English 104: Introduction to Literature, Fiction
Professor Ralph E. Rodriguez
The Riverside Anthology of Short Fiction: Convention and Innovation
Text on Reserve at the Valley Library
The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers-- Maxine Hairston and John J. Ruszkiewicz
This course will introduce students to the study of short fiction. We will go over key terms necessary for understanding and writing about literature: metaphor, setting, point of view, symbolism, etc. These terms will facilitate a critical discussion of the literature. Further, they will help the students to become active, rather than passive, readers. Though I will certainly have the opportunity to share my thoughts and insights with you, I will expect students to be active participants in the classroom. We will use the classroom, that is, for active and engaged discussion. This shared dialogue will assist us in honing our interpretive skills.
Towards a Critical Pedagogy
I am a firm believer in the potential, possibilities, and the power of education. Every class you attend participates in the production and dissemination of knowledge; in this class your role as students will be to participate as fully as possible in that process. You are, that is, charged in part with the responsibility for the direction of this course. We come to the table, if you will, as interlocutors in an on-going conversation about literature, cultural formations, and their social ramifications. Consequently, your voices bear heavily on the relative success of this conversation. We will need to proceed through this dialogue as mature, intelligent, and responsible participants. This will be a classroom of mutual respect in which we carefully attend to each other's ideas in a respectful and engaged manner. This is not to say that we will always share one another's beliefs, values, and opinions, but we will always push each other to substantiate our claims and further our intellectual capabilities. Rich debate, open dialogue, and the fruitful exchange of opinions will help to transform the classroom and, by extension, our respective communities, for a critical pedagogy asks us to take seriously the transformative potential of our ideas and actions.
Students will be expected to come to class fully prepared for discussion. This means that reading the assigned material beforehand for any given day is a must, for fruitful discussions depend on the active participation of all students. Having read the material ahead of time, students should also begin to formulate questions and critiques which they would like to share in class discussion. You may also count on frequent short reading quizzes. If you have read, these will not be a problem. They are designed to keep you on track with your reading and to lead us into class discussion. Further, since 10% of your grade is based on active participation, attendance is required. Put simply, if you are not in class, you cannot participate. Absences will detract from your grade. Also, tardiness disrupts class proceedings. Two instances of lateness count as one unexcused absence. Be on time.
Paper #1 20%
Paper #2 35%
Paper #3 35%
Active Participation 10%
Description of Writing Assignments
All papers should, of course, be typed. Use a font no larger than 12pt and no smaller than 10pt. All margins (left, right, top, and bottom) should be one inch. Use 1.5 spacing. As a header, insert your name. Essays are due at the beginning of class on the assigned date. I do not accept late papers. Be sure to back-up your work frequently; computer problems are not an acceptable excuse for late work.
Grading Rubric for Essays
- These essays contain problems at the level of sentence structure and diction. They are marred by repeated mechanical errors and/or awkward constructions that obscure the essay's meaning. The argument here relies almost completely on assertion, with no clear support or development, and gives little or no analysis. Paragraphs contain weak or no coherence and/or focus.
- These essays are fundamentally sound at the level of sentence structure and diction, but their arguments rely too heavily on assertion. Specific support is either unclear or missing, and the focus of the essay may stray from its stated argument to make a more general and unrelated point. There may also be problems in coherence, complexity, or in overall development of the argument.
- These essays contain few, if any, errors in sentence structure, and they develop a clear, coherent argument. Support and explanation of that argument, however, are either insufficient to convince the reader completely or to make clear how the author reaches his or her conclusions. The argument itself may also be somewhat general and/or incompletely developed.
- These essays contain few, if any, errors in sentence structure and coherence, and they develop an interesting, insightful, tightly focused argument. These essays provide the reader with clear support and argumentation that fully justifies the author's conclusions, and they are written in a style that is both felicitous and sophisticated. The argument itself is both complex and fully developed.
Reading Actively: An Outline
- Read the story carefully a first time, paying particular attention to the main character(s) and what happens to them. Ask yourself what has changed during this story and why? It is a good idea at this stage to jot in the margins the main events of the action. Consult the questions at the end of the story for ideas about how to proceed with your second reading. While these questions are often helpful, don't let them completely determine the scope of your analysis.
- Re-read the story with the aim of understanding exactly what has happened to whom. Identify the central conflict(s) of the story. What precisely is the conflict about? Who is involved in the conflict? What are the stakes? As you read, underline key passages, circle important words or phrases, put question marks beside anything you don't understand. Continue to dialogue with the text by making annotations in the margins.
- In most stories, what happens is fairly clear, but why it happens is not. This is where analysis and interpretation come into play. Everything you can observe about the story--the characters and their motivations, the setting and its influence on events, the point of view, the narrator's comments, style, imagery, word choice, symbols, tone--may help to explain or clarify the why. Remember, too, that there are four questions which you can ask of any piece of fiction:
- What works against what? Inquire about perceived conflicts--for example between characters, between characters and settings, between sound and sense, between image and idea, between reader assumptions and a work's point of view.
- What relates to what? Inquire about possible relationships and connections--for example, between a metaphor and the plot, between the social setting and a character's actions, between the sound and emotion evoked.
- What changes?Inquire about modulations through the piece--for example, how the style changes as the ideas evolve, how the tone gradually conveys a change of mind, how changes in setting convey changes in character. These three generic questions build toward your fourth question:
- So what?This fourth question will be your interpretive thesis statement, the argument you are making. It connects and explains the significance of the observations you made in the three previous questions.
- Formulate a hypothesis based on your observations as to what the story is saying--what its theme or wider significance is. Support your overall hypothesis with evidence from the story itself. Without textual evidence, your hypothesis is merely an unsubstantiated assertion.
- Jot down any questions you have about points you do not understand or are not sure about.
- At this point you are well prepared to discuss the story or to respond in writing. In either case, be prepared to support what you say with details and passages from the story itself.
Writing About Fiction
You will be writing three two-page essays for this course. You will have the liberty of selecting the topic on which you write, but you must write on a story which we have covered in class. Also, the story you write on should have been covered in class prior to the date the essay is due. For essay #1, for instance, you may write on any story we have read up until the essay is due. For essay #2, you may write on any story we have read since essay #1 was due, and so on. Remember as well that these are two-page writing assignments, so you must tailor your thesis statement accordingly. Don't be overly ambitious about what you can effectively argue in two pages. Below you will find guidelines intended to facilitate your ability to write about fiction and to help you avoid common pitfalls in writing.
Two General Observations About Writing About Fiction:
- The purpose of writing about fiction is to illuminate or better understand the text you are analyzing. The particular topic or question you are addressing is important, but in responding to it your comments should help clarify or illuminate the significance of the work as a whole.
- Realize that your analysis represents an argument. You need to have a thesis or point, and you need to provide evidence for your point. The evidence in the case of your essays will come from the text you are analyzing.
An Effective Essay Analyzing A Short Story Meets These Criteria:
- It articulates a controlling idea or thesis, a generalization about the story or novel that says something significant about how the story achieves its meaning and impact. Sometimes this controlling idea may focus on a craft issue, such as how suspense is achieved. At other times, the controlling idea may focus on theme. In any case, as noted, the controlling idea should help clarify the overall significance or meaning of the story being analyzed.
- This controlling idea is supported by several lower-level generalizations that develop or clarify it.
- Examples from the story are used to support these generalizations; logical connections are made between generalizations and examples.
- An introduction and conclusion frame the analysis and helpfully orient readers to the essay's structure and argument.
Here Are Some Common Problems In Student Essays About Fiction:
- The writer simply retells the plot of the story. If writing about setting, for instance, the writer may make a comment here and there about setting, but these are merely inserted in a retelling of the narrative.
- The writer confuses fictional characters with real people and is inattentive to the text as written. A student who says she doesn't like x as a character because she hates weak, clinging women is treating x like a real person, rather than a character, a symbolic representation. This student would do better to point to those aspects of the story that support a critical perspective on the character.
- The writer ignores aspects of the text that implicitly or explicitly challenge his or her interpretation.
- The writer fails to support important generalizations with textual evidence. Examples from the text are one of the most important ways you can support your analysis. When you use quotations you should explain how the quotation develops the idea being discussed. It's not enough to merely insert a quotation on its own as irrefutable proof of your idea. You need to explain why the quotation supports your generalization.
- The writer makes inferences about the story that the text as written does not warrant.
- The writer bases an entire line of reasoning on speculations about how a story might be if it were written differently. It's one thing to argue, for instance, that a great deal of the power of a story like "The Cask of Amontillado" derives from its use of first person point of view. Such an argument makes sense and can be easily supported through references to the text as written. It's quite another thing to attempt to ground an argument on the effectiveness of first person point of view in this story in speculations about how it could not have effectively been written from any other point of view. An author might indeed have been able to make the story just as suspenseful using third person omniscient point of view. In this case the story would, of course, be quite different than the story that Poe left us. Finally, speculations about other ways that an author might have written a story are just that: speculations. They can never be supported; moreover, they take you away from the story as written. Since the story as written is the "data" for your analysis, you want to employ strategies that enable you to look more closely at how it works, not speculate about how it might have worked (or not worked) if the author had written the story differently.
Things To Do Before Turning In Your Essays:
Carefully proofread. You should read and reread your writing to eliminate spelling and punctuation errors. Remember that spellcheckers are a good starting point to eliminate spelling mistakes, but they don't catch everything. They move right by homonyms (e.g., to, too, two), and they don't catch properly spelled words that are misused (e.g., the pattern if the table). Then, look carefully at each sentence. Is it stated as clearly and as gracefully as possible? Does it say what you mean? Remember, say what you mean, and mean what you say. This rule sounds simple, but often writers are surprised by the confusion their own sentences create. The onus is on you as a writer to make yourself understood. It's always a good idea to have a friend read your paper before turning it in. He or she can let you know if a sentence or paragraph is unclear, etc.
|M June 22||Introduction; Diagnostic Essay; Reading Fiction Actively 1163-1175|
|T June 23||Elements of Fiction & Writing about Short Stories 1177-1212|
|W June 24||E.T.A. Hoffman-"The Sandman"|
|Th June 25||Nathaniel Hawthorne-"My Kinsman, Major Molineux"|
|M June 29||Edgar Allan Poe-"The Tell-Tale Heart; Nikolai Vasilivech Gogol-"The Overcoat"|
|T June 30||Sir Arthur Conan Doyle-"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"; Agatha Christie-"The Case of the Perfect Maid"|
|W July 1||F. Scott Fitzgerald-"Babylon Revisited"; William Faulkner-"Dry September"|
|Th July 2||Langston Hughes-"Cora Unashamed"; Zora Neale Hurston-"The Gilded Six-Bits" Essay #1 Due|
|M July 6||Raymond Chandler-"The Curtain"|
|T July 7||Shirley Jackson-"The Lottery"; Hisaye Yamamoto-"Seventeen Syllables"|
|W July 8||Philip Roth-"The Conversion of the Jews"; Grace Paley-"The Loudest Voice"|
|Th July 9||Doris Lessing-"The Black Madonna"; Donald Bartheleme-"The Balloon" Essay #2 Due|
|M July 13||Angela Carter-"The Bloody Chamber"|
|T July 14||Margaret Atwood-"Bluebeard's Egg"|
|W July 15||Isabel Allende-"And of Clay Are We Created"; Robert Olen Butler-"Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot|
|Th July 16||Closing Discussion Essay #3 Due|