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English 2122 critical response topics, fall 2023

Remember from the syllabus that you are required to address five critical responses over the term, so you need not do every topic assigned.

Critical responses have a 200 word minimum (in the body of the response, excluding name, date, header, etc.): responses shorter than 200 words cannot pass. Avoid plot summary or straightforward retelling of "what happens" in the work—see nugget 1.

Format your response according to MLA guidelines for margins, spacing, name, date, etc., headers, etc. as outlined on my "simple stuff" page. Works cited pages are unnecessary for critical responses, although do still follow the MLA conventions for documenting quotations as explained in Q1-4 on my quotations page.

2.8 Due Thursday, November 30: Address one:
Open assignment on any one of the Auden poems we're reading, any one of the Larkin poems, or any one of Heaney's. Avoid summary, and include at least three quotations from the poem you examine..

b) Consider how any two or three of the poems by Auden, Larkin, and Heaney can be seen to speak more immediately, or with more explicit relevance, to readers today than those of other poets we studied earlier in the term. Support your observations with at least two quotations from each poem you discuss.

On deck:

2.9 Due Monday, December 4 or Tuesday, December 5 (i.e. before you do the final exam): If you had to choose one work from our readings to represent English Romanticism, one that characterizes appreciable differences (or concerns) in Victorian literature, and a third that distinguishes 20th century literature from both periods preceding, what would they be? How is each of these three works important to the trajectory of English literature in the 19th and 20th centuries? Obviously, this topic could fill volumes, so keep your analysis manageable, limited to three paragraphs and no longer than two pages, two and half at absolute most.

Previous critical response topics—no longer valid for submission:

1.1 Due Saturday, August 19: Address one option only, not both:
Can you relate closely to any of the Blake poems we're reading? How so?
Include quotations from each poem you discuss (minimum of three quotations total). For the mechanics of citing poetry, see Q4.

b) Is Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman entirely dated? Do some of her ideas still apply to women today? Quoting the text at least three times to support your claims, discuss the potential relevance of her argument to our contemporary society.

1.2 Due Saturday, August 26: address either topic, not both:
a) Explore Wordsworth's central ideas about nature in "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," including at least four meaningful quotations to illustrate your claims; also note how any of these ideas are borne out in any of the poems we're reading in this unit, following MLA style for citing poetry outlined in Q4.

b) Discuss common beliefs or ideas shared in the poems we're reading by Wordsworth and Coleridge. Include at least two quotations from each poem you mention, following guidelines for citing poetry outlined in Q4.

1.3 Due Saturday, September 2: address either option:
Open assignment: respond to anything that strikes you as interesting or significant in two or more of the Shelley poems we're reading (be analytical, avoid summarizing). If you're stuck: you might consider which of the first-generation Romantics Shelley seems to have the most in common with, or you might consider Shelley's view of nature or his evident radicalism. Include at least three quotations from the poetry, following MLA guidelines outlined in Q4.

b) How does the Keats poetry we're reading differ from the other poetry we've explored thus far? How is Keats "Romantic" (reread "Romanticism")? Quote two or more poems at least twice in your analysis, following the MLA guidelines in Q4.

1.4 Due Sunday, September 10: Discuss Shelley's commentary upon the nature of isolation or alienation in the first two volumes of the novel, considering especially its causes and consequences. Include both Victor and the Creature in your analysis, and support observations with at least two quotations on Victor and two on the Creature. Quote both from Vol. I and Vol. II.

1.5 Due Sunday, September 17: Address one, not both:
a) After reading Frankenstein to the end, consider one or more ways the novel as a whole is a model text in Romanticism. That is, explain how Shelley's novel falls in line thematically, or in its fundamental concerns, with different major emphases that we have noted in Romanticism to this point in the semester. Include at least three quotations from the novel to support your claims.

b) Open assignment. Avoiding plot summary, discuss whatever in strikes you as interesting or significant in the final third of Frankenstein. Include at least three quotations to illustrate your observations.

1.6 Due Saturday, September 23: Do one, not both:
Open assignment on Elizabeth Barrett Browning: respond to anything that strikes you as interesting or significant in one or more of the E.B.B. poems we're reading (be analytical, avoid summarizing). An obvious topic would be her progressive and/or feminist views (probably not in the sonnets). Include at least three quotations from the poetry, maybe more.
See MLA conventions for quoting and citing poetry in Q4.

b) Doing your best to avoid repeating comments from others' discussion posts, discuss Tennyson's portrayal of loss in any two of his poems we're reading this week, quoting each at least twice following MLA conventions for quoting and citing poetry as indicated in Q4.

1.7 Due Saturday, September 30: A Christmas Carol has remained remarkably popular from first publication to the present day. In fact, Dickens's "Christmas book" has become deeply ingrained in our culture even for those who have not read it: nearly everyone knows what a "Scrooge" is and what "Bah, humbug!" means. A Christmas Carol is very much a work of its time—it's quintessentially "Victorian." What makes this novella so perpetually "current" or relevant? Think of how the world has evolved many times over since the 1840s: we have seen the advent of the automobile, telephone, radio, and television; World War I, the Great Depression, and the cataclysm of World War II; the Nuclear Age; the Internet, cell phones, and even a reality-TV-star U.S. president! Through all this and more, why does Dickens's Christmas book still so evidently speak to us now? Include quotations from at least three "staves" to illustrate your claims.

2.1 Due Saturday, October 7: Perhaps even more than A Christmas Carol, Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is both "so Victorian" and continually, perpetually relevant. Discuss two or more different ways that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde portrays the fundamental human condition (the essence of humanity), including at least two quotations from the novella for each point.

2.2 Due Saturday, October 14: Choose one:
a) Wilde's farcical The Importance of Being Earnest has been described as a "garden of sheer delight, a modern Eden where winter never enters." What is the most important, still-very-relevant social criticism Wilde offers in this lighthearted play? Include at least three quotations in your response.

b) Open assignment on our Yeats readings: Respond to the poetry however you like so long as you avoid summarizing what the poems say and include quotations from at least two different poems, with a minimum of two quotes from each poem you discuss.

2.3 Due Saturday, October 21: Explore the imagery and symbolism of lightness and darkness in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. How is the "darkness" particularly "modern," or "twentieth-century"? Read to the end of the novella before completing the response, and include at least four quotations to illustrate your claims.

2.4 Due Saturday, October 28: Choose three passages from Woolf's A Room of One's Own that you think particularly important to this classic feminist text (one from chapters 1-2, one from chapters 3-4, and one from chapters 5-6). Anything analytical is fair game: just take care to avoid summarizing or repeating the essence of what she says. If you prefer not to have such a wide-open topic, you might focus on Woolf's use of metaphor and/or story-telling to support her argument.

2.5 Due Saturday, November 4: In at least two paragraphs avoiding plot summary, compare and contrast the protagonists' epiphanies in "Araby" and "Eveline" (see the Dubliners section on the Joyce overview page). Consider what leads up to the epiphany and the significance of the moment of insight each character experiences. Quote each story at least twice.

2.6 Due Saturday, November 11: Explore ways that either or both modernist classics, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Hollow Men," are dramatically different from the literature we've read to this point in the term. Quote the poetry at least four times (total, not for both poems if you do two). You might consider subject matter, style, and/or literary technique, as you see fit: there are no "right" answers, so trust your own judgment.

2.7 Due Saturday, November 18: Open assignment. Avoiding plot summary, discuss whatever in strikes you as interesting or significant in Beckett's Happy Days. Include at least three quotations illustrating your observations.