Writing Process: Research Paper Draft

My writing process during this draft has been somewhat typical of how I write a research paper. I started by finding many sources, and after determining my working thesis, I started writing the main paper body. I feel that one of my strong points is finding sources – I work at the library, so I have no problem finding journal articles or books through the catalog or databases. However, my weak point has been actually sitting down to write the paper. It might be procrastination, but I also think that it has something to do with my need to delve totally into a paper topic for a certain amount of time. I hadn’t had that time throughout much of Break. To compensate, I wrote a basic outline in my draft document to keep me on track when writing the paper. This has worked very well. At this point, my discussion of women in Victorian times and of imagination/initiative in the Alice books is almost done. I plan on incorporating more biographical information to discover why Carroll write such a radical text, and I might add a discussion of a few adaptations that use imagination differently than the original text. However, the latter might not work, simply because of space and the paper’s focus. After I finish writing the body, I will go back and revise my thesis statement. Right now, I’m tired of working on this paper, but I’m still enjoying the overall topic. I think Carroll is fascinating, and I can’t wait to go back and revise my paper with fresh eyes.

The Muppets’ Alice in Wonderland

Alice falling – screenshot from The Muppets’ Alice in Wonderland

The Muppets’ Alice in Wonderland episode was originally presented through “The Muppet Show”. It retains this aspect of performance mixed with real life, for instance, the guest actress actually grows too large for the dressing room, and the trial is almost canceled.

The White Rabbit runs throughout both the action and the show commentary – for instance, he asks where the hole is while Kermit is presenting the scene. The show is filled with puns. For instance, when the White Rabbit enters and sees Alice for the first time, he says that he is looking for a hole. Alice asks, “A whole what?” “I hate smart-Alices”, he responds. The play on words, reminiscent of Carroll’s writing, is much of the humor throughout the episode. The scenes included are the falling scene (complete with a song), the caterpillar scene, Humpty Dumpty, the Jabberwocky (with a recitation of the poem!), the trial scene and the mad tea party.

Shields grows too big for the dressing room. – Screenshot

When Brooke Shields, the guest star, grows too big from the mushrooms, the original order of the scenes is altered – the falling and caterpillar scenes appear in order, but the mad tea party is pushed to the very end. This intersection of “real life” and the storyline creates a whimsical retelling that in many ways, effectively portrays the chaos as Alice enters and explores Wonderland. Not all of the scenes happen in the order that they occurred in the book because of effects that occurred from other parts of the story, so at the least, this cause-and-effect sequence seems fitting for Carroll’s story because of the chaos contained there. The scenes are even presented with little or no context to further this confusion. For instance “the trial scene” is announced without any preface of who is going on trial and why.

Scooter says at one point that “I tell you. This is the weirdest thing we’ve ever done on this show”. This seems to be the entire point of the show – to highlight the weirdness without giving a cohesive retelling of the story. If the goal here is humor, however, the show has certainly obtained it – the entire episode is very funny. However, it seems to require a previous knowledge of Alice in Wonderland to appreciate some of the changes made to the actual scenes. For instance, the Doormouse has become the Door-chicken, which changes the characterization here in a humorous way, but only if you knew that the Doormouse was supposed to be sleepy all the time.

I think the creation of this episode allows the creators to mix Alice in Wonderland with The Muppets, since the show is equally about the personalities of the Muppets as well as Alice’s story. The result is that the viewer doesn’t necessarily learn about Alice in Wonderland or watch an accurate retelling, but they are able to engage with the chaos if they are at all familiar with The Muppets or themes from Alice.

Guest star Brooke Shields in the Mad Tea Party Scene – from The Muppet Wiki

It shows us other ways in which the stories can be told, and gives the viewer a good idea of how cause-and-effect-related the different scenes/episodes are in the book.
Overall, this suggests that Alice in Wonderland is perceived as something that is difficult and not quite easy to grasp. The chaos of this structure and the scenes highlighted, shows that while some scenes are quite famous (the mad tea party, for instance), other plot points are not as clear.


Wool and Water with Voyant Tools

I started my experimentation with a copy of my section in Through the Looking Glass. My section is the first part of the chapter “Wool and Water, which tells about Alice’s first encounter with the White Queen.
I decided to start with a word cloud. Before I limited the cloud and edited the list, “the” and “and” were the most common words shown. I then applied the Taporware list, and added the word “said” to it. For some reason, “said” is a very common word in this book (it makes sense when you consider that Alice is always talking).
Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 11.11.23 AM
The two most common words on the list are “Alice” (30 times) and “Queen” (33 times). This makes sense if the word “said” also appeared a lot, since much of the passage uses these three words in conjunction with one another (i.e. “Alice said” or “said the Queen”). The word “oh” is the third most common (14 times), but the most intriguing result is that “better” is used 12 times within the passage.
Keywords in Context indicates that “better” is often used for hypothetical situations. Most of the uses are something to the effect of “it would have been better”, “it would be better” or “it wouldn’t be better”.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 11.45.32 AM

This trend seems to suggest that the passage focuses on possibilities. To determine whether this is the case, I used the word trends graph and took “would” off of the stop words list. The result shows that although “better” is more frequently used, “would” (only used 6 times) is often present in the same phrases.

Overall, this suggests that at least within this passage, Carroll is focused on hypothetical situations, and the White Queen uses them to challenge Alice’s previous conceptions about the world.
Using these tools would be helpful in a close reading analysis because they would point to larger trends within the text, and give the writer specific passages and phrases to point to when making their case.

“The Mock Turtle’s Story” – Alice in Wonderland

In Alice in Wonderland, the main character is led by the Gryphon to hear the Mock Turtle’s story. Alice is indigent that all of the characters in Wonderland order her around, but she follows Gryphon because she is curious about the Mock Turtle. The Queen says that “he shall tell you his history”, and indeed, the Mock Turtle seems to be representing the stereotypical sad storyteller (71). Lewis Carroll describes him as “sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock” and “sighing as if his heart would break” (72). Alice immediately feels sorry for him, but this pity becomes ironic when Gryphon says that “[i]t’s all his fancy, that: he hasn’t got no sorrow, you know” (72).

The Mock Turtle. Original illustration, drawn by John Tenniel. Via Wikipedia Images.

This episode in the story seems to serve no obvious purpose. It does not continue the basic storyline of the Duchess and the Queen and the other characters involved in the trial. In fact, the chapter and a half that deals with the Mock Turtle only seems to be a momentary lull in the chaos of the royal court. However, the Mock Turtle himself seems to draw the reader’s attention to the ironic, or even satirical elements in the story.

The first indication of this comes in the form of his name and the illustrations that accompany him. By calling him the “Mock Turtle”, Carroll draws our attention to the fact that this creature is not supposed to be a real turtle. He is not supposed to be a real turtle in the same way that he is not supposed to be a sad storyteller. Carroll toys with our expectations of what a turtle or a storyteller should be and uses these expectations to create elements of irony in the story. Mock Turtle has the head of a mouse-like animal, with  the shell and flippers of a turtle. His feet are those of a goat and tail is that of a donkey. “Mock” Turtle is not what the reader would expect of a realistic turtle, which acts as a cue to the reader that other things in this scene are also not as expected.

Mock Turtle’s sad history is also not what one is led to expect. For instance, the description of him on the rock, weeping, seems to indicate that his story will be sad. However, this is not true. His “history” is full of tales of school and dancing – the only sad element is the beginning, when he states that “once” he was “a real Turtle” (72). Alice “could not help thinking that there must be more to come, so she sat still and said nothing”. However, his statement is not followed by any explanation of his transformation, but is instead followed by memories. His reminisces recall an old man with many stories to tell who just goes on and on with no true point. Instead of the anticipated dramatic storyteller, Alice listens to ramblings that do not fulfill hers and reader’s expectations of what a dramatic storyteller should tell.

By looking at this short episode in the book as an ironic or even satirical portrayal of a character type, other characters begin to make sense as well (such as the Queen). The Mock Turtle shows that Carroll uses our traditional expectations of character type in order to “mock” or poke fun at these representations.

The Importance of Being Earnest – Singing Scene

In The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, the play does not specifically incorporate a song during the “singing scene”, which is just one way in which the 2002 film adaptation starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench differs from the original play. In Wilde’s play, the passage includes the few lines used, but only has this stage direction:

[Enter JACK followed by ALGERNON. They whistle some dreadful popular air from a British Opera.]

Instead of whistling, the men sing a song titled “Come Down”, which essentially asks the women to come down from their physical position (above the men), and metaphorically, to forgive them and to stop being so aloof. The song occurs in two different settings, but both of them incorporate the physical aspect of coming down. In the first setting, the women stand on a balcony, and the men sing from below them. In the second setting, the women sit reading in the second floor hallway, by the stairs. The men move from their position outdoors to the room below the stairs (with the piano in tow). Thus, not only is the song added to the scene, but the scene occurs in two different settings. The four lines that comprise occur during the song scene are spread across these two settings. While the play indicates no break between these lines, the film director, Oliver Parker, interprets this scene differently. The effect is that this scene has far more comic appeal in the film. Instead of just the men approaching the women, whistling, trying, as they might, to look casual, the two Ernest’s follow Cecily and Gwendolen in order to woo them with a song. Because of this, the men become comic characters in this scene.


Gwendolen and Cecily read each other’s diaries in Oliver Parker’s film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest. Still from the Youtube clip.

The staging and additions in the film scene not only make the men seem more comical, but they also take advantage of the technical capabilities of film. In a stage play, it is difficult or impossible to change settings in the middle of dialogue, but with the portability of the camera, film allows such setting changes without interrupting the flow of the scene. In fact, this particular scene becomes more prolonged. The girls and their aloof friendship lasts much longer in the film than in the play (as shown by an earlier scene where they go horseback riding together, and in this scene, where they are reading the other’s diary), which makes the men seem even more persistent and comical. Parker, as director, takes a short segment of time from the play and expands it in the film in order create comic scenes and situations, as illustrated by the men singing to the girls. Personally, I think that this adaptation is a successful comedy film of the play, and uses funny moments within Wilde’s work in order to expand on the comic nature of the characters and situation.


Props in Trifles

The title of the play is Trifles, which is an obvious nod to the role that details play within the performance. Susan Glaspell’s one act play takes place in a farm house, where law enforcement officers are investigating a murder. As the male officers search for clues upstairs, the two women downstairs piece together the answer to the mystery using clues from the messy kitchen that the men overlooked. The play ends with the two women, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, hiding their discoveries from the men because they feel sympathy (and even empathy with) Mrs. Wright.

It is through their observations of the small details in the kitchen that the two women are able to decipher the motive for the crime. The mess that the men overlook because Mrs. Wright “didn’t have the homemaking instinct” turns out to be important because “women are used to worrying over trifles” (1.1.47, 1.1.35). Therefore, the role of details in the play is a central one. Because details, or rather, trifles, are so important to the plot, the stage directions of Trifles list an extensive number of props. For instance, the play requires a rocking chair, a small chair, and any number of small kitchen items. The beginning stage directions specifically list that there should be “unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the bread-box, a dish-towel on the table”, and hint that the director of the play might add more visual indicators of the kitchen’s disarray. Later on, the quilting scraps and basket, as well as the damaged birdcage, are important objects in the revelation of motive and the emotional climax of the scene.

What this short play lacks in length and cast, the specific list of props makes up for. This underscores the theme of the play, as supported by the title – Trifles. The line “women are used to worrying over trifles” ties into the conclusion that the women who worry over these trifles will be the ones who discover the motive for the crime and ultimately make the choice to keep silent in order to possibly save Mrs. Wright (1.1.35). Thus, props as details not only act as technical elements of the play, but they also reinforce the ultimate theme of Trifles: the importance of details and the ones who truly observe them.

Resolution and Independence: First Impressions

The poem Resolution and Independence by William Wordsworth is written from the perspective of the poet. Wordsworth tells how he is wandering in the moors during sunrise, enjoying the beauty of nature. One might describe his attitude in these first three stanzas as carefree. Then, he is saddened by thoughts of his future (Line 35 – “solitude, pain of heart, distress, and poverty”), which he later ascribes to the fate of poets in general (Line 48). In the next stanza, Wordsworth tells of his chance encounter with an old man who is gathering leeches. The old man acts as an inspiration for Wordsworth because he “persevere[s], and find[s] them [leeches] where [he] may” (Line 126). The poem ends with Wordsworth resolving to “stay secure” and presumably, to remain a poet, even though he faces difficulties in the future.

Resolution and Independence deals with both of the topics mentioned in the title, but starts with independence. The first thing I noticed about this part of the poem was the rhyme scheme, which begins with a typical ABAB pattern, but instead of having four lines per stanza, the poem has seven. The rhyme scheme is ABABBCC, which creates a sing-song type rhyme at the end when reading the poem aloud. The rhyme scheme continues throughout the poem, but the effects on the poem’s sound are especially noticeable when Wordsworth describes the natural beauty of the moor at sunrise.

Also noticeable is the poem’s focus on imagery that uses figures of speech to accomplish vivid mental images in the mind of the reader. A good example of this can be found on lines 11 through 14. “The hare is running races in her mirth; / And with her feet she from the plashy earth / Raises a mist, that, glittering in the sun, / Runs with her all the way, wherever she doth run”. Wordsworth uses onomatopoeia in “plashy” and even “glittering”. The reader knows from line 11 that the hare is running races in joy. In line 12, Wordsworth provides the reader the sensory image of sound (or feeling, depending upon the listener). Plashy sounds much like splashy or marshy, which can both be considered synonyms, but Wordsworth uses plashy because it imitates the sound that the hare’s feet make as she runs through the wet grass. The next line, line 13, is visual. The listener can almost see the droplets of water sparkling as they are exposed to the rising sun. Line 14 provides the listener with the broader picture (almost like a movie’s wide shot) of the hare’s misty trail following her around the moors. 

The imagery in this poem is very visual, but it relies on quite a few sound devices as well. Alliteration (“choice or chance”, “moor to moor”), rhyme (as discussed earlier), and onomatopoeia (“roar”, “raced”, “warbling”). Thus, the impression that I am left with after reading this poem just a few times is that Wordsworth’s Resolution and Independence is one best read aloud. This type of reading provides the listener with more appreciation for Wordsworth’s sensory details and vivid imagery.

Sonnet 73 Response

1. The repetitions in lines 1, 5, and 9 are a use of anaphora to emphasize the poet’s relation to the natural images that are sketched out after these lines. The use of the three references to the poet create the expectation that the poem will continue in this pattern every four lines. Shakespeare does, but instead of talking about the poet in line 13, he closes by talking to the receiver of the sonnet “this thou perceiv’st”. By continuing in the pattern, but surprising the reader at line 13, Shakespeare is able to bring the poem to a satisfying and sweet conclusion.

2. In lines 1-4, Shakespeare is using a metaphor for the poet’s feelings or well being. He is comparing his present state to the bare branches of wintertime. In lines 5-8, the poet discusses how the receiver sees him, and in line 8, personifies Death’s “second self” as twilight. In lines 9-12, Shakespeare uses the symbolism of the fire to represent fading youth. In many ways, the symbol of the fire resembles an allegory, except that it is not carried on throughout the rest of the poem. Each figure of speech is effective because they all use vivid imagery (bare ruined, fadeth, glowing) to illustrate the state that the poet is trying to describe. Personally, I prefer the symbolism because of the lines’ potent use of the words “glowing” “ashes” and “nourished”.

3. In lines 3-4, Shakespeare is comparing the branches to the ruins of a choir (where the choir sat in the church). This could be, I think, interpreted as both symbolism (the branches full of singing birds are like a thriving church) and antithesis (in line 4, he juxtaposes ruined choirs with sweet birds). In lines 7-8, Shakespeare is personifying “black night” because he is attributing the human action “take away” to it and “twilight” because it “seals up all in rest”.

Banned and Popular Books

Fifty Shades of Grey Book Cover

Fifty Shades of Grey Book Cover

A glance at the ten most challenged titles of 2012 reveals two very important facts. First of all, most of these titles are written for kids or young adults. Secondly, most of the books are challenged because they are too offensive, sexually explicit, or “unsuited for age group”. Books challenged include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Fifty Shades of Grey and Looking for Alaska. Of this subset, only one of these is categorized as adult fiction (Fifty Shades). The other two are Young Adult novels that have been extremely popular on reading lists and book recommendation sites. Both of these novels are tagged as “unsuited for age group”. All three novels are tagged as offensive and sexually explicit.

I think the banned books and their tags say something about the reading habits of Americans. The majority of these books (six out of ten) are for kids or young adults. This shows that the public is still concerned with the themes and ideas presented to younger readers. This concern perhaps leads to the generalization that the public is still convinced that books have the power to influence others. Certainly, this is probably true of the reading public. Overall, the ideas conveyed through children and young adult literature still have the power to provoke a collective response from the masses.

Marymount’s bookstore only stocks one of these banned books – Fifty Shades of Grey. Although mentioned earlier, it is interesting to note that the popularity of this bestseller has not necessarily subsided. Although the book technically appears in the adult fiction sections of most libraries, it seems to be popular among young adult readers. In a Goodreads thread, a sixteen-year-old user asked whether she should read it. The majority of responses indicated that Shades was a 18+ book, but many of the teens on the thread had read it. Many indicated that the user either needed to be a mature teen or just wait (more than one response stated that they wished they hadn’t read it). Personally, a number of my friends have read the book as well. Most were disgusted by it. Perhaps the popularity of (and reaction to) Shades is indicative of the level of erotica that is considered “acceptable” in popular culture. The music industry has, overall, had more tolerance of sexually explicit themes, but as shown by Miley Cyrus’ CMA performance, there is a grey line between the acceptable and the inappropriate. Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrates the reading public’s tipping point when it comes to erotic fiction.

quiet book cover

Quiet: The Book Cover

Some of the other books on Marymount’s bestseller shelf are somewhat familiar. I’d seen Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking on a list published by Noodle Education of notable books on college’s summer reading lists. Many of the other bestsellers are also nonfiction. This is in stark contrast to the Banned Books list, which is populated by mostly fictional novels or stories. (The Glass Castle is a memoir, and Beloved is based on a true story.) It seems then, that the reading public objects to authors dealing with sensitive subjects like sex, homosexuality and offensive language in fictional works, especially when these works are directed at a younger audience.


Book cover of Seaward

Book cover of the 1st edition.

“What is your favorite book?” Every time I hear this question, my head starts to spin a little bit. How can I possibly choose one book? As Dr. Ficke said in her post on Alice in Wonderland, this is a difficult question if you love books.

The book that I’ve chosen for this post is called Seaward by Susan Cooper. In it, two young people named West and Cally are each transported from a disastrous moment in their lives to a wild and surreal world. They don’t speak the same language and come from different countries, but they must journey together through the strange world until they reach the sea.

If my two-sentence summary of the book makes it sound at all interesting, pick it up and try it. Part of the reason I love Susan Cooper is for her use of language. When I read one of her books, I am swallowed up by her words and the depth of her narrative. I first learned about Cooper from a friend, who lent me all five books of The Dark is Rising sequence. Within a few weeks, I had devoured The Boggart as well. Seaward is similar to these other titles in language and skill, but the journey contained within is beautiful and inspiring.

National Book Festival 2013 Poster

2013 poster for the National Book Festival

During my summer travels, I was lucky enough to catch an exhibit on magical books at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. Obviously, work by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling was on display, but I was thrilled to note that the exhibit included many of Cooper’s works (especially The Dark is Rising sequence).

Seaward is sitting in my dorm room this fall for a specific reason. In just a few weeks, Susan Cooper will be coming to Washington DC as a part of the National Book Festival. Since Seaward is my favorite book of hers, I hope to have her sign my copy that weekend. I am very excited to meet one of my favorite authors, so I thought that writing about her work for this blog post would be both interesting and timely.