loved the thought of relying on myself and of looking for inward goodness, inspiration and transencdence in myself and nature. I wanted to leave my little suburban community and take up residence on Walden Pond. But thinking about it this time around makes it all sound so idealistic and kind of half-baked. Emerson must have been such a jerk to his family. While I still advocate time alone for inward reflection, and "if you want something done you'd better do it yourself" and all that, I have come to realize that I can't only rely on myself because I don't even know what I think half the time. I don't trust myself, I don't trust my instincts and giving up everything to live like a hermit will just make you bored and miserable. (Believe me, I know--I've tried it, and I'm sure that plenty of you have too, in an attempt to be better students, writers, artists, etc.) Like it or not, we are social creatures and require interaction with other human beings for our survival. And as far as experiencing and exploring emotion goes, more and more I am realizing that other people are the ones who bring out my emotions. The people that make me happiest, saddest, and most angry are the ones that I love and respect. If I am ever going to reach emotional transcendence, it will be through my relationships with others, not myself.

Gather ye transcendental notions while ye may
Name: Lauren
Date: 2006-04-24 19:35:36
Link to this Comment: 19137

I had a similar experience to Chris's in highschool. We read Emerson and Thoreau and I had already had an ongoing thing for Alcott, so I completely identified myself as neo-Transcendentalist. I loved the thought of relying on myself and of looking for inward goodness, inspiration and transencdence in myself and nature. I wanted to leave my little suburban community and take up residence on Walden Pond. But thinking about it this time around makes it all sound so idealistic and kind of half-baked. Emerson must have been such a jerk to his family. While I still advocate time alone for inward reflection, and "if you want something done you'd better do it yourself" and all that, I have come to realize that I can't only rely on myself because I don't even know what I think half the time. I don't trust myself, I don't trust my instincts and giving up everything to live like a hermit will just make you bored and miserable. (Believe me, I know--I've tried it, and I'm sure that plenty of you have too, in an attempt to be better students, writers, artists, etc.) Like it or not, we are social creatures and require interaction with other human beings for our survival. And as far as experiencing and exploring emotion goes, more and more I am realizing that other people are the ones who bring out my emotions. The people that make me happiest, saddest, and most angry are the ones that I love and respect. If I am ever going to reach emotional transcendence, it will be through my relationships with others, not myself.

Middle School ... or, an exercise in metaphor.
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-04-24 23:37:19
Link to this Comment: 19143

Something Chris said really struck me - and it's going to take a while to explain how this relates to our class, but bear with me.

The line I'm referring to is "I’m not imagining any middle school birthday parties are coming back either." This may seem a strange phrase to respond to, but here is some background - I'm currently planning a sleepover for my 20th birthday. As I have for the past few years, I am going to have some old friends (from elementary/middle school) over for a 7th-grade-esque sleepover. We will read teeny-bopper magazines, watch Titanic and eat pizza. Then we will stay up too late talking. Only this time we won't get in trouble for being too loud because I will have my own apartment. I am really looking forward to reliving my middle school days with my oldest friends.

But one of the reasons I love these get-togethers is that we have all grown so much since middle school. I am hesitant to say we are truly wiser, but we do use bigger words and are probably more articulate about our emotions than we were in seventh grade. We are also much better at listening to one another and responding to each other's needs. I think the development of conversational abilities in adolescence somewhat follows the way that children learn to play together - first there is "parallel play," then there is cooperation. When you reach adolescence, first we have "parallel monologues," then we have real dialogue.

So (here is where it starts to get relevant), this got me thinking about my experience of coming back to these texts, so many of which I had read in middle/high school. Some of them I was surprised to find enjoyable (such as actually finding the humor in Twain), some I still disliked (but felt justified in the dislike, since I had at least given him a fair chance) - and some reminded me why I became an English major in the first place (oh, Emerson!). So I'm wondering - what do I get from coming back to these texts? Am I simply recreating my earlier experiences, hoping for a taste of the same magic Chris experienced whe he first read Emerson? Or are we coming back to them in the hopes of finding something new? (as T.S. Eliot said, "We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.") Am I now able to engage in real dialogue with the texts, with the authors and with you? Have I been able to grow as a reader by really listening to others and allowing them to change the way I think? Or am I still engaging in "parallel thinking" ?

Do we think we, as a class, have grown?

Date: 2006-04-26 19:04:48
Link to this Comment: 19154

I think we have grown, as a class. I remember the roundabout conversation we tried to have at the begining of the semester on the difference between emotion and feeling (and thinking and instinct and whatever else) and I think we've come a long way from that. That said, the growing is never done.

I, like Chris, read Emerson in high school (probably in the classroom next door, actually, with Dr Miller) and loved him and really let him change me (on a side note, I hated Thoreau - he seemed very fake to me). I don't, however, think I've completely moved away from that feeling. I know there's no utopia and I know not all of Emerson's grand ideas work, but I'm willing to take what he's got to say and make my own sense out of it, and frankly I think that's what he wanted.

I loved reading Fuller. I hated hearing people say "I've heard this before" or "This is so cliché" in class because, hey - she came first. She's the basis for that "so bryn mawr!" feeling we get when we hear feminist theory. Her writing seemed to me passionate and well-considered. I especially liked her saying that women cannot ask men for permission to be free, that we must stand up and take it, although I'm not sure how I feel about her proposed period of celibacy and being cut off from the world in order to grow. I agree with... whoever said it earlier, that Thoreau doesn't work because we can't make ourselves hermits, we can't but outselves off in order to grow and change and learn, we have to be social animals.

Otherwise we'll turn into James' nutty governess, fighting invisible demons and destroying the very ideals she's trying to protect. Or Dimmsedale, blindly stumbling into traps and deeper pits of self-pity, self-loathing and self-abuse. Or, hell, even Ahab, who emerges from his days lying like a dead man with a new (and terrible) sense of purpose that does not factor in his or anyone else's survival. We can't be isolated - we don't have to be civilized the way Huck is afraid to be, but we need those interactions with people to understand ourselves, just like he does. I don't know, maybe I'm running too far away with this, but that's seemed like a quiet theme for me throughout this class, and it helps me keep things in perspective now that I'm reviewing my work and trying to synthesize.

Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-04-26 19:06:02
Link to this Comment: 19155

oops, that last post was me!

Last 2 days
Name: Marina
Date: 2006-05-04 01:33:48
Link to this Comment: 19218

I had a lot of fun watching the perfomances and participating in them. I also want to say that I really enjoyed the bread Anne made! yumm!I have never had a final quite like that although I have to say that it is not really a final considering we still have a 10 pager paper to write and also the porfolio evaluations to do, but it was great non-the-less!

End Times
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-05-08 16:14:30
Link to this Comment: 19286

The last two days of class, watching and creating my own group presentation, was definitely the most fun I've had all year. It was very interesting to see how different all the presentation styles were, and what we could do with a little bit of imagination. Also, it was nice to be able to see, visually, how my classmates were thinking about the works we'd read, and how it differed from my own thinking.

I feel like these kinds of activities are something that should be done more in the future; they encourage people to think critically and creatively about the reading, and force you to really examine your own opinions on the subject matter. Frankly, I wish we'd gotten to do more of it.

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