Friday, February 27, 2015

GUILT or SHAME? Exploring the differences and applying it to literature

Like two peas in a pod, guilt and shame are two human experiences that we intrinsically tie together.  But is that where they belong?  Are they really so synonymous?

According to psychologists, the answer is sometimes.  But these same psychologists assert that this is not where they should stay.  Both don't feel too great, but one of them serves a valuable purpose while the other is not too much unlike that prison door back in Salem or the scarlet letter Hester Prynne wore constantly affixed to her chest.

This week, I would like you to read an article that explores the differences between guilt and shame and how they affect us throughout our lives.  Then, there is a short video that very clearly gives us a definitive line between guilt and shame.  It is pretty eye opening.  I can honestly say that it really increased my awareness of how I have evaluated my own shortcomings and those of others.  Once again, the power of our words is emphasized.  The tiniest change in our language expression to ourselves and others can make a world of difference:  "I made a very careless error," vs.  "I am a very careless person."

Guilt requires cognitive dissonance--a sense that a very important moral code or valued rule has been broken.  Shame, on the other hand, does not necessarily require the breaking of a rule or moral code.  It could come from feeling wronged or embarrassed.  Guilt is more closely associated with me hurting someone else in some way while shame may also be associated with a hurt that has been inflicted upon myself.  How does this apply to our literature, The Scarlet Letter?  Hester felt internal guilt for adultery, but the scarlet A she wore made her a victim of disapproval and ostracization.  That, my friends, is shame.

Here is the link for the article:
Here is the link for the short video:
Enjoy, and share your reactions.

Are you holding on to some hidden shame?  Something that is inhibiting you from moving forward and becoming the best version of you?  Reflect on these two messages, and then maybe you will enjoy the freedom Hester discovered for one precious moment on a walk through a forest....  "The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit.  O exquisite relief!  She had not known the weight

                                                                until she felt the freedom..." (186).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

FOLLOWING THE THEME....Unlocking the Secrets

In my experience as a literature teacher, I have learned that the one thing that usually stumps the literature scholar is theme.  First of all, it takes a scholar awhile to fully comprehend what a theme is...what it means.  It's more than just the lesson, isn't it?  It's too universal to be summed up that way.  But it certainly is a's an important truth or observation that the author is making about his or her world...not just his or her created world, but the world, in general.

Once a scholar seems to have an understanding of what theme is, then comes the fun of finding them.  That's right, them.  Very seldom to you find a novel that has only one.  Of course, there may be an overriding theme, an "umbrella" theme, but there are often many others lining up, hidden amongst the words and phrases, intermingling with the dialogue, waiting to be uncovered to sweeten the story.

You will be assigned a poster project this week.  You will have a choice to create a character collage poster, or a theme collage.  Whichever you choose, however, theme is important.  It not only drives the deeper meaning, it also drives the character--it can even be his or her major motivation, objective, or source of conflict.  It matters.

The following is more than an article, it is an exploration into several themes for The Scarlett Letter.  Have fun exploring, and let me know here which theme you found most compelling.

Happy unlocking!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A HEART TO RECEIVE YOURS: Nathaniel Hawthorne & The Scarlet Letter

"The Scarlet Letter continues to enthrall, asking us over and over what it means to live with others and feel apart; to be part of history yet separate from it; to love passionately and never forget; to hope too long, plot secrets, face reality, feel scared and yet still believe in the promise, as Hester does at the novel's end, of a better world." ~Brenda Wineapple

What better topic for literary scholars on Saint Valentine's Day than an American romance novel written by a true Romanticist?  (Alright...Dark Romanticist.  Semantics!)  The English in which he writes may feel antiquated and require closer reading by contemporary readers, but the layers of meaning, the universal themes and use of allegory, the rich imagery that burns into our imaginations just as the scarlet letter itself burned the chest of the author when he found it in The Custom House, is what gives Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel its permanent place on the greatest American literature shelf.

Here is a mind blowing fact about this novel.  Since the 1920's, seven Scarlet Letter films have been made, and one is currently in the works, and one film has been made inspired by the story and its themes (Easy A) and became quite a hit at the box office.  High school classrooms all over The United States and Europe have it on their classroom studies list, and it has even seeped into our idiomology ("Gosh, one mistake and it's like I'm wearing a scarlet A or something!")  Whatever you may think of this novel, it has that lasting quality.  It is here to stay.

This begs the question, of course:  What makes a work of literature timeless?  Language is constantly evolving, so it is a given that as time marches on, the language on the pages will go out of vogue.  Meaning may be harder to access.  It will take patience, dedication, passion for great story, and a sophisticated vocabulary to muddle through and find that diamond.  But the pursuit is worth the time in the end. The Scarlett Letter is a haunting story that stays with you.  Hawthorne purposefully leaves some questions unanswered.  This adds to the mystery of Hester Prynne as well as makes us, the reader respect her a little bit more for stubbornly refusing to reveal to her nosy, judgmental neighbors the identity of her lover and the details of their sinful tryst.  In many ways, we see fractals of Hawthorne, himself in Prynne:  beauty, austere determination and fierce protection of privacy.  There is also the fact that Prynne is described as a beautiful, dark-haired woman.  Many of Hawthorne's contemporaries have hinted that Hawthorne, himself had a weakness for stunning brunette ladies. Here, I am stepping outside the arena of supportable fact and into the dangerous realm of assumption, but it IS Valentine's Day!

I digress.  In this literary lover's humble opinion, one of the biggest reasons The Scarlet Letter will remain steadfastly on the greatest works bookshelf is the same reason that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet  will never be knocked out of its position as the most famous and beloved love story of all time.  It is, in its heart, a story of a love that can never be.  It tugs at our own hearts.  It turns us all into, for at least that short span of time it takes us to read it, fellow Dark Romantics who share in Hawthorne's angst.  We want desperately to create a different, happier ever after ending for our protagonists, but somewhere in our hearts and minds, we realize the truth of the dichotomy: it is the painful tragedy of it that makes the story beautiful.

Please read the essay via the link below about Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter.  It is an excellent resource, and provides some insights as to what it is about this novel that still draws us in and intrigues us.  Below, tell us what you found most compelling in the article, and any new things you learned, or inspirations that struck you as you read.

Happy Saint Valentine's Day, and here is to the steadfast Romanticists everywhere.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

CREATING CHARACTER....fantastically flawed, beautifully broken, readily redeemed

What is it about a character that makes him or her so memorable?

Hero or villain, damsal or duke, rebel or royal, the characters in a story are the author's greatest assets in the quest to win the heart, mind and soul of the reader.

How that character is manipulated by the plot, and how he/she in turn manipulates it right back, that is the key to story telling.We have been exploring characters in our FOA presentations and we are also, from different angles and approaches, analyzing how stories impact readers and how the author creates a unique story to entice and inspire the reader in our Written Task 2.  Each one of you represents a very unique and original set of backstories and experiences.  You bring these in to each new experience you encounter, including reading a novel.  Because of that, how you interpret stories and respond to and relate to characters will always be different.  Your culture, your virtues and values, your personality and preferences and past experiences will color the lenses through which you read and interpret literature.

The first step in becoming a thorough and credible literary critic (critic in this case meaning someone who engages in the act of dissection, evaluation or appreciation of literature) is to acknowledge the fact that you do look at everything through a unique perspective that can and will color your evaluation.  That is not a bad thing, it's a human thing.  Recognizing it and graciously allowing for other possible interpretations is a professional thing.

Okay, so we've acknowledged that we do have a limited view--a unique and valid one, but limited as we, in each of our own unique perspectives are limited.  Now; how do we become more comfortable and confident in that adventure that is dissecting, exploring and detecting as readers?

You know the answer.  It's the same answer for everything you seek to do well:  you practice.

This week, that is exactly what you are going to do!  I am giving you a chapter to read.  The title of this chapter is:  A Drink with the Devil.   It is about ten pages long.  Not bad at all as far as chapter lengths are concerned.  Here is the catch and part of the fun:  this chapter is not from the beginning, but the deep middle of a novel.  So, you really are going to have to depend on your own personal detective skills.  You won't have a lot of context, so you will have to read for clues the author gives you in this excerpt as to setting, character backgrounds, and story.
Your main study focus is character, so this is reflected in the questions you will answer for your blog this week.  Here are the questions:
1.  When does this story take place and how do you know?
2.  Where does this story take place and how do you know?
3.  One of the two characters is Will.  Tell me what you know about Will.  Not just surface stuff like what he does for a living, but WHO IS HE?  What is he about?  What are his values?  What type of person is he and why do you think so?  In other words, how does the author reveal him?
4.  Same question, this time for the character of Mick O'Shaughnessy.  GO BELOW THE SURFACE.  How does the author reveal him and how is this different?
5.  Finally:  What are some flaws you see in the characters?  How does the author present them?

You will have TWO weeks to complete this blog.  There will not be a new blog next weekend.  It is this one.  I realize it requires more work and effort, therefore you have more time and it is worth more points (ten instead of five).  My advice?  Type your answer up on a word or text document.  Then, when you are happy with it and it is finished, copy and paste your answer in the blog.

Thank you, and happy detecting!