LIT 165 Syllabus
LIT 165 Announcements
LIT 165 Assignments
WRT 120 Syllabus
WRT 120 Announcements
WRT 120 Assigmments
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #3
Notes on 'Before the Law'
Samuel Beckett Links
Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #2
DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
Suggested Readings: Independent Project
Character Analysis: Brave New World
Analyzing the Brave New World
Embarking on the Brave New World
A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
Introducing Canto I
Approaching the Divine Comedy
Relating to Dante's Inferno
Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
Leaf By Niggle
Responses to Leaf By Niggle
'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
Analyzing the Mythic Tales
The Four Functions of Myth
Myth and Metaphor
Myth - Links
Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
Alice In Wonderland
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
Commentary: Following Up Your Response
Critical Thinking and Commentary
Casebook: Evaluating Sources
What is Argument?
Parts of an Argument
Casebook Assignment Sheet
Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
Short Stories About Identity
Thoughts on Stories About Identity
Poems About Identity
Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
ENG Q20 Syllabus
Frederick Douglass Excerpt
How to Detect Propaganda
George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
Propaganda Analysis Exercise
Weblog for WRT 120
Writing Assistance on the Web
Blackboard at WCU
WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library
Questions for Analysis
Cantos I - V
I, The Dark Wood
What's the significance of Dante "waking up" HALFWAY through
the course of his life? He says he was so "full of sleep" that
he can't even tell when he began to lose his way
.why does he wake
up HALFWAY through? [see Introducing
Let's stay with this image of waking up in a strange, dark, savage, tangled,
rough place-a place you don't entirely recognize and which you can't remember
getting to. It sounds like someone on a bender, doesn't it? A kind of
hangover from drunkenness? What's that feeling, and why is there at the
beginning of the Inferno? When you imagine yourself in those shoes, what
state do you realize Dante is in as the poem opens? [see Introducing Canto
can't Dante leave the wood? What's the significance that "three beasts"
block his way? What do you think these beasts signify? Do they have symbolic
meaning, do you think?
Light appears and disappears here at the beginning of the book. What do
you think the "light" and "dark" symbolize?
sure if he's "man or shade" Dante cries to Virgil for help,
and Virgil offers to lead him on a "timeless" path through an
"eternal realm." He seems to be offering Dante the chance to
see things he's never seen before, things he needs to see if he's going
to climb out of his "rut," his confusion and moral disorientation.
When he realizes his guide is Virgil, Dante seems to have all the confidence
in the world in him, because Virgil is one of his "heroes."
Keep an eye on Dante's relationship with Virgil as the book progresses;
notice how it changes and grows.
Dante sets out with confidence, but as we'll see at the very beginning
of Canto II, his mood quickly changes to doubt. Why the roller coaster
emotions, do you think?
is departing as the Canto begins. What mood does that set? In what sense
is he "alone"? What's the double struggle he names?
Mood = foreboding. For the rest of creation, the dark means rest,
but for the Pilgrim it means going to war.
He has to struggle with the journey itself and the pity which this
journey will evoke in him; his battle against pity is one of his major
struggles in the Inferno. You'll notice he has a lot of it at the
beginning, but that he gradually learns, grows, and changes. See if
you can observe these changes in his level of pity.
invokes the muses, not for inspiration exactly, but for the power to set
down what's in his memory. Why the emphasis on "memory"?
we take him literally? His insistence on "memory" rather
than the traditional "inspiration" makes the story he's
telling seem more real, more believable. If it's memory, then it's
not an "inspired fiction."
If he's remembering something he must have come through it all right.
And he must have learned something along the way that makes the narrator
telling the story now different than the character in the story, though
they are the same person. The Poet is wiser than the Pilgrim.
does Dante compare himself to Aeneas and Paul?
Dante is referring to Book VI in the Aeneid and a Gnostic gospel called
"The Vision of St. Paul," which was very a popular text
and which describes Paul's journey into the underworld, which is mentioned
in the New Testament, but not described there.
It might seem like false modesty, but he really seems to be emphasizing
his self-doubt, his sense of personal unworthiness for this journey.
Only the "greats" have made this trip. How will he compare?
Does he have it in him? He seems to need Virgil's reassurance here.
Virgil needs to persuade him that he'll be okay. It's a very human
reaction, to feel unworthy, to feel foolish, to be filled with self-doubt.
- Virgil comments
on Dante's fear. He calls it "cowardice," and compares it to the
"trick of vision" that "startles a shying beast." Notice
how emotion, for Virgil, is linked to bestial behavior; you're not much nobler
than a beast when you allow your emotions to rule you this way-that's the
implication. What does Virgil do to "ease the burden of fear"? Why
does Dante trip all over himself to write "like one who unchooses his
own choice and thinking again undoes what he has started
- He makes
sure the emphasis is on "choice."
- Fear is
seen as an inferior emotion. Reason is always superior. Yet, Augustine
taught (and Dante obviously believes, given the amount of fear he emphasizes
at the beginning of the work here and elsewhere) that fear was a form
of "grace" that was a kind of gift because it's a kind of energy.
Your fear can be the catalyst that sets you back on the right path, as
it does for Dante.
- To ease
his burden of fear, Virgil tells Dante the story of how Beatrice came
to him in Limbo-where she came from, who sent her. Love is the force that
moves her to entreat Virgil, and love is what moves Virgil to action as
well. He concludes that with such help at his side, how can he possibly
remain cowardly? He should be bolder, freer. More human.
how Virgil questions Beatrice just as Dante questions him. Virgil doesn't
is high up in heaven!! She's sitting around with "Rachel of old"who
is Abraham's wife, if you know your Bible, and Abraham is one of the major
patriarchs of the Old Testament.
- A little
about Beatrice here [see notes on "Beatrice"]
- Notice that
Beatrice instructs Virgil to persuade Dante, knowing that no one can "command"
him; he has to make the choice himself. How does Virgil persuade Dante to
- He tells
him the story of how Beatrice came to him. Dante learns that he has three
women in heaven "watching over him"-all the way up to the Virgin
Mary (although she's never named).
- o Love is
a saving grace for Dante here. He's willing, literally, to be led through
the depths of Hell if Beatrice, his true love, requires it. He is such
a devout servant of love!
- Do you
think love can be a saving grace elsewhere in the world, in our world
today? In our lives? Is it naïve to think that love can "save
us," that "love is all you need" (as John Lennon put it).
How does this message square with your own experience?
- What's Dante's
reaction when he hears that his beloved Beatrice is involved in helping him?
- Dante uses
a simile (and he only uses these when he really wants to draw attention
to something)-to describe how he "blooms" and he emphasizes
that he feels "set free."
- Notice, again,
the roller coaster emotional ride.
- As he sets
out, he's blooming and full of confidence. This is quickly shattered as
he enters outer Hell in the very next Canto.
Canto III, Outer Hell
has a "gate" (remember the Gate at the end of Genesis, Chapter
3)-it will contain a "city"-though we won't reach the actual city
walls until Canto X, when Virgil and Dante get stopped at the Gate of Dis.
But the fact that it's preceded by a gate makes this entire region seem
like a specifically human place; it's the very opposite image of the "Garden"
of Eden, which was built for everything, all of earth's creatures. A gated
place, and especially a city, seems specifically for humanity. What do you
think is the significance of making Hell into a city?
Maybe because the evils of the city would be familiar to us? The fact
that cities are packed in with people?
But also that Dante's Hell is inspired by his classical sources. His
underworld greatly resembles that of Virgil's (Book VI, Aeneid) and
the underworld described in "The Vision of St. Paul." A lot
about the structure of Hell is unique to Dante, however, which you would
discover if you made a point of comparing these works systematically.
The inscription over the Gate is all Dante, for example.
the inscription over the Gate very carefully. What does it tell you about
You are entering a "city of woes," of sorrow, a place of "eternal
pain" where "forsaken people" dwell. The city image evokes
images of an urban, social, human place, while the eternal sorrow suggests
it is ruled by animal emotion rather than reason, which is further emphasized
by the "forsaken" people who are forsaken because they've
"lost the good of intellect," as Virgil will explain.
justice" is dispensed here. There's a causal relationship between
your free will and your responsibility. How well you meet your responsibilities
determines the nature of your punishment or reward.
Power, Love, and Wisdom"-God plays an active role in setting up
this place. God has the Power to make it in the first place, so be assured
about that; God has the Wisdom to run it properly, so don't question
it; God created it out of Love-tough love, but love nevertheless.
emphasis on the eternal nature of this place takes us outside of time,
outside of our temporal reality; we are in an "other" world
ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE." What can be said there? This is
not going to be about rehabilitation. It is about punishment, pure and
simple. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth justice. Divine justice does not
rehabilitate, it punishes. How do we feel about that in 2005? Do we
share this view?
Remember that this is a vision of an "afterlife," not actual
life. Many people read the Inferno as if it is a metaphorical picture
of our real world, but it also sharply contrasts with our "real"
world. For instance, we still have our intellect (we haven't forsaken
it entirely yet), and we can choose to use it; we can still choose not
to forsake God/truth; we can make right choices, take responsibility;
we are still subject to time; nothing is eternal in real life-real life
is all about growth and change, and we can always change for the better.
So in other words, we don't have to abandon all hope!
asks Virgil to explain the inscription-notice the nature of their "teacher/pupil"
relationship. Why does Virgil instruct Dante to leave his fear and his distrust
He's emphasizing that he has to put his trust and faith in the divine
love and wisdom that set up this place, and that he'll be protected
as he goes through. This is a place of punishment; the sinners don't
deserve pity. Of course, Virgil can tell Dante this, but Dante still
struggles with pity.
As Dante learns to reign in his pity, he becomes what some readers consider
a little cruel. That leads us to question whether or not Dante is "justifying
torture." Some readers have been really put off by this book for
that reason. It's a sensitive question.
how Dante is reduced to weeping as soon as he passes the Gate? What
is he reacting to? What does his reaction tell you about him?
overcome with pity and fear; you can see how sensitive and human he
is. This divine justice takes some getting used to!
- Who are the
Neutrals? (Read "The
Heirs of Canto III of Dante's Inferno" online)
- When does the
light bulb turn on-when does Dante really understand who these sinners are,
and the meaning of what they've done to deserve their punishment?
- What's the significance
of the "dim" light? John Ciardi translates it as "infected"
light, which I think is an even more powerful figure of speech than Pinsky's
- Why won't Virgil
answer Dante's question? Why does Dante feel abashed? Is this a rift in their
- Charon offers
an "anti-greeting" that's more like a curse. Notice how Virgil rebukes
him. Also, notice how this kind of exchange between Virgil and the Inferno's
demons develops over the next several Cantos, culminating in a crisis in Canto
- Look closely
at the spectacular simile Dante uses to describe the movement of sinners towards
Charon's ferry. He compares them to leaves falling from a tree, but combines
that image with the image of a falcon lured by its master's call.
- Why does Dante
faint at the end of the Canto? What overwhelms him, in your opinion?
- Is there any
significance to the fact that Dante misreads Virgil's pity for fear? Is Dante
the Pilgrim being stupid, or is Dante the Poet trying to emphasize something
significant here? Does this change their relationship at all?
- Why does Virgil
berate Dante for not asking questions? (Remember, he told him not to ask questions
earlier.) Is this confusing, or does this inconsistency make some kind of
- What does Virgil
reveal about himself when he claims to have no fear and still a lot of pity?
(We can't answer this now, but we will be able to soonthat's the style
of the book...it makes great use of "hindsight"what you learn
as you go on helps you understand where you've been. The past is always being
integrated into the present.)
- Why is Dante
so covert in his question to Virgil about anyone ever leaving Limbo?
- Dante is accepted
into the ring of great poets. No false modesty there. What does this tell
us about him, about this work we're reading?
- Who lives in
the Castle? We're learning, in a sly way, about hierarchies, class systems,
degrees of punishments. There's a very elaborate order to this place. The
lower level contains people of action, the upper level the more contemplative
thinkers. The Castle seems an elaborate symbol for "higher learning";
it's a kind of ivory tower (wehre "goodness hides behind its gates"
to quote Bob Dylan every chance I get). It also suggests a bibliography, in
case any readers are interested in reading up and getting smart like Dante.
- When Virgil
and Dante walk on water, that's miraculous. It parallels another character
who walks on water later, in Canto IX. Is there any link?
- Notice the transition
picks up the light/dark motif: they are peering into a place "with no
light in it."
V, Paolo and Francesca
- Notice the
funnel shape that's suggested at the beginning of Canto V.
- Notice, another
"gate," another entrance. Why are these entrances called attention
to throughout the work? They seem to signal significant thresholds; they
introduce rials the travelers must pass through. They are portals, in a
way. Or hurdles on the straight path.
- Notice the
depiction of Minos. This is a character borrowed from Virgil, who borrowed
it from the ancient Greeks. In Greek myth, Minos was a great judge. Virgil
makes him the judge of the underworld, a judge of the dead. But Dante transforms
him further into what we see here: a monster, a kind of demon, like Charon
with his flaming eyes. Minos is a kind of "machine"; he's flawless
in his efficiency, a grotesque "functionary." Throughout the Inferno
you can observe Dante borrowing characters from classical literature and
history and transforming them to his own artistic purposes.
- Minos, like
the other gatekeepers in the story are powerful reminders of where we are;
they help readers navigate through the Inferno memorably. They are
a kind of memory place holder, helping to distinguish one circle from the
- Notice the
"contrapasso." The souls of the lustful, the carnal sinners are
rent by hurricane-force winds that ravage, rend, and twist them like they
allowed themselves to be be swept away by their passions while alive.
- Observe the
bird imagery. Dante uses the images of three kinds of birds throughout this
Canto to make vivid the images of the souls in the air, swept by the winds.
Starlings are unattractive, dirty, theiving...flying in big flocks. But
the cranes, who were more admired, are the souls of the higher-brow sinners,
the literary and historical legends who are more prominent, more individual.
The dove (pidgeon) imagery is reserved for Paolo and Francesca, the lustful
lovers who committed adultery and were murdered together.
observe Francesca's speech to Dante.
- Love is
the force that propells Paolo and Francesca towards Dante; his love
pulls them out of the wind (remember the theme: love is the primal force).
claims to speak for Dante's benefit, but her speech is completely self-serving.
ironically quotes Dante's earlier love poetry; by putting his own youthful
words in Francesca's mouth, he shows he's willing to be self-critical.
tells her story, but her telling is distorted in order to exaggerate
her own innocence. She doesn't accept an ounce of responsibility for
says, "Love, which absolves none who are loved from loving made
my heart burn..." Yet, if this were true, there'd be no souls in
Hell! (God's love, which would be that much more irresistable,
would save all.) Francesca is merely covering her tracks, abdicating
responsiblity for the seduction, blaming Paolo, the book, anything and
anyone but her own self and the choices she freely made.
- Many readers
find it romantic the way Francesca and Paolo are together even in Hell,
and they interpret this to mean that true love survives even an inferno.
Paolo still clings to Francesca.... Is it romantic, or tragic? Romantic,
or comic? It's essential to be aware of the way in which Francesca is still
trying to seduce. She's trying to seduce the reader into believing
she is innocent. Is she? Why doesn't Paolo speak at all? He merely "weeps
at her side"? What happened to him? Why can't he speak? We must note
that Dante, hearing Francesca's tale, has enormous pity for the lovers.
He hasn't quite figured out that Francesca is talking about lust while he
is thinking about love. He bows his head in utter defeat, hearing this tale,
perhaps thinking of his own affairs, his own books. Are they seductions?
Virgil seems to recognize that there's something going on, and he asks Dante
to confide in him. Dante admits to pity, not to guilt. Was Virgil picking
up on something Dante isn't ready to admit to himself, or does he actually
have no guilt?