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Big Books of American Literature 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: 2003-01-21 16:02:34
Link to this Comment: 4221

Welcome to the course forum for Big Books of Amerian Literature. I'm very glad you are here, and am looking forward to an interesting conversation about why we are reading the books we are reading, and what we are learning (about them, about our culture, about ourselves) from doing so.

The keynote for this week is "grace." Before our next class meeting on Thursday morning, post here your responses either to Sharon Burgmayer's painting "Grace" (which you'll find both on our course homepage and on the front of our packet) or to the assigned essay describing (last spring's version of)) this course, the one called "The Grace of Revision" (which you'll also find in the course packet). You could also check out the various meanings of the word "grace" in the OED Online and "speculate" from the varieties of definitional precision offered there--often a fun and productive exercise!


Grace and God
Name: Kati Donag
Date: 2003-01-21 21:29:32
Link to this Comment: 4222

Before the class began today an instrumental version of "Amazing Grace" was being played, although there were no words the tune was recognizable. "Amazing Grace" is a Christian Hymn written to praise the grace of God given to humankind. After hearing the song and associating it with Christianty and God, when I viewed the painting entitled "Grace" I was trying to find God in the landscape. Its easy to associate God with nature because of Creationism, so that was not a far stretch. I thought that, one of the other student's, (I'm sorry but I don't know your name yet) interpretations of the painting by seeing humility in it could also be related to my Christian and God-ly interpretation as humility is a lesson taught and re-taught, along with grace, throughtout the Bible. So now I'm left with the question what exactly in this painting is illustrating God's grace. Is it the fact that the scene exists in nature? The fact that the artist stumbled upon this scene and was able to capture it? Or is it the grace of God's having taught us forgiveness through the Bible (relating it to Anne's personal history with the painting)?

If it hadn't been for the prompt of the Christian hymn being played in the beginning of class I think that I probably would have come up with a different interpretation. However, I think that music and images work well together and this combination led me to some half-interesting conclusions.


Grace of the womb
Name: Jillian He
Date: 2003-01-21 23:21:42
Link to this Comment: 4223

For me, one of the most interesting elements of Sharon Burgmayer's painting is her use of space. There are so many objects carefully placed within the picture, but placed on top of each other so that there is no breathing room. The trees are limitless as we don't see their tops, the waterfall comes out of the tree-area, the waterfall flows into the pond, the line between the pond and the grass is blurred, and the grass creeps up on the rocks in the form of moss. The birch tree seems to shoot up from behind the big rock, thus bringing the viewer full-circle, to the infinite height of the trees. Interestingly, the sky is not visible, we see the environment from an enclosed (dare I say, womb-like perspective?) Come to think of it, the plant directly to the left of the waterfall does resemble the fallopian tubes. Even the rocks seem to resemble anatomy as the front two could be seen as breasts (albeit uneven ones), they even have veins (which I assume, were made by drooping water on top of the freshly painted rocks so that it would bleed and disrupt the pattern. As for the red in the right corner, that could be the placenta. I must assume that the viewer is the unborn fetus in a fertile land without sunlight (notice, there are no shadows which there would be if the sun was shining considering the surrounding trees. Light and dark are only used to illustrate distance.
Just a thought.... could "grace" be a name? I don't really think that that was what the artist intended it to mean, but I thought I'd put it out there. With my interpretation, I think "grace" most likely refers to the simplicity inherent within the incredibly complex nine-month period of "creating" a life.

artist's intent
Name: orah minde
Date: 2003-01-22 15:37:28
Link to this Comment: 4224

some scattered hems of thought:
it is interesting that jillian brought up the idea of a painter's intent. jillian brought up the idea that maybe the word on the stone is a name though jillian does not think that that was not what the author 'intended to mean.' i have thought about this idea of whether it is fair to derive unintended meaning from an artists work; to put 'words' into an artist's mouth, brush, pen. i know that when i'm gone and unable to defend myself i won't want people asociating me with ideas that were NOT mine. i know that there are so many arists out there who have come to represent images that they did not intend to embody in their lifetime but through lack of the ability to defend themselves from the grave, now, have become icons [dickinson is sometimes remembered as a romantic princess in distress in her father's house when really her thoughts are far from 'princess-like']. it makes me want to hire a personal bodyguard to defend my memory after i'm gone. BUT, at the same time i think that when an author publishes a work he is asking the public to relate to it, ingest it, and spit it back into the world, changed. I know when i read JD Salinger sometimes i feel like he is speaking from within me out, as opposed to most arists who speak into me. There is no way [unless Salinger has some mobile telepathic power into the head of Orah Minder] that everything that i see in Salinger's writing was intended. i don't think that this invalidates his work or what i derive from his work. so, jillian, if you see the word grace as a name etched into a rock then that's what you see and that's the story of the painting weather or not the painter intended it to be. maybe that's what art is: a story told by the artist, retold by the viewer, and retold throughout history- how else will personal expression last unless reinterprated as times change?

grace of revision - never thought of it like that.
Name: Nicole Mar
Date: 2003-01-22 17:54:00
Link to this Comment: 4225

While reading "The Grace of Revision" I became increasingly excitied about the course we are entering an dthe unique experience which the course promises. I was struck by Rachel Wright's essay "Meditations and the Non- Existant 'I' in Text", which articulated many of the frustrations I have faced during my college career but until now have not been able to so eloquently put into words. It is throughly frustrating in college courses to be asked to devote so much time and thought into academic work, all the while being forced to silence your own voice - the "I". I am excited about "Big Books" because it seems that we will be allowed and encouraged to examine texts through multiple literary lenses as well as through our own unique experiences. I feel as if i have a lot to learn in this calss and a lot to contribute as well. Not possessing a large literary background i look forward to allowing both my conscious and unconscious minds to impact my classroom experience and form entirely new literary opinions, informed by my own (and other's) experiences.

Ode to frustrations past...
Name: Nancy
Date: 2003-01-22 19:26:01
Link to this Comment: 4226

While reading Orah's posting on the intentions of the artist and the misinterpretations (or, perhaps, alternate interpretations) that are inevitable as the artist does not often censor every viewing of his/her work, I smiled when Orah offered her definition of art. As Anne, Monica, Ngoc, and Maggie can attest, we spent many an afternoon discussing/arguing the definitions of art and even the idea of artist (writer) intent vs perception last semester. Although I thought I had left those days behind, I am realizing that the same unanswered dilemmas will arise in this course as well (Actually, if they hadn't, I believe I would have been dissapointed) and give me a way of finding a reason beyond "cocktail party capital" to read Uncle Tom's Cabin. The reason these books have never died, in my opinion, isn't because they are easy to read (or even extremely enjoyable to many people), it is due to the applicability of the humor, the humanity, and the narratives that we can apply to our own lives. As far as "Grace" is concerned, I think Orah really put into words what I was searching for last semester--- what is art if not a stimulus to prompt the sharing of ideas with others. Of course no one will have the same opinion, but, as we saw with "Grace", the mixing around of those differences creates something new.
I thought I would share an story some of you might appreciate--
As I searched for a fourth class a few days ago a friend attempted to help. After we discarded Sociology, Physics, and Political Science, she sighed and offered a last resort: "You could always take an English class" she then shuddered which I'll attribute to the draftiness in the room.... I was enthusiatic, but assumed she had probably singled out "Big Books" as an interesting pick for someone who liked English. "You're not talking about "Big Books of Am Lit" are you???" I asked innocently. "OH no!" she exclaimed, "I would only wish something like that on my worst enemy!"...
Hope her worst enemy enjoys a good read...

Name: Samantha D
Date: 2003-01-22 19:46:34
Link to this Comment: 4227

A teacher of mine once told me that everybody should memorize the definition of "grace," and ever since I have taken particular notice of the word and its applications. In regards to the painting... the relationship between the word and the scene seems almost tangible. I think that "grace" was the perfect word to insert into the picture if for no other reason then their shared positive connotations.
The use of the word grace in the paper by Rachel Wright was also interesting. I think that there is somewhat of a universal attraction to the word itself because it is such an abstract concept. people will continue to use the word in many different contexts because it is not applicable to any obvious thing, like beauty is for example.
The ideas discussed in the essay are a good glipse into what this class will be like. The environment of the playground which is described really goes against all the ediquete I have adopted as a standard of participation within a classroom. This new environment will take alot of getting used to; however, I cannot wait to do it.

" Hearing Grace"
Name: Margaret R
Date: 2003-01-22 20:21:52
Link to this Comment: 4228

Sharon Burgmayer titled her painting "Grace," and when looking at it, it does seem to have that aestheticallly pleasing grace that only nature can posess. When I repeated the word out loud, I heard the melodic way it rolled off my tongue and thought, "this word is pleasing to the ears also." I could imagine the sounds in her painting then...the "graceful" sound of the rushing waterfall, the rustling of the trees,and the splashing of the fishtails. Her choice to choose "Grace" as the painting's title evoked my senses. The word grace is graceful, and the painting portrays nature in this way, which encorporated both my sight and sound. I "heard grace" in the painting.

Reading and Playing
Name: Natalie Ab
Date: 2003-01-22 20:29:16
Link to this Comment: 4229

I was really struck by the use of "play" in the essay we read, and it made me think more closely about the interesting dynamic occurring on the syllabus. On one hand, we have works such as Moby Dick, revered in academia yet few people have personal experience with them, and books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Little Women that have been solidified in the "collective canon" of childhood literature. It fascinates me that we, as scholars, are able to take and analyze so many different literary genres and extract meaning from sources conventionally labeled "classics" and those that are generally excluded from this categorization. The idea of going back and reading books I loved in years past is at once both invigorating and frightening, as I know that I will get something different out of them than I got as a child, and can only hope that it will enhance my liking and understanding of the task. A last question I asked myself, but was unable to answer to my satisfaction, was the following: Reading and writing can be looked at as a game played between author and reader, but what happens when the act of analysis enters into this picture? Will it interrupt the game, or will it simply add to it and enhance this dynamic? (As an English major I can only hope, for my own pleasure, that analysis will add to- not detract from- my love of the books I enjoyed as a child).

Name: Eric Seide
Date: 2003-01-22 21:48:15
Link to this Comment: 4232

In my opinion, the best part of Sharon Burgmayer's painting is its depth. The trees recede into the background, while the rocks in the foreground, which appear much wider than the birch tree, seem to be right on top of the viewer. The goldfish, however, work extremely hard to ruin the scene. The "grace" or serenity (if you will) of the painting comes from the fact that the forest appears devoid of human or animal life. The trees and the rocks are unruffled, while the pool of water, which sits at the bottom of a cascading waterfall, ripples tranquilly. The goldfish are approximately 1/5 the size of the entire pool's width (what are they, goldwhales?), and the water is too dark blue to be able to actually see fish through it. I find them to be very distracting and unnecessary.

the many meanings of grace
Name: Emily Fein
Date: 2003-01-23 00:22:42
Link to this Comment: 4233

Looking up "grace" at, i was surprised to see the many meanings of the term. Although it's not an uncommon meaning, one interpretation of the word that wasn't mentioned in class (or atleast not to my memory)is "to do (a person, a thing) grace: to become, reflect credit on, set in a good light, embellish; also, to do honour to. So in grace of: in honour of." Perhaps the painter wanted to give thanks for the beauty in nature. Just another perspective to think about...

Name: Monica Loc
Date: 2003-01-23 00:43:57
Link to this Comment: 4234

I have always associated the word grace with tranquil settings such as trees, waterfalls and flowers. Grace is a word that gives a clear vision of peacefulness. This wonderful painting suggests grace in its naturalistic context. Since the word grace seems to have been carved into the stone, it gives the viewer an idea of what the artist is trying to convey in her painting. However, if the word grace was not included in the painting, the artwork could be interpreted differently. The painting could be identified as one not showing grace at all. The water supposedly coming from a tree could be coming from a sewage canal and since the artist uses dark murky colors for the water, that could be another way of interpreting the painting. The painting could also be interpreted as an oasis trapped in a jungle. That image does not really connote grace.There are many ways to look at this painting. With the word grace on the painting, it changes everything. It depends on how the viewer sees the painting and what the word grace means to the viewer.

what analysis does. . . .
Name: Bernadette
Date: 2003-01-23 01:55:53
Link to this Comment: 4235

My thoughts tonight run somewhat alongside Natalie's and other's who discussed analyzing "artist's intent" in regards to Burgmayer's painting. Natalie's question about what analysis does to the existing interplay between author and reader touched on my own ruminations. I was an English major up untill last semester when I experienced a sort of 'loss of faith' in my chosen field of study. Though I still enjoy literature - for both the interplay between myself as reader and an author and for the excitement of analysis and interpretation - I have been finding it increasingly difficult to justify putting tremendous energy and thought into extensive analysis of literature. A deciding factor for my taking this course was a part of the Alumnae Bulletin article which describes how the course explores "the role classics play in the construction of our culture" and looks at "American literature as an institutional apparatus." Prof. Dalke describes the course as asking in part "What narratives about the country, about ourselves -about our nation, its classes, races and genders- do we want our canonical books to tell?" These questions reminded me of the significance of studying and analyzing literature (other than the selfish pleasure which I derive from it). I think that the analysis can "enhance [the] dynamic" of the "game" Natalie wrote about because it draws us to a better understanding of our cultural and historical past as well as our present.
p.s. please don't stone me for questioning the validity of literary analysis.

What I can do
Name: Taka Kawan
Date: 2003-01-23 02:50:48
Link to this Comment: 4236

Before I first came to my first English class at Bryn Mawr last semester, I was thinking about what I gshouldh be doing in the class, writing for papers, etc. I was concerned about my ability to perform since I obviously lack the amount of experiences in and knowledge about this country and its language. The only way I could think of during the English class I took last semester was, to compare and/or apply each issue to my personal experiences, but I felt like I wasnft really reading the text itself and my paper was not polished enough. After reading the gThe Grace of Revisionh, however, I started to think that using myself as a greferenceh was an initial process of looking for gIh in my writing to the best of my ability. My paper might have ended up with a streak of experiences and knowledge and couldnft go beyond; I don't know. So, I thought that I should give more tries. As Rachel Wrights says in her essay, I believe the ggraceh of this course to be the power of everyone to create something new out of each personfs fragments and the moment of transformation upon it, and I hope to participate in sharing what I have within me.

"re-trace" ???
Name: ngoc
Date: 2003-01-23 08:20:25
Link to this Comment: 4238

In the short reading of "On course: Brynmawr courses and their reading lists", it is clearly state that this class is "inviting" students "to re-trace and explore" "what these grand old books might tell us: Not just why they were written, where they came from-but what stories they tell us about ourselves".

Questions: What if I have no past reading experience on these texts? How can I "re-trace" when I don't have even have a path to trace back? Althought these books are "grand old books" (literally), to me they are as new and foreign as any new books I have yet to read. In "The Grace..." there many personal accounts, history, traditions, and (an almost cultured) experience that seem to tie all together, allowing past students of the course to relate, to "re-trace" the path they have been on somewhere along (but may not realized). What if, then, I do not feel, and literally, do not belong or carry such history, such "natural" connection to these cultures of "grand old books"? How will I fit into this "thinking outloud" conversation?

Still sexy?
Name: Maggie
Date: 2003-01-23 08:23:57
Link to this Comment: 4239

When I first looks at Sharon Burmayer's painting 'Grace', I immediately thought that the birch tree coming out of the rocks looked like a penis, and the red on the rock in the right foreground reminded me of a vagina. Also, the water springing forth from... where?... reminded me of women. However, I disregarded this interpretation simply that I was used to interpreting paintings in Anne's class as sexual! Maybe everything is about sex anyhow, though...

Name: Julia Wood
Date: 2003-01-24 23:03:53
Link to this Comment: 4248

The presence of the word ÒgraceÓ in the painting helped me focus on my interpretation. The scene appears like many to be found in places of natural beauty. The existence of such a place is a gift from God, one that can only be found when wandering into difference parts of the world other than where we ordinarily roam. The painting shows the wonder of the natural products that keep all living beings alive and the interactions between those products. The give and take of natural products is shown by the presence of the waterfall and the birch tree. Water, a basic necessity for all life, enters the scene to feed the plants that are growing. The birch tree grows out of the scene to deliver oxygen to the rest of the world. The path at the upper left corner of the painting is the means by which a person can discover the scene that shows the intricate processes by which life exists on the planet. This life is part of the gift from God called Ògrace.Ó

Paradise Lost
Name: Barbara Sp
Date: 2003-01-26 16:28:13
Link to this Comment: 4257

Barbara Spackman
E-mail address:

Sharon Burgmayer's painting reminded me of the image of Eden that I had created for myself while reading Milton's "Paradise Lost." We talked about God's grace as a very important concept during the course, and the mental image that stayed with me was that of humans reaching out or above for virtue, but heaven also reaching down to meet that human effort. The waterfall that fills up a pool of infinite unconditional love nurtures that birch that is growing strongly but not always straight, a very apt metaphor, I think, for human aspirations.

Response to a part of the Grace of Revision essay
Name: kathy nigr
Date: 2003-01-27 19:17:17
Link to this Comment: 4281

After reading Rachel Wright's "Meditations on the Non-Existant 'I' in Text," I felt almost relieved. I spent 3 semesters of my college career trying to figure out just what she said in a few pages. I think there was so much pressure in high school to conform to a certain way of learning, and I almost assumed college would be completely different and free from that set path. Unfortunately, all of a sudden in college I found myself conforming to each professor's particular taste and lost my own voice along the way. This class was the first time I witnessed students' ideas being included in class discussion, and not only is it fascinating to me, but also very refreshing.

Date: 2003-01-27 19:29:28
Link to this Comment: 4283

The first hundred pages of Uncle Tom's Cabin left me with a plethora of mixed emotions. I am torn between my enormous sympathy for the protagonists, and my subsequent knowledge of the book. We looked at the book in history classes as an example of propogandist literature by abolitionists. For this reason I cannot help but to view the book through extremely tainted eyes that see the exaggerations before the truths. However, after further thought, I realized that what makes this book different, the reason it has withstood the test of time, is because unlike pro-slavery propoganda, it is true.
Despite this understanding, I was still not moved to tears, in fact, not even close. This reaction was big for me because I cry incredibly easilly through stories, regardless of sad or happy intonations. My lack of tears worries me tremendously because it is such a universal reaction to this book. However, I believe that even with a lack of tears I will be able to appreciate this book for what it is.

Name: Samantha D
Date: 2003-01-27 19:48:12
Link to this Comment: 4285

woops... sorry, I hit post instead of edit...I still have a bit more.
My sympathy for the characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin is tainted by my knowledge of Harriet Beecher Stowe. As you explained in class, Stowe turned down the opportunity to write the true story of an escaped woman slave, and instead chose to write her own fictionalized account of what it could have been like. While Harriet Beecher Stowe's fiction contains many truths, I would have much rather read her reporting of a first hand account. Understandibly, she was trying to convey a message of abolition to a socially and politically uninvolved class of people, which at the time made it important for her story to be dramatic. However, today an unfictionalized account, written by somebody with the empathy and emotion that Stowe exhibits, could provide a powerful {and true} insight into the life of slaves.
Possibly this knowledge is what contains my tears. If Stowe had allowed the story to speak for itself, her first hundred pages may have meant alot more to me today.

Name: Phil Pires
Date: 2003-01-28 00:20:07
Link to this Comment: 4304

As stated previously, I too found the juxtaposition of the tree and the red rock/waterfall striking. One element of the painting which has been seemingly overlooked, however, is the apparent path on the left side of the painting which continues deep into the forest. Why is this path placed on the left (masculine) side of the painting? Why not in the middle?

hidden world
Name: Mia Vergar
Date: 2003-02-07 08:42:05
Link to this Comment: 4469

The painting "Grace" leaves no space of canvas untouched, and because of the dense foliage that creates the background, I feel it creates depth of the Forest. Who knows how deep or large the forest is?, it is almost like a jungle. The white bark of a topless tree that bends to the left, the large rocks underneath it, and the red, mossy rock sitting in the right corner seem to frame the waterfall and open the observer up to this 'hidden world' that has been found among the thick copse of trees. The white tree did strike me as resembling a penis, however, that thought could have been swayed by a friend who had taken Anne's Thinking Sex class... Another part of the painting that caught my eye was how Professor Burgmayer printed "grace" so neatly, plainly, and very obviously in the painting. For some reason, I imagine the word grace to be cursive, with curls and such embellishing the word, but here it is not. And for all the complexity of the rest of the painting, the title is very simple.

Name: Sebastian
Date: 2003-02-14 17:50:35
Link to this Comment: 4608

Since I never had a chance to post on this topic I thought it'd be nice to examine the painting that I missed the class on. To me grace is the inherent natural beauty in something, usually dealing with curves and how peacful they seem. The key to this is the natural part. When I look at the painting I am immediately drawn to the pool of water and waterfall. The flowing of the waterfall and the ripples in the pool are what stand out as most graceful in the painting. It is also very peaceful in it's depiction of nature, which is very soothing.

Name: melissa ho
Date: 2003-02-18 15:55:32
Link to this Comment: 4659

Grace appears to me a vague undiscript painting. This painting leaves a lot to the imagination. I assume that the water comes from the end of a cliff or something of that nature, but cannot be sure. The painting makes it appear as if it is coming directly from the trees. There appears to be a stone path. The stones seem to be more the size of boulders, though. This painting is magnificent in that it allows the viewer to infer so much without really stating it.

Name: melissa ho
Date: 2003-02-18 15:55:34
Link to this Comment: 4660

Grace appears to me a vague undiscript painting. This painting leaves a lot to the imagination. I assume that the water comes from the end of a cliff or something of that nature, but cannot be sure. The painting makes it appear as if it is coming directly from the trees. There appears to be a stone path. The stones seem to be more the size of boulders, though. This painting is magnificent in that it allows the viewer to infer so much without really stating it.

re-examining 'grace'
Name: Phil
Date: 2003-05-14 14:26:55
Link to this Comment: 5665

In re-examining everything we have discussed and dealt with this semester, I returned to the painting we talked about on the first day of class. My initial reaction to this painting was to pick up on the path or trail leading away from the pool, and its interesting position on the left, 'masculine,' side of the painting. Looking at the painting now, I see it very differently. The path is in the middle; it is our perspective of the lake that betrays our eyes and makes it appear that the path is biased. Realizing this change in perspective makes me think of this as a metaphor for the entire class; it has changed my perspective on American Literature, especially in regard to their modern application, and of English classes as a whole.

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