Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter follows Hester Prynne, the main character, when she becomes pregnant after her husband has been away for two years. She is accused of adultery, since the baby cannot possibly be his, and is forced to wear a red 'A' on her to make sure the entire town knows she commited adultery. Her daughter, Pearl, is born while she is in prison. Hester refuses to tell anyone the baby-daddy's name, so he won't have to go through any punishment. Hester's husband secretly comes to town, and visits her while she's in prison and has a plan to disguise him self and seek revenge on Hester's lover. He uses a fake name, Chillingworth, and eventually suspects Reverand Arthur Dimmesdale to be the father of Hester's baby and haunts him for the next several years. Dimmesdale eventally becomes noticeably crazy and when Hester realizes this she tells him who Chillingworth really is. The two of them plan to run away to England together, away from everyone but Dimmesdale confesses to the townspeople instead. The last thing he does before he dies is reveal the 'A' he carved into his chest to the townspeople. Hester and Pearl then leave their home and go to England to live a better life.

Discussion questions
1. Would you have confessed if you were Dimmesdale or would you have run away?
2. Do you think it was a fair punishment for Hester to have to wear the 'A' on her at all times?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The book starts off with Ishmael, a young lad who turned to the sea because he's all lonely. He decides to journey with a whaling boat after some merchant marine experience. He becomes good friends with this chill dude with tattoos named Queequeg. The two fellas join aboard a vessel named Pequod whose captain is quoted as a "grand, ungodly, godlike man." The captain is the famous Captain Ahab who got his leg bitten off by a whale and in it's place is a whale bone. Although the crew wants to hunt whales for their oil, Ahab wants to hunt down the whale called Moby Dick, the one that bit off his leg. The crew and various boats that have had injury and even death warn Ahab about attempting to get his revenge on the whale but they are close to it now and he persists in his revenge. After a 3-day pursuit one crew member is already dead yet Ahab "madly" seeks out revenge. He throws 2 harpoons at the whale, the second of which tangles Ahab to the whale and he is subsequently dragged down to the depths with Moby Dick. All of the ships are destroyed by Moby Dick and everyone dies except Ishmael who uses his dead bro Queequeg as a buoy to float for a while until another ship rescues him.

It is easy to see that the motive of Ahab was revenge, if the rest of his crew did not have to suffer for Ahab's actions, do you think it was better for him to take revenge against the whale rather than do nothing?

To me it is very curious as to why the crew didn't take physical action against Ahab when they were all telling him to discontinue his quest for revenge, why do you think they stuck with him? Do you think it's the possibility of glory, the adventure, the loyalty in your captain, or something else?

Dante's Inferno (Translated by John Ciardi)

Nothing is more chilling to the bone than a story about one’s descent to hell and back. Dante’s Inferno is just that. Scary, riveting, revealing, intriguing, and appealing to the human condition, Dante takes the reader on a luxury tour of hell with the ancient poet Virgil as his [our] tour guide. He tells all about the gruesome and horrific punishments that lie ahead for the future damned. Each punishment has its own “ring” of hell. The rings, in order of least sinful to most sinful, are: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery. What is interesting about each of these rings is the punishment is the most ironic thing that could be, not necessarily the most painful. For example, gluttons are forced to eating their own waste for eternity, where as the greedy are continually singed by molten gold they try to grab with their hands, etc… Although he shows the world how scary and ironic God can be, Dante’s main purpose in writing the novel lies in the portrayal of Dante’s modern day characters. Most of the characters Dante encounter in hell are either famous sinners, or politicians of the time that Dante did not particularly like. He displays them suffering the wrath of God and their own sins only to embarrass them. From Dante’s beautifully crafted word working (it is a poem, and not a novel after all) to his ironic hell, Dante’s Inferno is a great read and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who is willing and able to understand its literary value.

Discussion questions:

1. What sin do you believe should have the worst kind of punishments: sins of the flesh (physical sins, lust, gluttony, greed, violence), or the sacrilegious sins (sins against God, lying, working against the salvation of souls)?

2. What is the most ironic punishment you can think of for any of the nine rings of hell?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are considered to not be rich but not be poor as well. They have 5 daughters who Mrs. Bennet urgently wishes to marry the girls off. Mr. Bennet, however, isn't as enthusiastic as his wife. Nearby, a young gentlemen named Mr. Charles Bingley moves into a new estate. He's very wealthy and just the man Mrs. Bennet has been looking for to marry one of her daughters. At a ball, Mr. Bingley brings his sister and his friend Mr. Darcy. The eldest daughter of the Bennets, Jane, falls in love with Charles as well as he fell in love with her. The protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, an outgoing an independent woman of her own and nothing like the lady she should be and represent English society, takes a disliking towards Mr. Darcy as he isn't very fond with her either. Society deems him arrogant and proud. As the story progresses, Mr. Darcy eventually begins to find an interest in Elizabeth and later she realizes her love for him as well. But Mr. Darcy, because of his pride, finds it hard to accept his feelings because Elizabeth isn't from a very rich and classy English family.

1. In English society, it was a custom for women to be married off, especially to statuses of their own or higher in order for their family to have a good name. If they married someone who was of lower status, it was a disgrace to their family name. Seeing the marriage situations back then, how do they differ today?

2. In your own opinion, do you believe status is important? Why do you believe this?


1984, a novel written in 1949 by George Orwell follows Winston Smith, a member of a "utopian" society called oceana, was a member of the party. He worked to continue on the propaganda that the party had put in place, this involved deleting or editing old documents. All of this was done in the name of Big Brother. Big brother was an idea that was perpetuated by the party to help unite the county. Many things are done in the name of big brother. Anywhere from Winston's simple task of altering documents to totally erasing a persons identity. The party also takes people away and teaches them to love Big Brother. This happens when they take the persons worse fear and the party uses it to convince the person that big brother is the o ly one that can save them. Unfortunately Winston is convinced to love Big Brother despite his struggle throughout the story against him. This struggle is one against an oppressive government that doesn't even allow free thought to occur. With what they called new speak, which is a way to condense the language into just a few words. Another way they are oppressive dis the role of the proles, which are nonparty members. They are forced to live life In the slums, not that the low ranking party members are much better off in their situation. Most citizens struggle with poverty and all have to deal with the constant eye of big brother watching over them via the telescreens in every room.

Would you follow a totalitarian government if it meant that you were able to lead a "normal" life?

Considering the time period it was written do you. Thin Orwell was pulling from anything in particular when he wrote this book?

The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemmingway

Santiago, a Cuban fisherman, has had a streak of bad luck and has not caught any fish. On the 84th day without a fish Santiago returns to land to find that he is being ridiculed by other fishermen for his bad luck. His apprentice, a young boy named Manolin, also tells him that his father will no longer allow him to fish with Santiago because he has no luck. Throughout all of this hardship, Santiago remains optimistic. The two return to Santiago's shack and Santiago offers to make dinner for Manolin. He declines, knowing that Santiago has nothing and will go hungry for the day. The two then talk about baseball. When the boy finally leaves, Santiago goes to sleep and dreams about lions and the beaches of Africa which he once saw as a boy.
The next morning, Santiago goes to the boy's house and wakes him. The two take Santiago's fishing gear to the boat and Santiago leaves the boy to go out to sea. When Santiago gets to the point at which he can no longer see the shore, he finally gets a bite. The giant marlin begins pulling Santiago farther and farther out to sea. He is pulled throughout the night and into the next morning. The next day, as Santiago still fights with the fish, a small bird lands on his line. suddenly the marlin begins pulling harder and the bird leaves. Santiago notices that his hand is cut from the line. He then decides to eat the fish he caught the previous day in order to gain strength for the fight that will most likely go through the next day. he also decides to put out another line so that he may catch another smaller fish to eat. as he does this, the marlin jumps out of the water and Santiago sees it for the first time. It is almost two feet longer that Santiago's boat. The marlin then begins slowing down. Later that evening, Santiago catches a dolphin on his second line and is able to pull it in and kill it while holding on to the marlin. That night he is able to sleep. he is woken up by the marlin pulling the line. He can tell that the fish is making his final stand against Santiago. after a few more hours of fighting, Santiago is finally able to pull the marlin to the boat and harpoon it. He cannot put the marlin in the boat because it is too big. as he is returning, the marlin is attacked by sharks. by the time he returns to the harbor, there is almost nothing left of the marlin. He takes down his sail and returns home to sleep. The next day, other fishermen gather at Santiago's boat to see what is left of his fish. they measure it to be 18 feet. He talks to Manolin who tells him that he will fish with Santiago again regardless of what his parents say. Manolin then leaves and Santiago goes back to sleep.

1. Santiago is very optimistic after going nearly 3 months without catching anything. If you were in his situation would you give up or would you keep fishing as he did?

2. Do you think you would be able to fight a fish for nearly three days as Santiago did or would you give up before you could catch it?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

The novel Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson involves a murder mystery and the difficult decision of good moral judgment over prejudice. The story starts off in a courtroom on San Piedro Island where a Japanese-American fisherman named Kabuo Miyamoto is on trial for the death of an American fisherman and WWI veteran, Carl Heine. This novel takes place right before World War II, and during this time there were many prejudices about the Japanese. The Americans felt the Japanese were lower than them and placed them in internment camps, and the Japanese hated them for treating them this way. Because of this, Kabuo feels it would be very unlikely for him to receive a fair trial.

It goes on to describe that San Piedro is a small island where the people that live there know about everyone's business. Ishmael Chambers, another WWI veteran, is the editor of the newspaper there. He seems very outgoing by what he tells others about his life, but he keeps one thing to himself; he never tells anyone about his relationship with Hatsue who is now Kabuo’s wife. He never understands why one day she decided to leave him for Kabuo for no apparent reason and without ever telling him why, and then she treats him coldly afterwards.

Throughout the trial, Kabuo has many flashbacks about his childhood. He thinks about how Carl’s father had informally promised to sell a plot of his land to Kabuo’s father. However, when he was almost finished with his payments, Kabuo’s father was sent to an internment camp. When Carl’s father had died and Kabuo returned from war, he went to try and get the land back, but Carl’s mother had already sold it to an old white farmer because she didn’t like the thought of someone of Japanese descent owning her husband’s land. When the old farmer was sick and decided to sell the land again, Kabuo rushed to make an offer for it as soon as he heard, but was disappointed to find that Carl Heine had already bought it. The two had been childhood friends so Kabuo hoped that Carl might have the heart to let him own the land his father before him had spent so much time trying to earn, but Carl had developed some prejudices against the Japanese after he had got back from the war.

One foggy night while still trying to decide whether or not to sell the land, Carl goes fishing. He gets into some trouble, but is saved by Kabuo. Because he was so kind to Carl, he decides that it would be best if he sold him the land. Later that night, however, Carl is killed when a large ship creates a large wave that shakes Carl’s boat. Carl is knocked down by this force, hits his head and becomes unconscious, and drowns in the water. When authorities began to investigate, the coroner noted that the wounds on Carl’s head were a lot like marks made by Japanese soldiers that were skilled in martial art. Because these people didn’t know of the agreement that Carl and Kabuo had made and they knew Kabuo was a Japanese soldier in the war, it seemed like he had both the motive and the skill to be the murderer.

There doesn’t seem to be any proof that Kabuo is not guilty until the reporter Ishmael comes across a logbook in the lighthouse. It showed that a large ship had been lost the night Carl had died. There was a record that the ship then passed through the area Carl was in just five minutes before Carl’s waterlogged watch stopped after falling into the water. It is evident at that point to Ishmael that the ship was the cause of Carl’s death. This lucky find leaves Ishmael with a difficult decision. He can either come forward with the truth and do the moral thing in his situation, or he can keep the information to himself and get the revenge on Hatsue that he had been trying to get for a long time. He knew it would hurt her to see her husband locked away and thought of as a murderer. During the trial, he didn't tell anyone about what he had found out and all but one of the jurors insisted on Kabuo's guilt. Later, Ishmael decided to do the right thing and let Hatsue know about the information he had found. Kabuo was able to return to his family and the charges against him were dropped.

1. 1.Prejudice was very common in the early 1900’s. Is prejudice still relevant today? How?

2. 2.When people return from war, their personalities sometimes change. Why is this so common for people to come back almost as a different person?

3. 3.Like in the novel, it can be very difficult to choose between making a good moral decision and getting revenge. Why is it so hard sometimes to just do the right thing in the first place?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Remarque, takes place during World War I and follows the trials of the young Paul Baumer and his high school friends as they learn of what war really means, fighting for the German army. The story begins with the group of boys, eager after all of the hype of nationalism and patriotism, are sent to boot camp, where they learn exactly what it is they are about to face. After one of their first fights, a classmate of theirs, Kemmerich, is forced to have his leg amputated and is slowly dying before Paul and his friends eyes. But after the cruelty of war, they have been hardened. They still feel sympathy for him, but they know he is going to die and ask for his boots. Newer soldiers don't understand the apathy, but it is just the understanding of what war is that Paul's friend is really showing. The group, after a short reprieve from fighting then discuss politics and what they think would be best for wars. They discuss how meaningless people hold so much power, and that it is the soldiers who do the work. While Paul goes on leave to see his family, he is confused as to why it is so hard to talk to anyone about the bloody battle going on around them. After being re-deployed and meeting the dissapointment of a kaiser, Paul, in mid battle, stabs a French soldier who jumps into his hidey hole during a bombing run. He learns that the man had a wife and kids and is overcome with grief and remorse. But there is no time for his emotions in the tumult of war. As Germany begins to wane under the pressure of the Allied forces, one by one, each and every one of Paul's friends begin to die until Paul is the last one left. Even Paul dies in October 1918, the day the newspapers read, "All quiet on the Western Front".

In the situation with Paul's classmate slowly dying with his leg amputated, do you agree with the new soldiers, that they were being apathetic towards Kemmerich?

What do you think Remarque thought about nationalism and patriotism?

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Worst Book Ever)

The only complete novel ever written by Edgar Allan Poe, the most world-reknown Dark Romanticist of his time. The story starts with a young man named Arthur Gordon Pym as the title infers. He is living on a whaling ship named the Grampus. He goes through various misadventures, including cannabalism and shipwreck. Arthur and his fellow crew member Dirk Peters continute the journey, in which they come across hostile natives and the novel ends with them heading towards the South Pole. The novel has been criticized up and down, left and right. Most people have listed it as the number one book on their list of Worst Novels of All Time. The story line is confusing and extremely hard to follow. Poe had always had trouble writing full length novels. However, in July 1838, he published the first complete copy of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I guess he should just stick to poetry and small tales.

  1. Why do you think Poe's novel was written so poorly and criticized to the extent it was?
  2. Do you think Poe would have continued with his publication of full length novels if he had lived longer?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee is a novel about the adventures of several children and how they see, through their naive minds, a trial of a man accused of rape. The story starts off positive, exploring the many adventures of the children of a lawyer, Atticus Finch. Scout Finch, the protagonist, has many adventures with her older brother, Jem. The children find many ways to entertain themselves, from annoying their neighbor Boo Radley to acting out stories with a friend they meet over one summer named Dill. Scout then starts school for the first time only to find that she does not like it very much. Meanwhile, a black man in their community is accused of raping a white woman. Atticus believes that he is innocent, and is the only one who sticks up for him and eventually is his attorney in a trial. The children are unable to understand this racism, and are confused when people disrespect Atticus and themselves. In the trial, Atticus tries his best to show that Tom is innocent, and makes a very strong case. To see how the trial concludes, and find out what happens to the children, (because there is an element of danger in the end for them) you will have to read this novel for yourself. I would highly recommend reading it if you are looking for something to read. It starts off slow, but picks up in the end.


1. If someone you knew was being unjustly accused for a crime, would you try to help them? Even if it meant that the rest of your community would be against you?

2. Lee's use of the children as a way for the reader to see the trial gives the reader a unique perspective. How would you feel if you were in Atticus's children's position? How would you react to all of the hate you were exposed to?

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Born to Run is a nonfictional novel by Christopher McDougall and his story about why runners get injured so much. McDougall is a journalist who constantly suffered from running pains and goes to see a bunch of running doctors. They all tell him that the best way to stop getting hurt is to stop running as much. It seemed kinda of weird to him that something that is supposed to be so good for you could hurt your body so much so he decided to do some research and went to visit the Tarahumara, a seclusive tribe of Native American who live in the Copper canyons of Chihuahua, Mexico and who are some of the best ultra runners in the world. For the Tarahumara running is a way of life. They ran too escape early Spanish settlers, they run from town to town to deliver news, they run to hide from the modern day drug cartels in the area, and they also use it for festivals and celebrations. The Tarahumara are a very peaceful and shy people who also choose to run rather than fight. They live in small caves or huts in their canyons and eat pinole and chia during their runs. Now just because their shy doesn't mean they don't know how to party. During their festivals before race day they get crazy drunk off of homemade tequila which results in spouses cheating on each other, men getting in fist fights, and women naked mud wrestling. They use these parties as a sort of stress reliever from being so nonconfrontational the rest of the time and always forgive each other's actions and just blame it on the tequila. Now what attracted McDougall to the Tarahumara was their ability to run over 100 miles with nothing but sandals made from rubber tires on their feet and not get any injuries. He learned that running related injuries spiked in 1972 due to the introduction of the modern day running shoe by Nike. The problem with the modern running shoe is the amount of cushioning in the heel which has made our feet weak and caused more problems for the rest of our body. He also goes on to talk about how humans are able to hunt using persistence running which is just chasing after something until it dies from exhaustion (animals such as deer can only breathe once per stride where as we can breathe multiple times, we also sweat to cool off where as a deer has to stop and pant). The main plot of the story centers around a race between a couple of the best American runners and some of the best Tarahumara runners. Long story short Arnulfo Quimare (a Tarahumaran) beat Scott Jurek (The best American ultra runner and record holder of the 24-hour race).

1. Do you think the Tarahumara's way of life is better than our own?
2. Would you ever consider using vibram five fingers or something else like them?

Monday, May 9, 2011

East of Eden, John Steinbeck.

East of Eden, written by John Steinbeck, is centered around two families: The Trask's and The Hamilton's. Primarily set in the middle of the Salinas Valley in California, Steinbeck covers three generations spanning roughly sixty years.

At the beginning of the novel, Steinbeck goes into great detail about the Salinas Valley including sights, sounds, colors, and smells. The story unfolds by switching back and forth from the Hamilton and Trask family describing many love interests, financial troubles, and family problems. (I feel if I give any more information about the characters that it will spoil the novel because each character and family intertwines.)

The novel is thought to parallel many biblical events, mainly those of Cain and Abel due to the fact that there is often anger, vengeance, and violence. The novel, "was not well accepted by the critics of its day, who found it heavy-handed and unconvincing, especially in its use of Biblical allusion" (Wikipedia). Although many people disliked it, it soon became a bestseller and known as one of Steinbeck's greatest achievements.

1.) Throughout the novel, Steinbeck displays what it means to be a good person and what it means to be a bad person. What do you feel makes a person good? What do you feel makes a person evil?

2.) There are often cases of violence and vengeance within the book, often due to jealousy. Do you feel these are good ways to handle jealousy and personal problems, or do you think they should be dealt with peacefully?