Essay #2

EWRT 2 – Essay #2

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— By midnight Friday, Feb. 12 — rough draft posted to your group. Cut-and-paste into body of posting AND attach document attachment, to give people choice of which format to read it in (at least 900 words)
— By Saturday (ideally before noon!) — provide feedback to two or more group members according to a set of questions I have provided in “Guidelines for Readers” link in Week Six block and after reviewing your feedback, writers–Revise, Revise, Revise

— Sunday Feb. 14 — Revised, grown, edited, proofread FINAL copy of paper due 1250+ words

As before, you’ll want to consider this a thinking problem before you consider it a writing problem. Brainstorm, outline, re-read, take notes, talk to friends and classmates: consider your subject matter and what you’d like to investigate or to say about it. Please remember to introduce author and novel title in your essay introduction, and also please as part of your thesis address the “So What?” question—why is what you’re writing and telling your readers about important? What’s at stake in this subject matter and by extension, in your paper? (Doing this will help you avoid writing an essay that sounds like a book report).

Also towards the ends above, strive consciously to craft topic sentences of sufficient heft that they will lead immediately to evidence—quotes, events, paraphrases of texts—which you will then go on to discuss. (Ideas swiftly exemplified by evidence constitutes a kind of evidentiary rule of academic writing).
Your thesis, which need not be limited to one sentence but which must stand out as your main point, will reflect your governing angle or focus, your “way in” to the story, and normally should express a focused generalization about the major meaning you feel the story offers (with respect to the topic you choose below). But don’t expect to know what that thesis is right away; be alert to possibilities for ‘growing’ it, for shaping, slicing and dicing, as necessary, as you refine your thoughts about the text(s).
Finally, remember your audience: someone who has a passing familiarity with your texts but needs to be reminded of the key events and details even as you make your analysis. You want to reach the general reader.

Topics: choose one of the below:

0.1 It has been said that writers have long antennas and are sometimes able to sense the how trends or contemporary events will play out, what they will lead to. And dystopian fiction in particular is always reflecting the reality of the time in which it is written. How does Future Home of the Living God (published 2017) reflect the year-old (and counting) worldwide pandemic that is the Covid crisis? In what ways does then novel represent, in mostly exaggerated or more intense and/or desperate forms, the trends in both private, subjective experience and behavior of people (both in reality and in the novel) and the public and/or social and/or governmental response to the crises in both the novel and in reality? How does Erdrich’s depict and in a sense anticipate the experience of the last year?

Some possible overlaps: remote-life; mistrust, hiding out; polarized social-political climate; reversion, sense of going backwards, reverting to primitive behaviors; metaphor of transmission, communicability—an “epidemic” of bad feelings, rumor, uncertainty, etc.

0.2 Analyze the depiction of family in the novel: nuclear family (traditional family unit), extended family, untraditional varieties or hybrids of the two?, tribal/cultural family, national family (that is, American family)? What trends are favorable or unfavorable to families in the novel (and perhaps in contemporary American life as well)? Try to reach a conclusion–expressed in your thesis–about the overall picture of family life and family integrity (as in viability, survivability) in the novel and about the extent to which it represents or makes a statement about contemporary American family?

A “politically correct” version of this book would be very different, showing the Native Americans as noble people largely beyond reproach, and depicting their unimpeachable behavior as a standing rebuke to the Americans of European descent. This prompt invites you to chart the various ways that this novel depicts Cedar and other Ojibwe Indians as not symbols but fully, multi-dimensional human beings, with virtue and faults and flaws just like anyone else. Be specific—concrete examples from the novel are a must, and several kinds of examples.

Why do you suppose Erdrich purposefully frustrates any reader looking for politically correct depictions and ‘easy answers’ about the history between Natives and white settlers? And crucially, how does the novel’s “demythologizing” the Native Americans work as a corrective against all those easy, antiseptic images—and in effect re-humanize their image, for the better. You can also refer of course to Cedar’s adoptive parents, who are idealistic and project a kind of idealized version of themselves, but whose problems or flaws underlie the visible strengths and virtues they possess.

Examine some of the signs of “utopia”—or at any rate a new capacity for self-determination—on the reservation in Future Home of the Living God, now that the city-folk have left their nearby summer homes and the Indians have been left to their own devices by the U.S. government (late in the novel beginning p. 213). That is to say, what things the Indians have always wanted to reclaim (see early/middle of the novel also for the lack and loss the Indians have felt) now seem more possible, and what other improvements or greater control over their own lives now seem possible? Note the irony; this ‘utopia’ is possible only because the U.S. authorities (along with the planet itself) are under siege by a “Natural Disaster” (in quotes because presumably ‘unnatural’ man-made climate change has had something to do with it).

You may wish to refer to ideas from within pages 1 – 4 in The Utopia Reader—that is, make connections to that reading by way of defining “utopia”. (Links to an external site.)
(Links to an external site.)

To personalize this ‘utopia’—though utopia is not mainly personal, but social/political—you may wish to comment on Eddy’s recovery from depression (p.217), which suggests that historical injustice—and contemporary social conditions—play a significant role in mental health.

Sardonic humor is mostly private humor, like telling yourself a joke, for self-relief. Sometimes it takes the form of “gallows humor,” poking fun at death and misery. Sometimes readers of sardonic humor experience the sense of eavesdropping on someone else’s private joke. And of course, Erdrich’s novel is one long eavesdrop—it’s a diary, and diaries are usually written for the writer’s (Cedar’s) eye only (in this case for Cedar and her child when she grows up). Eddy’s diary, too, can figure in this investigation.

Discuss a few instances in this book that struck you as funny, even if wincingly so; analyze why or how they made you laugh; and offer some ideas for the author’s purpose for this, and/or Cedar’s (or Eddy’s) purpose if it’s explicitly she or he that’s ‘cracking the dark jokes.’

4. Theme: Identify a theme, or perhaps a pattern of poetic images in the book’s language, and analyze with respect to the novel. What images or ideas or general themes or values recur throughout this text; what is this text about? Pick a single one or set of related ideas (or images which themselves embody ideas or ways of looking at experience). What general idea(s) or experience(s) is dramatized through the particulars and the lively voice of this novel?

Examine in depth one or more (up to four) significant events, trends, practices, ideas, and/or values in our current world that the novel asks us to consider by exaggerating them or extending them to a logical (or illogical) conclusion. Your subject(s) should be significant enough to develop an essay about. If you write about two or more of them, you’ll need to offer some unifying idea that brings them into the same frame of reference in your introduction. Example: how does the novel anticipate and/or exaggerate and/or satirize contemporary American concerns about border policy, about environmental or biological threats (such as the pandemic), about political polarization, about the anarchical feeling of “every man/woman for themselves,” etc. Compare elements of this novel to our contemporary time/place.

Note: You’ll need to do a full-court press on the novel: at least 50% of your discussion needs to be comprised of well-chosen and gracefully-integrated examples (quotes) from, and your inferences about, the story.

The world is always beginning and ending, in some sense or another, even in normal times, at least on a personal level. Compare Cedar’s pregnancy—the agony and ecstasy, her changing moods, her hope and despair for the future, her sensitivity to people and to the world around her—to a ‘normal’ experience of pregnancy. How do Cedar’s experiences/actions/attitudes mirror a normal experience of pregnancy, if in mostly much more extreme ways due to the dark and unpredictable world of the novel? How does pregnancy act as a central symbol for the story as a whole, for whatever else in it that is “being born”?

Note: the premise of this topic is that readers of the book might not expect Cedar’s responses to her pregnancy to resemble those of women in reality, because of the extreme situation(s) in the novel. If this premise doesn’t make sense to you, don’t do this topic. If however you decide to do this topic, you’ll be advancing the idea that surprisingly, her responses do in some ways mirror those of a normal pregnancy.

Arguably, the great task of humanity is to transmit values inherited from the past generations to new younger generations, that is, to decide which values are worth carrying on and teaching to the young. (Our values reflect our sense of the good, and/or the right, and/or the true, but sometimes are defined by negative “red lines” –what we absolutely wouldn’t approve of). What values does Cedar seek to communicate to her child through this diary? (Cedar expects it to be read when the child is much older, perhaps a young adult). And what is Cedar’s sensibility—her way of responding to the world, her responses to specific things—likely to communicate to her child, whether Cedar consciously intends it or not? What does she celebrate, appreciate about her life; what does she respond to in the present time?

Sensibility = “the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences; sensitivity”. Example: “the study of literature leads to a growth of intelligence and sensibility”.

The novelist Don DeLillo was once said that when people stop reading novels, human identity will have come to an end. You may wish to compare and/or contrast Eddy’s diary-like novel with Erdrich’s and with Cedar’s novel-like diary; Eddy writes his with the expressed purpose of delaying or preventing his demise by his own hand. Cedar’s addressing this dairy to her unborn child suggests the power of story, of narrative, as a kind of inheritance. Analyze the idea of narrative as a means of preserving culture and carrying it forward to the future, and what it will suggest to future generations about the past (the near future setting of this novel)—and about what it meant to be human. As Mei-Win says in Boxers about the prospect of burning the historical library in Beijing (= “destroying the village to save it”), “What is China but a people but their stories?”

An aside: to analogize between culture and technology, in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel Oyrx and Crake, one character argues that it would take only the reducing of a population to stone-age circumstances for the period of one generation to destroy civilization, destroy its ability to re-boot itself and carry on.

Along with any other reason in ordinary times that someone might want to hide their pregnancy, in this novel childbirth is a matter of state security and so many pregnant women become fugitive, for there are all kinds of rumors of what will happen to their unborn children (whether they’re “normal” or not) and to moms themselves if they’re captured. At the very least, there is the threat that their kids will be taken away or be forced to lead a very tightly controlled life—and then there’s the prospect of eugenics, the supposed “science of [human] hereditary improvement’, the pursuit of which led to various horrors in the early 20thcentury, including in this country (forced sterilization of some women, mass genocide in other countries to “improve the gene pool”).

In what ways do Cedar’s concerns about her unborn child—and presumably other people in the novel about theirs—both echo the ordinary concerns of women in normal times and in what ways do they introduce something darker, more terrifying—perhaps with resonances of historical horrors? Try to offer a thesis that expresses the threat to our humanity (& in a sense, to our species identity) and to family integrity when the nation-state (government) tries to direct or control human reproduction.

Note: You’ll need to do a full-court press on the novel: at least 50% of your discussion needs to be comprised of well-chosen and gracefully-integrated examples (quotes) from, and your inferences about, the story.

Compare in depth our novel to one or more dystopian films or books—in a detailed, point by point comparison in which at least 50% of your paper needs to be closely focused on the Erdrich text. What do the film(s) or book(s) you compare it to reveal about Future Home of the Living God; what does FHOTLG reveal or suggest about the film or book you chose—its themes, values, ideas about the time/place when the work was produced (all dystopian literature comments on contemporary reality). Note: this is a requirement: you’ll need to reference FHOTLG and the other text or film in each body paragraph. That is, you need think in advance about points in common (or contrast) and build body paragraphs around those points, referencing the two works in each body paragraph. Failure to do this—referring to only one work per body paragraph–will mean I won’t accept your paper; I’ll make you rewrite it. So: don’t write it the way it’s easiest to write; write it the way it’s best to read—keeping both works in the foreground throughout.

In a well-defined, point-based way, compare this novel to Margaret Atwood’s Testament and/or to her The Handmaid’s Tale. You can also or alternatively discuss the film versions of either or both of these, if you have not read the books, or any combination of film and book. However, because you’re also discussing Erdrich’s novel too, probably the best response will focus on one Atwood ‘text’ only, either a single book of hers or a single film version of a book of hers. Note: this is a requirement: you’ll need to reference FHOTLG and the other text or film in each body paragraph. That is, you need think in advance about points in common (or contrast) and build body paragraphs around those points, referencing the two works in each body paragraph. Failure to do this—referring to only one work per body paragraph–will mean I won’t accept your paper; I’ll make you rewrite it. So: don’t write it the way it’s easiest to write; write it the way it’s best to read—keeping both works in the foreground throughout.

Evolution in reverse could be seen as a metaphor for other reversions in government, politics, people’s values and behaviors. What else in this book besides the environmental world seems to be slipping backwards, reverting to old ways (of reactivity, of behavior, of social organization, and/or of politics) we thought we’d outgrown? Along with analyzing a few of these, comment on their causes (human nature and stress, etc.) and effects.

In a point-based way, with at least three major (four is recommended) points, analyze Future Home of the Living God to in light of any of these themes; you are not limited to these examples: anxieties/concerns about human species integrity and species-identity (if we change as a species genetically will we no longer be human?); environmental disaster; loss of good government; absence of or diminishment of religion; fears of a repressive state-favored religion or theocratic government (traditional societies in human history were organized by rulers that claimed their legitimacy from divine sources); or any of these and/or any combination of other points of your own choosing. In the novel rumor runs wild, there’s misinformation, an absence of knowledge, people operating in a vacuum, and the progressive loss of reliable sources of truth and the absence of trustworthy authority, etc. Note: build each body paragraph around a different major point; it’s also possible, alternatively, that you could write an entire paper on one of these themes, although you’d really have to sift through the language of the book carefully and exhaustively to get enough ‘ammunition’—specifics, quotes—to do this.

Using Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics as an ongoing reference point, write up a proposal for a graphic novel version of FHOTLG. As there’s lots of thinking in the text, much of which a graphic novel won’t have space for, you’ll need to propose a lot of “show, not tell’—how (or how much at all?) to portray Eddy’s melancholia, Cedar’s introspection and diary, etc., without using a lot of words—and crucially, you’ll have to decide which parts of the book to leave out (and perhaps which to expand or embellish).

Crucially, however, you will need to discuss your choices with references to text (quotes): specific places that, for example, suggest Eddy’s frame of mind (as above), Cedar’s though-processes, etc.—ground your discussion in the text, so that even a reader who doesn’t know it can follow your paper.

Be sure to identify where on the McCloud’s pyramid (pgs. 52-53) your artistic style would fall), and use any other elements of McCloud as you see appropriate. Compare your version to existing comic styles/books/authors by way of giving your readers a sense of the look-and-feel of your graphic novel version. A further suggestion: consult the pages in Understanding Comics (pgs. 42-44) that discuss cases of graphic novelists/comic artists using realistic backgrounds with cartoony-drawn characters, or conversely, photo-realistic characters against cartoony backgrounds; these artistic decisions reflect the writer’s purposes and the writer/artists ideas and sensibility—her attitude towards her subject.

What’s happening in the world of Erdrich’s novel—to the larger society, world—may have parallels to or resonances of what happened in the 19th century with the near-extinction of both the Plains Indians and the upper mid-western Woodland Indians centered around or near the Great Lakes. (The Ojibwe [“Chippewa”] straddled the lines between these two areas/cultures). Analyze some points of comparison between the novel and the end of the pre-European Native American cultures/societies, most famously the buffalo-culture Indians of the High Plains (the Sioux, the Cheyenne, etc.—the tribes that defeated the U.S. Army at Custer’s last stand in 1876) who were themselves later defeated, murdered, subdued.

It’s worth knowing that FHOTLG is an example of “speculative fiction”, dystopian narratives set in an unspecified but near-future time in which technology that exists today persists or exists in a foreseeable but much improved form (this last not an issue so much for our novel, although the tiny insect-sized spy drones towards end of book are suggestive of this). Various literary writers who don’t do sci-fi have been taking this branch of utopian/dystopian literature for a spin—that is, writing a “speculative fiction” novel.

What would have to be changed for this book to go from “speculative fiction”, that is, dystopian literary fiction set in the near-future but commenting directly on present reality, to a more purely science fiction novel? What would have to be altered, taken out, added? Keep in mind that sci-fi is less interested in individual human character—that is, our unpredictable and all-to-real selves (embodied in the novel by Cedar, Eddy, etc.)–and more interested in imaginary scenarios, societies, technologies; more interested in diversion, escape, entertainment, more interested in these things as opposed to necessarily focusing on the real world at time of the book’s publication (though sci-fi sometimes does this, too).

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