Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: More on Maus–a Sampling of Student Studies

Spiegelman, Art. Maus 1. Pantheon, 1986. p. 15.

On March 3, I led you through my close reading of three tiers of panels in Maus. From that examination of Spiegelman’s work, I developed four paragraphs of commentary, a total of 450 words, that could serve as a rough draft for a textual analysis of Maus

Today we will examine additional samples of analysis, beginning with one written in 2016 by Sadie Dossett for an English class at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Dossett’s essay, “Lucia Greenberg: In-Depth Analysis” was chosen for publication in Hohonu,  the university’s undergraduate journal of academic writing.

Notes on “Lucia Greenberg: In-Depth Analysis”

Dossett’s analysis is admirable for its reassessment of Lucia Greenberg. She effectively argues that Spiegelman’s depiction of Lucia, based on what Valdek tells him, reduces her to a one-dimensional temptress. Though admirable, Dossett’s analysis would benefit from additional revisions and edits including these:

  • The first two paragraphs of the essay should be condensed and combined.
  • The thesis, which Dossett presents at the end of the second paragraph, should offer something more specific about Lucia. In other words, the thesis should show how she was “so much more” than what readers see on the page. For more on drafting an analytical thesis statement, see A Writer’s Reference, page 66.
  • In MLA style, numbers one-hundred and below are spelled out, so 15 should appear as fifteen, but that number should not appear in the third paragraph. Whenever possible, limit the appearance of page numbers by including them only in parenthetical citations. For more on writing numbers as words and figures, see A Writer’s Reference, page 299.
  • The first sentence of the third paragraph is written in passive voice. Rather than writing that “Lucia is introduced,” Dossett should write, “Art Spiegelman introduces Lucia,” or “Lucia enters the narrative in Chapter 2.” Note that chapter numbers are an exception to the words-versus-figures rule in MLA style. For more on active verbs, A Writer’s Reference, pages 153-55.
  • The parenthetical citation in the third paragraph should not include Spiegelman; it should simply include the number 17 because Dossett has established that Art Spiegelman’s Maus is the subject of her analysis. For more on repeated citations from the same source, see A Writer’s Reference, page 388.
  • The first sentence of the conclusion is written in passive voice. Rather than writing that “different interpretations could be made,” Dossett should write that “readers interpret Lucia in different ways. Some perceive her as a heroine; others see her as a villainess.” 
  • The quotation from Parker should be introduced with a signal phrase. In academic writing, a quotation presented at the beginning of a sentence is considered a dropped quotation. Dossett should include a signal phrase that includes the scholar’s full name and his credentials. For example: Literary scholar Robert Dale Parker or Robert Dale Parker, Professor of English at Illinois, observes that “[t]he problem comes with reducing women to little or nothing except their status as an object” (171). Note that I bracketed the letter t because I altered it from capital to lowercase. For more on signal phrases and dropped quotations, see A Writer’s Reference, page 37778.
  • The works cited entries comply with seventh edition MLA style guidelines, which differ from those for eighth edition. For more on MLA works cited entries, A Writer’s Reference, pages 384419. MLA 7th Edition: Parker, Robert Dale. “Feminism.” How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. 148-84. Print. MLA 8th Edition: Parker, Robert Dale. “Feminism.” How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. 3rd ed. Oxford UP, 2008. pp. 148-84.

Dossett’s analysis is much longer than yours will be. Hers is more than 2,700 words long; yours will be a minimum of 500. I presented Dossett’s essay to you for two reasons: (1) It demonstrates how to develop an in-depth analysis of a minor character, and (2) It illustrates that a writing assignment you complete for a class can become a publication. Publishing your writing is one way to build your résumé. 

Now we will turn to three shorter analyses written by students of mine last fall.

ENG 111 Maus Analyses

  • At War with Others and One’s Self,” by Emi Ceca, explores the behavioral changes of Vladek’s that underlie the scene in which he throws Art’s coat in the garbage (68).
  • My Analysis of Maus” by Josh Graeber, examines Art Spiegelman’s depiction of the presence of the past in his father Valdek’s life as he recounts his experiences as a prisoner of war (62).
  • The Holocaust Horror,” by Joe York, focuses on Spiegelman’s portrayal of the Nazi’s seizure of Mr. Zylberberg as an example of why the artist may have chosen to depict the characters with the heads of animals (115).

These essays, though strong ones, would benefit from additional revisions and edits, including the ones in the notes that follow.

Notes on “At War with Others and One’s Self”

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 68.
  • Ceca should not refer to Maus as a novel. Some book-length comics are labeled graphic novels, but a novel is by definition a work of fiction. “Novel” should be replaced with “graphic memoir” or “book-length comic.”
  • The image that Ceca includes does not feature part of her writing away from the screen. Rather than including a photo of her laptop, she should include an image of her journal notes or a snippet of her handwritten draft.
  • The conclusion should be followed by a works cited list. Ceca documents the sources in her essay with parenthetical citations but omits the list that she included in her file posted to Moodle. For more on MLA works cited entries, A Writer’s Reference, pages 384419.

Notes on “My Analysis of Maus”

Spiegelman. Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 62.
  • Graeber’s title should refer to something specific about his analysis. Since he focuses on the presence of the past in Vladek’s life and his experience as a POW, he might title it “Prisoner of the Past.”
  • The title Maus should be italicized, not enclosed in quotation marks. For more on italics for titles, see A Writer’s Reference, pages 301.
  • Near the end of the first paragraph, Graeber should delete the word “past” before “memories.” For more on redundancies, see  A Writer’s Reference, page 150.

Notes on “The Holocaust Horror”

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 115.
  • In his sentences, York should refer to the scene rather than the page number. As I mentioned in my notes on Dossett’s analysis, whenever possible, limit the appearance of page numbers by including them only in parenthetical citations. 
  • In the fourth paragraph, York offers an insightful observation from a secondary source but he presents it in an awkward way. The important words are Gopnik’s, not Wilner’s. Here’s one way he might revise the passage: New Yorker writer and art critic Adam Gopnik contends that the animal heads in Maus express “our sense that this story is too horrible to be presented unmasked” (qtd. In Wilner 109). For more on indirect sources, see A Writer’s Reference, page 391.
  • In the works cited entry for Wilner’s book, the title should be italicized. For more on italics for titles, see A Writer’s Reference, pages 301.

And a Note on You’ve Got to . . .

In February, we examined five of the You’ve Got to . . . assignments. When in-person classes resume, we will examine the remaining twenty assignments.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Maus under the Microscope, Part II

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 65.

On Monday, we began our study of Maus as a subject for analysis and closely examined the panels in Chapter 3 that depict Vladek Speigelman’s surprise return to his family after he sneaks across the border from the Protectorate to the Reich. Today we will take a close look at several more panels in Chapter 3, ones that depict Vladek’s reunion with his parents. 

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 65.

The first panel on the page places readers outside of the Spiegelmans’ house, where they view Vladek’s reunion with his parents through the window. Art Spiegelman renders the window—and the image of the family that readers see through it—as slanted or oblique, a technique that comic artists use sometimes to indicate something is awry or wrong. And in fact, it is. Though Vladek’s homecoming brings his parents joy, life as the Spiegelmans have known it has ceased to exist. Following Poland’s surrender to Germany, the Nazis confiscated all Jewish property, including Mr. Spiegelman’s seltzer factory.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 65.

In the panel above, the word you in Vladek’s line of dialogue appears in boldface to emphasize his concern for his mother and to mark a point of deflection. With his emphatic “you,” Vladek redirects the conversation from his own health to hers. Mrs. Spiegelman claims she looks sick from worry over Vladek, but readers learn from the panel’s narration that Mrs. Spiegelman is dying of cancer.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 65.

In the second tier of panels, Art Spiegelman shifts the setting from his grandparents’ house in Poland in 1940 to 1978, when his father recounts the story in his living room in New York. Unlike the panels that depict Vladek’s reunion with his parents, the one that depicts him at home in Rego Park is frameless, a contrast that delineates his recollections from his son’s depiction of them. With that frameless panel, Spiegelman moves readers from his own storytelling—his drawings based on his father’s words—to his father’s own words as he spoke them, one of the memoir’s meta moments that illustrates its identity as a narrative about the storytelling process itself.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 65.

The third tier of panels features close-ups of Mr. Spiegelman telling Vladek how his beard was shorn by the Nazis. Spiegelman draws readers closer to his grandfather’s bare face as the elder Spiegelman recounts how, after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Nazi soldiers grabbed Jews in the street. Mr. Spiegelman tells Vladek, “They made us sing prayers while they laughed and beat us . . . and before letting us go, they cut off our beards” (65). Mr. Spiegelman’s bare face is a shock to Vladek because of his father’s adherence to the centuries-old Jewish tradition that prohibits the cutting of facial hair, a custom with roots in the book of Leviticus: “You shall not round off the corner of your head, and you shall not destroy the edge of your beard” (19:27). The Nazi soldiers’ mockery of Jewish custom and the figurative rape of Mr. Spiegelman foreshadows the horrors that his wife will not live to see. In Mr. Spiegelman’s words, “She never knew how terrible everything would soon be” (65).

Developing an Analysis through Close Reading

Through my close reading of the first three tiers on page sixty-five, I developed four paragraphs of analysis (the four above), a total of 450 words, that could serve as a rough draft for a textual analysis of Maus.

To transform those paragraphs into an effective analytical essay, I would need to add these elements:

  • a short introductory description of the tiers
  • a thesis statement that presents my interpretation of the panels
  • a conclusion that reiterates the thesis without restating it verbatim

What page of Maus lingers in your mind? Turn back to that page and closely examine it as I have examined page sixty-five here. Putting your close reading into words on the page may be the starting point for your textual analysis of Maus

Works Cited

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Vayikra-Leviticus-Chapter 19. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Chabad, Chabad-Ludavitch Media Center, https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9920/jewish/Chapter-19.htm.


Literacy Narrative Blog Comment Assignment

Last week all of you received feedback on your literacy narrative in a blog comment from me. As an opportunity for additional feedback and an exercise in analysis, I have developed the following assignment that requires you to comment on a classmate’s literacy narrative.

Directions

  1. Go to the class blog page, https://janelucas.com/english-at-gtcc/.
  2. Click on the name of the student whose name follows yours in the class list. If that student’s name is not a live link or the student’s literacy narrative is not posted, choose another classmate. If your name is last in the list, click on the name of the student whose name appears first.
  3. Read the student’s literacy narrative, and compose a short response (50 words, minimum).
  4. In your response, demonstrate your close examination of one or more of the narrative’s components: the title, the structure (chronological or otherwise), the use of vivid details, dialogue, scene, how the writer conveys the significance of the story, or the image or images that the writer includes (as supplements to the written text).
  5. Post your comment as a reply no later than noon on Friday, March 5. If you do not see the leave comment/reply option at the bottom of the student’s literacy narrative, scroll to the top of the page, click on the post’s title, and scroll down. You should then see the leave comment/reply option.
Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Maus under the Microscope

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 66.

In the first weeks of the course, we studied Maus as a model for your literacy narratives. Now, as we turn to more formal academic writing, we will examine Art Spiegelman’s memoir as the subject for your second essay assignment, the textual 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 an interpretation or judgment* based on a close examination of the subject—in our case, Maus.

*Making a judgment is not the same as being judgmental. When you make a judgment in academic writing, you present an informed opinion based on evidence. When people say, “I’m not judging,” they are making the claim that they are not judgmental or intensely critical of others.

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

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon. p. 6.

Thesis (which presents an interpretation or judgment): 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. Keep in mind that Maus is a graphic memoir. In your analysis, you will address both the pictures and the words on the page.

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

My journal for English 111 is a dual-entry notebook. I draw a line down the middle of each page to separate my summaries of the chapters (on the right) from my questions and comments (on the left). For more on keeping a double-entry notebook, see A Writer’s Reference, page 59.

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 a series of panels convey the passage of time?

Look back at the panels from Maus at the top of this post. There Art Spiegelman presents the scene of Vladek’s surprise return to his family after he sneaks across the border from the Protectorate to the Reich. A narrow vertical panel shows him in his uniform holding aloft his son, Richieu, who responds to his father’s embrace with screams. Beside the vertical panel, two horizontal ones–close-ups of father and son–depict Vladek questioning his son and toddler’s tearful response. Richieu explains that it was the metal buttons on his father’s uniform that made him cry. In Richieu’s words, “Daddy–they’re cold!” (66).

Note how with minor changes, the preceding paragraph could serve as an opening-paragraph summary that leads to a thesis. Here’s a slightly altered version of the summary, followed by a claim, or thesis, about the panels.

In Chapter 3 of Maus, Art Spiegelman presents the scene of Vladek’s surprise return to his family after he sneaks across the border from the Protectorate to the Reich. A narrow vertical panel shows him in his uniform holding aloft his son, Richieu, who responds to his father’s embrace with screams. Beside the vertical panel, two horizontal ones–close-ups of father and son–depict Vladek questioning his son and the toddler’s tearful reply. Richieu explains that it was the metal buttons on his father’s uniform that made him cry. In Richieu’s words, “Daddy–they’re cold!” (66). That brief exchange between father and son exemplifies Spiegelman’s masterful rendering of the pain that underlies the moments of happiness in the narrative.

Although Richieu has no knowledge of the horrors of war that his father has endured, the uniform that symbolizes the war is a literal source of pain for the child when its cold metal buttons press against his body.

The passage above–the introductory summary, the thesis, and the topic sentence for the second paragraph–constitutes 155 words, which could be the first 155 words of a textual analysis of Maus. The analysis could be developed into one of five-hundred words or more by addressing these points:

  • The juxtaposition of happiness and sorrow in the words and images in the panels.
  • The specific horrors of war that Vladek’s uniform represents. 
  • Richieu’s screams as foreshadowing.

For more on writing analytical essays, see A Writer’s Reference, 69-78.

Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Beginning the Literacy Narrative

The first draft of “A Bridge to Words,” the literacy narrative that I wrote with my students in September 2020

This week’s classes will be devoted to planning and drafting your literacy narrative, the first of the three essays that you will write for English 111. The assignment file is posted in Moodle and I have included an additional copy here. (See the link and rectangle labeled download below.)

Although I have emphasized the importance of revising and editing your writing, I am asking you to resist the urge to revise and edit this week. Your primary goal for now is getting your ideas down on paper. In Bird by Bird, author Ann Lamott’s guide to writing, she offers these reassuring observations about beginning the process:

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something–anything–down on paper. A friend of mine says the first draft is the down draft–you just get it down (25).

Brainstorm and Freewrite

If your initial plan doesn’t seem to be taking shape, turn away from your draft for a while. Try brainstorming or freewriting in your journal. Don’t concern yourself with spelling and structure; attend to those matters later. The aim of brainstorming and freewriting is to get your ideas on paper as quickly as you can.

For more on brainstorming and freewriting, see A Writer’s Reference (6).

If you write on one topic in the list of options and that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere, return to the list and try writing on another topic–or two, or three . . . . The complete list of options is in the assignment file, and I am including an additional copy below.

  • any early memory about writing, reading, speaking, or another form of literacy that you recall vividly
  • someone who taught you to read or write 
  • someone who helped you understand how to do something
  • a book that you found significant in some way
  • an event at school that was related to your literacy and that you found interesting humorous, or embarrassing
  • a literacy task that you found (or still find) especially difficult or challenging
  • a memento that represents an important moment in your literacy development
  • the origins of your current attitudes about writing, reading, or speaking (one of those, not all three)
  • creating and maintaining your WordPress blog

Write Your Uncertainty into Your Story

If you’re unsure of some details, make your uncertainty part of your literacy narrative. Art Spiegelman does just that in the epigraph for Maus when he writes, “I was ten or eleven . . .” (5).

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 5.

Look to Maus and An American Childhood as Models

Continue to examine Maus as a model. Study how Spiegelman creates tension in the panels of his comic. Also reread the excerpts from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood, included in my class notes for February 8 and 10. Look to Dillard’s words as models for creating dialogue and shifting back and forth from scene to summary.

More Models for Your Literacy Narrative

Remember that I am writing a literacy narrative along with you and will post mine as a model next week. In the meantime, I offer links to six literacy narratives, three that I wrote with my students in previous semesters and three written by students of mine at Catawba Valley Community College.


You’ve Got to . . .

For the second installment in our You’ve-Got-To series, I offer an assignment that focuses on Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO). In it, the writer observes how the skills he has developed as a player differ from those of his teammates. As you read his assignment, ask yourself if a similar experience of your own–whether as a video game player or an athlete–might serve as the subject of your literacy narrative.

Drop AWP Bro

Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) is the third installment of the video game series Counter Strike. It is a competitive first-person shooter game with a strong player base, a real-life economic system with skins in the game being able to be sold for real life money, and a big professional scene. The game is different from most shooters as it’s round based and you can earn in game money to upgrade your kit for each round, from getting armor to an upgraded pistol or if you have the money you can buy a sniper or a rifle. In most shooter games you just go in and shoot’em up but in CSGO you must use your brain because of the in game economic system of needing to buy new guns.

I really enjoy the game because my skills in the game aren’t the best but my skills in what we should buy for the next round or how to set up with different kits, like where to throw smoke grenades to block vision or flash bangs to have the other players blind and easy wipes to be able to win the round. My friends can win almost any fights they get themself into but with the addition of the utility sets that I set up with them makes it almost impossible for us the lose the first engagement of each round and then hopefully when the second fight happens when the players who were on the other side of map move to take us out, I can hold them off with the sniper.  The Sniper in the game is called the AWP and it’s my favorite weapon because you can lock off a hold side of a map if you place it in the right spot and can change the whole round with one player. 

Notes on YGT: “Drop AWP Bro”

  • The writer has crafted a title that engages readers. Those who aren’t gamers may not catch the reference to CSGO, but presenting an imperative sentence that begins with a concrete verb (one that describes a literal action) indicates that the paragraphs that follow will be action-filled. That said, note that AWP should be followed by a comma because the title is a statement of direct address (Drop AWP, Bro).
  • Among the additional details that the writer could include in the summary are these: the game’s developer and publisher (Valve), the designations of the two opposing teams (Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists), and the game’s sequence in the Counter-Strike series (it’s the fourth).
  • In the second paragraph, when the writer turns to the specifics of his own game play, he might identify the mode in which he plays (there are a total of nine). He might also mention the five categories of weapons. On first reference in the second paragraph, the acronym AWP should be followed by Arctic Warfare Police enclosed in parentheses (Arctic Warfare Police). The writer should also specify that “skins” are virtual goods and identify the type of kit he mentions.  
  • As a guide for addressing trouble spots, the writer should consult these pages of A Writer’s Reference: 145 (hopefully), 193 (pronoun-antecedent agreement), 259-71 (commas), and 291 (hyphens in compound words).

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. 1994. Anchor, 1995.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Maus and Memoirs, Part II

On Monday, our study of Art Spiegelman’s dialogue in Maus served as a starting point for exploring how writers render conversation. Today, as we continue to examine Maus and as you prepare to write your literacy narrative, we will shift our focus to conflict, scene, and summary.

Narrative Conflict or Tension

Notice how many panels in Maus convey conflict, either a character’s inner conflict or a character’s conflict with another character. Conflict, which is essential to narrative, appears on virtually every page of Maus.

The first half of Chapter 2, “The Honeymoon,” depicts six conflicts or problems:

  • Vladek combatting his medical condition (heart disease, diabetes)
  • the policemen’s pursuit of Anja
  • the interrogation of Anja’s aide, the seamstress,  Miss Stefanska
  • Art questioning his father’s storytelling
  • Anja’s struggles with postpartum depression, and
  • the train passengers facing the threat of the Nazi regime, signified by the flag in the center of the page (32).

Scene and Summary

As a comic, Maus consists primarily of scenes but it includes summary as well. In the panel below, which depicts Miss Stefanska’s interrogation by the Polish police, the scene is depicted with the panel’s drawing and its speech balloons. Spiegelman presents summary in the rectangles.

Panel from page 28 of Maus.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 28.

Scene and summary are the building blocks of narratives. Simply put, scenes show and summaries tell. Narratives can consist primarily of scenes, but ones that rely heavily on summary don’t capture our imagination. As you plan your literacy narrative, keep this in mind: Readers would rather be shown than told.

The paper-craft graphic below illustrates the organization of scene and summary in a narrative essay.

Look to the passage that follows as another model for your literacy narrative. Here, in her memoir, An American Childhood, Annie Dillard recounts seeing an amoeba for the first time:

Finally late that spring I saw an amoeba. The week before, I had gathered puddle water from Frick Park; it had been festering in a jar in the basement. This June night after dinner I figured I had waited long enough. In the basement at my microscope table I spread a scummy drop of Frick Park puddle water on a slide, peeked in, and lo, there was the famous amoeba. He was as blobby and grainy as his picture; I would have known him anywhere.

Before I had watched him at all, I ran upstairs. My parents were still at table, drinking coffee. They, too, could see the famous amoeba. I told them, bursting, that he was all set up, that they should hurry before his water dried. It was the chance of a lifetime.

Father had stretched out his long legs and was tilting back in his chair. Mother sat with her knees crossed, in blue slacks, smoking a Chesterfield. The dessert dishes were still on the table. My sisters were nowhere in evidence. It was a warm evening; the big dining-room windows gave onto blooming rhododendrons.

Mother regarded me warmly. She gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been looking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be coming down. She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine. She did not say, but I  began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself.

I had essentially been handed my own life, in subsequent years my parents would praise my drawings and poems, and supply me with books, art supplies, and sports equipment, and listen to my troubles and enthusiasm, and supervise my hours, and discuss and inform, but they would not get involved with my detective work, nor hear about my reading, nor inquire about my homework or term papers or exams, nor visit the salamanders I caught, nor listen to me play piano, nor attend my field hockey games, nor fuss over my insect collection. My days and nights were my own to plan and fill. (148-49)

Those paragraphs from An American Childhood don’t include any direct quotations. In the second paragraph, Dillard recounts what her mother said, but she doesn’t present it as dialogue. If the exact words spoken aren’t crucial to a scene, you can present the conversation indirectly, as Dillard does above.

Narratives Don’t Have to Center on Dramatic Events

The excerpt above demonstrates how to create scene and summary and how to shift from one to the other. And perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates this: Narratives don’t have to center on dramatic events.

If you think that you don’t have a story to write as your literacy narrative, look again at Dillard’s depiction of herself as a student of the natural world. There’s no dramatic conflict, but there’s desire. First, she wants to see an amoeba,  something she’s never seen before. Second, she wants her parents to share her excitement, but they don’t. With her microscope, Annie Dillard develops her knowledge of nature, but the larger learning experience that takes place is her realization that “you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself” (149). She has “essentially been handed [her] own life” (149).

What quiet, significant learning experience of yours has lingered in your mind? Your answer to that question could be the start of your literacy narrative.

You’ve Got to . . .

The You’ve-Got-To assignment that follows was composed by one of your classmates in English 111. As you read it, ask yourself if a similar reading experience of your own might serve as the subject of your literacy narrative.

The Hate U Give

When I first read this story, I fall in love with it. I am not a person who like to read but with this book I had too. It’s tell you about life, been a black and white kids. Mostly a black kid. How some kids grow up. And how some of them did not have a happy childhood experience like other had. Why other been kill before they could even be done with high school.

In this story it tell you about a black girl name Starr and her family and friends. She and her friends when to a party and have a little bit of drink cop came to the party, she and her friend decided to leave. On their way home they get stop by the police. And her friend get kill that day by the cop. She and her family went to a restaurant. Why the was eating her father get pull outside by the police and embarrass him in from of his family by pushing him on to the ground in from of everyone. People try to protest about what was going on in their community, but it did not go well, the protest turn to a violated one. Gas was everywhere, stores and houses get burn down.


Many of us have been surprised to discover enjoyment in something that we were required to do (and wouldn’t have done otherwise). If the YGT assignment above reminds you of one of those occasions, try writing about it in your journal.

Notes on YGT: “The Hate U Give

  • The assignment requirements specify that the subject’s title–in this case, The Hate U Give–may be part of the assignment’s title but not its complete title.
  • Additionally, the assignment stipulates that the first paragraph consists solely of summary, which is objective. Neither first-person (I) nor the writer’s opinions should be present.
  • Among the details that should be included in the summary are the subject’s genre and subgenre (novel and YA or young adult) and its author (Angie Thomas). In the first paragraph, the writer might also mention that The Hate U Give, though a work of fiction, was inspired by the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, and that a film adaptation of Thomas’ novel was released in 2018. 
  • As a guide for addressing trouble spots, the writer should consult these pages of A Writer’s Reference: 149 (to, too, two), 186-89 (verb tense), 207-12 (sentence fragments), 213-18 (run-on sentences).

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Maus and Memoirs

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 12.

Last week, in my notes on Maus, I asked you to consider how Spiegelman’s  book is not only a memoir, or a narrative of memories, but more precisely a dual memoir, a story of both Vladek and his son, the comic artist Art, and a meta-memoir, a memoir about the memoir-writing process.

I also noted how the panel above, from Chapter 1, illustrates the concept of meta-memoir.

In the panel, Art says to his father, “I still want to draw that book about you . . . .” (12). When we read those words of Spiegelman’s, we know that the book that he’s referring to is the one that we’re holding in our hands. He is writing about the process of writing and drawing his father’s story, and we see that on the page as he draws himself recording his father’s memories.

At the end of Chapter 1, Spiegelman creates another meta-memoir moment when he argues with his father.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 23.

Vladek doesn’t want his son to write about Lucia Greenberg, the girlfriend he left behind after he met Art’s mother, Anja. In the last panel of the chapter, when Art promises his father that he won’t tell that story in his book, we as readers know that Art has broken his promise because we have just read the story of Vladek and Lucia’s tryst.

Dialogue

As you prepare to begin writing your own memoir (your literacy narrative), examine how Spiegelman develops the chapters of Maus primarily through dialogue. Every page of his book demonstrates the important role that dialogue often plays in narrative, but it doesn’t show how dialogue is presented in an essay. In comics, dialogue appears in speech balloons. Prose narratives (essays, short stories, novels, and book-length  nonfiction) present dialogue with lines of speech enclosed in quotation marks and with dialogue tags. A dialogue tag is a short phrase at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the dialogue that attributes the dialogue to a particular person or character.

“Have you chosen a topic for your literacy narrative?” she asked.

In the sentence above, she asked is the dialogue tag.

When you write dialogue, you begin a new paragraph whenever the speaker changes. That’s why paragraphs of dialogue are generally short, often only one line.

Consider the dialogue below, from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood:

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987. p. 112.

In the first paragraph, Annie Dillard summarizes how her mother would tell her to spell words. In the second paragraph, Dillard moves to the scene of one particular evening, the night when her mother says there’s a deer in the hall.  Only the first of the three short paragraphs that follow the summary includes a dialogue tag. The other two don’t need tags because the new paragraph itself, the indentation of five spaces, signals a change in the speaker.

Once you’ve established who the speakers are in a dialogue between two people, you don’t need to include dialogue tags.

Notice that the first and last paragraphs include single quotation marks within the lines of dialogue. In the first paragraph, the words poinsettia and sherbet are enclosed in single quotation marks because words referred to as words are enclosed in quotation marks. Since the two words are contained within a longer quotation, Dillard’s mother’s line of dialogue, the words are enclosed in single quotation marks.

In the last paragraph, the words I know are enclosed in single quotation marks because the mother is quoting her daughter.

Words referred to as words in dialogue and quotations within lines of dialogue are enclosed in single quotation marks.

For more information on quotation marks, see A Writer’s Reference (279-80).

A Writer’s Reference

  • One of your reading assignments for the first week of class was pages GT-3-24. Although additional readings in A Writer’s Reference are not listed on the course calendar, I will ask you to refer to your handbook throughout the semester.
  • My notes on your introductory blog post direct you to pages that cover some of the trouble spots in your writing. If I asked you to consult pages 259-71, that means that there are comma errors in your post.
  • On the days when you will revise your second and third essays in class (see the course calendar for dates), you will be required to have your copy of A Writer’s Reference. I may conduct book checks on those days. If I do, those book checks will serve as grades in the participation and preparedness category. 

Introductory Blog Posts

  • If you haven’t visited your classmates’ blogs and read their introductions, please do so ASAP.
  • Also consider writing replies to their introductions.

WordPress Help

  • If you have encountered issues creating your blog or publishing your first post, visit the support page, https://wordpress.com/support/. If you cannot find a solution there, email help@wordpress.com ASAP.
  • Also look to the Titan Hub as a resource. Located on the third floor of the Learning Resource Center on campus, the Titan Hub is open 9-4 Monday-Friday. The Hub can help you with all technical matters related to your course work at GTCC. If you need to download and install Microsoft Word (you will need to type many of your GTCC writing assignments in Word), if you need help with MS Teams, or if you have trouble with your password, Titan Hub, https://www.gtcc.edu/student-life/tutoring-center-for-academic-engagement/titan-hub.php, can help. In addition to visiting Titan Hub on the third floor of the LRC, you can contact the hub by phone or email: 336-334-4822, ext. 50318, cae@gtcc.edu.

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Panteon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: You’ve Got to . . .

You’ve Got to Read This, edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, the book that inspired the You’ve Got to . . . Assignment

Today we will return briefly to our study of Maus, but we will focus primarily on your second short writing assignment, the “You’ve Got to . . .” assignment, which is now posted in Moodle. I have included an additional copy of the assignment below. (See the link and the small rectangle labeled download.)

I am in the process of writing a model YGT (“You’ve Got to . . .”) assignment for you and  will publish it on my blog on Wednesday morning.

Because this is a brand-new assignment, I cannot offer you samples from previous semesters. But remember, you will have a sample on Wednesday morning. In the meantime, you can look to the two paragraphs devoted to Maus in my January 27 blog post as a model of sorts. The first paragraph is a summary, as the first paragraph of yours will be. The second paragraph is an analysis; similarly, your second paragraph will be a reflection or an informal analysis. Together, my two paragraphs on Maus are 172 words long, which is slightly longer than your minimum requirement of 150 words. 

Continuing Our Study of Maus

Last week, in my notes on Maus, I focused Spiegelman’s  book as a memoir, or a narrative of memories. Unlike an autobiography or a biography, which aims to  present a comprehensive account of a subject’s life, a memoir usually focuses on one period of a person’s life or one aspect of it. Maus I centers on the life of the writer’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, in the years leading up to the war and during the war and the Holocaust. But Maus is also a dual memoir, a story of both Vladek and his son, the comic artist Art, and a meta-memoir, a memoir about the memoir-writing process.

Consider how Chapter 1 demonstrates how Art Spiegelman’s book is both a dual memoir and a meta-memoir. Note how the panel below illustrates the concept of meta-memoir.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 12.

In the panel, Art says to his father, “I still want to draw that book about you . . . .” (12). When we read those words of Spiegelman’s, we know that the book that he’s referring to is the one that we’re holding in our hands. He is writing about the process of writing and drawing his father’s story, and we see that on the page as he draws himself recording his father’s memories.


Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Revising and Editing . . .

Today we will explore the processes of revising and editing and continue our study of Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

If you have already written your introductory blog post and published it on your blog, I recommend that you review it at least once more before the noon deadline on Friday. If you haven’t yet created your WordPress blog, please do so as soon as possible to give yourself ample time to troubleshoot. If you encounter issues, email help@wordpress.com

Revising and Editing

The processes of revising and editing aren’t the same. As the authors of A Writer’s Reference note, when you revise “you focus on clarity and effectiveness; when you edit, you check for correctness” (29). Before the noon deadline on Friday, set aside some time–even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes–to revise and edit your introduction.

Checklist for Revision

  • Is the paragraph unified by a main point?
  • If the introduction consists of more than one paragraph, is each paragraph unified by a main point?
  • Have you presented ideas in a logical order?

Proofreading

A Writer’s Reference presents excellent advice on proofreading, which I am including verbatim below. Note that I have added the boldface for emphasis.

“Proofreading is a special kind of reading: a slow methodical search for misspellings, typographical mistakes, and missing words or word endings. Such errors can be difficult to spot in your own work because you may read what you intended to write, not what is actually on the page. To fight this tendency, try one or more of the following tips.

Proofreading Tips

  • Remove distractions and allow yourself ten to fifteen minutes of pure concentration–without your cell phone.
  • Proofread out loud, articulating each word as it is actually written.
  • Proofread your sentences in reverse order.
  • Proofread hard copy pages; mistakes can be difficult to catch on-screen.
  • Don’t rely too heavily on spell checkers and grammar checkers. Before automatically accepting their changes, consider accuracy and appropriateness.
  • Ask a volunteer (a friend, roommate, or co-worker) to proofread after you. A second reader may catch something that you didn’t.” (31)

If you would like to receive feedback on your introductory blog post before Friday at noon, the Center for Academic Engagement offers a number of options for you. Those options are outlined on pages four and five of the syllabus.

Continuing Our Study of Maus

On Monday we examined the two-page comic that precedes Chapter 1. In my notes to you, I observed that “you might ask yourself why the first pages of the memoir are set in New York, thirteen years after the war” and that “[y]ou might also ask why those two pages precede Chapter 1. Why might Art Spiegelman have chosen to begin the memoir with the two-page story ‘Rego Park, NY c. 1958’?” 

“Rego Park, NY c. 1958” serves as the epigraph for Maus. By definition, an epigraph is a short quotation that appears at the beginning of a book, one chosen by the author to convey one or more of the book’s themes. 

Rather than offering a quotation as an epigraph, Spiegelman presents “Rego Park, NY c. 1958.” What story does the two-page comic tell, and what does it indicate to readers about the longer story that will unfold in Maus?

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 5.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.

In the two paragraphs that follow, I offer a summary of the epigraph and a short analysis that examines what the epigraph conveys.

In Art Spiegelman’s epigraph for Maus I, “Rego Park, N.Y., c. 1958,” he recounts the events of a summer’s day when he was ten or eleven years old. He and two of his friends are racing together on roller skates until one of Artie’s skates comes loose and he falls. Rather than waiting for Artie, the other two boys skate away, leaving him behind to be the “Rotten egg” (5). After Artie returns home, his father asks why he is crying. When Artie tells his father what happened, his father questions his son’s use of the word “friend.” He replies, “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week . . . / . . . Then you could see what is, friends! . . .” (6).

The cutting remark that Spiegelman’s father makes as he saws wood illustrates the communication breakdown between him and Artie. Spiegelman’s 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 first paragraph, the summary, does not express my opinion. By definition, summaries are objective. When you write a summary, you aim to convey a text’s main ideas in your own words but without offering your own opinion.

Analysis

In the second paragraph, I turn to analysis. I connect the father’s cutting, or unkind, remark to the sawing of the wood, which is itself an act of separation—a detail that I might add to the paragraph if I choose to develop my analysis.

Summary and analysis are building blocks of both academic and professional writing. We summarize to increase our understanding of texts, and we analyze them to demonstrate our ability to think critically.

For more information on summary and analysis, see pages 63-64 of A Writer’s Reference.

Writing about Maus in Your Journal

After you complete each reading assignment in Maus, 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.

What to Focus on as You Read Maus

As I noted on Monday, because Maus is a memoir and your first essay assignment for English 111 is a literacy narrative, a form of memoir, focus on this question: How can Maus serve as a model for my own memoir, my literacy narrative?


Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. 

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Writing the Introductory Blog Post . . .

Today we will focus on your Introductory blog post assignment, due at noon on Friday, and we will begin our study of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. An additional copy of the blog assignment is included in this post. (See the link and the small rectangle labeled download below.)

I am in the process of writing a model introductory blog post for you, which I will publish on my blog as soon as I have completed it, no later than Thursday.

In the meantime, I am including here for you a list of links to model introductory blog Posts that I wrote for my students in previous semesters. The first one in the list was written for my students last fall at Guilford Technical Community College. The second, third, and fourth posts in the list were written for my students at Catawba Valley Community College, and the fifth and sixth posts in the list were written for my students at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

To offer you additional models, I am including below a list of links to a few of the introductory blog posts written by my students last fall.

To prepare you to review and revise your own introduction, today we will examine two introductory blog posts from previous semesters.  (See the link and the small rectangle labeled download below.) Remember that you can edit blog posts after you publish them. If you have already published your introductory blog post and today’s exercise demonstrates that your post needs additional revisions, you can make those changes before noon on Friday, January 29.

If you would like to receive feedback on your Introductory Blog Post before Friday at noon, the Center for Academic Engagement offers a number of options for you. Those options are outlined on pages four and five of the syllabus.

Beginning Our Study of Maus

What have you learned about Maus already simply by looking at its cover and skimming its pages? The authors of A Writer’s Reference notes that “[p]reviewing–looking quickly through a text before you read–helps you understand its basic features and structures.

A text’s title, for example, may reveal an author’s purpose; a text’s format may reveal what kind of text it is–a book, a report, a memo, and so on. The more you know about a text before you read it, the easier it will be to dig deeper into it. (57)

With that in mind, consider the front cover. Near the top, below the name of the author, Art Spiegelman, the title appears in large red letters that run or drip like blood. For readers who do not know that the title, Maus, is the German word for mouse, the crouching figures in the bottom half of the cover offer a context clue. Above the mice looms a large swastika overlayed with a cat face marked by a Hitleresque mustache. Below the mice, near the bottom of the cover are the words of the subtitles: A Survivor’s Tale and My Father Bleeds History.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

From those details, you might infer that the author’s father was a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust (1941-45), the state-sponsored murder of six million Jews and others, including gays, persecuted by the Nazi Regime during World War II (1939-45).

Maus is a memoir, or a narrative of memories. Unlike an autobiography or a biography, which aims to  present a comprehensive account of a subject’s life, a memoir usually focuses on one period of a person’s life or one aspect of it. Maus I, focuses on the life of the writer’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, in the years leading up to the war and during the war and the Holocaust. 

Knowing that Maus focuses on World War II and the Holocaust, you might ask yourself why the first pages of the memoir are set in New York, thirteen years after the war.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 5.
Spiegelman. Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.

You might also ask why those two pages precede Chapter 1. Why might Art Spiegelman have chosen to begin the memoir with the two-page story “Rego Park, NY c. 1958”? That’s a question that we will return to on Wednesday.

In the meantime, as you continue to read Maus, consider that like Maus, your first essay assignment for English 111 is a memoir, more specifically a literacy narrative (a story about learning). Ask yourself what a close reading, or study, of Maus can teach you about writing a memoir. Though your memoir will be far shorter than Maus and will be told exclusively through words (rather than through words and drawings), Maus remains a valuable model for its presentation of narration and dialogue and for its development of conflict.


Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. 

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

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.