week 4

· Alice Walker, “Everyday Use” (1973)

Alice Walker, “Everyday Use” (1973)

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Alice Walker has described herself as a womanist, a term that has often been defined to mean a black feminist. She has explored her interest in the doubled forms of prejudice that African-American women face — prejudices based upon both race and gender — in non-fiction writing, in novels like the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple (1982), and in short stories like “Everyday Use” (1973), a story that you will be reading for the class.

As the biography of Walker on pp. 475-76 in your textbook indicates, Walker grew up in economically humble circumstances in a rural region of Georgia. She suffered a serious eye injury from the accidental discharge of a BB gun, and lost the sight in that eye. She attended college on a scholarship, and was the first in her family to attend college.

You will note that “Everyday Use” describes the situation of a family of three African-American women in the rural South in a time of change, sometime after the onset of the Civil Rights Era (the story was published in 1973). The mother, who tells the story, talks about the lives of her two daughters — one of whom has attended college, the other of whom has suffered significant physical injuries as a result of a house fire. As you read the story, ask yourself what facets of Walker’s life might have influenced the way she wrote this story and delineated its characters.

As you read “Everyday Use,” I encourage you to ask yourself which of these facets of Walker’s life might have influenced the story that she wrote.

·

Gender Criticism

Gender Criticism

Please recall that, in past modules, we have discussed three schools of critical thought: biographical criticism, which considers how the author’s life may influence what the author writes; historical criticism, which looks at how the historical circumstances within which an author is writing may influence what the author writes; and formalist criticism , which avoids biographical and historical detail in favor of an emphasis on the formal features of the text alone, and on how those formal features of a text work together to produce an important work of literature.

This week, we consider a fourth school of literary criticism — gender criticism.

Gender criticism holds that one should examine how sexual identity influences the creation and reception of literary works. Culture around the world, these critics argue, has been so completely dominated by men that literature is full of unexamined, “male-produced” assumptions.

Literary criticism, according to gender critics, should examine how an author’s gender influences their writing, whether consciously or unconsciously.

One can also examine how sexual identity influences the reader of a text.

Many gender critics consider it important to examine how images of men and women in imaginative literature reflect or reject the social forces that have historically kept the sexes from achieving full equality.

The ideas of gender criticism have also been applied in the context of LGBTQ writers and readers living in a heteronormative society — a society where heterosexuality is assumed to be the “norm.”

Gender criticism can provide a powerful way to achieve new insights regarding the work of any writer. With regard to the writers whose work we have studied so far, a gender critic might ask questions along these lines:

· Why are Edgar Allan Poe’s stories so male-dominated, with men generally playing the most active roles and having the most agency?

· Why are so many women in Edgar Allan Poe stories like “The Fall of the House of Usher” or “Ligeia,” or in Poe poems like “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” (a) young, (b) beautiful, and (c) dying or dead? Does a woman’s life, for Poe, have less value if she is no longer young, or if she is not “beautiful” according to the standards of her society? Is the “preservation” of a woman’s beauty, through her early death, more important for Poe than the gradual “loss” of her beauty through the normal human aging process? Is that more important than the woman getting to live a full life of her own, experience the full span of a human life?

· What might the situation set forth in Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” say about Frost’s views regarding the social roles that are expected for men and women — in this case, with regard to grief? What might the things that the husband and wife say to each other over the course of this dialogic poem indicate regarding Frost’s feelings regard how women and men speak to each other in early 20th-century America? How does the reader’s view of this gender dynamic affect the reader’s response to the characters and dramatic situation of this poem, on an intellectual and emotional level?

· How does one’s reading of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” change when reading it in the context of 19th-century courtship norms for her New England society? In that time, it was expected that a “respectable” young woman would have to have a chaperone when going out on a date with a young man. In the case of this poem, the speaker is a young woman, Death plays the role of the young man who has come courting, and “Immortality” takes the place of the chaperone. To what extent does the speaker of the poem gain or lose agency over the course of the poem?

· How might Flannery O’Connor’s characterization of the grandmother in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” reflect the strict gender norms of the conservative rural Southern community in which she was born and raised? How does the grandmother’s use of indirection to try to achieve her goals — in that case, to change the trajectory of her family’s planned vacation — reflect Southern gender norms of that time? What might the grandmother and Bailey’s wife have in common, or how might they differ, in terms of how they respond to the entry of the Misfit into the story, and to the violent events that then follow?

Gender criticism could also be applied to this week’s story, Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” (1973). The story takes place among a family of women, and focuses, like much of Walker’s work, on the strength and agency of women. How does each of these characters — the mother, Dee/Wangero, and Maggie — seek power and autonomy in her life? Over the course of the story, which of her daughters does the mother (who narrates the story) seem to sympathize with more, and why? What factors stand out regarding each character’s quest for strength in a world where African-American women face discrimination predicated upon both race and gender?

Gender criticism can provide a powerful and thought-provoking way for readers to respond to any literary work by any writer.

 

·

Alice Walker on Writing

Alice Walker on Writing

Your textbook includes two examples of Alice Walker reflecting on her own work, and on writing:

· “The Black Woman Writer in America,” interview with John O’Brien (1973), pp. 482-83

· “Reflections on Writing and Women’s Lives,” interview with William R. Ferris (mid-1990’s, 2004)

Please read these two interviews and consider how Alice Walker’s views on her life, on American society, and on writing may have influenced the writing of “Everyday Use.”

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Critics on the Work of Alice Walker

Critics on the Work of Alice Walker

Your textbook also includes various examples of literary critics offering their own reflections and ideas regarding the work of Alice Walker:

· Houston A. Baker and Charlotte Pierce-Baker, “Stylish vs. Sacred in ‘Everyday Use'” (1985), pp. 487-90

· Barbara T. Christian, “‘Everyday Use’ and the Black Power Movement” (1994), pp. 484-86

· Mary Helen Washington, “‘Everyday Use’ as a Portrait of the Artist” (1994), pp. 486-87

Please read these works of literary criticism, and think about how you might apply the critics’ ideas to Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.”

·

Journal on Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” Due to Journal Portal by Thursday, February 18, 11:59 pm

Journal on Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” Due to Journal Portal by Thursday, February 18, 11:59 pm

Please submit your journal response for Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” to the appropriate journal portal by Thursday, February 18, at 11:59 pm.

·

Discussion Board on Responses to Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” — Due Dates Thursday, February 18, and Sunday, February 21, 11:59 pm

Discussion Board on Responses to Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” — Due Dates Thursday, February 18, and Sunday, February 21, 11:59 pm

For this week’s discussion board, you will be considering the perspectives of Alice Walker herself, and of various literary critics, on Walker’s work in general, and on her story “Everyday Use” in particular. For this week’s small-group discussion-board activity, you are asked to address the following question:

Of the two interviews and three critical sources cited above, which one, or which ones, most influenced or informed your reading of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and why?

Your initial post (5-7 sentences) will be due to your small-group discussion board by Thursday, February 18, at 11:59 pm.

Your responses to the posts of others (3-5 sentences) will be due to your small-group discussion board by Sunday, February 21, at 11:59 pm.

·

Essay 1 (Literary Response Essay) Due to Assignment Portal by Sunday, February 21, 11:59 pm

Essay 1 (Literary Response Essay) Due to Assignment Portal by Sunday, February 21, 11:59 pm

Please remember that your first major assignment of the semester, Essay 1 (the Literary Response Essay), will be due for submission to the appropriate assignment portal by Sunday, February 21, at 11:59 pm.

The original assignment descriptor appears in the Week 1 module. I am reproducing it here, and am also copying it to the Assignments portal.

LENGTH: 3-4 pages

DUE DATE: Sun. Feb. 21, by 11:59 pm

GUIDELINES: For this essay, please take the aspect of your choice from the short story or poem of your choice, and compose a paper that illuminates that aspect of the short story or poem for your reader.

For this paper, you may write about (1) any of the short stories or poems that we are studying in class; (2) any short story or poem that is included in the Literature anthology, but is not being discussed in this class; or (3) a short story or poem that is not included in the Literature anthology, but is of interest to you. If you wish to pursue option (3), please clear your choice with me before proceeding with your paper.

Secondary sources are not expected for this paper. What should be emphasized, rather, is your opinion regarding some important aspect or aspects of the short story or poem, with your claims regarding the short story or poem being supported by evidence from the text.

Some possible ways of writing about a short story or poem include the following:

1) explication — in which you unfold the meanings of a key passage in a work of fiction or poetry, proceeding line by line and explaining the interlocking meanings in anything and everything you find significant about the work. In an explication, you as writer show how the parts of the passage’s parts contribute to the effect of the passage and to the themes of the work.

2) analysis — in which you take a particularly interesting aspect of a work of fiction or poetry and examine it in detail. You could focus on plot, structure, characterization, setting, style, tone, symbolism, theme — anything that suits your fancy.

3) comparison and contrast — in which you explore similarities and/or differences in two works of fiction or poetry. This too can be a useful way of getting at meaning in a work. (When we compare, we point out similarities; when we contrast, we focus on differences.) If you do choose to compare and contrast two works, it is important that you make sure the stories of your choice have some sort of basis of comparison — some basic common aspect against which deeper similarities or differences can be measured. For example, you could choose two works by the same author, or two works from the same place and/or time, or two works dealing with the same subject. You could also compare and contrast two characters, or two chapters.

Whichever method of writing about fiction or poetry you choose, remember that your work should have a strong sense of thesis, and you should use supporting quotes from the text to back up that thesis. The sample papers that we will review should provide a helpful model for you to follow as you develop your own ideas.

Please remember that your textbook includes the following examples of student writing about fiction and poetry. These student writing samples can provide you with helpful guidance in constructing your own Literary Response Essay:

· “By Lantern Light: An Explication of a Passage in Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,'” pp. 1792-93 [explication essay]

· “The Hearer of the Tell-Tale Heart,” pp. 1794-96 [analysis essay]

· “Lost Innocence in ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay,'” pp. 1778-80 [argument essay]

· “The Design of Robert Frost’s ‘Design,'” pp. 1821-22 [analysis essay]

· “‘Wing-Spread’ Does a Dip,” pp. 1824-25 [comparison-contrast essay]

Please remember that I am always happy to look at student work in progress. If you have a question or concern, please let me know, and I will be glad to review your draft with you before you submit the assignment.

Please let me know as well of any questions or concerns that may occur as you prepare the assignment.

Thanking you in advance. Looking forward to reading your Literary Response Essays!

·

Extra Credit Opportunity: Roger Corman’s “Tales of Terror” (1962) — Edgar Allan Poe Stories on Film

Extra Credit Opportunity: Roger Corman’s “Tales of Terror” (1962) — Edgar Allan Poe Stories on Film

This week, I have assigned only one reading, rather than two, as I know that you will be busy working on your Literary Response Essays.

But I thought that it might be helpful to you for me to offer an extra-credit opportunity to students who may want to continue with their exploration of literature.

Toward that end, later this week I will be setting forth a link to a film based upon four of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. The film, Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror (1962), draws upon four Poe stories: “Morella” (1835), “The Black Cat” (1843), “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845), and “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846). All of these stories have similarities to “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), the Poe story that you read earlier this semester.

Director Roger Corman worked for American International Pictures, a studio that generally turned out quickly-produced, low-budget films in commercially profitable genres like horror and science fiction. Between 1960 and 1964, Corman produced and directed eight films based, sometimes loosely, upon Poe works. The other films in the series were The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).

Because of the relative brevity of many of Poe’s stories, Corman often had to weave in elements from other Poe stories, or from the work of other writers, and sometimes he simply added plot elements of his own. Yet the films were highly popular, particularly with teenage viewers — some of whom later ran into trouble at school when they submitted Poe papers that revealed that they had only seen the Corman movie version of a Poe story, rather than reading the original story!

The films also, surprisingly, garnered an increasing degree of praise from movie critics as the series went on. Some critics, for example, saw in The Masque of the Red Death the cinematic influence of Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director who was one of the most respected filmmakers of his time!

Tales of Terror stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone — all actors who had considerable experience in the horror genre.

As you watch these stories, ask yourself: what elements so the stories have in common with “The Tell-Tale Heart”?

I am still working on getting copyright permission to post a link to this film for students. In the meantime, you may seek out a viewing of the film via the streaming service of your choice if you wish to do so.

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