We wrapped up Animal Farm yesterday and watched a quick video introducing Between Shades of Gray (link). Don’t toss your notes from the last three weeks. You’ll want to have them in your notebook come test day on Feb. 13.
Between Shades of Gray is broken up into three parts. We’ll read one part per week for the next three weeks.
Remember what I said in class – sometimes our protagonist, Lina, reverts to a memory in the narrative. Don’t let this throw you. In my copy of the book, those memories are italicized, but you may miss it, particularly if you’re listening to the book on audio.
Homework: Read Part 1 (Ch. 1-28) and answer the following response questions in the same document you used for Animal Farm no later than midnight on Wednesday, Jan. 29:
The story begins with the inciting incident – “They took me in my nightgown.” Ruta Sepetys wastes no time getting to the grit. If you had 20 minutes to grab what was most precious to you, not knowing if you’d ever come home again, what would you pack?
Having just read Animal Farm, how do you feel about the NKVD calling Lina and her family “bourgeois pigs”?
Why does Lina’s mother ignore her own cousin and tell Lina not to talk to anyone they know?
The end of Ch. 7 presents a tough interaction (bartering) between Jonas, Elena, and an NKVD officer. Summarize what happens here and how it could function as foreshadowing for things later in the book. You can safely assume the stakes get higher as we go along.
The end of Ch. 16 is a moving image of patriotism for the Lithuanians on the train. They are captives, yet they are singing. What does this say about a person’s identity and civic pride, no matter the circumstances? What does this remind you of from Animal Farm?
In Ch. 18, the deportees get wind of Germany invading Lithuania, news that makes them happy. What is this a painful version of dramatic irony?
Pull from the book and give an example to show how Lithuanians could be punished for their speech or belief system.
We reviewed the first half of Animal Farm, and I pointed out things that I want you to know by writing them on the board. Please be sure you understand the definitions you summarized, or copied/pasted, in the response document. They will pop on the test, and you need to be able to discern the difference between all the -isms.
Homework: Finish reading Animal Farm. Then answer the following response questions SUBSTANTIVELY in your Google Doc no later than midnight on Wednesday, Jan. 22:
Give three examples that show why Squealer’s role was crucial in the success of Animal Farm.
Explain why Animal Farm is an example of Boiled Frog Syndrome.
What are your thoughts on “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”? Do you see anything in today’s world where that sentence rings true?
The story ends with a bang. Put yourself in an animal’s position and consider what it would feel like to have this realization: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” How do we prevent reaching this scenario? What’s the moral of the story?
What did you think of Animal Farm?
Today we talked about historical fiction as a genre, Eric Blair (i.e., George Orwell), and the historical context for reading Animal Farm. I hope you all took notes because most of the things I wrote on the board will be on your Feb. 13 test (which is open notes! You’re welcome!).
To fully appreciate the allegorical and satirical qualities of Animal Farm, you need to brush up on your WWII history. I’ve included some names and terms to define as part of the response questions.
Homework for Jan. 16:
Read the introduction plus Ch. 1-6 in Animal Farm. Keep the handout I gave you nearby as a reminder of who each animal and person represents. Then, start a new Google Document and answer the following response questions. Share the document with me by midnight on Wednesday, Jan. 15. (Yes, I’ve pushed back the time from 3 p.m. to midnight. Of course, you can always send it earlier!)
Define the following names and terms:
- Karl Marx
- Vladimir Lenin
- Josef Stalin
- Leon Trotsky
- Winston Churchill
Summarize the introduction that appeared in your book. Who wrote it and what did you learn?
Why/How was Manor Farm ripe for a revolution? Give examples from the book to support your answers.
What are the Animalism commandments? Are any of them flawed? Which ones seem reasonable?
Why is the word “comrade” powerful? Describe how it’s being used.
How do the pigs use fear to keep the other animals convinced that Animal Farm is the right way of life?
Do you identify or sympathize with any characters so far? Which ones and why?
Thank you so kindly for the wonderful teacher gifts! I really appreciate it 🙂
Great job muscling through the final test. They are already graded, so once I finish reviewing your thematic essays, I’ll email you (and your parents) your semester grade. My goal is to get those to you over the weekend since many of our umbrella schools need the scores by next week.
Thanks for working so hard this semester. This can be a demanding class for some, but my goal is always to make literature more approachable for students. Whether you enjoy the works we read or despise them with a red hot passion of a thousand suns, I hope you’ve learned something.
Rest well over the break, and grab a copy of Animal Farm for the week we return. Merry Christmas!
It was an easy class as we wrapped up The Outsiders. I’m glad so many of you enjoyed the book. I have a few more rough drafts to review, but if you submitted a rough draft and haven’t heard from me yet, you’ll hear from me tomorrow for sure.
If you are still working on your paper and haven’t turned in a rough draft, please get it to me as soon as possible. I will not accept ANY work after Dec. 12. I expect all of you to turn in final essays by next Thursday.
Please sort your notes in preparation for the test next week. You are welcome to use your notes on the test, but you may not use your books or phones. Plan on the test being similar to the one you took on Beowulf. You need to know things about the authors, the plots and characters, and other literary elements.
Be in touch if you have questions!
Unfortunately, the heartbreak isn’t over yet. Now it’s time to finish The Outsiders and get working on that thematic paper. Surely you have plenty to work with. I’ve been the most obvious (and obnoxious) teacher ever about themes in both books, but I’m trying to set you all up to succeed.
There are no response questions for Chapters 10-12, but I want you to think about these two questions over the next two weeks and be ready to discuss them when we meet again on Dec. 5: What does it mean to Stay Gold? and Why do you think the book was titled The Outsiders when those words are never mentioned in the text?
Your rough draft is due via Google Doc on Tuesday, Dec. 3, by 5 p.m. If it’s ready sooner than that, you’re welcome to send it. Review the guidelines so you know what’s expected. Even though I’m not requiring an outline, it may be helpful if you do one anyway (with or without my input).
Extra Credit (10 points)
Due via Google Doc no later than Tuesday, December 10
Option 1 – Watch Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film The Outsiders and draft a short essay comparing/contrasting the film with the book. Formal MLA quotes and citations are not necessary, but you must be specific in your main points. Avoid generalized comparisons. Then, give your opinion on which is better – the film or the book. Minimum 500 words.
Option 2 – Follow the instructions given by Ponyboy’s English teacher in Chapter 12 and write about “anything you think is important enough to write about. And it isn’t a reference theme; I want your own ideas and your own experiences.” If you choose this one, please take it seriously. Minimum 500 words.
Remember what I said in class today – the sooner you get working on the thematic paper, the less you have to worry about over Thanksgiving. 🙂
This week you’re going to read Chapters 5-9 in The Outsiders. You may be tempted to finish the book, and it’s fine if that’s what you want to do. I wanted to get through the big stuff in The Outsiders before Thanksgiving so that you’d have plenty to work with for your paper. (Be a friend and please keep spoilers to yourself!)
Homework: Read Ch. 5-9 in The Outsiders and answer the following questions on your Google Doc.
- What’s the symbolism behind cutting Ponyboy’s hair?
- What’s your interpretation of Robert Frost’s poem that Ponyboy recites to Johnny? Specifically, what do you think the last line means, “Nothing gold can stay”?
- What is meaningful about Randy’s conversation with Ponyboy about the upcoming “rumble”? (It happens at the end of Ch. 7. In my copy of the book, it starts at the bottom of pg. 115 and goes until the end of pg. 117.)
- What does it mean to Stay Gold? How does it compare or contrast with Robert Frost’s assertion that “Nothing gold can stay”?
- Why did Ponyboy and Dally react differently to the event at the end of Ch. 9? How do you feel about it? (Trying not to spoil it here.)
If you decide to finish the book, tell me what you thought about it in your response.
I can’t believe it started raining just as we got to the saddest part in A Separate Peace. Always pay attention to the weather, guys!
Now it’s time to move on to The Outsiders. Pretty quickly you’ll recognize a few similar themes in play. Pay attention – your next paper will be born out of these similarities.
A quick note about how the rest of the semester will go: You are not required to turn in an outline for the final paper. However, if you struggled with the last paper, it might be worthwhile to do one. Outlines help you organize your thoughts before putting pen to paper. It’s a good mental exercise in the pre-writing stage. As usual, I’m happy to offer feedback and help you, but an outline is not required.
That being said, the rough draft of your thematic essay is due via email no later than Tuesday, Dec. 3, by 5 p.m. That’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Your final essay is due in class on our last day – Thursday, Dec. 12. It is well worth your time to make notes and whatnot leading up to Thanksgiving so you aren’t scrambling on a holiday weekend. Also, you’ll soon realize that it isn’t necessary to finish The Outsiders before starting your paper. The themes will quickly reveal themselves and you could very well get started.
Homework: Read Ch. 1-4 in The Outsiders and answer the following questions in your Google Doc. You are welcome to keep using the same one you used for A Separate Peace.
- The separation of people by class, race, belief system, and other defining characteristics is a common trope used in literature because it mirrors the real world. What is your understanding of the conflict between the Socs and the Greasers?
- What are Ponyboy’s greatest struggles at 14 years old? What sets him apart from his brothers and other members of the Greasers?
- Why do you think S.E. Hinton chose Johnny as the one to be with Ponyboy the night at the park? Which of Johnny’s characteristics make him an ideal sidekick?
- Do you already see similar themes in The Outsiders that existed in A Separate Peace? Which one(s)? What are the similarities?
Yesterday we dug into A Separate Peace, which we now understand is a coming of age story about a young man who’s trying to figure out who he really is. In truth, all of the boys at Devon are grappling with this, but this season of their life is made more difficult because of the war looming in the background. Take a moment to consider what it might feel like to know that all of your post-high school plans were an impossibility because you had to suit up and go to war. This was the reality for young men in 1942-44.
As you finish the book this week, take note of the quotes and scenes that stick out to you. What lines show that Gene was really struggling with who he is? What scenes prove Finny’s continued denial?
Make sure you have a copy of The Outsiders for next week. We’re jumping right in after we finish A Separate Peace.
Homework: Answer the following response questions in your Google Doc. Remember to answer substantively.
- Gene visits Leper, who deserted the Army to avoid dishonorable discharge. Gene is unable to digest Leper’s story and ends up rejecting him. Today, we know a lot about PTSD, but back then there was only “shell shock” and “going psycho”. Do you think you’d make a solid, steady soldier? Or do you see yourself in either Gene or Leper, both grappling with the effects of war in different ways?
- Brinker says Gene won’t enlist in the military because he pities Finny – meaning, he doesn’t want to leave him. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
- Ch. 11 is a laborious, informal trial in which Brinker sets Finny against Gene to get the true story of Finny’s fall. It ends terribly, as one would expect. In your opinion, what has kept Finny and Gene from talking about the accident organically, without interference from other people? Since they are best friends, shouldn’t they have talked about it?
- We finally learn why Finny was resistant to the idea of a war – in fact, it was a coping mechanism while he was trying to enlist. What has all the rejection done to Phineas? What does rejection do to anybody?
- The book ends with this from Gene: “I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there.” What’s your interpretation of this quote?
- What did you think of A Separate Peace?
We started discussing A Separate Peace today with the intention of focusing on scenes and events that will help us define themes in the novel. Since you are writing a thematic paper on this book and The Outsiders, I highly suggest you take notes as you read. My expectations for cited scenes will be the same for every paper you write in my class. If you struggled to pull together the Compare/Contrast paper because of this specific issue, do your future self a favor and do the prep work now.
As you read Gene’s story about his time at Devon, look for patterns in his language and emotions. Consider the timeframe and how that effects the boys. Dig into how Gene and Finny communicate. Before you read the next few chapters, look over the list of themes I gave you last week and see what stands out.
If you need help finalizing your Compare/Contrast papers, please be in touch with me. I am unavailable Friday night and most of Saturday, but I’m happy to email/chat with you Friday morning and throughout Sunday, if need be.
Homework: Finalize your Compare/Contrast papers and bring a beautiful, clean copy to class on Thursday. Read Ch. 5-9 in A Separate Peace and answer the following response questions in your Google Doc by Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 5 p.m. Keep in mind that the more thorough you are with these questions (i.e., pulling text from the book), the better off you’ll be when it’s time to write a paper in December).
- After Finny’s fall from the tree, Gene is wrecked emotionally. He feels responsible. As he’s walking to visit Finny in the infirmary for the first time, he says, in narration, “Phineas would say nothing behind my back; he would accuse me, face to face.” What does this say about Finny’s character? Focus less on whether or not Finny thinks the fall is Gene’s fault. Instead, focus on the statement that Finny wouldn’t talk behind Gene’s back.
- Gene muddles through his first day of the Winter Session. After arriving late to crew, he says, in narration, “As I walked toward to the door I supposed that Quackenbush was studying me to see if he could detect a limp. But I knew that his flat black eyes would never detect my trouble.” What’s your interpretation of this passage?
- Ch. 7 covers Gene’s overall life back at Devon, and he is miserable. On top of the general expected stress of his education, explain the other undercurrents of ongoing stress in his life. What are the types of conflict he’s struggling with? (Literary conflicts – man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. nature, etc.) Use examples from the book to support your claims.
- In the middle of Ch. 8, while the pair tours the Trophy room in the gym, Finny tells Gene the war isn’t real. What does Finny’s speech about everything being made up by “fat old men” tell you about his personality or state of mind?
- Ch. 9 ends with a playful attempt at a Winter Carnival designed by Finny and constructed by the group of Devon students. They drink cider and get silly, a retreat from the grim Winter afternoons and the far-away war. It is in this space that we get the title of the book. Summarize the scene and compare it to the juxtaposed telegram Gene receives.
This is a busy week – I suggest you don’t waste time.
Those who submitted an outline by Tuesday have gotten feedback from me, so you’re ready to hit the ground running on your Compare/Contrast essay. Some of you submitted outlines yesterday (Wednesday), so I will look at them first thing tomorrow morning (Friday).
Here are a few key things to remember:
- Each body paragraph requires pulled quotes/lines/scenes from the poem/book/film you’re referencing. You can tell me Beowulf is like another hero in literature or film in X-Y-Z ways, but if you don’t SHOW me how they are similar, your claims have no evidence.
- Your opinions on Beowulf or Grendel (or whomever else you are writing about) are irrelevant for this paper. Leave them out. No first-person references, please.
- If you are wholly unfamiliar with MLA format and have no idea how to cite your sources IN the paper and then link those sources to a Works Cited page, please check out the Purdue OWL website for MLA guidelines or get your hands on an MLA Handbook. Of course, you can contact me, but I won’t tell you how to cite a film or book. I’ll point you to the place where you can find that information.
Homework: In addition to the paper you’re writing, it’s time to get started on A Separate Peace. Read Ch. 1-4 and answer the following response questions in a new Google Document you share with me. Don’t forget everything we talked about today regarding theme. You’ll be writing a thematic paper in a few weeks. Annotate as you read or jot down notes about things that strike you as thematic.
- The story begins with Gene returning to his high school, specifically to a tree where something tragic happened. Readers don’t know the full story yet, but these lines provide a hint of what’s to come: “Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence. Changed, I headed back through the mud. I was drenched; anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain.” What’s your interpretation of this passage? What mood is being set here, and what does Gene mean by “come out of the rain”?
- The story quickly shifts to Gene remembering his “sarcastic summer” when he met Phineas. What do you think about this description? Have you experienced an unusual season of your own life yet, a period of time where you recognize you were a different person than you are now? (I realize this process is easier for adults since we’ve lived a longer life, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little introspective.)
- Gene and Finny create a secret society, a common thing at boarding schools and universities. They choose a tongue-in-cheek name – the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. Why is this name ironic?
- There is a break in Ch. 3 where Gene explains how the war has shaped his thoughts, decisions, and identity (in three long paragraphs, pgs. 32-34 in my book). Summarize Gene’s view of America as an adult and compare it to his “sarcastic summer” at 16 years old.
- Describe Gene and Finny. How are their personalities different? Pull quotes from the book to support your answer.
C/C Rough Draft: Due via shared Google Doc by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 22
A Separate Peace Response Questions: Due via shared Google Doc by 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23
Today I reviewed expectations for your first paper, which is a compare/contrast within or connected to Beowulf and Grendel. (If you fail to write about Beowulf or Grendel, you will not meet the requirements of the paper. My Superman/Batman example was just to show to paper structure.) Hopefully, you found the workday helpful, meaning there’s less for you to do over fall break.
Homework: If you sorted out your outline in class and are happy with what you wrote, then all you have to do it type it into a Google Doc and share it with me by Tues., Oct. 15. If you are semi-happy with what you wrote, then keep thinking and working on it. Email me if you need help, though I won’t be able to reply until Monday, Oct. 14.
If you are willing and able to work ahead on the rough draft, please feel free, as that will only help your future self. When we return from fall break, we will jump right into A Separate Peace and subsequent response questions, as well as writing the rough draft of your compare/contrast paper. The workload will be considerable.
Additionally, if you are behind on response questions for Beowulf and Grendel and you still want to get credit, that window closes as of Oct. 17. I won’t accept late work after that day. Finish the questions and send me a link ASAP.
I’ll be available tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 4) until 2:30 p.m. to answer questions or give feedback, but after that, I’ll be unavailable.
We wrapped up Grendel today, then I handed out information about the upcoming Compare/Contrast essay. (If you were absent, click here.) It’s time to start thinking critically about the books you just read and the ideas presented in them.
Homework: Your task this week is to start a NEW Google Document for a brainstorming session about this paper. Choose a topic and tell me what it is. Then loosely map out your ideas. I want to see your wheels turning and be able to prompt you forward. Basically, I want to have a conversation with you before you start your paper, so this is how we have to do it.
For example, if you decide to write your paper about how Beowulf is portrayed in both the poem and Grendel, start by identifying the red flag similarities and differences. What scenes stand out? What dialogue jumps out at you when comparing and contrasting how this character is developed in each of the works? Don’t just tell me WHAT the similarities and differences are. Also tell me WHY they are similar or different. Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation. Just type. Get your ideas down.
Please share your document with me NO LATER THAN Wednesday, Oct. 2, by noon. (If you get it done sooner, thank you!) I need time to reply to everyone. Then, I will print out the documents with my comments on them and bring them with me next week so y’all can start working on outlines in class. The more you get done in class, the less you have to do over fall break.
If you don’t know by now, I have a soft spot in my heart for Grendel. Even monsters have family problems and existential crises! After reading and discussing the first six chapters, you understand that Grendel didn’t start off killing, nor did he start off mad. He may have been perfectly suited to this life of terror given his ancestry, but Grendel tried several times to reach out to humans and live among them. Unfortunately, his attempts were unsuccessful.
Homework: Feel free to skip Ch. 7-9 (or just read the summary for those chapters – linked here). Read Ch. 10-12 and answer the following response questions substantively.
Ch. 10-12 “Tedium is the worst pain.”
Ch. 10 is a heaping pile of foreshadowing. The persistent goat, the Shaper’s death, Grendel’s mother’s attempt to prevent her son from going to the funeral… We know what’s coming because we just read Beowulf. First, how do you feel reading this chapter when you know Grendel’s fate? Then, pull some text from the book (or summary) that shows how Grendel’s thinking isn’t wise or mature.
Beowulf is never named in the book, but we know it’s him at the start of Ch. 11. Why do you think John Gardner never names the hero?
Do you agree with Grendel’s assessment that “Tedium is the worst pain”? Why or why not? Give me some examples from both the book and your own experiences that support your argument.
What do you think of Grendel’s dying words, “Poor Grendel’s had an accident… So may you all”? What does that mean?
What are your overall thoughts on Grendel?
*Don’t forget – I updated the weekly assignments. If you’re someone who likes to have those things printed out in your notebook, the link is in the blue box above.
Today we wrapped up Beowulf and took a test on the poem. Since we went over the answers, you should have a good idea of how well (or not-so-well) you did. It should also be an indication of how engaged you’ve been thus far. Are you taking good notes? Are you paying attention, even when you’re bored? We won’t have a test on Grendel (you’re writing a paper instead), but there will be a test at the end of the semester about the books we read after fall break. Just FYI.
Now it’s time to turn our attention to the grouchy little monster who we already know won’t survive his battle. Poor Grendel. It’s going to be a tough road for him, but my hope is that you’ll set aside what you’ve read in Beowulf and engage with another side of the story.
Homework: Read Ch. 1-6 in either the book Grendel or the summary (linked here.) Either way, you should still be able to answer the response questions below. You may start a new Google Doc if you want, but you may also continue working on the original one. Since you’re writing a paper soon, it might be nice to have everything in one place.
Ch. 1-6 “And so begins the twelfth year of my idiotic war.”
Our first introduction to Grendel shows that he’s… grouchy. He complains about everything, that life and its various aspects are unfair. He even gives the sky the middle finger! What’s your initial impression of our fussy little monster?
In the first chapter we have this line: “I feel my anger coming back, building up like invisible fire, and at last, when my soul can no longer resist, I go up — as mechanical as anything else — fists clenched against my lack of will, my belly growling, mindless as wind, for blood.” What does this tell us about Grendel as a creature? What’s his frame of mind?
What does it mean to play “cat and mouse with the universe” (pg 10)? What’s the difference between this and fate, as described in Beowulf?
In Ch. 2, Grendel reflects on an event that happened when he was younger, caught between two trees when a bull came upon him. He was stuck for days and then had his first interaction with humans – which was awful! Only after all the suffering did his mother come to save him. How do you think this event shaped Grendel as he grew up?
Grendel hides in trees and watches the humans over time. He grows in disgust for their actions – their wasteful impact on the world. He says, “There was nothing to stop the advance of man” (pg. 40). Does this shift your opinion of Grendel, or why he’s so angry all the time? Why or why not?
Grendel listens to The Shaper with rapt curiosity that leads to pangs of loneliness. In fact, he cries out, “Why can’t I have someone to talk to?” Because The Shaper “reshapes the world,” what does this tell us about the power of music, poetry, and – yes – even literature?
Ch. 5 begins with Grendel remembering when he visited a greedy dragon to gain a little wisdom on the world. (You are welcome to skip ahead to page 70 to avoid the dragon’s ramblings. Even Grendel was bored and confused!) What do you think about the dragon’s advice to stop seeking the meaning of life, to find a pile of gold and sit on it?
Let me know if you’re reading the book or the summary!
The swamp-thing is dead, Grendel’s been beheaded, and Beowulf is again the strongest, most amazing warrior in all the land. He’s returned to Geatland and has been reigning successfully as king for 50 years. But then, there comes a dragon… Here’s what I hope you learned today:
- Again, the frame stories are there on purpose. We knew Beowulf was going to be successful in the haunted mere and sea-monster-infested lake because we’d already heard of his successes earlier killing NINE sea monsters.
- Fortunately, Unferth and Beowulf made amends. It’s too bad the hrunting sword was useless.
- Pride and Greed will always thwart the hero! They always lead to downfall. (Heed Hrothgar’s warnings!)
- Comitatus is a mutually beneficial working relationship between a nobleman and freeman. It existed in Roman and Anglo-Saxon days and it exists even now.
Now it’s time for the final battle and, subsequently, your first test.
Homework: Finish Beowulf and take notes as you feel led. (We will briefly review the final lines of the poem before you take your test in class. The test is open notes, but it is not open book or open phone.) Finally, answer these questions in your Google Doc. Be sure to type “grade” at the end when you are finished.
Lines 2324-3182 “…until one began to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl…”
Beowulf’s final battle is looming. It comes after his peaceful 50-year reign back in Geatland. Instead of bearing confidence and pride, Beowulf suffers foreboding (lines 2419-2424). Why do you think his mind frame has changed? Is his decision to fight the dragon a good decision? Why or why not?
Upon Beowulf’s deathbed, what does he ask of Wiglaf? (Lines 2729-2751) Why do you think he asks this?
Once Beowulf is dead, Wiglaf laments about the fate of the Geats. What are all of his worries and complaints? Are his anger and fear justified? (lines 2884-2914)
Do you agree with Tolkien – is Beowulf a Heroic Elegy? Or is it an Epic Poem? First tell me the difference between the two, then tell me which one you think is more accurate for Beowulf. (We talked about this on our first day.)
What are your thoughts on Beowulf? Tell me why you liked/disliked it.
Here’s what I hope you learned today:
- The frame stories presented by the scop in the mead hall are intentional. They possess information that’s pertinent to the reader and overall story. (It’s not just filler!) The comparison to Sigemund and contrast to King Heremod, followed by the whole Frisian revenge story, all point back to Beowulf and his journey.
- Hospitality is reciprocal. It’s an exchange between the host and the guest. Wealhtheow, the queen, is the embodiment of hospitality.
- Beowulf is full of literary elements that deserve our attention. It’s not just the overwhelming use of foreshadowing (spoilers!) but also its symbolism, themes, allegory, and use of metaphor, specifically kennings.
The reading for this week brings us front and center with Grendel’s mother, who’s none too pleased with the Danes.
Homework: Read lines 1251-2323 and answer the following response questions on the same Google Doc. (If you created a new document last week and I didn’t copy/paste your answers to your original document for you, please do that.)
Lines 1251-2323 “That swamp-thing from hell”
We are introduced to Grendel’s mother, whose descriptions are worse than her son’s! (lines 1258-1263) Based on her quiet approach and revenge, what’s the image you have of her in your mind?
Lines 1345-1382 offer a better picture of Grendel and his mother’s history, where they come from (mostly unknown) and where they live (too scary to explore). Of course, Beowulf takes this as a challenge with encouraging words to King Hrothgar (lines 1383-1396). Compare and contrast Beowulf and King Hrothgar in this scene. How are they similar, and how are they different?
Grendel’s mother’s underwater cave is a nightmare, pretty much the most terrible place one could ever go. Yet, Beowulf dives in for battle, armor and all. Spoilers aside, how do we know he’s going to win? (Hint: We’ve already heard a similar story.)
Beowulf finds Grendel’s lifeless body in the cave and decides to chop off his head as a trophy. Why do you think he does this?
Beowulf brings to Hrothgar the gold hilt of the sword he used to kill Grendel’s mother. Engraved on it is the story of Noah and the Great Flood (lines 1687-1699). The author continues to dabble in both paganism (fate) and Christianity (God’s Will). Why do both?
Today I hope you learned several key things:
- Yes, lineage matters. This is how people (and monsters) were legitimized in the Anglo-Saxon period.
- The Heroic Code of the Anglo-Saxons (bravery, truth, honor, loyalty/duty, hospitality, and perseverance) was important.
- Pride and greed will thwart the Hero every time.
- Unferth is a jealous Dane who needs to stop drinking so much.
- The main thing that separates the Epic Hero from the Tragic Hero is the character’s tragic flaw.
Since the end of the story has been spoiled for you (many apologies), be thinking about whether Beowulf is an Epic Hero or a Tragic Hero as you read the rest of the story. This is a discussion we’ll have when we finish the poem.
Homework: Read Lines 702-1250 of Beowulf and answer the following response questions in the SAME Google Document you already started. Since you’ve already shared the link with me, you don’t have to re-share it.
Lines 702-1250 “One man… was in fighting mood”
So Grendel goes to the mead hall like usual to grab a snack, not expecting Beowulf at all. In the end, while all the Geats are fighting unsuccessfully with their swords, how does Beowulf defeat the monster? (lines 781-836, 962-973) What does this tell you about the warrior AND the monster?
Hrothgar is gloriously pleased that Grendel is dead. In his thanks to the warrior, he says (in front of everyone), “So now, Beowulf, I adopt you in my heart as a dear son” (Line 945-946) Explain what it would’ve meant to Beowulf, or anyone for that matter, to receive a compliment like this from the king (keeping in mind our discussion about lineage).
Lines 1016-1018 read: “Inside Heorot there was nothing but friendship. The Shielding nation was not yet familiar with feud and betrayal.” What’s your interpretation of these lines? What literary device is being used here?
The author ends this section with a cliffhanger: “Men were drinking wine at that rare feast; how could they know fate, the grim shape of things to come, the threat looming over many thanes as night approached and King Hrothgar prepared to retired to his quarters?” (lines 1232-1237). Why do you think the warriors were oblivious to Grendel’s circumstances, that he wasn’t entirely alone?
Give an example from the text (from Line 1-1250) for each of the six aspects of the Anglo-Saxon Heroic Code. Basically, show how Beowulf fits every description of an Anglo-Saxon Hero.
Finally, enjoy hearing what Old English really sounds like:
I realize today was exhausting for everyone, and that makes it hard to listen to a history lecture on an Old English manuscript. BUT, it won’t always be this way. Hopefully, you will all come back next week with plenty to
complain say about Beowulf. English class is only enjoyable if everyone has something to contribute.
Please read through the syllabus if you haven’t already. Know what’s expected of you. If you’re confused about anything, email me.
Recap: Literary historians believe Beowulf was written between 700-950 A.D. by a Northumbrian, Anglo-Saxon storyteller (scop) and transcribed by a monk. Perhaps the scop and monk were one and the same. We don’t have a lot to go on, though the Christian elements mixed with pagan elements gives a good argument for the original author being a monk. The only manuscript known to man currently lives in the British Library in London, but it wasn’t even regarded as an important piece of literature until JRR Tolkien brought it into the spotlight. (Before then, it was held in a few personal collections of old, rich antiquarians.)
Tolkien translated the story during his earliest years at Oxford, arguing that Beowulf was less an epic poem and more of a Heroic Elegy (a mournful tale). His essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, is regarded as one of the best literary analyses on the work.
But I digress. All of this stuff should be in your notes. 🙂
We will circle back to Anglo-Saxon life next week when we start dissecting the first 700 lines. (Click here for the map of Britain during Anglo-Saxon era that I passed around in class and shows the seven main kingdoms.)
- Read lines 1-701 in Beowulf. If you struggle to understand what you’re reading, don’t stress! You have my permission to use SparkNotes alongside reading the text. Do not read SparkNotes in place of reading the text. You are also welcome to listen to the audiobook while reading along in the text. Do whatever works for you.
- Print the Beowulf Pronunciation Guide and Chronology to help you as you read. Also print and read “The Beowulf Poet and His World” from Readings on Beowulf. (If you cannot print things at home, download the essay and change the orientation so you can read it on your computer.)
- Answer the following response questions substantively in a new Google Document. (Click here for instructions if you need help with Google Docs.) Share the document with me no later than Wednesday, Aug. 21, by 3 p.m.
Lines 1-701 “Fate goes ever as fate must.”
The first 63 lines of prologue tell a few stories about former Dane warriors/heroes, essentially the lineage of how the Danes wound up with Hrothgar as their king. Why do you think the author of Beowulf set up the story this way? Does the lineage matter?
King Hrothgar is successful and wealthy, so he builds a great hall for celebrating, meeting, and storytelling (lines 64-85). What is the name of this mead hall, and how significant do you think this sort of place was for a village in the early centuries, particularly for the Anglo-Saxons?
Grendel is introduced early in the story as a descendant of “Cain’s clan” (line 106). Why do you think the author chose to connect the monster to a Biblical character (i.e., the first murderer)?
Though Beowulf enters the story around line 194, we don’t get his name until line 343. Why all the build-up and drama? How does this build-up match the boasting and drinking that goes on in the mead hall until line 661?
Write a couple of paragraphs about what you learned or found interesting from the article “The Beowulf Poet and His World,” which is linked above.