Background: After an introduction to literature, poetry, and the evolving genre of romance, we began following the development of mystery from the folktale “Three Princes of Seredip” and Voltaire’s Zadig, or the Book of Fate through Edgar Allan Poe’s crystallization of the detective story in his tales of rationcination, exemplified by “The Purloined Letter.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle further developed and popularized detective fiction in his Sherlock Holmes stories, such as “A Scandal in Bohemia.” We saw the gentleman detective turn into tough, morally complex character in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, then lost ourselves in the many twists of Ira Levin’s play Deathtrap. Throughout this unit, we have explored the connection between detective work and close reading, namely looking for clues and constructing meaning from those clues. Now it’s your turn to practice a bit of detective work on the mystery of your choice.
Goal: To interpret a mystery using techniques of close reading, exploring social issues of morality, class, gender, sexuality, and so on.
Continue reading “Writing Assignment: Reading as a Detective”
Forests have fallen to explain The Waste Land. And yet, many readers express frustration, which never fully goes away, no matter how many papers and books they read. Once someone begins to read the poem, it is difficult to know where to stop: the preface, the note on the text, the poem itself, the author’s footnotes, the editor’s footnotes, the sources alluded to, the literary criticism, the guides, the biographies, the bibliographies, the early drafts? There is no back cover to this book. One could go on reading The Waste Land until the Holy Grail was found.
Continue reading “What “The Waste Land” Expresses: An Experiential Approach to T. S. Eliot’s Poem”
“The Things They Carried” is a short work of fiction. The Things They Carried is also the name of what could be called a short-story collection or perhaps a meta-fictional novel. It’s a pastiche of fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, memoir, author’s notations, and literary commentary.
Although the opening story stands alone as a work of fiction, it also functions as an introduction to the larger book. It establishes the major characters that recur throughout the “novel” and introduces many of the topics the book explores, themes as concrete as the Vietnam War and as abstract as how someone tells the truth about a historical event. O’Brien felt that straight facts could not convey an experience as ambiguous and disturbing as the Vietnam war. Yet O’Brien does not wholly rely on fiction either. He interweaves fact and fiction in the story (and throughout the book) to give the reader a more comprehensive sense of what it was really like to fight in Vietnam, to live in the face of death, and to carry on a purposeless existence.
Continue reading “The Burden of Life: Tim O’Brien’s Metafictional Classic “The Things They Carried””