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English 270 A, Fall, 2013

Assignments and Updates


FINAL: click here

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This page has the most up-to-date information available on this website. Please check this page frequently throughout the quarter!!

(Information on this page will be listed in reverse chronological order--beware!)

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Thursday, December 5

Reading: Your group's poem for the Poetry Party

Writing: Your English 270 Portfolio. For the full assignment, click here

Tuesday, December 3

Reading: No reading--just the writing

Writing: Midterm 2

Below are two critical views of Jasmine.  They obviously represent a great difference of opinion about what this book is about.  Yet both critics have read the same book.  That means that one or both has either missed something, or very differently understood what the book offers its readers.  But it can’t be both. 

Your job:  reread the last chapter, and using details from that last chapter explain why you would support either one or the other of the two arguments.  Pick as your anchor a single page (though you can carry on to a second page to complete a paragraph) that has language that seems to argue for either one side or the other of this argument—Jasmine as a novel that shows Mukherjee rejoices in the idea of assimilation and of America as the place to makes “something significant of her life,” or Jasmine as a novel that despairs at the notion of significance and meaningful places in life at all.  You can cite things outside of your page, but only as a way to explain what is on your page. 

As has been true with our reading of poetry, you will be most successful when you find concrete textual evidence—images, metaphors—that you think backs your point of view, and when you explain as fully as you can How Do You Know by pointing to that evidence and explaining your understanding of specific words and phrases. 

In doing this exercise, you’ll be doing exactly what we have done earlier in the quarter with “The Persimmons” and with “Living in Sin,” or with “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.”  You’ll be looking for language that you see as metaphorical, or symbolic—that says one thing, but indirectly means another.  The difference is that it is prose, and there are a lot more pages!!  Lee was easier to read because you only had 90 lines or so to read in order to sort out what he seemed to be working towards.  Here you have a whole, book, so I’m limiting you to one page to help you focus on the specifics of Mukherjee’s language, the way she uses sentences, or parts of sentences, as metaphors—or, in Philip Sidney’s phrase, “speaking pictures.”   

I’ll post this, along with information about the Consulting Service I will run over the weekend.  These are virtual office hours. I will answer any questions you have, and be your adviser as you write your answer.  The best three answers will become the questions for the final.  That means that this exercise is like the mini-Midterm, in being a lower stakes trial run for what the final will ask you to do. 

Word Limit:  1000 words. 
Due December 3 at 9:30 am. 

Critic 1:   Jasmine, Mukherjee's most popularly read novel, ... [is] a story of a young widow who uproots herself from her life in India and re-roots herself in search of a new life and the image of America.  It is a story of dislocation and relocation as the title character continually sheds lives to move into other roles, moving further westward while constantly fleeing pieces of her past. In it, Mukherjee rejoices in the idea of assimilation and makes it clear that Jasmine needs to travel to America to make something significant of her life, because in the third world she faced only despair and loss. What Mukherjee hoped that people would read in the story is not only Jasmine's story and change, but also the story of a changing America. (Quoted from Wikipedia)

Critic 2. Mukherjee leaves us with big questions as Jasmine ends.  The world it represents … is far more varied and threatening and disconnected, but also more coherent by other means and interesting, than the world of David Copperfield (to which Mukherjee actually alludes late in the novel [p.214]).  Dickens’ London is a small world against the range of territories from Hasnapur and Punjab to Florida, New York and the expanding American World towards the West Coast (where the action is headed on the book’s last page).  But will there be any stability?  Will life always now be in flux, even if less so than in Florida and New York?  Or as (even) Iowa has grown weirder, does it just suggest the stage is set for more and more dislocation and (finally) despair?  (from “Notes on Mukherjee’s Jasmine”)

Thursday, November 28

No Class: Thanksgiving Holiday

Tuesday, November 26

Reading: Jasmine, Chapters 24-end.

Writing: The last part of this book is sort of amazing. It is still set in Iowa, which, as we first see it is a calm sort of a place, full of farms and pigs and corn. It's a place where Jasmine, and then Du, are the most unusual sights around. They seem to stick out by their difference. Yet the farther you get into these pages, the stranger, even weirder, Iowa gets.

So pick one of the following two questions for your response paper:

1. On page 194-5 she and Du have a conversation about the strange man who has stopped by and told Jane that he has something to tell them, and he'll be back. And at that point there is a curious little interchange. Du speaks first:

"He must think there are weird people in this house." He came out, looking a little worried.

"Weird? The weird man thinks we're weird?"

Look up "weird" in your dictionary and look for its etymology. You will see that it connects to themes we've already talked about--particularly that of fate and meaning.

So, pick three different things that seem to you particularly "weird" in pages 219-240, the last chapter. What are they, and why are they weird, and why do you think Mukherjee thought them important enough to put into this, her last chapter? How do they help make the novel's end?

Or, 2. Jasmine-Jane-Jase makes a choice at the end of the novel. Why does she make the decision she does, and why? Think about the different reasons she might have for both of the options she had before her, and explain why you think she went with the one she did. And what do you think will happen next?

I see each of these questions as key questions to ponder if we are ever going to decide what we think about this book.

Thursday, November 21

Reading: Jasmine, Chapters 21-23.

Writing: These Chapters run from page 154 to page 189, and, in true melodramatic, soap-opera fashion, leave you hanging. Jyoti-Jasmine-Jazzy-Jase is faced again with change, though now a change that will bring her back towards Jane, the identity she occupies as the narrator of the story, and which we knew her as over most of the first 50 pages of the book.

This time, instead of asking you to find a paragraph, a page or a sentence, I offer you two questions to reflect on and write about. The first has to do with a metaphor introduced on page 178, that of "weak gravity." We will have talked in class on Tuesday about "history as geneology," but that's really only a way of trying to figure out the "postmodern" turns this Bildungsroman (remember that we talked of that last time as a "coming of age" novel) keeps taking. Yes, she does go through a series of identities, each of which takes her deeper into the novel and, perhaps, closer to some sort of stable existence--that's what Bildungsromans do. But while that is one logic of the narration, another is that of "weak gravity." Like the epigraph we looked at last week, "weak gravity" is a kind of planetary or cosmic metaphor, and it's about what causes our actions.

Most of the ways we human beings tell our histories is in a form of cause-and-effect thinking. We ask about the causes of the civil war, or of the modern drug culture. Or (right how) we want to know about the cause for the mess of the Affordable Care Website: who did it and why?

But that is not the only way to think about history. Another way is to think of it as "geneaology"--a different metaphor entirely, which sees things in terms of multiple causes, some "strong" and some quite distant and "weak." Here we say causation is like a family, where there are multiple influences, as any one person has a father and a mother, but each of them also had a father and a mother, each of whom also had fathers and mothers. Instead, then, of thinking of ourselves as derived from a single set of causes, we would be thinking of ourselves as multiply determined by earlier entities, people, events. There would in this view be a much wider and deeper sense of what "causes" things, of how we turn out the way we do.

So the first question: what is the "weak gravity" theory of causation as it is used first on page 178 and then again on page 179? More particularly, how do we understand what Jase says at this point:

"America may be fluid and built on flimsy, invisible lines of weak gravity, but I was a dense object, I had landed and was getting rooted"? (179)

And the second question (which weak gravity may have something to do with, too, but I'll leave you to think about this anyway you want) arises on pages 188-9--the last two pages of chapter 23. That is the point at which a character from Jasmine's past reenters the story--and causes her to redefine her life yet again.

My question here: do you think she in fact sees the person she thinks she sees? How do we know? If it is that person, how could it be that he is there in New York City, and sees her? And if you think what she sees is NOT what she thinks she sees, how could she think she sees him? What would that say about who she is and what is driving her actions?



One of you wrote me to ask about the historical context Mukherjee includes in the chapters you all are reading for Tuesday. You may find it a little difficult to follow. So here are a couple notes about that background:

The Partition Riots and Migrations : These took place in the years around 1947 when Great Britain turned over what had been the colony of India to self-rule. But because there was a great deal of tension between different religious traditions, the British Dominion of India became not one country but two: Pakistan and India. Pakistan was majority Muslim and India majority Hindu. But in each of these countries there were many people of other religions, and of these a great number felt themselves to be threatened minorities. As a result, as many as 7 million from each side of the border moved to the other side of the border, but only admidst a great deal of brutal turmoil.

We learn early on in the novel that Jyoti's family had fled Lahore and resettled themselves in Hasnapur. So their history already included a kind of exile and resettlement (remember that Pitaji frequently recalls his relative wealth as a citizen of Lahore, and contrasts that to his relative poverty now that he is in Hasnapur).

The Sikh Lions: Chapter 10 introduces another kind of disruption, that caused by a revolutionary faction of Sikhs--a large religious population living in the Punjab, where Hasnapur is also located. In the 1980's a group of Sikhs launched a movement to create a Sikh state. They were unhappy being part of India, and thus agitated for a new state which they wanted to call Khalistan. For several years, they pursued this goal, often using violence to further their ends.

But the reason we read about them here may simply be that the Sikh rebellion offers another reason (beyond an academic future or economic opportunity) why Prakash might imagine leaving India for America. Sukkhi Sukhwinder (who first appears in Chapter 10) is an extremist Sikh, and in the 1980's the Sikh Lions were a group fighting for that independent Sikh state of Khalistan. Like most independence movements, many who opposed them thought the Lions extreme in denouncing the ills against which they were rebelling. Sukhwinder is imagined here as just such a revolutionary firebrand. The insurgency did not in the end succeed in establishing a new state, but was instead put down by Indian security forces.

Now. That's a short summary of the relevant history. But as I say above, the details are less important here than the way Mukhergee uses them to make more vivid some of the reasons (beyond a better education or more income) that would lead someone to want to emigrate from India to another country: north-eastern India (where the Sikhs are most populous) was in fact in the 80's a very dangerous place to be.

And she writes of these things also, perhaps, to impress upon her non-Indian readers how much about India most of us DO NOT know, and thus perhaps to impress upon us as well the idea that with respect to judging Indians or Indian culture most of us are not very well informed, and thus we should be careful that whatever judgments we do make will tend to be distorted by our general ignorance of the country's culture and history.

Tuesday, November 19

Reading: Jasmine, Chaps 9-20 (pp. 58-153).

Writing: Now that the set-up of the story--the introduction to Baden and Hasnapur and the two very different worlds with which the book begins and ends--is complete, Mukherjee will return to telling the story in a more traditional Beginning, Middle, End sort of a way. By page 153 you will have arrived with her in the USA, first in Florida and then in New York. It is both adventure and identity novel in these pages, though the two often seem to merge.

What I'd like you to do now is to find what you take to be two key pages for understanding what still remains a complicated and challenging novel (or in the words of the novel's epigraph we looked at in class today: "rough, not rounded, scabrous, not smooth"--one from Chapters 9-15, and the other from Chapters 16-20.

But instead of writing this time about what you notice and why Mukherjee has included that sentence or paragraph or, in this case, page, I want you to explain what would be missing or lost from the novel should the page you have picked simply be deleted. That is asking from you something very similar to what we've already been doing, but changing the angle of vision and thus your way of talking about what you have seen in your reading of the novel. I'll be interested to see how you manage with this....

Thursday, November 14

Reading: Mukherjee, Jasmine, Chapters 1-8 (pp. 3-57).

Writing: This is a very different story from Munro's, yet there are a great number of parallels even from the first page. It gives nothing away to note that it, too, is an identity story, and many of the themes we were talking about today in Munro are also to be found in Mukherjee's novel. That said, there are also quite obvious differences, one of which being the kinds of cultural pressures represented in the text. We talked some about those in "Boys and Girls," and we'll talk more of such pressures, and different ones, in reading Jasmine.

One thing Mukherjee does is build a time-split narrative, starting in Hasnapur, India in Chapter 1, and then jumping at the end of that first chapter to a time several years later in Baden, Iowa, USA. The next few chapters stay in the USA, and then in Chapter 7 jump back to India. She obviously is inviting us to read the experiences side-by-side, even though they are chronologically mixed up.

As you read, I want you again to look for paragraphs you think are in one way or another key (and good work with your paragraphs and sentences this morning--well chosen). Again, pick a sentence from what you take to be two key paragraphs, one from Chapters 1-4, and the other from Chapters 5-8. Type out that sentence and then point to and then explain what you notice in it of interest.

See you Thursday!

Tuesday, November 12

Reading: "Boys and Girls," Part 2. (I sent this out as an attachment to the class list--if you did not receive it, send me an email and I will send it to you by return email.)

Writing: Last week we looked at Key Paragraphs--this week for Part 2 I'd like you to look for key paragraphs again, but this time I'd like you to locate a single sentence in that paragraph that seems key to the whole paragraph's effect. Since I am late getting this posted, don't worry about writing it up, but we'll have an oral quiz instead. So do finish the reading, and do have a paragraph to talk about....

Thursday, November 7

Reading: Nothing new, only review. This is Mid-term Day.

Writing: Just build up your knowledge, and ace this midterm.

Tuesday, November 5

Reading: "Boys and Girls," Part 1. (I sent this out as an attachment to the class list--if you did not receive it, send me an email and I will send it to you by return email.)

Writing: In class on Thursday we looked at paragraph 1 of B&G. We talked about how Munro is a writer who is more or less half fiction writer and half poet, and I suggested that many of her paragraphs are very like what are called "prose poems"--a form of "free verse" so free that it is written as if it were prose--in paragraphs. That first paragraph has imagery, sound play, and a way of developing meaning that many would say is "poetic."

So as you read through the rest of part 1, pick from all the paragraphs you read one that seems to you to be especially "poem-like"--a kind of prose poem in the way that we talked about the first paragraph on Thursday. Insert your chosen paragraph at the top of your paper, underline your noticings, and then explain what seems poetic to you about the paragraph.  

We'll use this on Tuesday as a way of working on "noticing" in fiction.

(Note: Mukherjee is also a writer whose prose has been called "poetic." What we do here with Munro is a warm-up for the novel Jasmine that we'll start reading next week.)

Thursday, October 31:

Reading: For Thursday, re-read Persimmons, and do some noticing. This time, since you have already written about persimmons, focus on other things to notice in the poem. Today we looked some at the opening lines and the closing lines; Thursday we'll work with lines 29-69. We talked a little about the themes of the poem, particularly that of losing or preserving cultural heritage, or the very different positions that father and son occupy with respect to American culture and to the family's earlier Asian culture. That's not all that is going on here, but it's a major interest.

Writing: Working with lines 29-69, find three things to notice (one of which can be a sound effect of one kind or anothter!), and then describe each thing, explain why you think Lee chose to use it, and connect it to your sense of what the poem is about at the point your noticings come up.

Tuesday, October 29:

Reading: Li-Young Lee, "Persimmons"(pp. 118-121).

We've been using the What, Why, So What method, and developing at the same times a number of different kinds of things to "notice" as we read. So we look for choices of words, of metaphors, of sounds, of rhythms. We'll add a new twist for "metaphor" with this poem: the poetic symbol. Symbols are special kinds of metaphor, where the vechicle is clear, but the tenor is only implied. Blake's Tyger is one such poem. We were going to talk about this in our review hour on Thursday before the mini-midterm, but we had too many other things to review, so we didn't.

But what I would have said is simply this: When we talked about the Tyger in Blake's poem, we knew he wasn't talking about a literal tiger--in part because we know that tigers are not made by a blacksmith, though in Blake's poem, the images used for describing the creation of the tiger are very much borrowed from the blacksmith's shop:

What the hammer? What the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

So knowing that the "Tyger" in the Blake's poem is meant to represent more than just a "tiger" you could see in the wild (if you were lucky and in a safe place!), what did we imagine it might be? Instead of a literal tiger, something LIKE a tiger, in that its features would include: fierce, beautiful, powerful, "deadly," and something to fear (so you would have to "dare" to make it!). That led us in class to suggest that the tiger could represent things like the various forces of creation that can kill or destroy, but nevertheless have a beauty and symmetry about them, and thus the poem as a whole would be asking a question about who the creator of this terrible beautiful creation could be, and what that creator could possibly have meant to do in making so paradoxical and frightful a thing.

But the general point is that a poem can use an image (as Blake uses a tiger) to suggest something else for which we may not actually be given a name, and for us as readers it is part of the game of reading poems for us to figure out what that thing might be.

That is what is happening in Lee's "Persimmons." His poem basically captures moments of the speaker's life--when he is young and in Mrs. Walker's class, then again (after the few lines about himself and Donna) later when he finds two persimmons in the basement which he then gives to his father, and then later still when he "comes home" to visit, and finds the paintings, one of which is of two persimmons.

So, to use the language of Robert Francis' poems, Lee throws us a series of "pitches" to swing at--to try to figure out, to play with. And one of the difficult pitches he throws us is his use of the persimmons.

We'll see on Tuesday what you have made of the persimmons, and play "catch" (as in the Francis poem you wrote about a couple weeks ago) with our ideas.

One last note: Born in 1957, Li-Young Lee's parents were Chinese living in Indonesia, but forced to leave in 1959. After five years searching for a place to live they arrived in America in 1964, where Lee grew up. If we take the poem to be autobiographical, he would have been in America for about 4 years when he was in Mrs. Walker's class--about 10 or 11 years old. Think about what you know about the sounds of precision and persimmon and imagine what difficulty they might offer a young boy who was still learning English. Using your knowledge of English phonetics, why might he have trouble "knowing the difference" between "precision" and "persimmon"?

Writing: So, find 5 things to Notice and Explore (Whats and Whys) in this poem, and see if you can also figure out how Lee develops "persimmons" into a special symbolic metaphor. They are the vehicle, but what is their tenor? Look for details about them that can help you imagine what they stand for.

This is basically a Notice and Explore exercise again, but focused over all on things that might help understand "persimmons."

Thursday, October 24:

Reading: Reread all of the poems we've discussed in class, and be ready to write about them for the mini-midterm. We'll spend the first hour reviewing both that and the phonology and semantics we've done--and then take the mini-midterm in the second hour.


Writing: No writing for Thursday--

Tuesday, October 22:

Reading: "Living in Sin," by Adrienne Rich. I handed out copies in class, but you can also find it easily on the web, as here.

Writing: We worked through the new Rich poem together to be sure everyone understood the literal sense, and then we looked briefly at the opening comparison in line one where the "studio" is imagined as a kind of maid who would be doing the housework, "keeping" up the house (as in the word "housekeeper"!) while the "she" and the "he" in the poem wouldn't really have to do any maintenance at all. We connected the reading on "Metaphor" for today with a conversation about "the logic of metaphor" in these two poems--and for next time I asked that people carry out an exercise with this poem like the one that we had just carried out in class on Shakespeare's 73rd sonnet.

But what that really means is: go through the poem and identify every metaphor you can find. For each, list its tenor, its vehicle, and at least as many relevant features upon which the comparison is based as you can. I said that there were at least 10 metaphors in the poem--some explicit, some implicit, some are submerged (like the comparison of the studio to a housekeeper in the first line--you only know she is comparing the studio to a housekeeper because of the way she says "the studio would keep itself." But she doesn't actually say: "The studio would be a housekeeper and take care of all the housework without our having to do anything....").

(If you had to miss this class, please send me a note at cicero @ We have the mini-midterm next week, and you'll want to be prepared.)

Thursday, October 17:

Reading: Metaphor, Part 1. (Click here).

Writing: I realized today that I think we are going a little too fast. So we are going to slow down. We rushed through Shakespeare's sonnet, so we are going back to reread it and unpack its metaphors more carefully. I'll also bring in a second poem we can do together in class. What I want you to do then: re-read Sonnet 73, and pick ONE of the three quatrains. Then, for that quatrain, by citing the features of the various parts of the comparison explain as fully as you can the reasoning Shakespeare offers and how it helps the argument he makes to his lover in the couplet that she/he should love him even more deeply, and NOT leave him.

We'll go on to Lee's and Plath's poems next week as we turn to "symbolism"--a use of language that often has metaphorical features, but in fact functions a little differently.

Tuesday, October 15:

Reading: Two "Sonnets": Frost, "Design," page 70, and Shakespeare, "That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold," page 157.

Writing: Two tasks: first, having read the two poems, give me three What's and Why's for each. Then, for either (not both!) of the two, write out as best you can a phonetic transcription using the International Phonetic Alphabet we have been practicing with this week (I know you will not be perfect!).

Make sure at least one of your noticings has to do with how Frost or Shakespeare uses the sounds of English.

NOTE: I know this will be hard to do--so get as far as you can, and we'll work on the transcriptions in class. We will also pay attention to the form of the poem--its rhyme scheme and its rhythm in each line. (Each of these is among the best known poems in all of English literature.)

Thursday, October 10:

Reading: Re-read Blake's "The Tyger," and notice every sound effect you can. You have learned about alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyme, internal rhyme, and onomatopoeia (the effects of which are onomatopoetic!).

Writing: Print out the poem, underline and label each sound effect that you see, and then describe how at least three of these sounds effects help the poem make its meaning.

Tuesday, October 8:

Reading: Three poems total:

Two poems from the Pocketful of Poems anthology: "Catch," by Robert Francis (p.63), and "Theme for English B," by Langston Hughes (p.99).

And then I want you to read at random in the anthology to find a third one: a poem of your own choosing you would like to write about. It can be anything, just so long as you like something about it. (You don't have to read all the poems in the book--just look around and read here and there until you find one you want to write about.)

Writing: Then: For each of the three poems you have read, write a page for each in which you list now 5(!) Whats with accompanying Whys. And for the poem you pick, describe one thing about it that you particularly like.


Thursday, October 3: NO CLASS!! I must be away from Seattle for a research conference. We'll make up the time when I return with office hours and e-mail.

Tuesday, October 1:

Reading: First, the syllabus (see the English 270 page). Quiz on the syllabus for Tuesday.

Second, the two Tiger/Tyger poems I assigned on Thursday.

Writing: For the syllabus, no writing, but be prepared for a quiz!

For the two Tiger poems, you'll write your first "response paper." This is step one towards becoming a better reader and writer—every one of you here will benefit from this in several different ways, and some of you will benefit more than others. You will do these very frequently—and doing so will build your reading and writing skills better and faster than any other single thing we do.

Because this is your first response paper, some of you will be a little cautious or even resistant. You may even think it risky.

But it is not.

The criterion for response papers is "ECI"—Engaged Critical Intelligence. Pay attention and do your best, and you've done everything I want! (How hard is that?!)

So, what do you write about these poems? What's and Why's. For each poem, notice three choices that you think might be worth attention. Then for each, write a short paragraph exploring Why you think the poet may have made that choice. What work does that choice do to make the poem more interesting?

(For those of you new to reading poetry, this will seem hard. But don't worry--do the best you can and we'll talk about it on Tuesday.)