July’s Book of the Month: Beowulf

Beowulf” is one of the longest poems translated into English. Many believe that the epic poem was written down over twelve hundred years ago. The writer was going by Germanic oral poetry, using heroic language, style, Christianity and the pagan world. (Beowulf, 36—37).

It is possible that the writer was a Christian, due to the Christian elements we see throughout the poem. Per Salem Press Encyclopedia, that the original story was altered by incorporating the Christian belief system (Campbell, 2016). Again, the original story could be Christian base (Beowulf, 37). That is something to think about while reading the story.

The story tells of a man named Beowulf and three of his adventures, with highlights from some of his other adventures.  The adventures show his way from warrior to king.

There are many translations of the epic poem:

The Project Gutenberg has three places (1, 2, 3) you can read Beowulf.

Poetry Foundation

Literature Project

Beowulf on Steorarume

Electronic Beowulf

Kindle

Research Help:

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

Pace University

Minnesota State University.

Google Scholar

Videos
Ted Sherman

Dr. Katherine McLoone: Week one of Beowulf, Week two of Beowulf

Discussion questions (Penguin)

  1. Why are their ancestors so important to the warriors in Beowulf?
  2. Identify and discuss the Christian influences on the poem.
  3. Identify and discuss the Viking/Scandinavian elements in the poem.
  4. Discuss the code of loyalty in Beowulf. How is the society structured? What is important to the warriors in Beowulf? What qualities did they feel a good king should possess? What do they consider “courageous”?
  5. Discuss the battle between good and evil in the poem. Who represents good? Who represents evil?
  6. Discuss the role of women in this patriarchal world. Cite examples from the text.
  7. Is Beowulf a hero? Why/why not?
  8. Discuss the role of reputation in Beowulf. Cite examples from the text.
  9. Compare and contrast the battles with Grendel and the dragon. Consider the cause of each monster’s attack, Beowulf’s motivation for countering the attack, Beowulf’s battle preparations, and the conclusions of each battle.
  1. Discuss the behavior of Beowulf’s men in each of these battles.
  2. What attitudes and actions lead to Beowulf’s downfall? Defend your answer with examples.
  3. Do you think the poem is original in its Christian elements or has the original poem been altered and certain “Pagan” elements were switched to Christian elements?
  4. How do the women play a role?
  5. What literary devices to see in the epic poem?

Literary Theory Responses:

What form(s) of Literary Theory(ies) would you use and why? Use excerpts from the novel to back your theory(ies).

Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)

Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present)

Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)

Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)

Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)

Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)

Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)

New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)

Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)

Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)

Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)

Critical Race Theory (1970s-present)

[List of Literary Theories from Purdue OWL]

Cited:

“Beowulf,” Trans. Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed., Vol. A. New York, NY, W.W. Norton, 2012, p.41 and pp. 36-37

Campbell, Josephine. “Medieval Literature.” Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, January. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=98402286&site=eds-live&scope=site.

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June’s Book of the Month: Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

The Book Of The Month helps the readers to think about what they read. To dig deeper into the story and discover something new about the story and themselves.

“”Heart of Darkness (1899) is a short novel by Polish novelist Joseph Conrad, written as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow’s experience as an ivory transporter down the Congo River in Central Africa. The river is “a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land”. In the course of his travel in central Africa, Marlow becomes obsessed with Mr. Kurtz. The story is a complex exploration of the attitudes people hold on what constitutes a barbarian versus a civilized society and the attitudes on colonialism and racism that were part and parcel of European imperialism. Originally published as a three-part serial story, in Blackwood’s Magazine, the novella Heart of Darkness has been variously published and translated into many languages. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness as the sixty-seventh of the hundred best novels in English of the twentieth century” (Amazon)

Discussion Questions (LitLovers):

1. Why does Conrad have one of Marlow’s listeners relate the story, rather than make Marlow the narrator of the novel who speaks directly to the reader?

2. Why does the narrator note Marlow’s resemblance to a Buddha, at the beginning as well as the end of Marlow’s story?

3. Why does Marlow want to travel up the Congo River?

4. What is Marlow’s attitude toward the African people he encounters on his trip up the Congo? In describing them, why does Marlow say that “what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar” (p. 63)?

5. What does Marlow mean when he says that “there is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies” (p. 49)?

6. Why does Marlow consider it lucky that “the inner truth is hidden” (p. 60)?

7. What does Kurtz mean when, as he’s dying, he cries out, “The horror! The horror!” (p. 112)?

8. What is the significance of the report Kurtz has written for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs? Why does Marlow tear off the postscriptum, which reads “Exterminate all the brutes!” (p. 84), before giving the report to the man from the Company?

9. Why does Marlow think that Kurtz was remarkable?

10. Why does Marlow tell the Intended that Kurtz’s last words were her name?

11. What does Marlow mean when he says that Kurtz “was very little more than a voice” (p. 80)?

12. What does the narrator mean when he says of Marlow’s narrative that it “seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river” (p. 50)?

For Further Reflection
13. Is it possible to distinguish between civilized and uncivilized societies?

14. Is complete self-knowledge desirable? Is it possible?
(Questions issued by Penguin Group publishers.)

Southern New Hampshire University:

SNHU students in the MA program. I took LIT-500 and had to use Literary Theories for “Heart of Darkness.” Such has Psychoanalytic, Feminist, Marxist and Deconstructionist Theories.

Literary Theory Responses:

What form(s) of Literary Theory(ies) would you use and why? Use excerpts from the novel to back your theory(ies).

  • Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)
  • Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)
  • Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)
  • Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)
  • New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
  • Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
  • Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
  • Critical Race Theory (1970s-present)

[List of Literary Theories from Purdue OWL]

Places to read the story for free:

The American University of Beirut has the story in PDF form.

Greatest Audio Books has the story on YouTube for you to hear.

Page by Page Books has the story online.

Project Gutenberg as the story in the forms of HTML, EPUB (with and without images), Kindle (with and without images and other formats.

Links to articles:

The Telegraph

Illinois Wesleya University

The New York Times

May’s Book of the Month: White Noise

“A brilliant satire of mass culture and the numbing effects of technology, White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, a teacher of Hitler studies at a liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, bound by their love, fear of death, and four ultramodern offspring, navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism. Then a lethal black chemical cloud, unleashed by an industrial accident, floats over their lives, an “airborne toxic event” that is a more urgent and visible version of the white noise engulfing the Gladneys—the radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, and TV murmurings that constitute the music of American magic and dread.” [Amazon: Description and photo].

  1. Do you find it believable that Heinrich (Jack Gladney’s 14-year-old son) can form the kinds of ideas he does and express them so clearly? Why would DeLillo specifically want to express such complicated ideas through Heinrich?
  2. What overall point is the eccentric Murray Siskind trying to communicate to Jack in this book? Is there an overall point?
  3. Stylistically, what does DeLillo accomplish by constantly quoting the television or car radio that’s always playing in the background of Jack’s family conversations? What point does DeLillo make by including these quotations?
  4. Why does Murray take Jack out of town to visit the “Most Photographed Barn in America”? What is it about this barn that makes people photograph it? How is the barn a symbol for the America DeLillo is sketching in this book?
  5. Why is death such a looming presence in this book? Why does Jack Gladney tell his Hitler Studies class, “All plots tend to move deathward” (6.51)? Does this statement hold true for plots in novels? Plots in life? Why or why not?
  6. How does being exposed to the “Airborne Toxic Event” change Jack Gladney’s life? In what way is his life the same as it always was?
  7. On a symbolic level, how might Babette’s forgetfulness be connected to the experimental drug Dylar? What might DeLillo be trying to tell us about our efforts to erase death from our minds?
  8. Why does DeLillo end the book with the description of Wilder crossing the highway on his tricycle? How does this scene tie together the themes DeLillo’s been exploring throughout White Noise? Does it succeed?
  9. Why does it take DeLillo achieve by starting the book so slowly? When does the traditional plot really get started?

[Questions from Shmoop]

What form(s) of Literary Theory(ies) would you use and why? Use excerpts from the novel to back your theory(ies).

  • Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)
  • Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)
  • Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)
  • Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)
  • New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
  • Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
  • Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
  • Critical Race Theory (1970s-present)

[List of Literary Theories from Purdue OWL]

Links to articles dealing with Don Delillo’s “White Noise.”

The Guardian

The New York Times