Vonnegut’s One Rule

Be kind Vonnegut quote

This little post is more personal than literary, although it does involve a Kurt Vonnegut quote from God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. As I’m sure many of you do from time to time, I often wonder about how to live a good and moral life. These ruminations have increased since the birth of my son one year ago.

Every parent has wishes for their child, and what I hope for my son more than anything is encapsulated in this quote. Of course if he was smart, or funny, or good at sports, music, other manner of talents it will also be amazing, but above all else, I hope that he will be kind. At the end of the day that’s what I strive for as well, although I don’t always accomplish it.

Do you agree with Vonnegut’s rule? Do you live by another one? I’m always interested to know.

Comparing Rowena’s Rooms in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia

bedroom2

I’ve been reading some Sir Walter Scott lately. Any serious reader of 19th century literature has to have at least cursory knowledge of Scott’s writing, as his influence on pop culture and his writers of the age like Goethe, Eliot, and Austen was immense. As I was reading through Ivanhoe, specifically the part where Rowena’s room is described I got the strangest feeling of deja vu.

Following a hunch, I dug out my copy of Poe’s Ligeia and found what I was looking for. Rowena’s room, which is a highly symbolic element of Ligeia and is the site of major plot events, was heavily borrowed from Rowena’s room in Ivanhoe. 

It’s no secret Poe took influence from Scott in the creation of his Rowena. He very much intends to make use of the “girl next door” vs. “femme fatale” trope that Scott uses masterfully with the mild-mannered Rowena and dangerous Other, Rebecca. But, the question I asked myself as I started comparing the passages is, what is Poe taking from Scott, and in what ways is he extending Scott’s imagery and ideas? Continue reading

Teaching Narrative Structure with Kurt Vonnegut

man walking in countryside.jpg

The hero about to embark on his journey

Hello all! It has been a very long time since I’ve posted because I’ve been busy pursuing my B. Ed. and with some major life changes (I’m having a baby in April!). I’ve also been posting mostly about education on my professional blog Teaching and Learning with Ms. McClelland. I’m still reading voraciously, currently reading Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and after that will be embarking on volume 5 (The Captive and the Fugitive) of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. This post though combines both teaching and literature, so I thought I’d share it here 🙂

I watched a video recently (see below) of Vonnegut delivering a lecture on the shapes of stories. It is entertaining and insightful, as Vonnegut often is, which made me think that it would be a perfect “Minds On” or “Hook” (or start of the lesson in layperson’s terms) in a unit on Narrative. This video is so approachable, it could be used for grades as young as 4, to as high as 12. First 24 seconds of the video is voiceover, so just skip ahead to get to the good stuff!

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Two Views of Poetry Part Two: Lowell’s “Fishnet” and the Poet’s Place in History

fishing nets

“I lie on a bed staring, crossing out, writing in, crossing out what was written in, again and again, through days and weeks. Heavenly hours of absorption and idleness…intuition, intelligence, pursuing my ear that knows not what it says. In time, the fragmentary and scattered limbs become by a wild extended figure of speech, something living…a person.”[i]

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Two Views of Poetry Part One: Wallace Stevens and Robert Lowell

take a bow on stage

Wallace Stevens and Robert Lowell are two modern American poets who share quite a few similarities in their views on the poet and what the poet should be doing when making poetry. Both were writing in the mid-20th century, with Stevens dying in 1955 and Lowell in 1977. They also share the commonality of producing some of their most well-known works later in life. Rather than having a mid-life crisis, these poets had an explosion of creativity and genius that resonates to this day. I’ve been on huge poetry kick lately, so I wanted to take a look at “Of Modern Poetry” by Stevens and “Fishnet” by Lowell as exemplars of their views on what it means to make poetry. I chose these two poems because both use the metaphor of the theatre and the act of performance to ruminate on poetry. Continue reading

“It’s dark there, but full of diamonds”: Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman as Bipolar

deathofasalesman set design

“I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts.”[i]

 

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller has one of the more memorable characters of American theatre: the aging, failed salesman Willy Loman. Willy Loman serves an important role in American literature as marking the failure of the American dream, and causing exasperation and depression to high school and university students saddled with reading of his plights. I have a complicated relationship with Death of a Salesman. I initially read it to better my knowledge of American literature (I am woefully underread in that department), and hated it. Not because it was poorly written, or even because it was boring; I mainly disliked it because it upset me so much. I mean, Loman commits suicide and then no one comes to his funeral. There are Shakespearean tragedies more cheerful than that. Now that I’ve been re-reading it with some of my students, I had an awakening. No, it is not my favourite play now, but what I realized is that there is something off about Willy beyond him merely being upset with his life circumstances. I think there is a sizeable case to interpret Willy as suffering from bipolar disorder. Now, I can almost guarantee Miller did not intend to write Willy as bipolar, but if we compare the signs and symptoms of bipolar type I with some of Willy’s behaviours in the play, you will see that my point isn’t completely crazy. I’m not the first one to make this claim either, I merely wanted to contribute my two cents. The first thing I want to do is clearly define the disorder before turning towards the play itself. If you already have a clear handle on bipolar disorder, feel free to skip straight to the exegesis. Continue reading

Roger Chillingworth as Sympathetic Villain in The Scarlet Letter

Roger Chillingworth is easily my favourite character in The Scarlet Letter. His creep factor is off the charts, and I don’t mean because of his age or because he is not able-bodied, it is more his ability to always be lurking around in the weirdest places that always gets me, especially when he orchestrates a way to sail on the same ship as Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale when they’re thinking of leaving Boston. However, Chillingworth plays an interesting role in the text; he is not merely a classic mustache-twirling villain. This rumination on Roger Chillingworth is a section taken from a larger piece I’ve been working on regarding Hawthorne and the demonic. I thought it worked well as a self-contained piece too, so here it is! Continue reading