March 9, 2023
Midterm Feedback for ENGL 4430
Well done, all. Most of you did well on the midterm, offering depth and well as breadth in your analyses. I understand the nature of online classes make analysis and interpretation a bit more difficult as we lack the classroom discourse, but there were many creative and thoughtful essays submitted. Well done. I’d like to offer an additional thanks to those who completed the midterm before the due day; this helped me out in the timeliness of my evaluations and is much appreciated. I have a few general comments.
Lower grades were usually due to a paucity of analysis, over quotation (often without an explicit reason), and too much plot summary.
Please please please use paragraphs. When writing for the screen, you must consider readability. Big blocks of text, like single paragraphs, are very difficult to read on the screen. While every sentence is not a paragraph, you might consider paragraphing more than you would on paper. Besides, the essay form requires more than a single huge paragraph, right?
Likewise, you must use the standard conventions when writing about literature, including correctly presenting titles, tense, and citations. You all should be experts at this by now. It’s an integral literacy for English majors. Additionally, thanks to those of you who did not indulge in superfluous formatting or font changes. Finally, keep the reader out of your essays: no “we learn” or “the reader sees” or “you can see” or “as a reader you can feel,” etc.; this second-person address is inappropriate, needlessly wordy, and unnecessary in most cases. Leave the reader alone.
Quotations may be kept to a minimum. Only quote when the text says it in such a way that a paraphrase just will not do. Also, avoid plot summary almost totally. Remember your audience: I have read the texts, so I don’t need a primer. Just get to the juicy analysis.
Cite texts with only the page number in parentheses. We all share a book, so no need for works cited entries at the bottom of your answers. If the context is not obvious, include the author’s last name, like (Chekhov 345). That’s all you need.
Once again: please review “Writing in the Liberal Arts”; everything on this document should be second-nature to you by now.
Finally, I want to leave you with an example essay by Rachel Soke that hits a great balance of plot points and analysis. Few essays are perfect, but Rachel’s provides a strong example of what you should aim for in your writing; I have not edited Rachel’s essay at all. I could have chosen many of your essays as examples, so do not feel offended if you think yours is just as good or better—it may be. My thanks to Rachel for allowing me to post her essay.
Using at least two stories from different national traditions, consider the theme of infidelity in the narratives.
The idea of cheating is very popular in media. The betrayal, the shame, the secretive nature of an affair—it's engaging due to the human nature of infidelity and the drama of it all that people can't help but be attracted to. However, not all infidelity is alike and that understanding makes for the most interesting stories of all.
In Vladimir Nabokov's "Spring in Fialta", the narrator, Victor, is not at all ashamed of his relations with Nina, his mistress. In fact, she's a dear friend of him and his wife Elena (492). Unlike most stories of infidelity, Victor's sense of shame does not come from betraying his wife, but rather that Nina is untouchable smoke who does not see him as special as he sees her. Nina is not truly a person to him. Victor spends time thinking of a future with his wife versus with Nina and can come up with nothing substantial that Nina could give him (498), yet still tries to confess his love for her at the very end anyway (501). Nina is nothing but relief in the wind, gone the moment Victor tries to cement her in his life.
The irresistable, yet ultimately futile attempt at reaching for something beyond is a theme in Albert Camus' "The Adulterous Woman". Rather than a person, the narrator Janine is searching for something beyond her husband. While no actual cheating occurs, the title lends itself to this idea of betrayal and unfaithfulness—which does, by the end, come true. Janine spends her time on her husband's business trip utterly miserable and comes to the conclusion that she is only really with him because she is afraid of dying alone just as he was afraid of a life without the comfort of her steadiness (182). The unfaithfulness comes from Janine's rapture atop the fort, desperately wanting something beyond her boring husband and life, even going so far as to run back to the fort in the middle of the cold night (183). The idea of being so far above everything drains away her sadness, until she eventually goes back to her husband is wracked by sobs, unwilling to tell her husband how much she wishes to be anything but with him.
Infidelity isn't just the action of being with another person, but it is the emotion behind it. It is the carelessness, the lack of sincerity, the hurt or shame the betrayer can inflict on the person they swore themself to. Victor actively cheats on his wife for years, but the fleeting nature of Nina makes it so hard to take it seriously; her innate nature of flitting from place to place and person to person makes it difficult to treat her as something that could replace a fixture in someone's life. In contrast, Janine's longing for something outside what she currently has is a true concern—had her fear not been so large, there is a legitimate argument to make on whether or not she would have abandoned her husband for that feeling of freedom, no matter the cost.
Betrayal is an interesting topic to write about, but only when the betrayal itself is interesting. In "The Adulterous Woman", that is certainly the case. The shame doesn't come from another person, but for an entire life outside of the one already built with someone else. For "Spring in Fialta", the betrayal never comes as the fading ideal of the mistress dies the second it might become reality. In both cases, the spouse of the betrayer never had to reckon with the life-altering experiences the narrator goes through, and these hidden desires change them forever.