World Literature, Week 4

This week we’ll be discussing Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. In addition to reading the text, you can rent the 1994 film online (directed by Roman Polanski).

1) I usually have students, in groups, research the following topics to provide a better context for the play: (1) Ariel Dorfman; (2) President Savador Allende (government/policies of); (3) Augusto Pinochet (dictatorship of);(4) President Patricio Aylwin (policies and Rettig Commission/Report).

2) In anticipation of their first paper, we also discuss New Historicism. New Historicism (along with Reader-Response Criticism and Postcolonial Criticism) is the other major literary criticism we should consider in World Literature. New Historicism places the literary text alongside sociological and historical texts dealing with the same time period, in order to see how the fictional and the presumably non-fictional “talk to” and inform each other. BUT, to New Historicists, history to a certain extent is just another literature: constructed by certain authors and subject to interpretation, mis-interpretation, and re-interpretation. (There is an interesting but dense/nerdy article about New Historicism, as well as Postcolonial Criticism and others, on the Bedford Literature site.) History is not a context for understanding literature: it is a co-text. (Confused? Don’t be confused. Just consider these questions… What kinds of historical documents outside of the literary text seem especially relevant for shedding light on the literary? How are social and political values contemporary to the literary text reflected or refuted in that text? This can lead to questions about economic divisions and even male/female relationships.)

3) Questions we consider in discussion (which I’ve surely stolen from other sources): a) What was the function of the commission to which Gerardo was appointed? What is Paulina’s opinion of the commission and of Gerardo’s role in it? b) Does Gerardo change as a character throughout the play? Does your impression of him change? Explain. (What is your opinion of him?) c) Does Paulina’s character change throughout the play? Explain. What is your reaction to Paulina? d) What is the purpose of the last scene of the play in the concert hall? With what impression does it leave the audience?

4) In the comments section below, you might just post your own reactions to the film and the characters.

Here’s the first paper assignment:

Paper #1: Postcolonial Criticism and New Historicism
English 201-OL01 with Professor R. Russell

DUE: Monday, October 15, 7 P.M. Submit your final paper using the “Paper #1” link in the “Submit papers here” folder under the tool bar. Late papers lose points.

ASSIGNMENT: Choose one of the following two critical approaches to analyze either Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart or Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden.

CRITICAL APPROACH ONE: POSTCOLONIAL CRITICISM. As discussed in class last week, postcolonial criticism looks at “the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period” (Bahri). Consider the following questions in relation to Things Fall Apart: How did the experience of colonization affect those who were being colonized while also influencing the colonizers? How were colonial powers able to gain control over non-Western societies? What were the forms of resistance against colonial control? How did colonial education and language influence the culture and identity of the colonized? (In addition to the novel itself, you will want to consider some of the background information you and your classmates gathered on Pre-colonial and Colonial Nigeria.)

ADVANCED OPTION: In Week 4, you read a short excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible. If you would like to read this novel in its entirety, research the Belgian Congo during the second half of the 20th c., and write a postcolonial critical analysis of TPB, have at it! I would imagine you could also write an interesting postcolonial comparison paper between TPB and TFA.

CRITICAL APPROACH TWO: NEW HISTORICISM. As discussed this week, new historicism argues for a side-by-side reading of literary and non-literary (historical) texts, usually from or about the same time period as the novel; in short, new historicists study the historical context alongside the literary co-text. Look at information about Pre-colonial/Colonial Nigeria and Things Fall Apart or info about Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and Death and the Maiden. Consider: What kinds of historical documents outside of the novel seem especially relevant for shedding light on the novel/play? How are social and political values contemporary to the novel/play reflected or refuted in the novel?

Caution: Once you have chosen one of the two approaches, you will first need to do some (further) research about the country and time period. In addition to the novel you are analyzing, you should have two (2) additional articles to provide a context (or co-text) for your analysis.

Your paper should have a specific, sophisticated thesis statement (based all or in part on the questions provided above) in your introduction paragraph: this is what you will spend the remainder of your paper defending with examples from the texts (both articles and the novels). Include direct quotes from the novel/play and the articles and be sure to adhere to MLA format (in-text parenthetical citations and Works Cited). For more on thesis statements, you might review the “Writing About Literature” page at the Online Writing Lab.

FURTHER REQUIREMENTS: This paper should be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins, in 12-point, Times New Roman font. Be sure to include a proper heading (your name, my name, the course, the date) and header (your last name and the page number in the top, right-hand margin of each page). Your paper should have a dynamic title (that is, something other than “Paper #1;” the title can be as “simple” as “A Postcolonial Critical Analysis of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart“). Do not include a cover page. Your finished work should be 3-4 pages in length. (Further tips on formatting here.)

Reminder: Be sure to write in the active, present tense and in the third-person. Even though you read the novel/play in the past, it still exists in the present. Do not use pronouns like I, me, my, you, your, we, our. I understand that you are the writer behind the scenes writing the paper. Be objective in your analysis.

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