Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Letter on the Letter from Birmingham

Martin Luther King, Jr. in jail in Birmingham

Dear Students,

This morning as I reflected on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., I sent you an email message, encouraging you to read the letter that he wrote from jail in 1963 after his arrest for leading nonviolent protests in Alabama.

Although you could have listened to a recording of King reading his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” I recommended that you read it instead, or read along as you listened. As I noted in my email, King’s gift for oratory is well known, but for students of writing, closely examining his words on the page is a more pertinent exercise than listening to his voice.

What makes it an effective piece of writing? With that question in mind, consider these words in the eleventh paragraph: “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’” Here King is addressing his initial audience, the eight white Birmingham-area clergymen who criticized his protest as “unwise and untimely.” He suggests to those men that waiting to act isn’t difficult when you yourself aren’t the victim of injustice, when you haven’t, in King’s words, “felt the stinging darts of segregation.” The sentence is notable not only for the contrast it illustrates between King’s reality and the lives of his readers but also for the words that King uses to show that contrast.

Consider King’s sentence and the paraphrase that follows:

  • Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”
  • Maybe it is simple for people who have not experienced segregation to say, “Wait.”

King’s sentence is stronger than the paraphrase that follows it because of the “stinging darts.” Writing that someone has not “experienced segregation” is abstract. Readers do not feel the general experience in the second sentence, but they feel King’s “stinging darts.” Sensory details strengthen sentences by appealing to readers’ senses, and figurative language invigorates writing by making the unfamiliar familiar. King’s white readers have not been the victims of segregation, but his choice of words makes them feel the sting.

While King’s “stinging darts” sentence—a relatively short one—is laudable, the long, winding sentence that follows is nothing short of staggering.

It starts with these words: “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim.” King presents those atrocities in an introductory dependent clause, one whose full meaning depends on an independent clause that follows. But rather than immediately turning to an independent clause to complete the thought, King expands the sentence with this series of dependent clauses:

  • when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;
  • when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;
  • when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;
  • when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”;
  • when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;
  • when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”;
  • when your first name becomes “n—,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”;
  • when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments;
  • when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–

The independent clause that readers have been waiting for, the statement that completes the thought is this: “then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” Those words could have immediately followed the first dependent clause, but instead King offers nine more dependent clauses, ten darts that sting his readers.

Ten dependent clauses connected by semicolons followed by a dash and an independent clause, a total of 316 words: That is not a structure I recommend for the sentences you write in English 111, but it’s a valuable model, nevertheless.

Now in the wake of the violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol, King’s message of civil disobedience may be more critical than ever. As a citizen, I hope you will read every word of his letter. As your writing teacher, I hope that you will return to the sentence that I have examined in detail here. Along with showing his readers why his nonviolent protests could not wait, that sentence of King’s demonstrates how to develop a piece of writing through the accumulation of detail—not just the when, but the when and when and when . . . .


King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birminham Jail.” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Instititute, Stanford University, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/sites/mlk/files/letterfrombirmingham_wwcw_0.pdf.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

Finding a Way Forward

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 45.

Each day as I greet my students from behind my mask, I am reminded of how much my teaching has relied on practices the pandemic prohibits. Dwelling on those losses provides no way forward, so instead I strive to focus on the endeavors I can continue, including modeling the writing process. Although I have composed assignments with my students for years—more than a decade, perhaps—the process remains instructive for me. This semester, writing a literacy narrative and a textual analysis with my students has deepened my understanding of the process and reminded me of the vital role of writing as a mechanism for making sense of the world.

Preparing to write the first essay of the semester with my students meant facing the challenge of finding yet another literacy narrative to tell. I have written so many essays about my learning experiences, I wasn’t sure what was left untold. Yet somehow after several pages of scribbles and strike-throughs, an early memory crept into my consciousness. I saw myself as I was nearly fifty years ago, a preschooler lying on the floor “reading” the wordless comic strip Henry. That memory from when I was too young to read and too small to hold a newspaper led me to form the thought that would become the essay’s opening line: “To a small child, the pages of a newspaper are enormous.” The recollection that prompted that sentence also reminded me of a later memory of lying on the floor reading. The former memory not only gave me a starting point for my narrative, it also gave me a transition to a second scene:

Reading the wordless comic strip Henry for the first time was the beginning of a years-long habit of stretching out on the floor with newspapers and large books—not thick ones but ones that were tall and wide, among them one of my childhood favorites: The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense.

As I continued to draft, I wondered what had prompted those recollections of my early childhood and realized my unanswered question could serve as the beginning of my conclusion:

Why these particular early memories visit me now, I do not know. Perhaps rereading Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir, Maus, with my students has roused the wordless Henry and the word-filled Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense from the corner of my brain where they’ve slumbered.

Days later, after I posted the literacy narrative to my blog and shifted my attention to Maus, a panel in Chapter 3 presented a concrete answer to my question. There, Art Spiegelman depicts himself lying on the floor of his father’s house sketching the war stories of the older Spiegelman. Art’s legs extend beyond the panel linking the scene in his father’s living room to the adjacent panel depicting Vladek Spiegelman as a young soldier. Studying that image of Spiegelman lying on the floor, I became aware of the subconscious inspiration for my story; Spiegelman’s depiction of himself had led me—though I didn’t know it at the time—to my own narrative.

The same uncertainty that accompanied my initial work on the literacy narrative resurfaced when I began the analysis of Maus. Spiegelman’s shifts back and forth from the present to the past were my primary interest, but I could not decide which scene in Maus would serve as my focus. While I remained indecisive on that point, I did make one decision early in my planning: Rather than examining a series of panels, I would focus on one to demonstrate to my students that one panel alone could serve as the subject of a thorough textual analysis. After I resolved to analyze a single panel, I returned to the selection process. I found myself gravitating repeatedly toward the image of the Spiegelmans and the Zylberbergs at their dining room table in Sosnowiec.

Without knowing what drew me to that window into their home, I took the first step; I drafted a description of the panel, lines that would show Spiegelman’s images with my words and lead to the thesis and analysis still to come. That process of recreating the panel in the form of a paragraph required the close attention to detail that developed my understanding of Spiegelman’s aim. What I had initially perceived as shifts back and forth from the past to the present could be described more accurately as simultaneous depictions of the present and the past. Juxtaposed with the retrospective Vladek, the seemingly ordinary scene of domestic life grows ominous. As I wrote in my analysis, “With Vladek’s final words [in the panel], the dark heavy window grilles become the bars of a cage. Readers see the family as the storyteller-survivor does, both as the happy family they were and the prey they would become.”

Witnessing the growth of that idea and the others that form the essays I have written this semester has deepened my understanding of the necessity of approaching writing as a process. Had I not stepped into the unknown, I never would have found the words to express what lies within the pages of those essays, nor would I have the opportunity to reflect on them with the words you are reading now. As I prepare to don my mask again for my last face-to-face classes of the semester, I realize that putting pen to paper with my students has not only taught me more about writing but also shown me a way through a semester of uncertainty. Now as COVID-19 cases surge, and as Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines pend FDA approval for emergency use, we move forward into the unknown. Pen in hand, I aim toward hope.

Works Cited

Lucas, Jane. “A Bridge to Words.” Jane Lucas, 18 Sept. 2020, https://janelucas.com/2020/09/18/a-bridge-to-words/.

—. “Of Mice and Menace.” Jane Lucas, 29 Oct. 2020, https://janelucas.com/2020/10/29/of-mice-and-menace/.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. pp. 45, 74.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Beginning Your Reflection

For your final essay assignment in English 111, you will compose a reflection that documents your work over the course of the semester focusing on what you consider your most significant work and the feature or features of the course that have contributed most to your development as a writer, a reader, and/or a critical thinker. Features to consider include the following:

  • Reading Maus
  • Keeping a journal
  • Writing for an online audience beyond the classroom/creating and maintaining a WordPress blog
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your literacy narrative
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your analysis of Maus
  • Consulting A Writer’s Reference/Revising with A Writer’s Reference
  • Writing longhand
  • Limiting screen time

You are welcome to focus on more than one feature but no more than three.

Include in your reflective essay the following elements:

  • An opening paragraph that introduces your focus and presents your thesis
  • Body paragraphs that offer concrete details from your work to support your thesis
  • Quotations or paraphrases from two relevant and credible sources, introduced with signal phrases and followed by parenthetical citations where needed. One of the two sources may be one of your pieces of writing. Recommended sources include Maus, A Writer’s Reference, and the articles linked to your class notes.
  • A conclusion that reiterates the thesis without restating it verbatim

If you quote or paraphrase your literacy narrative or your analysis of Maus, cite it as you would any other blog post. See the entries for my blog posts in the sample works cited list below.

Sample Works Cited

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Somers. “How to Write a Literacy Narrative.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 34-35.

—. “How to Write an Analytical Essay.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 69-70.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side,” May 2012, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.

James, Karin. “What are the Effects of Handwriting on Cognitive Development.” The Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Library, University of Indiana, 2016, https://canlab.sitehost.iu.edu/handwriting.html.

Klass, Perri. “Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age.” The New York Times, 20 June 2016, https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/why-handwriting-is-still-essential-in-the-keyboard-age/?smid=pl-share.

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 111: Maus under the Microscope.” Jane Lucas, 7 Oct. 2020, https://janelucas.com/2020/10/07/maus-under-the-microscope/.

—. “ENG 111: Of Mice and Memoirs, Part I.” Jane Lucas, 2 Sept. 2020, https://janelucas.com/2020/09/02/eng-111-of-mice-and-memoirs/.

Myer, Robinson. “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.” The Atlantic, 1 May 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/to-remember-a-lecture-better-take-notes-by-hand/361478/.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Twenge, Jean M. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, Sept. 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/.

Wolf, Maryanne. “Skim Reading is the New Normal.” The Guardian, 25 Aug. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/skim-reading-new-normal-maryanne-wolf.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Not Left to Our Own Devices

In English 111, I have required you to draft your essays longhand and to limit your screen time. This blog post addresses the reasons that I’ve asked you to engage in those practices.

Writing Longhand

One practical reason for writing longhand: What we mark through remains on the page. Sometimes what we cross out can be useful later on, elsewhere in our writing. More importantly, research in cognitive neuroscience indicates that writing longhand has these benefits:

Simply put, writing longhand sharpens our minds in ways that typing doesn’t.

Limiting Screen Time

When we use our phones and laptops, it’s difficult for us to give our undivided attention to one endeavor, but often that singular focus is critical.

When we type on our phones, we often aim to convey as much as we can with as few characters as possible. Texting and emailing–both of which now feature predictive text–do not foster the vital skills of developing our writing and producing original thought.

Limiting our screen time not only helps us improve our writing skills, it can also benefit our overall well-being.

The research cited in the links that I’ve included isn’t defintive, but it makes a strong case for the value of limiting our screen time and putting pen to paper. I encourage you to continue these paractices after the semester ends.

Posted in Reading, Writing

Of Mice and Menace

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 74.

The first volume of Art Spiegelman’s Maus includes a large half-page panel featuring the artist’s father, Vladek, at home with his extended family after he sneaks across the border from the Protectorate to the Reich. A small close-up frame of the older retrospective Vladek riding his exercise bike appears in the upper left, an inset in the larger picture of the Spiegelmans and the Zylberbergs at their dining room table in Sosnowiec. Though only one of the hundreds of panels that constitute Spiegelman’s memoir, that panel alone deftly demonstrates the intricacy of his narrative; his deceptively simple words and drawings create a layered meta-memoir that simultaneously depicts the present and the past, intersections of mundane moments of ordinary life and the horrors of the Nazi regime.

Overlaying the larger panel of the family at home in 1940 with the smaller image of the aging Vladek underscores the presence of the past that pervades the panels of Spiegelman interviewing his father decades later. Spiegelman further emphasizes the presence of the past with Vladek’s speech balloon, which breaks the border of the smaller panel to enter the scene in Sosnowiec. The spilling, or bleeding, of his words into that long-ago night may evoke in readers thoughts of the memoir’s subtitle: My Father Bleeds History. More than thirty years after the Holocaust, the wounds remain.

At first glance, the image of the Spiegelmans and the Zylberbergs around the dining room table is one of domestic bliss. When Vladek first speaks of the memory, he notes the lack of change—or what appears to be the lack of change. In his words, “When first I came home it looked exactly so as before I went away” (74). The unconventional syntax of his speech denotes that English is not his first language, but perhaps the most striking element of the sentence is the central placement of the word “looked.” The panel offers a look into a seemingly ordinary evening at home. The men’s suits and the women’s dresses and pearls typify their pre-war affluence, which Vladek mentions in the narration that concludes the panel. There Vladek says, “It was still very luxurious” (74).

Along with the family’s clothing, the dining room illustrates the luxury: the spacious hall that comfortably seats four generations, the upholstered chairs, and the wainscoting. But the words that conclude the panel undercut those creature comforts. The sentence that ends with “luxurious” is followed by these words: “The Germans couldn’t destroy everything at one time” (74). That line reminds readers that the destruction they don’t see in the panel is just around the corner, perhaps just outside the window that offers a view into the dining room.

Readers see the family through the panes of the window, which Spiegelman draws at an oblique angle, indicating that something is askew. The shift in Vladek’s final line—from “luxury” to “destruction”—shifts readers’ perspective on the scene as well. With Vladek’s final words, the dark, heavy window grilles become the bars of a cage. Readers see the family as the storyteller-survivor does, both as the happy family they were and the prey they would become.

Writing of Maus, Hillary Chute, author of Why Comics?, has observed that “the ways in which the past invades the present recollection, or vice versa, gradually grows more ominous” (346). That intersection of the present and the past, which Spiegelman so skillfully draws, may be particularly menacing to readers now. In 2020, we are as far removed from the publication of Maus as Vladek was from the Holocaust when he recounted his story to his son. Yet Spiegelman’s panels remind us that the distance of the past is scant. On the eve of an election in a democracy strained and polarized, that is ominous indeed.

Works Cited

Chute, Hillary. “History and Graphic Representation in Maus.A Comics Studies Reader, edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, UP of Mississippi, 2009, pp. 340-62.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Beginning Your Analysis

As you draft your essay, focus first on creating a clear picture with words. Let the reader see what’s on the page in front of you, then move from your objective description to your thesis: your particular claim, which you will support with textual evidence (words and pictures).

Although you will cite an authoritative secondary source in your revision, you don’t need to integrate that source into your draft. When you begin drafting an analysis, your aim is to examine the primary source (Maus) closely and develop your own interpretation of it. After you’ve done that, you’ll have a better sense of what secondary sources are relevant to your analysis.

For more on secondary sources, see the October 14 blog post, “Citing Secondary Sources.”

Sample Analyses of Visual Texts

  • A Writer’s Reference includes a sample student analysis of a coffee advertisement: “Sometimes a Cup of Coffee is Just a Cup of Coffee” (76-78).
  • Wreaths of Reclamation,” by my former student Jacob Palmer, is shorter than your analysis will be. I offer it here as a well-written example of a comparative study of the forces of nature depicted in J.M.W. Turner’s painting Interior of Tintern Abbey and Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.
  • Through a Glass Darkly: Girl at the Mirror and Grover’s Corners,” an essay that I wrote as a model for my students at Lenoir-Rhyne University, is a comparative analysis of Norman Rockwell’s painting Girl at the Mirror and Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town.
  • The Well-Heeled Clichés of Madison Avenue,” an essay that I wrote as a model for my students at CVCC, is a meta-analysis: a study of a sample student analysis included in CVCC’s English 111 textbook, The Norton Field Guide to Writing.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Citing Secondary Sources

In your analysis of Maus, you will cite a relevant authoritative secondary source: a critical essay, book review, or interview published in an academic journal or a well-regarded news publication. The handout on secondary sources that I distributed in class includes passages from some studies of Maus. That handout can be downloaded below, and the excerpts also appear in a later section of this post.

Why Cite an Authoritative Secondary Source?

Quoting or paraphrasing an authoritative secondary source gives your writing credibility. It indicates to readers that your ideas are trustworthy and valid because your analysis is informed by the work of an expert.

Citing an authoritative secondary source also links your analysis to a study of Maus that preceded yours. Academic writing is knowledge-building. With your analysis, you are adding to the critical conversation about Spiegelman’s memoir.

Ask yourself, what has a scholar or journalist written about Maus, and how do my own ideas about Spiegelman’s memoir fit into the conversation? Your answers to those questions can serve as a starting point for integrating your own take on Maus with the ideas presented in a secondary source.

Locating Authoritative Secondary Sources

The GTCC Libraries website includes a research guide for Maus, which features links to articles, essays, reviews, lectures, and interviews.

You can also locate scholarly, or peer-reviewed, articles on Maus by following these steps on the libraries’ home page:

  1. Click on advanced search.
  2. In the first search index box, select subject. In the search term box to the right, type Spiegelman, Art.
  3. In the second search index box, select subject. In the search term box to the right, type Maus.
  4. Click search.
  5. On the next screen, you will see a list of more than two-hundred sources. You can refine your search by choosing one of the limiters in the menu bar on the left. Selecting articles will narrow the list of sources to fewer than ninety; selecting peer-reviewed articles will limit the list to fewer than twenty.

Another Authoritative Secondary Source

If you watched the live stream of Professor Ruth von Bernuth’s lecture on September 28, you are welcome to use that presentation as secondary source. Here’s how you would integrate one of her points into your analysis:

Ruth von Bernuth, Assistant Professor of Germanic Language at UNC-Chapel Hill, has observed that Jewish persecution in Europe coincided with the medieval pandemic but occurred before the plague as well.

Notice that the signal phrase includes the writer’s first and last name as well as her credentials. The paraphrase does not include a page number because the source is a presentation. The work cited entry, which would appear at the end of the analysis, lists the details of the event:

von Bernuth, Ruth. “Black Death and Jewish Persecution.” Guilford Technical Community College All-College Read Presentation, Microsoft Teams Live Stream, 29 Sept., 2020. Lecture.

Passages from Authoritative Secondary Sources

From Hamida Bosmajian, Professor of English at Seattle University:

“[t]he Nazi flag. . . is never shown unobstructedly unfurled in Maus” (42).

From Nancy K. Miller, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York:

“The Success of Maus is due to a double audacity. The first is the choice to represent the Holocaust as a cartoon, the second to cast its star witness as a victimizer in his own world, a petty tyrant at home” (48-49).

From Arlene Fish Wilner, Professor of English and American Studies at Rider University:

“Adam Gopnik has astutely observed that the animal heads attributed to humans in this narrative reflect ‘our sense that this story is too horrible to be presented unmasked’” (109).

From Hamida Bosmajian, Professor of English at Seattle University:

The telling of stories is, of course, a primary means of ordering the disorder of experience; it provides a surface sensibleness that may be perceived as meaningful. Artie, however, will never make any sense or meaning of it all, no matter how many times he articulates the horror verbally and graphically; he can only shape an imitation, an illusion of meaning through the telling of the tale. (30-31)

In an MLA-style manuscript, the quotation above is indented one-half inch because it is one of more than four lines. The quotation marks are omitted because the indentation signals to the reader that the lines are taken word-for-word from the source. For more on presenting long quotations in MLA papers, see A Writer’s Reference (376).

From Hillary Chute, Distinguished Professor of English and Art + Design at Northeastern University:

“The most striking instance of representing past and present together in Maus I is the inclusion of the autobiographical comic strip ‘Prisoner on the Hell Planet: A Case History’” (346).

Works Cited

Bosmajian, Hamida. “The Orphaned Voice in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis, U of Alabama P, 2003, pp. 26-43.

Chute, Hillary. “History and Graphic Representation in Maus.A Comics Studies Reader, edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, UP of Mississippi, 2009, pp. 340-62.

Miller, Nancy K. “Cartoons of the Self: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Murderer—Art Spiegelman’s Maus.” Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis, U of Alabama P, 2003, pp. 44-59.

Wilner, Arlene Fish. “‘Happy, Happy Ever After’: Story and History in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.” Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis, U of Alabama P, 2003, pp. 105-21.

Blog Response Assignment for Monday Students

Directions

  1. Choose one of the article excerpts on your handout from last week—a phrase, a sentence, or two or more sentences—and compose a short piece of writing that presents the passage as you would if you were integrating it into your analysis of Maus. (See the examples below.) Choose a short passage other than the one cited in the examples below. In other words, do not quote or paraphrase Hamida Bosmajian’s observation about the Nazi flag.
  2. Introduce the source with a signal phrase that includes the author’s first and last name and credentials.
  3. Include the page number in the parenthetical citation, whether you are quoting or paraphrasing.
  4. Type your assignment as a reply to this blog post. To do that, scroll down to the bottom of the post, and look for the image of the air mail envelope. If you don’t see it, click on the post’s title, “Citing Secondary Sources,” and scroll down again. Post your comment no later than noon on Friday, October 16.

Note: To avoid the risk of students duplicating their classmates’ replies, I will not make any of the comments visible until after the deadline.

Examples

Integrated Quotation

Hamida Bosmajian, Professor of English at Seattle University, has observed that “the Nazi flag. . . is never shown unobstructedly unfurled in Maus” (42).

Integrated Paraphrase

Hamida Bosmajian, Professor of English at Seattle University, has observed that the field of the Nazi flag is never seen in its entirety in Maus; it is always obstructed (42).


In class on October 14, the Wednesday students read an excerpt from an interview with Art Spiegelman, conducted by Hillary Chute, Distinguished Professor of English and Art + Design at Northeastern University. Chute, who is one of the scholars included on your handout from last week, is the author of several book-length studies of comics–including Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere–and is also associate editor of Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus.

Postscript

In addition to Hillary Chute’s interview with Art Spiegelman, “Why Maus Remains ‘the Greatest Graphic Novel Ever Written,’ 30 Years Later” is another secondary source that you may cite in your analysis. You may quote or paraphrase the article’s writer, Michael Cavna, or you may quote or paraphrase one of the comic artists he interviewed for the piece. In your signal phrase, include the writer/artist’s first and last name and credentials:

  • Washington Post journalist Michael Cavna
  • Cartoonist Chris Ware, author of Building Stories
  • Comic artist Jeff Smith, creator of the Bone series
  • Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese

Sample In-Text Citations

Washington Post journalist Michael Cavna has noted that “amid the massive boom in graphic novels, it can be easy to forget how much of a game-changer Maus was.”

The sample above does not include a parenthetical citation at the end because the source is an unpaginated article on the web.

Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese, credits Art Spiegelman with“set[ting] the standard for the rest of us” (qtd. in Cavna).

The sample above includes a parenthetical citation with the abbreviation “qtd.” because Gene Luen Yang is quoted in the article written by Michael Cavna. It includes brackets because I altered the word “set” to “setting” to keep the sentence grammatical in my context.

For more on brackets and MLA in-text citations, see A Writer’s Reference (376, 384-92).

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Maus under the Microscope

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 74.

In the first weeks of the course, we studied Maus as a model for our literacy narratives. Now, as we turn to more formal academic writing, we will examine Art Spiegelman’s memoir as the subject for our second essay assignment, our analysis.

Analysis

Unlike a narrative, an analysis has an explicit thesis, which often—but not always—appears at the end of the first paragraph. A thesis is not a statement of fact; instead, it’s a judgment based on a close examination of the subject—in our case, Maus.

Statement of fact: The epigraph for Maus shows the young Art Spiegelman and his father talking but not truly communicating with each other.

Thesis: The cutting remark that Spiegelman’s father makes as he saws wood illustrates the communication breakdown between him and Artie; Spiegelman’s deft depiction of that gulf foreshadows the trials he will encounter: struggling to understand his father and himself as he aims to make meaning of their lives through his comics.

Notice how the thesis above addresses what Vladek Spiegelman says and also lets the reader see him sawing wood. As you plan your analysis, keep in mind that Maus is a multimodal text. You will address both the pictures and the words on the page.

For more on writing about multimodal texts, see A Writer’s Reference (70-78).

Where to Begin

Look back through the pages of your journal and note what aspect of Spiegelman’s memoir interests you most? Here are a few that might serve as your focus:

  • Vladek and Art Spiegelman’s father-son relationship
  • Maus as a dual memoir
  • Maus as a meta-memoir
  • The Nazi persecution of the Jews (leading up to the Holocaust, depicted in Maus II)
  • Anja Spiegelman’s depression
  • Anja’s diary

Turn back to the pages of Maus devoted to the parts of the story that interest you most. Ask yourself how Spiegelman makes meaning with both his images and his words. Your answer to a how question about those words and pictures could serve as your thesis.

Questions to Ask of the Words

  • Are the words in the panel dialogue, narration, or both? (Dialogue is presented in speech balloons; narration or summary is presented in rectangles.)
  • If the panel includes dialogue, what does the exchange between the characters reveal about their relationship? Do the words of the second speaker propel the narrative forward or disrupt it?
  • Are any words enlarged or in boldface for emphasis?

Questions to Ask of the Pictures–the Panels, Tiers, and Pages

  • Is the image in the panel a close-up or a long shot?
  • Are the panels and the tiers on the page roughly the same size? If not, why might Spiegelman have chosen one in particular to dominate the page?
  • Are any of the panels borderless?
  • Do any of the panels break the frame and spill into the gutter (the white space between the frames)?
  • Are any of the panels oblique or slanted?
  • How do these visual effects contribute to your perception of the story? For example: What mood or atmosphere does Spiegelman create through his combination of black and white, lines, and silhouettes? How does the size of a panel or as series of panels convey the passage of time?

Look back at the panel from Maus at the top of this post. Here Art Spiegelman presents a large panel featuring his father, Vladek Spiegelman, at home with his extended family after he sneaks across the border from the Protectorate to the Reich. A small close-up frame of the older retrospective Vladek riding his exercise bike appears in the upper left, an inset in the larger image of the Spiegelmans and the Zylberbergs sitting at the dining room table.

Note how with minor changes, the preceding paragraph could serve as an opening-paragraph summary that leads to a thesis.

Chapter 4 of Art Spiegelman’s Maus I includes a large half-page panel featuring the artist’s father, Vladek, at home with his extended family after he sneaks across the border from the Protectorate to the Reich. A small close-up frame of the older retrospective Vladek riding his exercise bike appears in the upper left, an inset in the larger picture of the Spiegelmans and the Zylberbergs sitting at their dining room table. Though only one of the hundreds of panels that constitute Spiegelman’s memoir, that panel alone demonstrates the intricacy of his narrative; his deceptively simple words and drawings create a layered meta-memoir that continually moves backward and forward, from mundane moments of ordinary life to the horrors of the Nazi regime.

From that opening paragraph, I could develop an analysis essay with evidence from the panel to support my thesis. In simplest terms, the essay might look like this:

Introductory paragraph: Summary followed by thesis.

Body paragraph 1: Topic sentence followed by an examination of words and/or images (textual evidence) that support the main idea of the paragraph, the topic sentence, which in turn supports the thesis.

Body paragraph 2: Topic sentence followed by textual evidence (words and/or images) that supports the main idea of the paragraph.

Body paragraph 3: Topic sentence followed by textual evidence (words and/or images) that supports the main idea of the paragraph.

Conclusion: A restatement of the thesis that doesn’t repeat it verbatim.

In addition to returning to the essay’s thesis, many effective conclusions do one of the following:

  • Include a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that emphasizes the essay’s main point or puts it in a different perspective. We will examine some secondary sources in class You will address one of them in your conclusion or in one of your body paragraphs.
  • Place the analysis in a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end your analysis by linking it to the pandemic or the current social or political climate.
  • Consider the implications of the analysis. What does it imply, or involve, or suggest about parent-child relationships, about storytelling, about memory, or about totalitarian regimes?
Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

A Bridge to Words

Hilaire Belloc’s “Rebecca,” illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen

To a small child, the pages of a newspaper are enormous. Looking far back through the years, I see myself, not yet school age, trying to hold up those long, thin sheets of newsprint, only to find myself draped in them, as if covered by a shroud. But of course, back then, my inability to hold a newspaper properly was of little consequence. Even if I could have turned the pages as gracefully as my parents did, I couldn’t decipher the black marks on the page; thus, my family’s ritual reading of the newspaper separated them from me. As the youngest and the only one who couldn’t read, I was left alone on the perimeter to observe. My family’s world of written words was impenetrable; I could only look over their shoulders and try to imagine the places where all those black marks on the page had carried them—these people, my kin, who had clearly forgotten that I was in the room.

My sister, who was three years older, had her very own news source: The Mini Page, a four-page miniature paper that arrived at our house as an insert in the Sunday edition. While our parents sat in their easy chairs poring over the state and local news, my sister, Jo, perched at the drop-front desk and occupied herself with articles, puzzles, and connect-the-dots.

Carl Anderson’s Henry

Finally, one Sunday, someone noticed me on the margin and led me into our family’s reading circle. Whether it was one of my parents or my sister, I don’t know. I remember only the gesture and the words: someone handing me the Sunday comics and saying, “You can read part of the funny pages, too. You can read Henry.”

I took the giant page and laid it flat in the middle of the oval, braided rug on the floor of the den. Once I situated the page, I lay on top of it with my eyes just inches above the panels of the comic strip. To my parents, my prone position was a source of amusement, but for me it was simply a practical solution. How else was someone so small supposed to manage such a large piece of paper?

As I lay on the floor and looked at the comic strip’s panels, I realized what the voice had meant. I could “read” Henry, the comic with the bald boy in a red shirt, because it consisted entirely of pictures. In between panels of Henry walking, there were panels of him standing still, scratching his hairless head. I didn’t find Henry funny at all. I wondered how that pale forerunner of Charlie Brown had earned a prime spot in the funnies. Still, I was glad he was there. He was the bridge that led me to the written word.

Reading the wordless comic strip Henry for the first time was the beginning of a years-long habit of stretching out on the floor with newspapers and large books—not thick ones but ones that were tall and wide, among them one of my childhood favorites: The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense. My sister and I spent hours lying on our bedroom floor, the pink shag carpet tickling our legs as we delighted in the antics of Rebecca, the mischievous title character of one of the poems.

“Rebecca”—which my sister read to me before I could read it myself—introduced me to the word “abhors,” the very sound of which appealed to me. Sometimes before Jo had finished reading the opening lines, my uncontrollable giggles collided with her perfect mock-serious delivery. As the last word in the first line, “abhors” serves as a lead-in to an enjambment: the continuation of a sentence or clause in a line break. It would be years before I learned the term “enjambment,” but I was immediately swept away by its effect in the opening lines: “A trick that everyone abhors/ In Little Girls is Slamming Doors” (Belloc 61). The first line lured me into the second one, and so on and so on. I was drawn both to the individual word “abhors”—with its side-by-side “b” and “h,” rare in English—and the way the words joined, like links in a chain, to yank me giggling through Rebecca’s cautionary tale:

It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.

Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too,
And showed the dreadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun. (61)

Why these particular early memories visit me now, I don’t know. Perhaps rereading Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir, Maus, with my students has roused the wordless Henry and the word-filled Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense from the corner of my brain where they’ve slumbered. The former wakes and stretches out in my mind as a bridge to the latter: a spot in the world of words I’ve inhabited ever since.

           Work Cited

Belloc, Hilaire. “Rebecca.” The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense, edited by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provenson, Golden Press, 1970, p. 61.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Practices

What You Should Do for Class Outside of Class

In this time of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to engage in the practices outlined here. Returning to these weekly will contribute to your development as a writer and increase your chances of completing English 111 with the grade that you hope to achieve.

Study A Writer’s Reference

With the exception of the GTCC section, which you read the first week of class, you do not have formal reading assignments in A Writer’s Reference. However, it’s a book that you should keep by your side throughout your days as a student at Guilford Tech.

Guidelines for Studying A Writer’s Reference

  1. Turn to the index section. (Look for the “I” tab.)
  2. Assign yourself the task of browsing the entries alphabetically with a schedule of two or three letters per week. For example: This week you might browse the entries for a, b, and c; next week, the entries for d, e, and f; and so on.
  3. As you scan the index, read with an eye toward (1) anything that you know is a trouble spot for you, and (2) any unfamiliar concepts.
  4. Turn to the page or pages devoted to each item of interest, and make notes on it in your journal. Include the page number for reference.

In most of my comments on your introductory blog posts, I suggested some pages of A Writer’s Reference for review. Here’s a list of the ones that I mentioned most frequently:

  • abbreviations (297)
  • apostrophes (275-78)
  • balancing parallel ideas (111)
  • capitalization (293-96)
  • colons and semicolons (271-73)
  • commas (259-71)
  • end punctuation (283-84)
  • italics for titles (301)
  • lie vs. lay (182-83)
  • paragraph length (53-54)
  • sentence fragments (207-13)
  • subject-verb agreement (171-79)
  • than and then (149)
  • to, too, and two (149)
  • who, which, and that (150)

(Continue to) Read and Take Notes on Maus

As I noted in my September 2 post, after you complete each reading assignment in Maus, you should summarize it in your journal. You are not required to analyze each reading, but you should make note of any questions you have and points that you would like to address in class.

I find it helpful to organize my journal as a double-entry notebook. I begin by drawing a line down the middle of the page. On one side, I write my summaries. On the other side, I write any questions I have or points that I want to address.

For more on double-entry notebooks, see A Writer’s Reference (59).

Learn More about WordPress

The more time you devote to exploring your dashboard, the better you will understand the blogging platform and the easier it will be for you to create and edit blog posts.

Browse and Comment on Your Classmates’ Blogs

Since our time together face to face is brief, getting to know each other through our blogs is vital for building a sense of community–and a few words of encouragement from you might brighten a classmate’s day.

Troubleshoot WordPress Issues ASAP

Visit the support page. If you cannot find a solution there, email help@wordpress.com.