Diagramming Character Relationships | Active vs. Passive Reading |
Life of Washington | Uncle Tom's Cabin | Charlotte Temple | Ragged Dick | Secret of the Old Clock |
Quaker City | Ten Nights in a Bar-Room | Peyton Place | The Godfather | Misery | Harry Potter
Active vs. Passive Reading
It comes as no surprise that in a course about best selling literature there is a great deal of reading expected of the student. There are two basic ways to approach such reading: active and passive engagement with the text. Passive engagement focuses largely on just getting the task done. We have all read books where we are more interested in what page we are on (and how many pages we have left to read) than what is actually happening on the page. Active reading involves asking questions of the narrative as one reads along. One gets better at formulating these "active reading" questions the more one reads.
Below, you will find just some questions that might help you more thoughtfully engage the reading assignments in this class. You need not write down the answers to these questions unless you think such writing helps you. These questions are merely offered as starting points for your own personal engagement with the narratives we are going to read. They are by no means all inclusive -- and you do not need to answer everyone -- but they are meant to serve as starting points to your own interpretative processes. Also remember: "active reading" questions are most helpful when they involve specific answers. Such specificity means identifying precise passages in the text that lend credence to your point of view.
In thinking about the following questions, you might also want to refer to the glossary of literary terms, a page which might help you with the following questions, as well as serve as a source for creating your own questions on the text.
2) Compare and contrast this painting of Grant Woods ["Parson Weems' Fable," 1939] to the story of the cherry tree on page 8. What might be some of the messages Woods is attempting to convey in his painting?
3) What role does fatherhood play in Weemís biography of Washington?
4) List the primary characteristics of Washington as a youth in chapters 1-3. How do these characteristics show themselves in the adult Washington of chapter 13 and with what result?
1) Where do you see social or relational structures upside down in this story?
2) Who are more powerful in this story, men or women?
3) What is the most interesting instance of motherhood in this story?
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1) What do you learn about early American publishing from the reproduced pages entitled "To Ladies and Gentlemen"?
2) What role does a character's nationality play in the plot? Focus on one character to illustrate your point.
3) How does the text seem to define "benevolence," and why does it play such a major role in the story?
4) Do Montraville and Belcour change in their basic character in the course of the story, or do they end up pretty much the same people as they started out?
5) How do the activities of reading and writing bear on the plot?
6) This book is often described as an advice manual. What kinds of advice does it offer its readers?
7) Why do you think Rowson felt it necessary to include the final chapter?
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1) Why might Lippard include the footnote "No reader who wishes to understand this story in all its details will fail to peruse this chapter" for chapter six?
2) How are men and women portrayed in Quaker City thus far? Does Lippard seem to favor one sex over the other?
3) There are two main love plots so far in Quaker City: Lorrimer/Mary and Fitz-Cowles. Why might Lippard feel the need to include two plots rather than one?
4) Take some time to look closely at the descriptions of the characters in this section of Quaker City. Why might Lippard choose to describe people in the way that he does? Pay particular attention to the descriptions of Devil Bug on pages 327-328 and Lorrimer on pages 389-390.
5) Control is a central issue for Lippard. Pick a character who exercises control and explain how they do it.
6) In the extended seduction scene between Lorrimer and Mary in chapter thirteen of Quaker City, what strategies and forms of rhetoric does Lorrimer use to seduce Mary?
7) What evidence do you find in this section which might allow you to argue that Quaker City is more salacious and titillating than strictly edifying (as Lippard has claimed in his Preface)?
For those of you who are interested, here is a brief summary of how Quaker City ends:
Lippard wrote this book in serial fashion, and a host of new characters are introduced to fill out a volume that will run to nearly six hundred pages when it is published in book form. The characters introduced in “Book the First” are intimately related to the final chapters of the book.
Lorrimer refuses to marry Mary and is killed by Byrnewood, fulfilling the astrologer’s prophecy. A group of characters then move to live in a cottage in western Pennsylvania’s vale of Wyoming. This group includes: Mary Arlington, Lorrimer’s mother and sister, and Byrnewood and his wife, Annie (the servant girl he had seduced). Mary never really recovers from her rape and sham marriage; the last words of the book are her crying out the words: “Lorraine.”
There is some ambiguity to whether or not Devil Bug is killed at the end of the novel. Fitz-Cowles escapes death, but not prison for his many crimes. The merchant Livingstone is burned to death at his country estate after revealing to his wife Dora that he is of royal blood and could have offered her a true coronet from the English aristocracy. He kills Dora by poisoning her before the fire engulfs the house and kills him.
Bess is repentant for her deeds against Mary and tries to help her escape Lorrimer and Monk Hall. Mary eventually does escape with the help of Bess. Bess is later found dead near her father’s grave. Luke marries a woman named Mabel (an important character later in the book). They live happily ever after. Oddly enough, it turns out that Mabel is the stunningly beautiful and virtuous daughter of Devil Bug, who is separated from him at her birth. Finding out that he has a daughter significantly changes the character of Devil Bug, who is not nearly as evil at the end of the book as he is when we meet him in “Book the First.”
1) By closely examining the character of Simon Slade, which virtues does the author seem to hold most dear and which vices most dangerous?
2) What role does parenthood play in this story?
3) How does money and economics figure into the thematic development of this tale thus far?
4) Temperance is a term intimately tied to notions of control. Where do you see differing notions of power and control in this novel? Are certain forms of control favored over others? Focus on only one character or form of control.
5) Note how the author places emphasis on facial expressions in this work. Why might he spend so much time on this aspect of characterization?
6) What might Judge Lyman represent in this novel, and why might he be given such a large part in the story?
7) What do you make of the place of Joe Morgan as the novel ends?
8) If alcoholism is a disease - as T. S. Arthur would have us believe - what are his prescriptions for improved health in this novel?
1) What role does luck play in this novel?
2) Why might Alger include so many DIFFERENT boys in the story?
3) How are women portrayed in this story?
4) What are the different uses of money in this story?
1) What seems to be Nancy’s central, defining personality trait in this book?
2) Why might it be important that Nancy’s mother is dead?
3) Why might it be important that Nancy owns and drives a car?
4) Why might Carolyn Keen choose to make this detective story about the loss of money rather than some other crime?
5) What thematic purpose do Isabel and Ada Topham serve in this narrative?
2) Through what points of view does Metalious choose to tell her story? Why might she use this strategy?
3) What is the role of gossip in the narrative so far?
4) Where do you see symbols (and themes) of things being hidden and/or submerged in the story so far?
5) What are the different tools used to inflict pain on others in these chapters?
6) Where do you see issues of race and class in Book I?
2) What different kinds of architecture are found in Book I, and how might these different styles function symbolically within the narrative?
3) What different forms of force and rape do you see in this section?
4) Where do you see distinctions between love and sex in this section?
5) Where do you see notions of natural law and human law in these pages?
6) What are some of the driving forces behind the relationships in this section?
7) Why might Metalious having constructed the character of
Cross as she did?
2) How does Metalious's portrayal of male characters either add or detract from her female characters?
3) What do you make of the pus that runs in Nellie's veins?
4) What are the different things fire might symbolize in this section?
5) What importance do different notions of insanity have in the novel so far?
6) What symbolic value does the carnival have in this section?
7) How do you think Metalious differentiates between childhood
2) Why do you think Metalious does not allow Ted Carter and Selena to end up happily married?
3) What difference, if any, does it make that Samuel Peyton was an African American?
4) What might be some of the reasons that something as supposedly important as Selena's trial ends up taking up such a small portion of the story?
5) How does Metalious's choice to make Marion Partridge so significant a character during Selena's trial influence the narrative?
6) How successful to you think Metalious is in making Tom a believable character in these final pages?
7) How well does Metalious's ending the book with Allison making
her peace with Peyton Place and the arrival of David Noyes work?
2) What major themes does Puzo introduce in these opening chapters?
3) What importance does the wedding scene have in terms of the themes Puzo introduces early in the book?
4) What symbolic significance do you see in the names of various characters?
5) What is Puzo's portrayal of the United States as a whole like in this section?
6) How do the concepts of "family" and "business" interact in
2) How are women portrayed in the book so far?
3) Why might Puzo spend all of Book II focusing on Johnny Fontane?
4) Why are we given so much detail about Fontane's sex life?
5) How does Puzo use sex to develop different characters and themes within his novel?
6) What is the significance of Nino's character?
The Godfather, chapters 14 - 23
2) Why might Puzo go into such detail about Lucy's health and surgical procedure?
3) Why is Dr. Jules Segal given so much prominence in these chapters?
4) Name all the changes you can think of in considering how his time in Sicily changes Michael.
5) What symbolic importance might body imagery (how people look, what diseases they suffer from, etc.) play in the course of the narrative?
6) Why might Puzo tell us the terrible tale concerning Luca
in this section?
2) What do you think of Mama Corleone? What is her role in the novel?
3) Why might have Puzo wanted Kay and Michael to get married?
4) What role does ethnicity place in the novel as a whole?
5) Why might Puzo spend so much time telling us the story of Albert Neri?
6) What does his treatment of Carlo say about Michael?
7) What is the possible larger thematic importance of the character of Albert Neri?
8) Why might Puzo make Kay into a Catholic at the end of the story?
1) Think about the character’s names so far in Harry Potter and make an argument for why Rowling might have named one of the characters in the way she did.
2) Why might Rowling have chosen the Dursleys as Harry’s family?
3) So far in the story of Harry Potter, what do you think is Harry’s most pronounced characteristic and why might Rowling have wanted to foreground this characteristic?
4) Why might have Rowling included ghosts in her story?
5) What is the importance of quidditch as this game relates to some of the larger themes of the story story?
6) Make an argument for why it was important to include chapter twelve or fourteen in the narrative?
7) Make an argument for why Rowling decided to include Hermoine as one of Harry’s closest friends.
8) What is the moral of this particular story?
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