Hi, AP Lit people. I am really excited that we’re going to be together this coming year.
Below here are the two prompts for your summer writing about The Bell Jar. Like the writing about White Noise, this writing is due at the first class.
First, though, a few general things about this class and this page. The class page: I use it a lot – for explaining assignments more after a class-time explanation, for offering extra-credit questions, and just to communicate with you after and before class.
Please use it a lot, yourself, when we get back to school. (Couple of last year’s AP Lit students said that it was annoying that there was often important stuff on the page that they hadn’t looked at. So. Look at it. And by "look at it," I mean really read it. )
You can always email me with questions. Please do. (Please also meet my etiquette expectations: start with “Hi, Cia,” or something nice like that.)
I hate to say this, but . . . do not go Googling for ideas. I'll see that you've done that, one, and that will be painful for us both; and, two, you don't need to do that! If you read with intent and an open mind, you'll be fine. You have everything you need to succeed in this class. (Please: don't postpone your reading of White Noise or The Bell Jar so long that you're driven to the web! I'm counting on you to care about what you read and how you write about it. This goes for the whole year.)
About The Bell Jar. The prompts for White Noise are (appropriately) nerdy. Your answering them will satisfy for now my teacher-desire to have you think in the summer about motifs, themes, etc. And we’ll be all over motifs and themes and so on during the school year.
But for this novel only, the summer prompts are somewhat more personal and less academic.
When we finish discussing White Noise and your writing about it, we’ll start on the Plath novel. But (as above), the writing prompted here is due on the first day, along with the DeLillo writing. We'll discuss how it speaks to the history of women in the 20th century mental-health system; how it limns the lives of upper-middle-class and middle-class white women, especially women literary artists, in the eras before/between first- and second-wave feminism. We’ll read some stuff about all this – fiction and poetry, including Plath's – and look at some film representations. I’d like to show “Carol,” and a segment of “Mad Men,” and (if we can stand it), the Jane Campion film, “Angel At My Table,” about the New Zealand poet, Janet Frame, and her experience with electro-shock therapy. And maybe even “Girl, Interrupted.” This context-by-film may mean some AP Lit flexes and lunches. (We will pot-luck! AP Lit is tough -- but we eat good.)
And eventually we’ll do some more traditional stuff with the text of The Bell Jar. Close-reading, etc. There are scholarly/critical controversies about the novel, too, and we’ll read some scholar/critics.
But for now, for this one text of summer-reading, I’d like not to frontload too much. Would like for you to meet this text fresh, without direction or suggestion, not ask you to leap to an intellectual examination or even an aesthetic verdict, because I’m thinking your responses (whatever they are) may be intense. Feel free to read the Introduction and the Afterword. But wait until you’ve read the novel itself.
(1) What did you feel about this novel? (Note: feel, not think. Be smart, but try to be searching and smart about feelings, not analysis, not lit crit.) In therapy, feelings are sometimes usefully listed very simply: Mad, Sad, Glad, Afraid. What made you mad?; sad?; glad?; afraid?
Take this where you want; cite personal experience or your current-cultural purview if you think either or both explain and contextualize your feelings. But just be sure to be specific about exactly where in the text you recognize that your feeling has been somehow engaged. I.e, quote passages and summarize episodes.
(2) Plath was in your grandmas’ generation. There’s a lot in this novel that you’ve either heard about (diaphragms!) or not heard about. There will be some elements that don’t seem very different from now (date-rape, for example) and some that will seem like a hundred years ago. Write about that (again: text, details, quoting!): what seems outdated and what seems still familiar?
In your Google doc, write at least three double-spaced pages for each of the two prompts. (You can write more, of course.) Six pages in all, minimum.
There will be MASSIVE extra credit available for masterful, properly formatted use of Quoting Methods 1, 2, and 3.
QM1: words or phrases quoted inside your sentence
QM2: a passage no longer than three sentences of the text, introduced by a sentence that provides narrative context in a dependent opener clause (“When Esther is surprised by being invited to the Yale dance . . .”); then a full independent clause that pre-characterizes the passage that’s coming (“ . . . , she notices that her older dorm-mates start treating her better”; followed by a colon and the passage; and after the quotation, another remark in your voice about a detail in what you just quoted (i.e., close-reading.)
QM3: block quote. No more than five sentences. Same requirements for narrative context as QM2 above; same pre-characterizing clause; same colon. Then double indent (one tab past paragraph margin), and no quotation marks for the passage. (The look of the block quote says it’s a quotation.) Same comment in your voice about a detail in the quoted passage, before you go on to another point or paragraph.