Saturday, March 19, 2011

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This novel centers around Amory Blaine and his journey of growing up into a somewhat mature adult. As a child, Amory travelled around with his mother who was somewhat of an eccentric person. They traveled around Europe and lived the high life on his father's alimony. When she goes off the deep end into a fit of alcoholism she sends Amory away to live in St. Paul Minnesota. Amory is described as very handsome and pompus, and even as a child he believed he was above everyone. When he graduated from prep school Amory went off to Princeton to pursue the life of "lazy aristocracy" he believed was there. When he went to Princeton he spent far more time in social pursuits than on academics. He wanted to become the big man on campus and in doing so, failed out of school. He joined the army for a short time soon after and when he returned fell in love for the first time named Rosalind Cannage. In order to keep her he took up a job in advertising which he hated. After losing her because he was no longer a wealthy person, he drank himself nearly to death for two weeks, until this stint was interrupted by Prohibition. After Rosalind the 23 year old Amory has a relationship with and impetouous 18 year old named Elenor. Their relationship does not last very long. He soon loses all his money and is left with no realtionships at all.

1. Amory is raised as a privileged child with his mother Beatrice. Do you think that this childhood had to do with his failure to mature and live a successful life?

2. Based on Amory's surroundings and the wealthy company he found himself in, do you think it wsa worth it for Amory to take up an advertisisng job he hated in order to win Rosalind?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake begins with a Bengali couple, Ashima and Ashoke who have recently immigrated to the United States so Ashoke can continue his engineering studies at MIT. The story begins at the hospital, where Ashima has just gone into labor for their first born son. As she prepares to give birth, she realizes how isolated she has become, forced to deliver her baby alone, without the support of her family in Calcutta, India. This isolation she feels only emphasizes the many cultural differences she must overcome. Once she delivers her healthy baby boy, the couple soon realizes they cannot leave the hospital without first giving a legal name to their child. A letter from Ashima’s grandmother was supposed to come with a name, but has been lost in the mail. They decide on the temporary name of “Gogol” for their child, Gogol being the last name of Ashoke’s favorite Russian author, whose work he accredits to saving his life. The letter with the real name never comes and Ashima’s grandmother dies soon after. It is customary in India for children to be given a “good” name to be used in public and a nickname to be used only by those very close to the family, but the name Gogol soon sticks and that becomes the child’s single name. The book brings us through the childhood, adolescence, teenage years, and young adulthood of Gogol. We see the struggles of a Bengali boy growing up amidst the American customs and Bengali customs, but never truly feeling as if he belongs to the United States or India. This personal struggle with his cultural identity begins to spread to Gogol’s namesake in his adolescence. Gogol begins to realize that he has never met another Gogol, he begins to feel hatred towards his parents for giving him such an obscure name and starts to feel self conscious every time his name is mentioned. In his senior year in high school, Gogol begins to go by the name Nikhil. He introduces himself as Nikhil to a girl at a college party and begins to realize that college comes with a chance to completely reinvent himself. This change in name and Gogol's decision to go to Yale, rather than following in his father’s footsteps to attend MIT, sets up the barriers between Gogol and his family. The distance, both geographically and emotionally, between Gogol and his parents continues to increase. He wants to be American, not Bengali. He goes home less frequently, dates American girls, and becomes angry when anyone calls him Gogol. During his college years, he smokes cigarettes and marijuana, goes to many parties, and loses his virginity to a girl he cannot remember. The book goes on to capture the on-going stages of Gogol’s identity and follows his three most serious relationships from beginning to sour end.

Discussion Questions:

How much significance do you feel a name holds over personality? Do you believe that Gogol’s life would have been different if he had started out with a more traditional name?

In The Namesake, it is as if Gogol transforms into an entirely different person when he is using the name Nikhil. Everyone makes mild personality adjustments depending upon the crowd they are around, but do you believe that a person can actually have alternate identities?

(If you are aware of one) What is your namesake? Do you take pride in your parent’s decision to name you what they did, or would you change your name if you had the chance?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Scarlet Letter By: Nathaniel Hawthorne

The story takes place in Boston, and is started off with the main character, Hester Prynne, being taken from the town prison to the center of the town with her infant daughter Pearl in her arms. Hester has the letter A above her breast. Hester is being punished for Adultery. Hester was sent to America by her husband, but he never arrived himself due to being lost at sea. As she was waiting for her husband to arrive she had an affair. We do not know who her lover is at the beginning of the story, and due to her crime she is being publicly humiliated and is forced to wear the Letter A. In the crowd we learn that an onlooker is her missing husband, Roger Chillingworth and he plans on getting revenge. No one knows who he is except Hester, and she is sworn to secrecy. As years pass, Hester works as a seamstress to support herself and Pearl. They live away from everyone else, and are isolated. The community tries to take Pearl away from Hester but luckily they don't with the help of Arthur Dimmesdale, a young minister. Sadly, Arthur is facing some health issues and gets some extra help from Chillingworth who decides to stay with him for some round the clock help. Soon after Chillingworth starts to suspect that Arthur had something to do with Hester and does some investigating and he finds out its true. Knowing this Chillingworth does anything he can to make Arthur suffer and feel bad. Hester recognizes this and meets with Dimmesdale in the forest because she senses that Chillingworth knows she is going to reveal his identity to Dimmesdale. The lovers decide to flee to Europe so they can get away and be a family, but they soon find out that Chillingworth knows of their plan and booked to be on the ship also. After Dimmesdale's sermon he sees Hester and Pearl in the town. From their he confesses to everyone and shows everyone the scarlet letter on his flesh. He drops and dies. About a year later Chillingworth dies and Hester and Pearl leave Boston. When Hester dies she is buried next to Dimmesdale both sharing a tombstone that read the letter A.

Discussion Questions
1. Hester Prynne has to wear the letter A on her knowing that everyone can see it and judge her. How would you feel if you had to go through a similar situation. How would it effect you both physically and mentally? Explain.

2. Chilingworth tires to get revenge on Dimmesdale throughout the story. Do you feel if someone did something hurtful to you its ok to get revenge? Explain.

Monday, March 14, 2011

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner is the story of the journey to fulfill a mother and wife’s wish: to be buried next to her father in her home town. Faulkner wrote the story of the Bundren family in the perspective of multiple characters, from neighbors to family members to even the dead mother herself. It is a difficult read due to the fact that it is not a typical narrative; it is written in stream of consciousness writing. This simply means the characters are literally speaking their mind, leaving no thought unaccounted for. As the family takes the journey to bury Addie, each character’s reaction to her death is addressed. Her children, Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell, Vardaman, and Jewel, as well as her husband, Anse, react differently to her death.
Anse was always a self-centered, lazy husband. He even claims he cannot sweat because if he does, he will die. This prevents him from doing any labor, especially in the sun. When Addie learned of her second pregnancy with Darl, she asked Anse to take her to Jefferson, her home town, to be buried with her father once she died. This was one of the only things he ever did for his wife.
Jewel is the driving force behind the trip. His mother loved him a lot, even though he is an illegitimate child. Jewel loves Addie and speaks his love for his mother through actions. He seems to have a lot of trouble with Darl as a reaction to his mother’s death.
Darl, on the other hand, seems to have gotten no love from his mother. He also believes that he doesn’t truly exist. He reasons that Jewel exists and they have the same mother; therefore, he must exist as well. He spends a lot of the trip trying to get into Jewel’s mind because, if he succeeds, he must then exist since Jewel does. He bothers Jewel a lot and is basically the saboteur of the trip.
Dewey Dell must cope with now being the only girl in the family of five boys. On top of this, she also struggles with being pregnant at the age of seventeen. She does her best to hide it from her family and tries to get an abortion on two occasions when they get into town. Cash, the oldest, seems to throw himself into his work due to his mother’s death. He does a lot of carpentry, including building Addie’s coffin. Vardaman, the youngest by many years, really doesn’t understand much of what is going on. One day, he sees a dead fish and therefore deduces that his “…mother is a fish” (84). Also, because he is so young, he believes there should be holes in his mother’s coffin so she can breathe.
The Bundren family struggles over the course of the ten day trip to Jefferson to bury Addie. They stay overnight at friends’ houses and even get aggravated with each other. They lose their mules to drowning and Jewel sells his beloved horse to obtain more mules. By the end of the novel, they reach Jefferson and I saw no indication of the burial of Addie. The book ends with Anse leaving his family and coming back with a new wife as well as new teeth for himself.

1) Everyone in the Bundren family reacts differently to Addie’s death. How would you feel/react if one of your parents, or a loved one, passed away? How would this differ from your sibling’s, or friend’s, reactions?
2) Brothers Darl and Jewel have a lot of tension between them due to how their mother views them. Do you have any tension with your siblings or friends that is difficult to deal with?
3) Dewey Dell is pregnant at the age of seventeen and doesn’t know what to do. She tries to hide this from her family and deal with it on her own. Have you ever had a problem that was difficult for you to deal with on your own? What did you do?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy takes the reader on a the journey of John Grady Cole and his friend Lacey Rawlins. John Grady Cole is a sixteen year old boy who leaves his hometown in Texas when his grandfather dies. Since Cole's parents are already split up and his mother works out of town pursuing a theater career, Cole feels there is no longer a reason for him to stay. Rawlins and Cole ride their horses south into Mexico. On their way down, they are joined by another boy, Jimmy Blevins who is a fourteen year old sharpshooter. The boys end up finding a job on a ranch in Mexico and stay for some time. Cole ends up falling in love with the daughter of the ranch owner, Alejandra. The boys face many challenges on their journey. Cole and Rawlins saw Jimmy Blevins murdered by a corrupt Mexican official. Cole and Rawlins also ended up spending a chunk of time in Mexican prison. While in prison, Cole was forced to kill someone in self defense. On top of those experiences, the boys had to face bandits and bad desert weather. Luckily, the boys are mature for their age and make it back to Texas in one piece.

1) In the novel, Cole is sent to prison and finds himself in a situation where he must kill another inmate in order to save himself. If you were in a similar situation where you had no other choice but to kill or be killed would you be able to kill another person? If you did, how do you think you would cope with the weight of murder on your mind?

2) Cole experienced quite a bit on his trip through Mexico. His experiences and the situations he was put in made him transform from a teenage boy into a young man. If you were in Cole's shoes and had seen death, prison, found love, and did it all on your own, how do you think it would change you?

The HItchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

This story, written by Douglas Adams, begins with a man named Arthur Dent. His house is scheduled for demolition to make a path for a bypass. On on particular day he wakes up and sees bulldozers in his yard preparing to demolish his house. While he is dealing with that situation his friend, Ford, appears and tells him that the world is about to be destroyed. Soon after, Arthur finds himself on a spaceship with Ford. Ford explains that the world has been destroyed to make way for an interstellar bypass. Ford then puts a yellow Babel fish Arthurs ear so that he can understand all the different languages. As the leave the ship, they are picked up by Zaphod and Trillian. Zaphod is the president of the Galaxy and he kidnapped himself and stole a space ship. He is on a quest to find Magrathea, a planet that has a computer designed to answer the ultimate question. The majority of the novel follows the group as they travel around trying to find Magrathea. When they finally reach the computer it does not have the answer they are looking for. It instead tells them the answer to life is "42" and that it first needed a question to answer. It had created another computer, smarter than itself to find the question. The computer that it had created was Earth. But Earth had been recently destroyed so the question was lost.

What do you think Adams was trying to say about earth by making it a computer searching for the "ultimate question"?