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?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The story begins with a prestigious, prize-winning boar named Old Major calling for a meeting among the animals of the farm. Old Major gives a speech explaining a dream he had had of all animals on the farm being free of oppression from the humans. He said that if the animals worked together then this dream of his could become reality. 3 days after the meeting, Old Major dies, causing 3 young pigs (Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer) to take his place and further his philosophy throughout the farm.
The animals soon overthrow Mr. Jones, the owner of the farm, and make him run off. The atmosphere among the animals is now ecstatic. They all realize that Old Major's dream for the farm is beginning to take shape. Snowball begins to teach the animals how to read and Napoleon takes a group of 9 young puppies to teach them in the ways of "animalism."
However, after Mr. Jones returns and is defeated again, the tension between Napoleon and Snowball begins to rise. Snowball wishes to build an electricity-producing windmill on the farm but Napoleon strongly disagrees with this notion. When a meeting is held to discuss the topic, Napoleon has the 9 attack dogs (formerly the 9 puppies) kill Snowball. Napoleon then tells the animals that the pigs will make all decisions on the farm, telling them that the decisions will be for the good of the animals.
Napoleon then changes his mind on the windmill, ordering that the animals make their main focus completing it. Boxer, the cart-horse at the farm, devotes all his efforts and energy toward the windmill and takes up the maxim "Napoleon is always right." While this is going on, Napoleon begins to rewrite history, illustrating Snowball as a villain and killing any that took part in Snowball's plans (which turns out to be anyone that opposed Napoleon's reign). Napoleon also begins to act like a human. He sleeps in a bed, trades with other neighboring farms, and drinks whiskey, all things that were banned by the original animalist principles.
The windmill that was constructed is then destroyed by a group of farmers. In the battle against the farmers, Boxer is wounded and near death. Squealer tells the animals that Boxer has died a noble death in battle, when in reality Napoleon had sold his most loyal follower to a glue maker so that he can buy whisky.
By the end of the novel, the pigs walk on two legs and wear clothing. They also begin to form an alliance with a human farmer. The pigs seem to make a total transformation into human beings, minus their appearance. The pigs destroy the original 7 commandments of Animal Farm and leave only 1 rule of guidance: "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."


1. Explain what Orwell was trying to convey with the phrase: "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

2. Relate Animal Farm to events in history.

The Republic by Plato

Plato wrote this great example of early philosophy and political view around 360 BC. The book covers several different theories and ideas but one that stood out the most for me was the inheritance of a belief system from generation to generation. Plato establishes a mock belief system using examples and observations already seen in society at the time to show that no matter how absurd early teachings are, they will be accepted as the primary belief system within just five generations. Although I would and should tell you about the belief system he has established in the book, I would rather have you read the book if you are interested in this.

1- How do you feel about man made belief systems, like religion?

2- Do you believe that any idea or set of stories, no matter how irrational or unrealistic can really be deemed true and important after a certain length of time even when their truth isn't tested?

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This book is about a male dominated society in which women are only valued if they are fertile or if they have had the good fortune to marry into a family of higher political standing. The women of lower class that are deemed fertile are made to wear only red, kept 'safe' by not allowing them too much physical exertion and not allowing them to leave their room except to go to the market once a day. They are not supposed to talk to other 'handmaids' as they are called, because they allow them to band together and defy the men in charge. The only job these women have is to have children for the upper class and higher ranking men and their wives. After bearing and giving birth to these children, the baby is taken away to be raised by the handmaid's host family and the handmaid is moved to another family, never to see her child again. Offred, handmaid to the "Commander", has a strange relationship with him, as he allows her to read in his office, something handmaids are forbidden to do. He takes her to a place where prostitutes live, a secret place run by the male dominated government. The Commander's wife sees this unwanted relationship and offers Offred a deal to have sex with her driver to become pregnant so that Offred can be removed from her household and the wife can have a baby to raise. Offred begins to develop a relationship with nick, the driver, another thing that is expressly forbidden.

1) What would you do if you were chosen to receive a 'handmaid' into your marriage or chosen to become a handmaid yourself?

2) How would you feel if you knew that you had children out in the world being raised by other families or that the child you are raising is not yours and you are raising it as though it were?

The Waves- Virginia Woolf

Staying true to her other novels like To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf's novel The Waves is not told through conventional methods. The Waves is a story about six individuals as the go from being children to adults. Like in her other novels, however, the main focus of the novel is not the physical actions of the characters but rather the individual consciousness and how they interact with the other characters. The entire book is written and told through soliloquies given by the six characters Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, and Louis. Each character's consciousness reveals their desires and their personality; Louis is a misfit who seeks his own place in society; Neville desires to be loved and to love; Jinny is a socialite who bases her opinion of herself on the opinions of those around her; Susan rejects the modern city and returns to the countryside to become a mother; Rhoda constantly doubts himself, causing him to seclude himself from others. Percival, the final character, is the flawed hero to the other characters in the novel. He dies before the end of the novel and never speaks. Therefore, the reader is left to learn about him from the other characters. Woolf's novel follows these characters from their childhood days to their adult lives, allowing the reader to see the troubles and challenges that each character, each having their own strengths and weaknesses, deals with in life.

Discussion Questions:

1) Throughout the novel, each character struggles to define themselves. Neville, for example, defines himself by opposing society and its conventions while Jenny defines herself by society. How do you define yourself and is their a right or a wrong way to do so?

2) In her novels, Woolf typically uses a stream of consciousness technique rather than focusing on the physical when writing about a group of characters' struggle to define themselves. Why do you think she tells her stories this way instead of via a more conventional approach?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

1984 by George Orwell

1984 is a novel written from the point of view of Winston Smith, a citizen of London, Oceania, where a new kind of government has taken over. In this new system, any kind of rebellion or freedom is restricted, including sex, free speech, or even free thought. No one is pemitted to speak badly or against the government. Although the consequences that come with breaking these rules could be fatal, Winston still rebels. He purchases a journal to write down all of his illegal ideas even though he could be killed if it is found. Winston continues to rebel against the Party thoughout the book, as he engages in an affair with a woman named Julia and continues to write in his journal. Eventually, he and Julia are caught by the Thought Police, and Winston finds that people he believed to be against the Party actually work for it. For example, a man named O'Brian was thought to be a part of the Brotherhood, a group of indivuals headed by the infamous Emmanuel Goldstein, who rebelled against the Party. However, once Winston and Julia are caught, it is revealed that O'Brian is actually a member of the Party and he eventualy tortured Winston in the hauntingly unknown Room 101. By the end of the novel, Winston has become completely brainwashed and has dedicated himself to the Party and its leader, Big Brother.

1. People sometimes think that the government has too much control over what the people of its country do. Do you think this holds true in America? Consider things that affect kids our age (drinking age, driving age, curfew, etc) and explain why think so.
2. In your opinon, is it better to have an extremely strict government that keeps order or a loosly thrown together government that lets havoc occur without interfering?
3. At the end of the novel, O'Brian tortured Winston in Room 101. O'Brian tells Winston he plans to face him with his worst nightmare - rats - by strapping a cage of them to his face and letting them eat it off. Winston, however, begs that O'Brian does this to Julia instead. If you were in this situation, would you have faced your worst fears or would you have sold out someone you loved to avoid them?

Friday, May 6, 2011


Night is the story of Eliezer who is a Jewish boy growing up in Hungary. Eliezer has three sisters Hilda, Béa and Tzipora and lives in a family the closely follows its Jewish religion and culture. The plot begins when Moshe, a teacher of Eliezer, is kicked out of Hungary along with other foreign Jews. After months Moshe returns having escaped from the Gestapo. He tells everyone how his train was handed over to the Gestapo and how they were systematically murdered. No one in the town believes him and everyone thinks he’s gone crazy. Short after the Nazis totally invade Hungary and Elizer’s family and other Jews are oppressed and forced to live in small ghettos in the town. Soon Eliezer and his family along with the other Jews in Sighet are loaded into trains to travel to Birkenau. The Nazis told them it was a labor camp where they could stay with their families but soon after arrival Eliezer and his father are separated from his mother and sisters. Eliezer and his father meet many others just like them and one man who they befriend tells then to lie about their age because they learn at Birkenau if you are unfit to work you are immediately killed. In the camps Eliezer and the other Jews are treated cruelly, are barely feed and forced into slave labor. Eliezer does all he can to keep faith under these horrible conditions. Soon after their arrival in Birkenau he and the other workers are forced to march to Buna the main work camp. After weeks of bad conditions and seeing the death of countless others many Jews including Eliezer, start to give up hope in others and begin to lose their humanity. After months in the camp Eliezer hurts his foot and is forced to undergo foot surgery. While he is still recovering the Nazis get notice that the Russians are closing in and they decided it a good time to evacuate the camp. Eliezer along with the other prisoners are forced to run many miles through a blizzard to another camp called Gleiwitz. This is very hard for Eliezer with a bad foot and there are other countless Jews who die along the way. At Gleniwitz Eliezer and one hundred other Jews are forced to board a train to the concentration camp Buchenwald. When the train arrives in Buchenwald only twelve of the one hundred prisoners survived including Eliezer and his father. Eventually Eliezer’s father dies in the camp from sickness and abuse. Eliezer continues to hold on and is saved when the Americans liberate Buchenwald and defeat the Nazis.
1) Do you think you would be able to keep faith and survive facing the severe cruel treatment Jews had to endure throughout the Holocaust?
2) How would you feel if one day like Eliezer you were separated from your family knowing you would never see them again?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a famous novel of teenage loneliness and breakdown. In it, The protagonist Holden is held up in a mental institution. He doesn’t say this directly but it is inferred by his sarcastic and vague remarks. He goes to tell the story of what led up to him being there, but does so in a very roundabout way. He tells of how he failed out of his prep school, Pencey, not because of his lack of intelligence but his refusal to apply himself in any of the subjects he found to be uninteresting, which was all but English. Before he leaves Pencey he is confronted by his roommate Stradlater who is the picture of a perfect American youth, but in reality he is a gross and arrogant boy who takes advantage of Holden’s former girlfriend, Jane. This angers Holden very much and so he leaves the school and runs away to New York City. In New York Holden can not escape the “Phoniness” that he was surrounded with at prep school. The older people he meets in bars do not impress him as he finds them arrogant as well. Through out the book Holden finds himself attracted to things that are innocent and not tarnished by societies rules. His sister, the ducks in central park, and the museum are some of the only things Holden enjoys. About the museum he says, “The best thing though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right were it was.” Another example of Holden’s fondness for innocence is ironically when he has a prostitute called to his room, but when she gets there he only wants to talk and then pay her in an effort to make her leave. He tries to be interested in the societal world but find himself disgusted with it. When he returns home he visits his sister again, and after a few more sign of mental breakdown like passing out and seeing his dead brother, it is assumed that Holden is taken to the mental institution in which he now resides. Holden exemplifies the feelings of unhappiness that most adolescents have with the world around them, however, he is so affected by this that he is driven mad.

1. What would you do if you felt feelings of loneliness and distrust with the world as Holden does? Keep them to yourself or seek help?

2. Do you think Holden is right to be angry about the society he sees around him or should he just put up with it in order to live a happy, though somewhat false life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is a great novel, dealing with the effect society has on people and the status of women. Elizabeth Bennet is the protagonist in the novel. She has four other sisters, and in that time period, marriage was all that mattered, since women could not make a living on their own. The novel starts off with a new, wealthy man moving into town named Mr. Bingley. Mr. And Mrs. Bennet are thrilled to hear the news, since all five of their daughters are unmarried. Mr. Bingley is amused by Jane the oldest daughter. His friend Darcy is also amused by Elizabeth. However, Darcy is prejudiced and his pride does not allow him to get to know her. He is perceived as haughty and the women are appalled by him. Darcy degrades Elizabeth at the first ball when he refuses to dance with her. As time progresses, Elizabeth overcomes her prejudice and sees another side to Darcy. Darcy even helps the Bennet family out when the youngest sister, Lydia, elopes with a cruel man. Eventually Darcy and Elizabeth let go of their pride and prejudice toward one another and fall in love.

1. Mr. Bingley's sister is a wealthy snob. She looks down upon the Bennet girls because they do not have money like herself. What influence does money have on the way that people perceive other people and the world around them? Is the situation the same now as it was in the past?

2. Marriage is all that mattered to Mrs. Bennett. She wanted all of her daughters to be happily married so that they could be accepted socially? Is there still pressure today for women to marry?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Moby Dick

The narrator travels to Massachusetts where he says he intends to board a whaling vessel. At an inn in Massachusetts, he meets a harpooner named Queequeg. They travel together to Nantucket, where they intend to find work together as walers. There, they become part of the Pequods crew. The ship sets off to sea when they meet its captain. The peg-legged man says he intends to pursue moby-dick, the whale that took his leg. Around the tip of Africa, Ahabs private harpooning crew shows themselves because they were smuggled unto he ship. As they travel throught he Indian ocean, they meet a prophet who prophesies ill fortune for whoever hunts moby-dick. Around this time Qyeequeg saves a man that falls into the water by diving in and saving him himself. Later on the whaling vessel meets Boomer, another whale-boat captain. Boomer says that he lost an arm with his encounter witht he great white whale.
Fastdellah prophesizes Ahabs death and three sailors fall to their deaths. They finally encounter Moby-Dick and the whale attacks their harpoon boats. The captain Ahab dies during this encounter. The whale sinks the boat and a whirlpool is created which drags all sailors into it killing them except Ishmael. Ishmeal floats on Queequegs coffin untill he is saved by Rachel.
Is revenge worth dying for?
Have you ever felt the need to get revenge such as Ahab?

The Road

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is the story about a man and a boy trying to find civilization. The man and the boy (father and son) are some of the last survivors of a past apocalypse that wiped out most of the world's civilization. The other survivors are a group of cannibalistic people that the father and son are constantly avoiding in order to save themselves. On their journey they are trying to find more "good people" like themselves in order to keep mankind going. During the story the reader is told about the boys mother who, after giving birth, commits suicide, leaving the father alone with their new born. This event has taken a toll on the father and is one of the reasons that pushes him to continue his journey even though he is dying. Also, the only source of protection they have is a gun that only has one bullet in it. Throughout the course of the book the man contemplates using this on his son in case they get taken by cannibals. At the end of the novel the man eventually dies leaving his son alone in the apocalypse. Eventually a family of what is believed to be "good people" comes and offers the boy a place in their family in order to find more of the good civilization.

1. If you were the last of mankind, would you try to find more people, or would you take the easy way out?
2. Death is one of the main themes of the novel. Why do you feel authors use death as a main struggle that their characters must overcome?

1984 by George Orwell

The novel 1984 by George Orwell takes place in the year 1984 in a fictional place called Oceania. The novel is written so that Oceania is supposed to be a futuristic state where the government has complete control of its citizens lives. This government is referred to as the Party. The leader of the Party is Oceania's dictator called Big Brother. The protagonist in the novel is Winston Smith. Smith work in the Ministry of Truth where it is his job to change events of the past as the Party sees fit. Smith hates the party and the complete control it has over society. So, he begins to secretly and illegally write in a diary to record his thoughts against the Party in. Smith risks quite a lot by writing in a diary. If he gets caught by the Though Police, he will most likely be killed.
At Smith's work, he meets Julia. They begin their love affair when she gives him a note saying that she loves him. If they are caught having this affair the consequences are severe, relationships between Party members is strictly enforced against. Julia and Smith try to be sneaky by renting a room above a shop owned by a man named Mr. Charringtion where they believe it will be safe to meet each other.

Soon after, a man by the name of O'Brien gives Smith his address so that he and Julia can come visit him. Smith is very intrigued by this, O'Brien is a high up member in the Party and very rich. Smith has always suspected that O'Brien is secretly against the Party and may be a member of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is the party that works secretly to try and overthrow Big Brother. When Julia and Smith go to O'Brien's he makes them members of the Brotherhood. Once they leave, Julia and Smith go to their rented room where the Thought Police come rushing into their room. It turns out that Mr. Charrington is a worker for the Thought Police and O'Brien was just setting them up to commit a crime against the Party.
Julia and Smith are both arrested and taken to the Ministry of Love. At the Ministry of Love, O'Brien is the man who wants to take charge of "fixing" Smith so he is acceptable for society. Smith is tortured and brainwashed by O'Brien. The final step of Smith's torture was facing his worst fear. O'Brien put Smith's head in a box full of rats. O'Brien was going to let the rats eat Smith's face until Smith begged for his life and wished that it was Julia facing this fate instead of him. O'Brien released Smith at this point because he got what he had wanted. Smith had betrayed Julia. Smith no longer had feelings for Julia and was released into society to live as a brainwashed man until the Thought Police will put him to death. Smith was successfully brainwashed into accepting Big Brother.

1) The power the government in 1984 has over its people is overwhelming. People are not even allowed to think freely in this society. The Party even alters history to conform to its ideas. Do you think that a society this controlling could ever come about today or in the future?

2) Smith tries to rebel against the Party by writing in a diary even though he knows it is illegal and could be executed for it. He also tries to join the rebellion group called the Brotherhood who works to overthrow the leader of the government. If you were in a society that had complete control over its people would you be brave enough to rebel even if it meant possible death?

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred tells the story of a black woman named Edana who is unpacking books into her new house with her white husband, Kevin, when she is overcome with dizzyness and finds herself somehow transported away from her home to a lake where a young boy is drowning. She runs to save the boy, young and white, and once he is breathing again his father comes up and attempts to shoot Dana in the head. As he pulls the trigger, however, she is immediately transported back to her home. Her husband says she had only been gone for a few seconds, but that couldn't be possible: Her encounter had taken minutes, not seconds. A few hours later Dana is pulled again to the young boy, by in the short hours between their encounters the boy has aged several years as he is trying to burn down his house to get back at his father selling the horse he hoped to get. She learns that they are in 1815 Maryland, at a very high point in slavery. She also learnsh the boy is named Rufus Weylin, the name she recognizes as her great great great (etc.) grandfather. Her fear is peaked, but she doesn't disappear. Instead she has to sneak away into the night to the house of a woman named Alice, her great great great (etc.) grandmother. While there she encounters a group of white men. One of them tries to rape her, but she fights him off and knocks him unconscious. When she begins thinking of how he will surely kill her when he wakes up she is again overcome with dizzyness and returns home. On her next visit, Keivn grabs onto her when she is leaving. They arrive right after Rufus has fallen and broken his leg. When they meet Rufus's father Kevin pretends he owns Dana and they live on the Weylin plantation for nearly a year before Dana is caught trying to teach one of the slave boys to read and is caught. Mr. Weylin takes her outside and whips her until she feels her life is in danger, and before Kevin can reach her, she disappears, leaving him behind. Due to the difference in time between her home and the plantation, the eight days she spends recouperating amounts to about four year by the time she returns. She is accepted onto the Weylin plantation again as a slave, but Rufus is much older and is beginning to take over. Kevin left several years earlier to go up north and explore, so Dana is left hoping he will come back. Rufus called her back because he raped Alice and her husband found out about it. Dana arrived as Rufus was being killed by Alice's husband. Dana persuades them to leave and takes the unconscious Rufus back home. After two letters that Dana attempted to write to Kevin recieved no reply, she went looking in Rufus's room and found both, unsent. That night she attempted to escape and was immediately caught, but Kevin was summoned and they returned to 1976 when Rufus tried to kill Dana for leaving with Kevin. Dana returns one last time to find Mr. Weylin dying, Rufus turning into a brutal slaveowner, and Alice, Rufus's wife, having hung herself after having had Dana's Great Great (etc.) Grandmother. As Rufus attempts to rape her, later, Dana takes out her knife and stabs him twice, killing him, but when she returned home the place from which he was holding her arm was severed.

1. If you were a black woman having lived your life up through 2011 with full rights of an american citizen, do you think you could survive going back into 1815 and encountering slavery?
2.Would you conform or fight?
3. As happened to Dana and her husband, "if" you were somehow magically transported to another year with someone and THEY returned home, but you were left behind, would you stay forever in the same place, waiting hoping they'd come back, or would you leave and try to go on with your life knowing it could be years and years before they ever returned?

This is an AWESOME book. It took like 3 days to read, i absolutely couldn't put it down. When Enlgish class is over and we're done with all this Hamlet nonsense everyone should read this book, even if you don't like to read....during the summer..

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle, is a collection of some of the first Sherlock Holmes stories. They were originally published as single short stories in the Strand Magazine, but have now been placed conveniently together in one novel.

The first story in the book, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” has Holmes and Watson trying to solve the King of Bohemia’s case. The king explains that he is engaged to a Scandinavian princess, but at one time of his life was with an Opera singer named Irene Adler, who is now blackmailing him and has evidence of their relationship that could potentially ruin his engagement. He asks Holmes to find and destroy whatever evidence Adler has, and Holmes agrees to attempt to help him with his case. He disguises himself in order to enter Adler’s house, where a party is being held, and with the help of Watson, attempts to find the evidence. Whether he is able to succeed or not, you will have to read to find out.

In another short story, titled “A Case of Identity,” Sherlock Holmes is asked by Mary Sutherland to help her find her fiancée, who disappeared the day they were to be wed. Throughout all the stories, one is able to see how Holmes has a gift for reading into people and piecing things together about them through observation. In this story, he is able to figure out exactly who Mary’s supposed fiancée is solely by knowing that he works in an office on Leadenhall Street. By matching the typewritten letter of the fiancée to one written by someone in her family, he learns that maybe the fiancée is really a family member in disguise.

1. In these stories, Holmes is a master at solving simple problems through observation. He says, “Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook” (32). Do you think that we sometimes overlook simple things in our daily lives? For example, if someone were to ask you what the person who sat across from you at lunch on Friday was wearing, would you be able to remember the details?

Dune By Frank Herbert

Over 20,000 years in the future, the human race has grown and multiplied as it controls countless planets, planetary systems and galaxies. They are Ruled by the Aristocratic houses that report to the emperor himself. Technology has progressed to where computers are not needed anymore as some humans have the brain capacity to act as a computer. Spice is the resource which fuels most of the human empires resources as it fuels space travel and many other things. Some humans have developed a link to the spice giving them new mental abilities. However the emperor has come to fear House Atreides as he begins to grow more powerful with the love and support of the people. Their rivals House Harkonenn who despise House Atreides are enlisted to destroy them so the Emperor prevails. Paul Atreides the son of Duke Leo Atreides, is said to have been very special as he was young and is trained all his life for greatness. He repeatedly has visions of things to come of their family and his future but remains confused on what it means.Their House travels to Arrakis the main planet of the story, and the only planet which contains the spice needed for all they work for. As House Atreides rules over the planet they are attacked by House Harkonenn where they slaughter everyone and enslave them. Only Paul and his mother escape the carnage as they use their mental abilites to trick and knock out the guards on a ship. As their ship crashes they remain stranded in the deserts of Arrakis. They immediately seek shelter on a rock as the massive sand worms of dune sense the vibrations. They soon meet up with the Fremen gaining their trust. The Fremen are human tribes on Arrakis with the beliefs of it would become a hospitable planet. They value the spice as something else than the emperor and the aristocrats and have become so accustomed to Arrakis their blood clot's faster than an average human to preserve water. Paul shows them the mental weapons to the Freman and new powers they can use. They soon claim Paul as they're messiah as he soon gains the ability to control the sand worms. As Paul leads attacks On the Harkonenn spice bases he frees former House Atreides Soldiers and begins to plot his revenge on House Harkonenn and stop the emperor's tyranny once and for all.

1. In Dune, The spice is a major objective for everyone to control. How does the spice relate to resources of today.

2. How does Paul Atreides relate to many religions of today.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a novel taken place in the future. It starts off by explaining the process of how people are "created." With a scientific process called the Bokanovsky process, hundreds and thousands of identical human embryos are created every single year. But, everyone has a different caste. For example, if you are born an Epsilon, you are destined to become a laborer. Each caste is conditioned throughout the first couple of years of their lives so that they can become what they are destined to be and so they will abide by society's strict rules. No one is allowed to have relationships, only sexual ones. They are also allowed to take a drug called soma, which causes them to forget their troubles and sadness. If they are feeling any sadness whatsoever, they take this and they become happy and oblivious to the strict world around them. Lenina Crowne, a person who works at one of the nurseries for the conditioned children, is a typical citizen in this strange futuristic world. She knows the rules, and she abides by them. But she cannot help but be attracted to the strange character Bernard Marx. Bernard seems like a normal person, to us. He refuses to take soma and he sees the faults in his government. But when Bernard and Lenina take a trip to another country, he discovers that he impregnated a women there many years ago who ended up having his baby, named John. This country is very different from his own, though. It is not modernized. It is comparable to an Indian reservation. So when Bernard goes home, now everyone is looking at Bernard with weary eyes. They notice his differences easily now and see that he is not like them. But everyone is extremely intrigued by John. He is so different from the people they are used to being surrounded by. Even Lenina is attracted to him and tries to seduce him. But will John be the downfall to their Utopian society? Or will the citizens of this Brave New World learn to accept his differences and learn to integrate new things into their world?


1. How would you feel if you were not allowed to have relationships with other people?

2. Describe your perfect Utopian society.

3. What do you think will happen to John after being exposed to such a different world? Do you think he will end up living there and adapt to their rules and customs, or do you think he will go back to his "Indian reservation?"

Night by Elie Wiesel

The story starts out in Sighet, Transylvania and takes place during World War II. The narrator is a thirteen year old, Jewish boy named Eliezer. Elie is part of a well known family that practices strict Jewish customs. He lives with his parents and three sisters. In his free time, Elie studies the Talmud and the Cabbala under his teacher, Moshe the Beadle. Shortly after, the Hungarians create laws that expel some Jews, and Moshe is forced to leave. Moshe returns and tells everyone in Sighet about the Gestapo, and how they forced the Jews to dig their own graves, but everyone thinks that he’s crazy. Rapidly after Moshe returns, the Jews become more and more oppressed and eventually, they are compelled to live in ghettos. After living in the ghettos for a short time, the Jews are transported to Auschwitz and told that it is a labor camp and all the people will be able to stay with their families. This is done to keep the prisoners calm and orderly on the train. Then they arrive at Birkenau to be sorted into groups of who is able to work and who is not. Here, Elie and his father are separated from his mom and sisters and never sees them again. After they are separated they meet a man who advises Elie and his father to lie about their age so they aren’t deemed unable to work and immediately killed. They are also advised to keep their faith and not rebel against the Nazis. This is important because after being in Auschwitz, many of the Jews are discouraged and feel hopeless. Later on, Elie and his father are transported to Buna. At the new camp, Elie becomes a different person and instead of focusing on his faith and keeping hope, he cares more about his own survival. He even gets mad at his dad for getting beaten by one of the officers at the camp. Also, Elie and the other prisoners witness a small child being hanged and Elie wonders how God could exist and believes that God was hanged with that child. Later, the Jews are transported again, but this time they are forced to run in the middle of a blizzard. Once they arrive at their new location, Elie meets a Rabi who is trying to find his son. Elie lies and says he hasn't seen his son, even though he saw his son abandon his father during the run when he didn't think his father would make it. From this point on, Elie vows to never leave his dads' side. Unfortunately, about three months away from being liberated, Elie's dad dies from dysentery and being beaten to death. The story does not have a happy ending, it ends after his dad’s death and being liberated. This novel is about keeping your faith and never giving up hope even in the most desperate times, because those are the things that kept Elie and his father alive for so long. This book is also meant to remind people about the tragedies the Jewish people faced on a daily basis in these camps so they did not die in vain.

1. If you were in this situation, do you think you would be able to keep your faith and survive?

2. The story, Elizer gives his dad some of his food, but other people in the camp discourage him and tell him to let his father die. Would you sacrifice your chances of survival for someone you loved?