Home button

 

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.


2.14 Due Tuesday, November 28th: Discuss the significance of three different characters as they are portrayed in the middle third of the novel. You might consider what philosophical perspective each character represents, or what they might symbolize, but any angle of analysis is permitted. Include at least one quotation in your analysis of each character.


On deck:

2.15 Due Thursday, November 30th: Respond to the conclusion of the novel. What, ultimately, does Camus suggest is important in living effectively, productively in an "absurd" world such as ours? Include at least three quotations from the final third of the novel in support of your observations.

3.1 Due at the final exam Thursday, December 7th: TBA.


Previous critical response topics—no longer valid for submission: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.

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.

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.

2.1 Due Thursday, October 5th: Which of the Karamazovs introduced in the first eighty pages of the novel do you find most interesting, and why? Quote from at least three different chapters of the novel in explanation.

2.2 Due Tuesday, October 10th: Comment on whatever strikes you as interesting or significant in the portrayal of Alyosha in Books III-IV of The Brothers Karamazov, supporting your comments with quotations from at least three different chapters, at least one from each "part" (III and IV).

2.3 Due Thursday, October 12th: The "Grand Inquisitor" chapter (Book V, Chapter V) is one of the most widely-known single chapters in all of fiction: comment on what you think makes this one chapter of Dostoevsky's novel so remarkable or important, including at least four quotations in support your analysis.

2.4 Due Tuesday, October 17th: Open assignment: explore whatever strikes you as interesting, significant, or intriguing in one chapter from Book 6 of the novel and one from Book 7, including at least two quotations from each. Take care to avoid plot summarysee nugget 1.

2.5 Due Thursday, October 19th: Comment upon Dostoevsky's portrayal of Dmitri as he rushes headlong into potential catastrophe in the chapters we're reading in Books 8 and 9. Among other things, you might consider to what extent we sympathize or identify with Mitya, but all analytical angles are fair game. Include quotations from at least three different chapters.

2.6 Due Tuesday, October 24th: In separate paragraphs, explore any significant or intriguing matter concerning Dmitri's psychology (or psychological state[s]) in the remaining chapters on his interrogation and arrest in book 9, and also any matter that strikes you as interesting or significant in Book 10, "Boys." Include at least two quotes from each of these books in your analysis.

2.7 Due Thursday, October 26th: Choose one, do not address both:
a) Comment on what you see as most significant in the three meetings between Ivan and Smerdyakov, including at least one quotation from each chapter.

b) Comment on what you find most significant in book, 11, chapter 9, "The Devil. Ivan Fyodorovich's Nightmare." Include at least three quotations from this chapter.

2.8 Due Tuesday, October 31st: At last we reach the end! Read to the last page, then evaluate how effectively you think Dostoevsky's last "book" and the epilogue are in delivering any of the major themes we've noted in the novel, on matters of religious faith, the nature of humanity, psychological concerns, or other.  Include at least two quotations from book 12 and at least one from the epilogue.  You can address different thematic concerns in each part.

2.9 Due Thursday, November 2nd: Read my Kafka overview page, then comment on the power relationships (father and son or other) depicted in the two of the three stories assigned for Thursday. Include at least two quotations from each in your analysis.

2.10 Due Tuesday, November 7th: Choose one, do not address both:
a) Read the quote from Philip Rahv on Kafka as an "artist of neurosis" on my Kafka overview page, then explain how
Kafka can indeed be seen as an "artist of neurosis" in "The Metamorphosis," including at least one quotation from each of the three chapters. You may want to define (or quote a definition of) neurosis for this topic.

b) Open assignment: taking care to avoid plot summary, write about whatever strikes you as interesting, significant, or intriguing about "The Metamorphosis." Support your discussion with at least three quotations from the story.

2.11 Due Thursday, November 9th: For centuries, Europeans tended to romanticize military service and war, considering it a regrettable fact of civilized life, but one that offered young men a proving ground to show their mettle and provided opportunities for noble achievement and valor in service of king and country. How does All Quiet on the Western Front completely debunk romanticized, glamorized views of war in a variety of different respects? What brutal realities of modern warfare does Remarque demonstrate most effectively in the book's first hundred pages? Support your assertions with quotations from at least three different chapters.

2.12 Due Tuesday, November 14th: Choose one, do not address both:
a) Attend Dr. Blake's lecture on Monday night and then consider how what you learn from his presentation impacts your understanding of All Quiet on the Western Front, including at least two quotations from the novel's second half.

b) Comment upon different ways the narrator changes over the second half of the novel: specifically, how do these changes advance Remarque's message about war in the twentieth century? Include quotations from three or more chapters in the novel's second half.

2.13 Due Thursday, November 16th: Discuss Camus's portrayal of existentialism, or of the absurdity of life in an alien universe without meaning, value, or purpose, in the first third of The Plague. Include at least three quotations in your discussion.