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English 4420 critical response topics, fall 2017

Note that critical response essays have a 250 word minimum and must be typed: responses shorter than 250 words will not 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. Note that I will not accept critical responses that have any errors in document formatting: responses submitted with any "simple stuff" errors in formatting will be returned to you ungraded, and you will have to fix the errors and resubmit your work to get credit for it. Works cited pages are unnecessary for critical responses unless you are using an edition of the novel other than the one ordered for the class and listed on the syllabus. Even without works cited pages, do still follow the MLA conventions for documenting quotations as explained in Q1-3 on my quotations page.


1.11 Due Tuesday, September 26th: In separate paragraphs, explain how Nora is to be admired for leaving Torvald in A Doll House—and also condemned. Which side of this issue do you think Ibsen most promotes or endorses, and why? Include at least four quotations from the play in support of your assertions.


On deck:

1.12 Due Thursday, September 28th: The role of Hedda has been coveted by actresses ever since it was first produced, partly because of the complexity of the character and the challenges of bringing out a range of qualities in performance. She can be seen as evil incarnate or as helpless and misunderstood. Do you think that she is a victim of society or an example of one of society's greatest problems? Or perhaps something else? Include at least four quotations from the play supporting your claims.


Previous critical response topics—no longer valid for submission:

1.1 Due Thursday, August 17th: Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther is one of the foundational texts in European Romanticism, exerting a major influence over such important English Romantics as Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Shelley, among others. Consult an authoritative source describing key facets of Romanticism (with a capital R!), and demonstrate how Werther exhibits notably Romantic sensibilities in the first half of the novel. Include at least three quotations from the novel, and be sure to document any information taken from other sources.

1.2 Due Tuesday, August 22nd: Respond analytically to the shift from epistolary to the more standard third-person narration of a purported "editor." How does this shift impact the novel? For what artistic purposes do you think Goethe might have chosen to bring in the editor? How does the change impact your experience of reading the novel? Include at least three quotations from the third-person narration to support your claims.

1.3 Due Thursday, August 24th: Read my "Flaubert overview" page and then explore facets of Flaubert's vaunted realism in our first installment of Madame Bovary. Address both subject matter and narratorial technique: that is, consider how the narrative presents "the mundane," as opposed to matters of high drama or excitement, and also how the narration itself bears only minimal traces of an authorial presence (such as we find in intrusive authorial commentary in novels by Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, or Mark Twain, e.g.). Include at least four quotations to illustrate your observations.

1.4 Due Tuesday, August 29th: Comment upon the developing relationship between Emma and Rodolphe in the novel's second quarter, noting especially what Flaubert seems to portray about young women such as Emma and experienced "men of the world" such as Rodolphe. Include at least two quotations in your analysis of each character (four total, minimum).

1.5 Due Thursday, August 31st: Open assignment: taking care to avoid plot summary (nugget 1), respond to whatever strikes you as interesting or significant in the third quarter of Madame Bovary. Include at least three quotations from the novel in your response.

1.6 Due Tuesday, September 5th: Choose one, do not address both:
a) In separate paragraphs, comment on the significance of Homais and Lheureux in the last quarter of the novel. Going beyond obvious matters of plot, consider how both characters are important in what the novel has to say about life more generally--what "lessons" do they help Flaubert deliver? Include at least two quotations on each character (four total, minimum).

b) Discuss the continuing relevance of Emma's tragic descent into debauchery, debt, and despair in the final fourth of the novel. How is her story something readers today would do well to take to heart? Include at least three quotations from Part 3 of the novel (i.e. the last 70 pages).

1.7 Due Thursday, September 7th: Choose one, do not address both:
a) In his mature works, especially War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy is much admired for his ability to convey fundamental truths about humanity that strike readers as universal: in characters very different from ourselves (from peasants to princesses), we often experience feelings of "I know just that sort of person," "I have had the exact same thought!" "I have been in the very same situation!" Point out two or three places in Family Happiness where those moments of keen recognition or understanding of common human nature are evident. Include at least four quotations in your response.

b) Analyze Tolstoy's portrayal of both the country and the city in Family Happiness, including at least two quotations on country and two on city. Be sure to read to the end before tackling this option.

1.8 Due Thursday, September 14th: Discuss Olenin's views of the Cossacks he meets and lives among in the first half of The Cossacks, including quotations from at least three different chapters. You might consider what he find attractive in their attitudes and manner of living (pay particular attention to Daddy Eroshka).

1.9 Due Tuesday, September 19th: So what to make of the novel's ending? What does Olenin learn from his experiences among the Cossacks?  Include at least three quotations from late in the novel to illustrate your assertions.

1.10 Due Thursday, September 21st: Address one option only (exclusively):
a) Read to the end of The Death of Ivan Ilych, then return to the first chapter and point out three or more instances of the "falseness" in this first chapter that Ivan Ilych comes to recognize as ruling his entire life until his fatal illness, illustrating each instance with direct quotation.

b) Explain how Gerasim is, other than Ivan Ilych himself, the most crucial character in Tolstoy's delivery of the novella's central message on what is important in a genuinely authentic and meaningful life, supporting your observations with quotations from at least three different chapters.

c) While "decorum and propriety" are not of the same importance in our society as they were in Tolstoy's, explain how the novella's warning about societal expectations is still highly relevant to Americans in the twenty-first century. Support your analysis with quotations from at least three different chapters.