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English 2122 critical response topics, spring 2024

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; do still follow the MLA conventions for documenting quotations as explained in Q1-4 on my quotations page.

2.8 Due Sunday, May 5th or Monday, May 6th (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.

On deck:

Probably none. We're done!

Previous critical response topics—no longer valid for submission:

1.1 Due Saturday, January 21: address either topic, 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 American society in 2024.

1.2 Due Saturday, January 27: address one topic, not two or all three:
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.

c) Comment on one or two of the key points in Wordsworth's "Preface to Lyrical Ballads," noting how they are illustrated in any of the Wordsworth poems we are reading. Include at least two quotations from the "Preface" and two from the poetry (see Q4).

1.3 Due Saturday, February 3: 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 Saturday, February 10: 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.

1.5 Due Saturday, February 17: Discuss Dickens's presentation of childhood in the first fifteen chapters of Great Expectations. Where is he most and least successful in presenting how children do really think and feel? Explain, including quotations from at least three different chapters from different points in the reading (that is, avoid using quotes from just the first three or four chapters, e.g.).

1.6 Due Sunday, February 25: Discuss Pip's development or maturation as he comes into his "expectations" and embarks on becoming a "gentleman." You might consider what being a gentleman means to Pip, and how he changes once he leaves home and moves to London. Include one or more quotations from at least three different chapters to illustrate your claims.

1.7 Due Saturday, March 2: Open assignment. Being careful to avoid plot summary (see nugget 1), write about whatever strikes you as interesting or significant in our third installment of Great Expectations. Include at least three quotations from this week's reading to support your observations, and think hard before focusing on matters from just the first chapter or two of this reading. :-) .

1.8 Due Saturday, March 9: Compare the two endings of Great Expectations and consider which seems more consistent with the novel's primary theme(s), with particular attention to the last third of the novel. Explain why you prefer one over the other, including at least two quotations to illustrate your claims.

2.1 Due Sunday, March 17: 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? Which targets of his satirical wit seem more pertinent or applicable to his late-Victorian time period than to the twenty-first century? Include at least four quotations in your response.

2.2 Due Saturday, March 30: 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.

2.3 Due Saturday, April 6: 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.

2.4 Due Sunday, April 14: In at least two paragraphs and 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.

2.5 Due Saturday, April 20: 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.

2.6 Due Sunday, April 28: 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.

2.7 Due Thursday, May 2: 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.