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Matthew Blakley’s 11/03 Class Summary

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On this chilly hump-day we began class with a small group activity that operated by rotation. Our class divided into four groups and, after responding to a designated question, each group passed their documented responses around the room (counter-clockwise). Each group got a turn with each question, which ultimately created a space for a multi-vocal response. All pertinent thoughts were recorded, and in the end each question’s answer sheet (hopefully) contained a conversation between each group’s unique ideas. This activity avoids cohesion and instead invites contrasting interpretations to elevate our readings’ textual and character analysis. The class then discussed at large the questions they discussed in small groups for the remaining 10-15-minutes of class. Thus, through small and large group discussion, our class focused on how O’Connor’s character Hulga generates no reader-sympathy at all, Banner and Carver’s short stories strongly involve disability as epiphany, and how Lahiri’s character, Libi, complies to the conventional associations of femininity with illness.

My small group was undecided whether or not to sympathize with Hulga, but the class as a whole gave no sympathy to her. Though Manly tricks Hulga into thinking he’s a Christian bible salesman and ultimately flees with her prosthetic leg, it is Hulga’s antagonistic qualities that resist sympathy from the reader. Her childish characteristics of immature fashions, what seems as teen-angst toward her mother, and her overt rudeness develop Hulga into a character to be hated. As Kathleen offered in large group discussion, Hulga is not a Tiny Tim character, and thus the reader is not supposed to like her. Then, in response, Professor Foss questioned Hulga’s character as an anti-Tiny Tim character, saying that she is in fact an “ugly disabled character,” whom O’Connor may have created to contradict the stock, sympathetic role of Tiny Tim. My small group decided that throughout our readings we found that Hulga’s character became less about her disability and more about her personal ideologies. This shift contrasts the stock disabled character, a character like Tiny Tim, and allows Manly’s deceitfulness to translate as dark humor or poetic justice. The ending could be considered poetic justice because us readers want Hulga to suffer because of her unpleasant, isolated personality. Thus, it is her personality, not her disability that makes her unique; whether one affects the other is up to you.

Both Banner’s “The Wedding of Tom to Tom” and Carver’s “Cathedral” boast characters that, through contact with a disabled character, find themselves transformed into better people. Although our class only got to discuss “The Wedding of Tom to Tom” and “Cathedral” in small groups my group had the most to say about this topic. We felt as if there was a progression from the beginning of Banner’s story because initially Anita is uninvolved with her new job at the group home, but in the end she’s so invested to it she ends up risking her job to marry Tom A and Tom B. This risk helps her gain a new perspective on her life and her own personal definition of love. Anita’s sense of bravery and newfound respect for her patients helped my group label Banner’s story as progressive. My group did disagree, however, with how Anita over uses the term “retard” in harmful, frivolous ways.

Carver’s story involves a similar transformation, although what we think Robert’s character is unique because he is so aggressive in the husband’s “transformation.” Of course my group doesn’t think the same about the disabled characters in Banner’s piece, but we do think Robert’s character is more proactive when he insists that the husband sketch a picture of what a cathedral looks like while holding his hand. The questions we offered about the husband’s transformation is his intoxication level and the severity of the disabled character’s disability. For example, was it easier for the husband to rid his prosthetic nervousness because Robert was blind as opposed to mentally disabled or physically deformed? We thought it was “easier” for the husband than it was for Anita due to Robert’s mental stability.

Lastly, in “The Treatment of Bibi Haldar,” Lahiri positions her character Libi victim to the stereotypical implications of women and illness. To her community, Libi is almost exclusively characterized by her ambiguous disability. Above her community’s obsession over Libi’s wellbeing, Libi is severely reduced to her physical appearance and the fact that she is, as Helen put it in large group, “unmarketable as a wife.” Libi is isolated from learning how to cook, clean, and dress as a respectable bride because her community denies her individual agency either because they think she is contagious or because they think they do not understand her. Also, upon exploring Libi’s disability, the reader is immediately told that Libi is crazy, ugly, and self-destructive.  The emphasis on her aesthetics gives reason to the reader to believe that her illness can’t help but be linked to her gender. My group wonders what her community would think of her if Libi were beautiful. Seeing as her only “cure” is a male-induced orgasm, the community would probably accept her. Another indication that Libi is unfairly objectified is because the story’s plot would not make sense if Libi were a male character. Thus, Libi’s character is purely about the politics of gender and illness.

Throughout this semester our class has analyzed many texts dealing with disability stigmas and their interactions with those considered “normal.” “The Wedding of Tom to Tom” ask us to consider sexuality and love through the lens of a struggling, somewhat smug character like Anita. “Cathedral” challenges the stereotypical ways of communication. “The Treatment of Bibi Haldar” and “Good Country People” offer two primary female characters living in isolation possibly because of the implications involving their gender and illness. Today’s readings helped our class challenge the disability in literature and offered enriching, sophisticated discussions.

Mary Wilson’s class summary 11/1/10

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On November 1st, Dr. Foss began the class with a large group circle.  As a large group, we discussed the thrilling conclusion of Patrick McGrath’s Spider, specifically concentrating on how McGrath portrays disability through the character of Spider.   In order to determine whether McGrath’s portrayal of disability is progressive or problematic for the disabled community, we examined both the novel itself and made intertextual comparisons.  Through this analysis, we determined that McGrath’s characterization of Spider is progressive because of its complexity and honesty; rather than serving as a simplistic plot device, Spider is a fully developed character who readers may identify with, feel sympathy for, or dislike according to their own interpretation of the novel.

To begin our discussion of Spider, Dr. Foss asked us to look specifically at the novel’s plot.  We were asked to decide whether McGrath developed Spider as a narrative device to advance the plot of the novel.  Although Spider’s schizophrenic tendencies and his disconnect with reality do enhance the style of the novel, we decided that Spider’s character was too fully developed to be considered a narrative device.  For instance, in contrast to Benjy from The Sound and the Fury (who is considered to be a plot device), Spider offers his emotional reactions to events often; this emotional aspect of the novel allows for a greater possibility of sympathy from readers.  Although readers may sympathize with Spider’s emotional plight, however, his illness creates multiple dimensions to his personality which complicates the sympathy some readers may feel.  Spider is not an evil villain, in the vein of Richard III, nor is he an innocent, pitied boy such as Tiny Tim.  Rather, Spider is complex and compartmentalized, partially an unstable Spider, partially a vulnerable Dennis, and sometimes an adult Mr. Clegg.   Although his actions are clearly immoral, Spider’s many-layered personality reveal that he is complicated and vulnerable, and develop a progressive viewpoint of mental illness as something which may cause immoral actions without creating a “crazy lunatic” character, a type which is often portrayed in more problematic works.  These simultaneous characterizations of Spider offer various viewpoints on disability and, as a whole, serve to advance the notion that disabled individuals are just as complicated as able bodied people in terms of their morality, personality and emotionality.

After analyzing McGrath’s portrayal of Spider in isolation, we then considered how this depiction relates to other works we have studied thus far.  Spider was compared to many characters in other works, such as the monster in Frankenstein, Shadrack from Sula and the woman from The Yellow Wallpaper. For example, Spider can be seen as similar to the monster in Frankenstein because he, like the monster, is seen as suffering throughout the entirety of the novel, and this suffering allows readers to sympathize with him despite his actions.  Spider’s relation to Shadrack is quite uncanny, as both characters are depicted as unstable murderers who were released from hospitals preemptively and who cope with the consequences of their actions by developing a viewpoint that a portion of themselves (either a persona, such as Dennis’ Spider, or Shadrack’s hands) is monstrous.  These characters call into question the treatment of the mentally disabled, as their stays in asylums are simultaneously portrayed as somewhat inhumane and ineffective in treating their illnesses.  Lastly, Spider was compared to the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper because, aside from the plot ambiguity which drives both works, both characters are isolated/confined to a treatment facility and, as a result, develop instability which can be seen as just as pervasive, if not greater than, the mental instability they showed prior to the confinement.  Similar to Shadrack, Spider’s intextual relationship to the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper challenges readers to consider the nature of the treatment of the mentally ill, especially the notion of confinement as an effective means of treating mental disability.  In each of the works, confinement is a mechanism which drives insanity, thus asserting that a more social and humane treatment of mental illness is vital to the well being of disabled individuals.

In conclusion, it was difficult for the class to respond in any one specific way to Spider’s character, as individual reactions to his story change throughout the course of the novel and depend largely on which aspect of Spider is being emphasized more prominently at the time; however, it is because of this variability in emotional response that McGrath’s work can be seen as progressive for the disabled community as a whole.  Rather than advancing notions of the disabled as one dimensional or simplistic, McGrath’s Spider is ambiguous and complex, offering an emotional and moral vagueness that advances the view of disabled individuals as complicated individuals, rather than generalizable stereotypes.

Written by mwilson11

November 5th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

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Lindsay’s Class Summary on McGrath’s Spider Part 2 on 10/29/10

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On Friday, we as a large class gathered in a circle and analyzed 3 prompts from the class meeting documents on Patrick McGrath’s Spider. These 3 prompts were various quotations throughout the novel that in some way focused on Spider’s reliability as a narrator. As a class, we decided that Spider’s narration is valid to a point, knowing that his perception is altered because of the murder of his mother.

We looked at the first prompt, which occurs when Spider leaves his father washing potatoes in the kitchen and migrates back into his humble abode on pg. 91. Various points were noted that this is where we first see Spider unhinged with the evidence of the voices in the attic and the pain that feels so alive inside of him. We also suggested that this contrasts his feeling of emptiness inside, similar to the two compartments within him that will be further discussed in the second prompt. This contrast provided us to figure out the extent to which Spider is talking about his father when he is essentially talking about himself.  We also compared Spider’s father’s feelings after the murder as well as his and concluded that Spider’s father is plagued by thoughts in his mind as well as Spider: “It warped his perceptions: the shed and the vegetables seemed to turn black in front of his eyes, and before he had taken one step down the path he sensed a sort of thrashing and writhing all about him,” (88). Taking a look at this comparison, we thought back to the first half of the novel and how much anger we had towards Spider’s father and how that steered us to sympathize with Spider. We reflected how in this part Hilda and Horace act like there is nothing wrong and because of their actions here, this brought us to question if Spider’s father is acting or if he is just confused, and if his motive is to act, then his plan to drive his son mad is indeed succeeding. We further developed that if this was the case, Horace’s intent is not only to drive his son to madness, but he also can be playing on the readers’ sympathy for the disabled. Sympathizing with disability, we talked about how Spider is using the dialogue with his father as an excuse to justify what is going on in his own mind so he does not collapse from his altered perception of reality.

We then moved on to the second prompt which is when we see Spider reflecting on his mother’s death and right after Hilda’s nagging on him on pg. 98. We focused on the two head system and its representation to distinguish between a diagnosis today and schizophrenia. It consists of two different beings inside; the front being Dennis with his mother’s nonexistence and the back being Spider (the real him) with the existence of his mother. Taking into account his schizophrenic state, we could not help but question whether Spider is writing to us in the front, trying to protect the back of his head or the back, letting us experience the real him with true thoughts and feelings? We then looked at pg. 91 and concluded that when memory is considered, the front and back of the mind are not pinpointed: “ I’d been sitting at my table describing the events of that terrible night and the day that followed, and in the process the memories had somehow become more vivid than the immediate situation-that familiar running together of past and present had occurred,” (91). It seems like whenever facts are in consideration, Spider is acting as an extra third person by not siding with any of his split selves, but when it comes to his real thoughts and feelings, many questions arise on the validity of these points.

Finally, we briefly talked about the last prompt and here we see Spider writing in his journal. We talked about how Spider is feeling like a light bulb; if he shatters like the light bulb would, he would want control and how he is afraid of being written. We then brought up the point that if Spider is not feeling in control with his journal, what does he have left? We also reiterated that Spider is very emotional as we have seen in the previous two prompts and that he lives in his head, which could be one of the many reasons for his struggle with his journal. Another point was brought to our attention in that while Spider lives in his head, Sula does not and how that would be an interesting idea to discover further for a blog post.

We ended our discussion with comparing Benjy from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to Spider. The two characters were compared as literary devices in that we as readers want to trust the two of them as valid narrators. However, I feel they cannot be fully legitimate because both of them are very unaware of their surroundings from their skewed perceptions. All in all, I agree with the points that were raised from our class discussion and as I continue on with Spider, I will keep these thoughts in mind.

Written by lglotzer

November 3rd, 2010 at 11:39 am

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Stacy Keser’s Class Summary on Sula

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In class we analyzed the characters in Sula, discussing if we thought they could be read as disabled characters. Two main points that I got from small group discussion and large group discussion in class regarding Sula circulated around the characters Sula and Eva.  The first idea is how Eva’s killing of Plum and attempt to save Hannah were both acts of compassion and good intent; the second idea is how Sula does not have a literal disability, but is treated as if she is disabled because of her birthmark, nonetheless, her birthmark is empowering for her. This resonates with the broad idea of disability that we have discussed throughout the semester, that people tend to have skewed views of the disabled without considering their actual intent and creating a poor stigma around those with physical deformities leading to maltreatment and unwanted assumptions.

We started off class with small group discussion.  One idea that our group focused on was Eva, her killing of Plum and saving Hannah.  We were discussing if we agreed with this class document prompt, “ Significantly, however, she performs all these functions out of compassion rather than out of any desire for self-aggrandizement”. Our group agreed with this proposition. We felt that Eva did not kill Plum out of hate or aggression, but that her intent was good and compassionate in a way. She could not watch her son in misery and continue with self inflicting harm any longer. She thought it would be best to put him out of his misery and being his mother, she realized it was her responsibility to do so.  Our group discussed that it was a very similar situation to her attempting to protect Hannah. Once again, she was sacrificing because it was her responsibility to protect and her intent was good in both cases despite the very different scenarios. But, our group was struggling with why she chose to burn her son to death being that it is a very painful death and brutal way to kill someone. We thought this scene would have been more logical if she killed him in a more sane manner. However, our group concluded that Eva is not an indecent character and that the reader needs to look past what she did to realize why she did it, Eva was trying to do good even though it was in a way that does not appear so.

Next, we transitioned from looking at the characters individualistically to a more societal analyzation. The second idea that I got from class was in the large group discussion regarding Sula’s character within the community.  We touched on the class document that quoted,  “The body that violates the norm becomes a marked pariah and disrupter of the social order.” One aspect about her character that we discussed was that Sula does not have an actual disability, but is perceived as a burden in the community, disrupting social order as one with an actually disability might be seen as doing.  Sula’s action’s were the more accurate source of her being treated as an outsider. But, her birthmark was mainly what the community was blaming her ‘wrongness’ on.  Our large group talked about how Sula sleeping with white men was defying the social norm in society and that her not fitting in or being assimilated into those expectations and norms was the idea and portrayal of disability. People with disabilities can often be looked at as outcast as well. Their actions and appearance alone can be what society defines them by just as they had defined Sula by.

Our small group discussion paralleled with the big group discussion considering how Sula’s birthmark was empowering. She was not confined by her birthmark nor see it as a burden, while the community was being controlled and bothered by the misconception of it, being the source of evil. Sula still lived her life the way she wanted to live it without being affected by the community’s judgment and rejection; ironically, the communities were the ones dramatically affected by this birthmark simply because of a misconstrued perception. We also mentioned that Sula is a very  ndependent character and this independence gives her a sense of freedom and empowerment as well.

Also, in addition to the idea of empowerment, our small group  considered the story, The Birthmark. We compared Georgiana to Sula. Our group concluded that the only real similarity between both characters is that they both had birthmarks on their faces that others perceived in a hateful, disgusted manner. Georgiana like Sula initially was not bothered by the birthmark and even commented how some considered it to be a charm. However, their differences are apparent when Georgiana starts to become obsessed with it, she wants to desperately rid herself of such a ‘horrible’ and ‘hideous’ mark on her face, simply because her husband views it as very grotesque. Georgiana allows her husband’s insults and judgmental stares to consume her well being and becomes miserable herself. Our group than proceeded to talk about Sula’s character. Sula differed from Georgiana because she was never bothered or confined by others harsh judgment. She simply went about doing what she pleased without taking notice of this birthmark on her face that the community looked at with disdain. We felt that their birthmarks were not physical deformities nor a disability, but that Georgiana unlike Sula gradually became disabled from it because she allowed someone else to become so disgusted by it that she too became revolted by it.

The novel Sula represents some accurate perceptions of the portrayal of disability.  Eva’s situation is a good example of how easy it is for observers to immediately make assumptions when things to do not fall under the social norm. Many cannot look past what they are seeing in order to truly understand the real significance of one’s actions or behavior. Sula’s character is another good example on how the community can be more disabling for the individual than they are for themselves. But, Sula proves that even if one cannot be categorized into the social norm status, they are still capable of living their lives despite others’ rejections and have a sense of empowerment. Overall, this brings up the question of, will the disabled allow the community and society to confine them as outcast or are they able to surpass that and find their own sense of empowerment?

Written by skeser88

October 28th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

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Mairin Martin’s Class Summary for Friday October 22nd

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Class today began with the beautiful prospect of chocolate cake. However, we proved ourselves as academics and rose to the challenge of staying concentrated on Sula even on “Happy Chocolate Cake Day.” Through small and large-group discussions we came to see that by creating the town of Medallion, a sort-of Island of Misfit Toys wherein the issues of the disabled being cast out or demonized no longer exists, Morrison causes the reader to recognize disabled people as strong individuals with unique characteristics and experiences who are not to be pitied or lumped together under a classification.

We began small group discussion with Shadrack, appropriately reflecting the fact the Morrison had originally planned to open the novel with his chapter. We questioned just what Shadrack’s role in the novel is. Shadrack is one of the most extreme cases of acceptance of “abnormality” in this novel. He is a sexual deviant who exposes himself to women and children, and curses at his customers, yet once the community understands “the boundaries and nature of his madness , they [can] fit him, so to speak, into the scheme of things” (15). We wondered whether Shadrack’s physical beauty had something to do with his acceptance. Does the physical trump the mental in this case because the physical is always present, whereas Shadrack’s signs of mental instability come and go?

Shadrack serves another function in this novel along with Tar Baby and Plum, the three loners. In the other literature we have read, the disabled tended to be outcasts because society had no place for them and/or shunned them. These three men live in a town completely accepting of all eccentricities and mental, physical, and social “others” yet they feel a need to isolate themselves. This caused the class to look at isolation for the first time as part of the nature of disability instead of as a learned behavior as a result of social disapproval. Through these isolated characters, Morrison asks us to look at and question our preconceived notions of the complicated relationship between society and the disabled and open our minds to a myriad of new possibilities. There is some significance to the relationship of these three men to their community in that all three come from almost the same starting point but reach three very different fates based on their interactions with society. Shadrack is the only one of these men who has agency and acts upon it, a representation of a disabled person who is empowered by his chosen independence from social connections. This is in stark contrast to the passive Tar Baby and to Plum who is completely without agency to the point where his dependence on others and their constant infantilization of him eventually leads them to decide his fate for him.

Our large group discussion brought about several new and interesting readings for the importance of Shadrack. Mainly, he brings to light the fact that we all have some form of existential angst about death. His grappling with it so openly bridges the gap between “us and them”- the reader and the disabled. His difficulty with the idea of death also calls us to question how “normal” it would be for someone to go through war and be able to leave such a gruesome experience behind and not be altered by it. Maybe those who aren’t affected are the people with the stunted mental and emotional facilities, not the victim of war such as Shadrack and Plum.

Dr. Foss brought up the idea that Shadrack first sees himself as separate and that his psychological issues stem from that. Frankenstein’s creature has that same metaphysical “who am I” moment Shadrack does, which can only be abated by seeing his face and being reassured of its concrete existence. Foss asked us to question how the “I” that both characters are looking for relates back to the deformity and monstrosity. On his vain of intertextual connections, Foss next awakened the class to the connections between Shadrack’s biblical namesake who was thrown into the furnace for refusing to pray to the idol of King Nebuchadnezzar. In most literary works, this would foreshadow Sharack’s eventual fate. However, in a novel teaming with deaths by fire, Shadrack is not one of them. In fact, he and Tar Baby, the two characters who profess a longing for death, are the few who actually escape it, serving again as examples of the inverse nature of life in the Bottom.

This topic lead our large group into a more specific discuss of that peculiar aspect of Medallion and its ambiguous existence. We brought up the lines from the first chapter that described the town as the Bottom of Heaven, a place from which the black people literally looked down on the white people of the valley. It seems, at first, that the black people have been given the poor end of the deal with their harsh winters and rocky soil, but later it seems that that adversity (as well as, possibly, the town’s close proximity to heaven) has created an atmosphere that could never exist anywhere else, wherein people who could not function anywhere else not only function, but thrive. This point naturally led the discussion to Eva, who is the prime example of thriving in the Bottom.

Eva’s loss of leg is, again, a contradiction to the way that we generally view the physically disabled. In Eva’s case it is not a “loss” at all but a gain for her family. By cutting off her leg, Eva is able to assure a certain level of material comfort for her children for the rest of her life. She does not borrow, cheat, beg or steal. Eva simply takes the one thing she has and trades it for what she needs. In this way, the absence of that leg can be a constant reminder to Eva of what she faced and the strength it took to face it. The lost leg also lends her an air of mystery and secrecy. Secret-holders are powerful in the knowledge that they have which others desperately seek. She holds a power over all those who wish to look at her empty space, or her one beautiful leg, and wish to ask how it happened but do not dare. In Eva, Morrison again presents us with the unusual existence of a disabled character who, not only has agency, but who is a central figure in the town. However, we are constantly reminded that this is not reality. Only characters in stories can live in the Bottom and the Bottom is the only place where the “others” can rise to the top.

This novel is the first we have read which presents an optimistic view of disabled characters who are made stronger through their disabilities and are often-times respected for them. Even those disabled characters who do not hold a significant position in society, are at least not shunned from society; they are instead treated with tolerance and grace. And not a single character’s disability serves as a literary tool for the author to make a larger argument about a topic unrelated to the character’s life.

word count 1,192

Written by Mairin Martin

October 27th, 2010 at 9:52 am

Class Summary for October 20

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Travis May

Professor Foss

Class Summary

October 20, 2010

Class Summary

In class we discussed the characters in William Faulkner’s “The Sound and The Fury”.  This piece by Faulkner can be very depressing at times when you read how some characters are treated and the language that is used to put them down. It is a cold world. It’s a cold world because these characters go through things that nobody else in their community has to go through and the chill of the world’s ruthlessness is clearly encouraged upon them. The Compson family has a lot to deal with and the disabilities that each character have to deal with makes the world that much colder.

When we break down disability we have talked about mental and physical disability. We mentioned in class that the mother of household, Caroline, is not able to take care of her children the way most mothers can because she has hypochondria. This limits her to do a lot and she is shunned by Jason because Jason views Caroline as useless. She has no idea what her children’s needs really are and because of that the entire family suffers.

Jason was one of the main characters that we spent the most time on. We were asked how is Jason perceived and why is he so angry at his family. Jason’s lives a life of anger and hatred and he could not be nice even if he tried. He shows no affection to his family or to women at all. He uses and manipulates members in his family by twisting certain scenarios to help him out even though it might really hurt others. In my group, we basically said that Jason is a terrible person and he took the easy rode to be mad and nasty instead of taking the challenge to try to overcome the situations that surround him and care and love his family. The worst part of it all is that Jason is the head of the family and when you become the ruler of the household the spotlight is always shined on you. Everybody sees you and you become the most visible. When your head is poison, it just hurts the rest of the body of your family even more because there is no direction.

We also talked about Benji’s role in the Compson family and his significance as a character. In our large group we said that Benji was more of a progressive character because Faulkner goes deeper into his character. The coldness that Benji feels is that the only person that shows affection and love to Benji. Benji is sort of dependent on Caddy because Benji has communication issues and it is hard to understand him. Benji cannot understand worldly concepts which makes it hard for him understand major issues like Caddy’s promiscuousness for example. Benji is unique in a sense because even though he cannot communicate properly, he is able to see his family falling dramatically and he can also feel when bad things are going to happen.

Quentin was discussed in are large group discussion about his role in his family and what his significance is. Quentin is a character that likes to live in the past greatness and success of the family. He is trying to hold things together and seeking advice from the father of the family but he finds out that he is all alone. He is also hurt by the fact that Caddy sleeps around and he is so caught up in the families problems that he is slowly gets in a depressed state. In class we also mentioned that Quentin’s idea of trying to help the family is shut down by Jason and is discouraged from doing anything because of the verbal abuse he receives from him.

Overall as a class, when we discussed these characters the overall theme of what everyone in class said was basically that these characters live in a cold world that they can not seem to escape. There family has been dismantled for so long and the foundation has completely broken down. The Father is not apart of the family at all and the mother is not capable of taking an active role to take hold of her children and lead them to a successful lifestyle. Even with her disability, the love is not even there. James, the head of the house is the worst of them all, which is problematic because for someone who is supposed to take the leader role he lacks every trait that is necessary to take it on. His manipulative ways and hatred toward people are unbelievable which hurts his family. Benji might not be the smartest but he feels the good and the bad of every family member. His inability to communicate with others hurt him and he was shut out by everyone except for Caddy. As a class we stated that Quentin struggled because he lived in the past and wanted better but he did not have the support he needed. The Compson family lives in a cold world and it gets even colder because they cannot work together to get things back on track. They are hurt by disability but most of all they are shooting themselves in the foot because there is no sense of unity at all.

Written by mayallday

October 25th, 2010 at 11:02 am

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Susan’s Class Summary for October 18

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Class began with Dr. Foss announcing that the promised information about the extra credit theatre going opportunity is indeed on the blog.  Next, Dr. Foss brought up the fact that we actually have a Major Paper/Project.  He assured us that we will be receiving further information on this paper/project sometime.  With business matters out of the way, we dove into William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.  Through the course of the class, we (re)analyzed Quentin’s narration through the lens of disability as compared to Benjy’s and almost unanimously established that Jason is (in Dr. Foss’s words) a jerk.  We also looked at the intersection of disability with racism and misogyny in Jason’s narrative.

To rehash what happened in the ancient times of the previous Friday, Dr. Foss led us in a large group discussion in which he invited us to consider the similarities and differences between Quentin’s narrative and Benjy’s.  He asked us to what extent should we read Quentin’s narrative as coming from a disabled person.  A class member stated that Benjy’s narrative is written scene by scene but not in chronological order whereas Quentin’s narrative isn’t discrete enough to be broken down into scenes.  This lack of scenes occurs despite the expectation that Quentin should be able to produce a logical narration because, even if he is disabled, he is not disabled in the same way as Benjy.  Therefore, Benjy and Quentin’s narrations are similar in that they are both disjointed.  This conversation led to a contemplation of which narrator we could/should trust the most.  A class member stated that they were more inclined to trust Benjy as a narrator because he brings no personal bias into his narration.  Quentin, on the other hand, saturates his narration with his personal views, primarily those concerning Caddy.  Dr. Foss challenged that idea, saying that perhaps Benjy would not be a trustworthy narrator because he may not necessarily be cognizant to all of his surroundings.  To conclude our rehashing, a class member suggested that Quentin might be passing as “normal” even though he might actually have a mental or anxiety-based disability.

We next moved onto part three of Faulkner’s novel, April Sixth, 1928, the narration in Jason’s point of view.  After watching the projector focus with those cool lines, Dr. Foss displayed the Class Meeting Document so we could break into small groups and discuss the questions.  The first question my small group tackled was whether or not Jason should be viewed as someone with a disability or as someone who is just a jerk.  Initially, one of my group members suggested that Jason might be struggling with some sort of anxiety disorder because of his desire to control everything around him, namely Caddy’s daughter Quentin.  When other group members disagreed with assigning Jason with a disability, that group member considered that he might’ve been trying to impose disability onto Jason because of the nature of this course.  We next referred to the quote from Jason’s section that was provided by Dr. Foss:

And there I was, without any hat, looking like I was crazy too.  Like a man would naturally think, one of them is crazy and another drowned himself and the other one was turned out into the street by her husband, what’s the reason the rest of them are not crazy too.

We used this quote to represent the fact that Jason is ultimately concerned with how others perceive him, his family, and his appearance.  We thought that he was trying to disassociate himself completely from the Compson family.  For us, this was a trait that easily positioned Jason into the realm of jerk-hood because he knowingly elevates himself above the rest of his family while insulting them as well.

Dr. Foss next wanted us to choose between discussing Jason in terms of racism or misogyny and the implications of either associated when intersecting with disability.  My group chose the latter.  To do so, we looked at how Jason treated his mother.  All though Jason is his mother’s favorite, he treats her very poorly throughout his narration.  He refers to her as an invalid and complains multiple times about being surrounded by “invalids, idiots, and niggers”.  We likened Mrs. Compson to the woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  Both women are controlled by a man and struggling with disability.  The woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is trapped, not only by her husband, but by her location which eventually heightens her mental instability until she tears down all the yellow wallpaper in the room she is in.  Mrs. Compson, is controlled by Jason, who tells her how she should treat Quentin and is also bedridden frequently.  As far as linking Mrs. Compson with disability, a member of my group suggested that Mrs. Compson still might be in mourning for the loss of her husband, a condition that might lend itself to an unstable mental condition.  Dr. Foss announced that we had one more minute to discuss, so my group quickly recognized that both these cases inherently and negatively ascribe disability to women.

The class reconvened for the remainder of the time to go over our small group work.  Dr. Foss asks us if we thought that Jason should be viewed through the lens of disability and there was a resounding “no!” cried in unison.  A class member voiced their opinion saying that if we applied disability to Jason it would merely be an excuse for his terrible behavior and attitude.  It was decided that Jason was dysfunctional, but not disabled.  Two interesting points were brought up at the very end of class.  One was that Jason may have the potential for disability if he keeps isolating himself from his family.  The other was that a narcissistic personality disorder does exist that might be applicable to Jason.  Class ended with Dr. Foss promising rehashing next class to discuss the intersection of disability with Jason’s racism and misogyny before moving onto the final section of Faulkner’s novel.

Word count: 999

Written by Susan

October 22nd, 2010 at 11:41 am

Sarah Smethurst’s Class Summary for October 15

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Deciphering Faulkner: Class Summary Essay

The Sound and the Fury: June 2, 1910

Class began with that ever-treasured opportunity—extra credit. After discussing the opportunity and the details of the hypertext edition specific to this section, we jumped right in. After a discussion of Benjy’s use as a narrative prosthesis, we discussed Quentin’s section, finding several points we could agree on. Faulkner lets us into Quentin’s head and uses the pioneering (and frustrating) stream of consciousness style to give us insight into a mentally disabled brain that we lack in the more obviously disabled Benjy’s narrative. We see his failed life, his confused sexuality, and his complicated and possibly fictionalized relationships in much sharper focus than the well-meaning but unreadable Benjy’s reading of events.

Because Benjy’s beginning narrative is so crucial to the rest of The Sound and the Fury, we spent the first part of class (re)iterating our small group discussion of the previous class. Dr. Foss (re)presented the question of whether Faulkner cares about Benjy as more than a narrative device, and whether he is a sympathetic character or simply a perpetuation of a derogatory stereotype. Despite protestations that devoting much space, especially prime opening chapter space, to a disabled character was an act of service, we were forced to consider that the time was spent (re)inforcing a stereotype. The fact remains that Benjy does little to make himself a sympathetic character—we get a lot of characterization and events through him, but little emotional language or an experiential lens at all. He doesn’t have much of his own voice, and instead speaks through others’ dialogue, despite the section being technically grounded in his consciousness. Besides all that, there are major doubts as to the accuracy of Benjy’s disability, which can be infantilizing and extremely limiting.

Finally, we reached the topical portion of the class—small group discussion on the next section of the book, as narrated by Quentin. Dr. Foss presented to us several questions about how we read Quentin’s character and possible disability (and how that comments on Benjy’s disability), how to explain the narrative (switches in style of stream of consciousness), and the roles of other characters in his life. As usual, my group didn’t manage to get to most of the questions, but we covered what we could.

First, we deviated long enough to discuss the parentage of Ms. Quentin (is she Quentin’s child? is that possible?). This theme of possible incest would show up in later classes, and appears to be an unusual textual fixation of my group. We then discussed whether or not Quentin was disabled himself, conjecturing that though he may “pass” in society as sane, he had many mental and emotional disabilities of his own. We pointed to the past issues and traumas in his life, and also to the imagery and symbolism in the section (the use of clocks and fixations on time). Quentin has obsessions and fixations that are debilitating, not to mention the clear anxiety, depression, and (planned) suicide.

Despite the common disability (though in different forms), we found many differences between Quentin and Benjy. Their perceptions of the world are different—Benjy’s is neutral or even removed, and Quentin has an overwhelmingly negative perspective. The stream of consciousness style gets ever stranger when Quentin is the narrator, and we covered the differences and similarities in style., especially the mid-sentence time and scene changes present in Quentin’s text. We also discussed how Benjy merely observes the outside world around him, placing no filters or biases on the action, while Quentin takes it all in and combines it with his own emotion. Thus, he is susceptible to what others think about him and is sensitive to teasing, especially about his sexual orientation.

We could draw little conclusions about Quentin’s sexuality from the text. It was unclear whether certain comments meant that Quentin was really gay, or whether he was simply representing or internalizing the teasing of classmates and others around him. We also questioned the reliability of Quentin as a narrator, proposing that it was possible and even probable for him to lie in his section, whether intentionally or not. It made us doubt the crucial section regarding Caddy as we looked for meaning in Quentin’s obsession with her. We divined that whether they really had sex or not did not matter as much as the fact that Quentin believes that they did. Most of his interactions with Caddy could conceivably be a figment of his altered imagination, but so long as he believes they occurred, they have a huge impact on his life and mental health. We would have delved much deeper into this topic but Dr. Foss ended class at this point. Perhaps we should have saved the incest discussion and devoted more time to the loaded relationship between Caddy and Quentin.

Benjy may or may not be a sympathetic figure, but the mind that we really get into in The Sound and the Fury is Quentin’s. Although Quentin is a supposed to be a more normal narrator, he suffers from a disability that rivals Benjy’s, which affects his interpersonal relationships, his sexuality, and the unique voice in the section entitled “June 2, 1910.” The last comment of class was a question highly relevant to this issue and posed by Dr. Foss—who, in this text, is the Sound, and who is the Fury? He suggests that it is Benjy who provides the Sound, and Quentin who fully supplies all the Fury the text needs.

919 words

Written by sarahsmile

October 20th, 2010 at 3:24 am

Amanda Gorman’s Class Summary for October 13

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After an incredibly long Fall Break, we reconvened on a Wednesday to talk about the first section of The Sound and the Fury, which is narrated in first person by a character with probable mental and emotional disabilities named Benjy.  Fruitful discussion concerning the details of Benjy’s name change, an inter-textual reading of the text with Wordsworth’s The Idiot Boy, Faulkner’s reference to Macbeth, and a general look at the textual representation of Benjy’s disabilities lead to the conclusions that whereas Faulkner does something very interesting stylistically with the character of Benjy, his representation of the him is less-than-empowering because the reader is made to pity rather than understand him.
Although most of us could hardly contain our enthusiasm for getting right back into the swing of things, Dr. Foss had to convince a few of us that we should in fact meet for the day.  To encourage us, he touted his internet-skills and showed us some really helpful web-resources. After a brief overview of “who’s who” in The Sound and the Fury, (complete with a reassurance that T.P.’s initials do in fact stand for Toilet Paper), discussion turned to the connection between the Compson family-tree and Benjy’s name change from Maury to Benjy.  Benjy was originally given the name Maury after his Uncle Maury on his mother’s side.  Once the family realized that the boy was disabled, he was given the name Benjamin.  As it was noted in class, there may have been two motivating factors for this name-change.  If Caroline had a disabled son that was named after a member of her branch of the family she would risk spoiling the good name of the family since having a disabled child was seen at this time in history primarily as a judgment from God.  Caroline might also have had psychological motivation to choose a biblical name like Benjamin in that she may have thought that it could help ensure that he would get to heaven.  This representation of the way that disabled children were viewed in the the time period is complicated by the fact that not all the characters approve of Benjy’s name change.  Roskus, for one, implies that the name change and its implications might account for the family’s bad luck: “‘That’s what I tell you.’ Roskus said. ‘They aint no luck going be on no place where one of they own chillen’s name aint never spoke’” (16.2 in hypertext version).  The reader is probably meant to disapprove of the name change, and so it becomes a tragic detail foreshadowing Benjy’s tragic existence.
After finishing up with looking at the online resources, we found Shakespeare to be an important source to look at inter-textually.  We discussed this as well as Faulkner’s general representation of Benjy in small group discussion. In my group, rather than split the questions of representation of Benjy’s disability and discussion of the title reference into two distinct conversations, our discussion bridged the gap between the two with the answers we provided for both questions strongly informing one another.  First, however, we examined the soliloquy in Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5) from which Faulkner derives his title. In order to answer the question that Dr. Foss posed about whether or not Benjy’s narration is in fact “a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing” and in what way, we focused on the way the concept of time is at work here.  It seems that Benjy’s narration is not a pre-planned reflective mosaic, but rather a stream of consciousness.  My group agreed that this indicates that Benjy does not himself know the order of events in a clear way.  Sarah R. brought up the point that if time is irrelevant in Benjy’s mind, he would be ultimately unable to make sense of his life.  Time would stretch on limitlessly through “to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow”. This kind of existence is certainly pitiable.  It’s the kind of existence Macbeth imagines after his wife dies, but for Benjy he would have known no other existence.  Julianna brought up the idea that when you’re younger you often remember odd details that do not quite make sense until you grow up and it all comes together.  For Benjy, things will never come together.  This example of infantilization of disability is a further vehicle for engendering pity from the reader as the reader is jarred each time s/he is reminded of Benjy’s age.
We then discussed in further detail the style of the text in Benjy’s narration.  I mentioned that unlike a book like Flowers for Algernon Benjy’s narration uses proper grammar, is clear, and sophisticated.  At first, this seems like a very empowering voice to give to a disabled character.  However, upon further inspection, we realized that Benjy is merely relating happenings rather than giving an emotional account of events.  For example:
“But when I tried to climb onto it…my throat made a sound. It made the sound again and I stopped trying to get up, and it made the sound again and I began to cry. But my throat kept on making the sound while T.P. was pulling me. It kept on making it and I couldn’t tell if I was crying or not, and T.P. fell down on top of me, laughing, and it kept on making the sound…and I began to cry” (11.5 in hypertext version).
In this quote and others, Benjy’s narrative is strangely depersonalized.  He is having emotional reactions, but they do not seem to truly belong to him, as if things are just blindly happening to him.  In the same vein, as Matt pointed out in discussion, Benjy is a static character, at least so far.  Rather than gain a perspective on Benjy’s emotional growth or lack-there-of, the reader is merely presented with an account of his plight, which forces the reader to view Benjy as completely unaware of the consequences of his memories on his psyche.  This, coupled with the fact that the reader is constantly presented with characterizations of Benjy by the other characters, takes away from the potentially empowering nature of a fictionalized firsthand account of life with a disability.
Although my group briefly entertained the idea that Faulkner did this intentionally to show how in society the disabled are characterized primarily by the nondisabled, we searched for other, potentially more exploitative, reasons Faulkner might have had for writing Benjy’s section in this style.  Benjy’s character allowed for a reason for de-chronologizing the events in the first section to interesting effect.  The other parts of the book make the first part clearer, so in this way, Benjy’s section being characterized by his disability supports the whole narrative structure of the novel.  We thought that Faulkner was probably interested in the potential of Benjy’s disability to support this structure, however, we thought Benjy was supposed to invoke a certain kind of emotion from the reader as well.  Andrew mentioned the influence of the Southern Grotesque on the novel, and the appeal of bluntly putting all the detail out there.  The way Benjy is described ultimately evokes a kind of sympathy from the reader, and he comes off as very likeable.  However, Benjy does not do anything particularly likable in any of the events related.  This likableness despite his not having actually accomplished actions that make him deserve praise, can only ultimately be read as pity for him and his condition.

Written by gormanda

October 19th, 2010 at 2:08 am

Posted in class summaries

Allison’s Class Summary for October 8

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To start the day off, Katherine and Jessica brought their new puppy Volta to show Dr. Foss (which he enjoyed meeting). As Volta left, I found it ironic that puppies were a part of the novella Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Before we started, Dr. Foss said it was going to be laid back kind of day for our class, and that he hoped to end the class a little early. He reminded everyone that there should be no problem with the online quizzes, and he’s ready to draw the line about anyone missing them. After announcements, we went right into the day’s class meeting prompts. Dr. Foss asked us to get into small groups to talk about the first three prompts to Of Mice and Men which focused on Lennie. Afterward, we would come together to talk about other disabled characters. Throughout the prompts, he asked us to think about if Steinbeck invited readers to critique looking at the disabled, and how. Steinbeck did invite the readers to critique disability by looking at the treatment between the disabled and nondisabled. Though most of the characters were in the lower class, Lennie, Crooks, and Candy, were treated differently by their nondisabled peers due to their disability.

One of our first discussions in the small group was the first prompt, which looked at how we (the readers) characterized Steinbeck’s representation of Lennie’s disability. Obviously, Lennie had a mental disability (or as the flap of the book suggested, ‘simple minded.’) One group member said that Lennie, from the way they read it, had a linear mind because he didn’t express any opinions or emotions, but instead, repeated what everyone said to him. When Lennie tried to say something, George silenced him. When George silenced Lennie’s voice, he didn’t object. This made George the superior one manipulating Lenny’s appearance by advertising him. By advertising him, Lennie became a machine. Lennie always talked about their dream, but George would warn him not to do anything bad. When Lennie obeyed, George would say, “Good boy! That’s fine, Lennie! Maybe you’re gettin’ better.” (14) George talked to Lennie as if he was a misbehaved child. Because Lennie stuck with George, he wanted George to tell him what to do. When Curley tried to fight Lennie, some of his childish characteristics came out (putting his hands over his face). It wasn’t until George told him to “get him.” Lennie obeyed and crushed Curley’s hand.  

The second prompt talked about George and Lennie’s relationship and whether it was a good one. Their relationship could be compared to Victor and the Creature from Shelley’s Frankenstein. George and Lennie’s had more of a brotherly bond, while Victor and the Creature have a fatherly-son bond. George felt guilt towards Lennie, but always took advantage of him, while Victor felt disgusted by the Creature. Lennie was simple minded and didn’t know his own strength. The Creature was well educated and knew what he could do; creating cause (he’s evil because he’s physically disabled). George wasn’t afraid of Lennie, and controlled him. Victor feared the Creature’s appearance. To me, George and Lennie’s relationship wasn’t good because George turned Lennie into a machine, treated him like a child, and tried to hide his disability. However, my group members disagreed. They believed that the relationship was altruistic and symbiotic because they both influenced one another. They used Lennie’s, “If you don want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave.” (12)  They argued that George alone could have no control because he would just be George, and therefore have no friend or puppet. Even though George complained about how his life would be easier without Lennie, he couldn’t leave him because he felt guilty. They also argued that unlike Victor and the Creature, both Lennie and George were from the lower class, and no hierarchies were between them, which made the “bond” stronger. However, “aesthetic nervousness” is still presented throughout the text, including tension between the characters and the readers because, “…aesthetic nervousness overlaps social justices to disability that themselves often remain unexamined in their prejudice and bias.” (15) When the nondisabled reader looked at Lennie, they noticed lots of cover ups, from George telling him to behave, to Slim trying to forget about Lennie crushing Curley’s hand. The readers hoped that he wouldn’t do anything out of the norm. However, Lennie brought the reader into a reality check when he killed the puppies and Curley’s wife.

The third prompt asked whether we thought about the ending of the novella and whether we bemoan Lennie’s fate while accepting that there’s no place for him. My group mates and I agreed that we couldn’t really bemoan him because he died due to his fantasy. He kept living in a dream by petting anything tactile (which could also represent his child image). When he petted anything soft, he dreamed of petting the rabbits. We do however question whether George did the ethical thing in shooting Lennie. George had no one to turn to because everyone was against them. He had nowhere to turn, but was Lennie no use to him anymore? Perhaps there were social factors (Slim and Carlson, two nondisabled figures) influencing him to detach himself from Lennie by the memory of Candy and his dog.  

When we came back together, we talked about the other disabled characters, and how the nondisabled marginalized them. Candy’s disability was old age, Lennie’s disability was cognitive, Crooks had a physical disability and Curley’s wife was disabled due to being a dependent female. Building on to issue disability was race. Crooks not only had a crooked back, but was also black. Lennie could hide his disability, but Crooks couldn’t. The discussion then turned to the use of the “n” word and what it might have implied. It was exciting because we talked about it the other day in my African American Literature class, discussing how reclaiming the “n” word could still work against one because of its past use and meaning. We questioned whether Steinbeck did this for a reason whether it was supposed to enlighten us. Some argued that it really didn’t have any meaning. It was just what people said. However, being the English majors we are, we like to add ideas to the “n” words and what it might mean for them from the past to today. Some would like to forget those words, but Curley’s wife brought back reality when she said to Crooks, “You know what I can do?” (76) The “n” word, the “r” word, the “c” word, no matter if it’s a good or bad meaning, will still classify someone according to their appearance, therefore separating them from everyone else.  

Before class ended, we wrapped it up by talking about how there are still division within minority groups or classes today. Crooks now have a group to back him up, but there are still not a lot of people defending Lennie’s position. Robert pointed out that the division was just like the show Glee, where a black girl and a gay guy were grouped together because of their “otherness.” We were left to ponder whether these were dynamics between the different images we looked at, or if were those dynamics the same. No matter what, the nondisabled characters in the book had the power to shape the reader’s perception of the disabled character by pointing out their defects.

Word Count: 1,241

Written by library1288

October 15th, 2010 at 9:27 am