Schedule: Writing I

We will try to stick to this plan as closely as possible, but we may get ahead or fall behind. If either situation arises, expect in-class and online announcements of schedule revisions. Develop habits, therefore, of bringing your copy of the syllabus to each class meeting and of checking this page.

Aug. 26 Tue.

Welcome to class; course goals and objectives; syllabus overview. Freewrite: What do you expect from a college education?

Aug. 28 Thu.

Nick Hornby, “Ben Folds Five: ‘Smoke’” (Handout). Sign up for sharing response papers. In-class response: Does music play a role in your life? Why or why not? How do you write critically about sound and other senses?


Remember to read the Hornby essay. You can listen to “Smoke” at the library, by going to the course reserves, searching under my last name, and listening to track 9 of the CD that is waiting for you.

Sept. 2 Tue.

Joan Didion, “The White Album” (Oates 421-46). Quiz on Strunk & White, chapter 1.

Sept. 4 Thu.

John Dawkins, “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool” (Handout). Response 1 due.

Sept. 9 Tue.

T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (Oates 90-97). Quiz on Strunk & White, chapter 2.

Sept. 11 Thu.

Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse” (Oates 477-89). Response 2 due.

Sept. 16 Tue.

Raymond Carver, “Where I’m Calling From” (Updike 581-94). Quiz on Strunk & White, chapter 3.

Sept. 18 Thu.

Stephen Jay Gould, “The Creation Myths of Cooperstown” (Oates 520-31). Response 3 due.

Sept. 23 Tue.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (Oates 263-79). Quiz on Strunk & White, chapter 4.

Sept. 25 Thu.

Elizabeth Hardwick, “The Apotheosis of Martin Luther King” (Oates 319-26). Response 4 due.

Sept. 30 Tue.

Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” (Oates 114-17). Strunk & White, chapter 5.


I said that I would post an example essay about role-playing; instead, you should listen to this episode of “This American Life.” Another example is Virginia Stem Owens’s “Death and Texas,” which we read for class on 9/4 (handout).

Oct. 2 Thu.

Alice Walker, “Looking for Zora” (Oates 395-411). Response 5 due.

Oct. 7 Tue.

Richard Rodriguez, “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood” (Oates 447-66).

Essay 1 due.

Oct. 9 Thu.

Joyce Carol Oates, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” (Updike 450-65). Response 6 due.


In one to two sentences each, please answer the following questions:

  1. Why does Rodriguez title his essay “Aria”?
  2. What is Rodriguez’s main argument?
  3. What is the point of Oates’s short story?

Remember: there probably is no one correct answer to any of these questions. Your answers will help us begin our discussion.

Oct. 14 Tue.

Mark Twain, “Corn-pone Opinions” (Oates 1-5). John Updike, “The Disposable Rocket” (Oates 549-52).


For both of today’s texts, it is probably important to know something about the authors. Both of them are pretty famous and you should have no trouble finding out something about either, but I have linked a decent site on Mark Twain and on John Updike so that you don’t need to use Google or some other search engine—or the library.

Remember that you should come to class having written one or two sentences on each question (in addition to the usual response paper); these will be used to jump-start discussion, and you may be asked to share your answers. Without further ado, here are Tuesday’s questions:

  1. Twain, “Corn-Pone Opinions”: What do you think of Twain’s view of conformity? Should we evaluate the opinions that we share with a larger community? Can one person possess a belief that no one else has (ignore the logical fallacy of discovering the specific beliefs of every person who ever lived)?
  2. Updike, “The Disposable Rocket”: What is this essay really about? (If you can get past the “graphic” details, you might be surprised.)

There are, of course, many other questions; feel free to ask some of your own. See you in class!

Oct. 16 Thu.

Susan Sontag, “The Way We Live Now” (Updike 600-15). Response 7 due.


Remember that reading a short story is very different from reading an essay. For Susan Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now,” I have tried to emphasize ways of looking at the story, not only through answering questions, but also through summarizing basic plot elements. This is probably clear as mud (a cliché to be avoided except when you are the instructor writing at the last minute), but the “questions” below should make this clearer.

As usual, unless I specify otherwise, please write one or two sentences in response to the following questions:

  1. In five to ten sentences, summarize the plot (the action) of the story. (Helpful questions to ask yourself during this exercise include “What is going on?” “Who is doing what?” and “When I reread the story, can I see a direct relation between cause and effect?” but you don’t need to answer these questions explicitly.)
  2. Sontag uses several rhetorical effects in the story; perhaps the most prominent is indirect discourse. Look at the difference between the two sentences in quotation marks: “He said that he was going for a walk,” and “He said, ‘I am going for a walk.’” What role does indirect discourse play in Sontag’s short story? Is it effective?
  3. Sontag writes in a very rambling style. What does this do to the tone of the story?
  4. What do you think of the narrator?

There are, of course, many other questions and things to discuss; feel free to ask some of your own. See you in class! (I will be collecting your answers, partly to see how you handle plot summary, so make sure to write your answers.)

Other things to note for this class:

  1. I will be returning your essays as well as last week response papers;
  2. I will be giving you the assignment for the next essay;
  3. I will be passing around a sign-up sheet for mid-term conferences. See you in class!
Oct. 21 Tue.

Saul Bellow, “Graven Images” (Oates 564-68). Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature” (Oates 507-19).


Before we get to the questions, here are a few interesting things (at least interesting to me). If you have time, take a visit to the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago Public Library. (It’s located down town, not far from the Jackson stop on the Red Line. Incidentally, if you have not yet gone to the public library, you should; you have tremendous resources at your disposal both from Loyola and from the city.) If you go to the Author’s Room, among other things you’ll see the bust of Saul Bellow, which Sarah S. Miller sculpted, and which should be to the left of this paragraph. Bellow spent his childhood and undergraduate years in Chicago. An AP photo of Bellow is at the right of this paragraph. (Oh, and here’s a 2001 interview with Edward Hoagland, the “other” author we’ll be discussing.)

By now you know the drill: write a couple sentences on each question. We have two people sharing their responses, as well: Daniel for Bellow’s “Graven Images” and Margaret for Hoagland’s “Heaven and Nature.”

  1. Bellow uses the term amour propre, which can mean (roughly) either “self love” or “self respect.” How does he play with these ideas in his essay?
  2. Why do you suppose Bellow is so concerned with the “graven image”? Why do you suppose he wished Picasso had done his bust?
  3. While Bellow uses aging (a developing, if unintended, “theme” of this course) to discuss imagery and memory, Hoagland uses it largely to discuss suicide. What are the different types of suicide he discusses? Do you think they all should be classified as “suicide”?
  4. For Hoagland, how does love work conceptually, if it works at all? Is it an elixir for the despair that can lead to suicide?
  5. Can we relate Hoagland’s essay in any way to Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now”? If so, how?
Oct. 23 Thu.

Flannery O’Connor, “Greenleaf” (Updike 348-68). Response 8 due.

Oct. 28 Tue.

Willa Cather, “Double Birthday” (Updike 77-99). William Faulkner, “That Evening Sun Go Down” (Updike 111-26).

Oct. 30 Thu.

Maxine Hong Kingston, “No Name Woman” (Oates 383-94). Response 9 due.

Nov. 4 Tue.

No class: mid-term break.

Nov. 6 Thu.

William H. Gass, “The Doomed in Their Sinking” (Oates 373-82).

Essay 2 due.


  1. We have already read an essay on suicide, William Hoagland’s “Heaven and Nature.” How does that essay compare to this one? Do they communicate similar or different ideas?
  2. Gass drops names as if they were common nouns. Who are some of these people? What are they doing in this essay?
  3. This essay is written in a very dense style. Is there a purpose to Gass’s method? Part of the answer may lie near his conclusion: “Poetry is cathartic only for the unserious, for in front of the rush of expressive need stands the barrier of form” (382). When he writes of catharsis (roughly, “release” or “purgation”) does he consider the multiple avenues of communication and interpretation available to us, or does poetry only generate private meaning, significant only to its author?
  4. Consider this passage: “Nowadays the significance of a suicide for the suicide and the significance of the suicide for society are seldom the same. If, according to the social workers’ comforting cliché, they are often a cry for help, they’re just as frequently a vow of silence” (377). What does he mean by this pairing of public and private meaning, especially in the case of a suicide? Does this claim hold up with my earlier quotation (381)?
  5. Some of these questions may seem a little dense themselves, not unlike Gass’s essay; but I think they will be useful to our discussion. Please come prepared to address them—but also come with questions of your own.
Nov. 11 Tue.

Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried” (Updike 616-32). Poetry of Wilfred Owen (handout).


Today is Veteran’s Day (aka Remembrance Day). We will be discussing war-themed writing in class today.

We are reading “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, and “Dulce et decorum est” and “At a Calvary Near the Ancre,” by Wilfred Owen. When reading these texts, some of the general questions to consider include the following:

  1. What is the nature of war?
  2. What do fiction and poetry bring to the table of war-reporting?
  3. Does nonfiction have an advantage over these “imaginative” forms because of its truth-telling?
  4. These are only questions to get your thinking going. But I’d like you to answer the questions below, which relate specifically to this assigned reading.
The Things They Carried”

This short story was later expanded into a novel, which is part of the “One Book, One Chicago” series. That program’s site might prove useful in investigating the nature of war and O’Brien’s work. Here are the questions:

  1. How many ways does O’Brien use the verb to carry? What is the rhetorical effect that these uses have?

  2. What is the purpose behind the multiple lists of equipment, emotions, and other things?

  3. One of the important things that all good war literature addresses is the idea of heroism. How does O’Brien treat this concept?

Dulce et decorum est” and “At a Calvary Near the Ancre”

Wilfred Owen was a prominent poet of World War I. Here is an on-line archive of his writing, which you may find useful. World War I turned the traditional values surrounding chivalry (honor in battle, heroism, etc.) on their head, largely due to the horrors surrounding trench warfare. Here are some questions to consider in relation to the two poems up for discussion:

  1. Both “The Things They Carried” and “Dulce et decorum est” involve carrying and combat. What is the difference (or similarity) between them?
  2. Why does Owen choose to capitalize lie in the penultimate line?
  3. Why do you suppose Christ makes an appearance in “At a Calvary Near the Ancre”? What functions does he serve? Why would a soldier identify so closely to the crucified Christ?

As usual, your own lines of questioning are encouraged. My questions should only help your own thought processes.

Also: To make this day as jam-packed as possible, we’ll be listening to a little music, so come with your listening ears!

Nov. 13 Thu.

Donald Hall, “A Hundred Thousand Straightened Nails” (Oates 252-62). Lewis Thomas, “The Lives of a Cell” (Oates 358-60). Response 10 due.

Nov. 18 Tue.

Sophocles, Antigone (1-22). Note: If you choose to write a response paper on Antigone, please save it for Thursday.

Nov. 20 Thu.

Sophocles, Antigone (finish). Response 11 due.


As I see it, the play centers around a failure to communicate, but this is certainly not the only interpretation—nor, I suspect, is it the best! So we’ll talk about the play, and here are some questions to consider:

  1. What is the issue that causes conflict between Creon and Antigone?
  2. What are Creon’s and Antigone’s arguments? Whose position do you find more persuasive?
  3. Do you find the play’s ending at all satisfying? (Remember, we’re looking at “tragedy,” so something bad will happen at the end.) Think about the ending in the context of Hoagland’s “Heaven and Nature” and Gass’s “The Doomed in Their Sinking.” Do these essays make the ending more satisfactory or more problematic?
  4. Some of you have read this play in other settings. What were some of the issues that you discussed in those contexts? (This is an important question to consider—eventually you’ll need to learn to apply what you have learned in one class to another.)

I’ll also be returning your second essay in class and briefly lecturing on ancient Greek theater (perhaps even with pictures, if I can find them!).

(Regarding response papers: if you have turned in every response paper up to this point, you don’t need to turn one in on Antigone—but you do need to come to class ready to discuss the play.)

Nov. 25 Tue.

Vladimir Nobokov, “Perfect Past” (Oates 303-13). Richard Wright, “Bright and Morning Star” (Updike 179-210).

Nov. 27 Thu.

No class: Thanksgiving break.

Dec. 2 Tue.

Selected poetry (handout). Wrap-up and course evaluations.

Essay 3 due.


In class, we’ll think about different modes of interpreting a text, with the lyrics of “Hurt” as our focus.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of shit
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stain of time
The feeling disappears
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

Then watch the Nine Inch Nails version to prepare for class. Here are a few questions:

  1. What images appear in the text?
  2. Compare those images to what you see in the video. What similarities and differences do you see?
  3. Hurt” is ostensibly about drug addiction. Do the lyrics, music, or images (or all three together!) convey this meaning?
  4. Can you think of other ways to interpret this song?

(A few warnings: there are rotting animals and other presentations of death in the video; requires you to “register,” i.e., agree to receive spam from them, so you might want to create a junk e-mail account for the occasion; you’ll also be subjected to a 15-second commercial and a brief disclaimer. This is all worth it, though, because the video is quite fascinating and should be ripe for discussion and analysis.)

Please be prepared for class—watching the video (twice, if possible) and reading the text should take fewer than 20 minutes.

Dec. 11 Thu.

Final exam, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., in Dumbach 227.

Questions? Send me e-mail: .