A Website by W. F. O'Rourke
Today is .

(Site last edited on June 25, 2013.)

Mister O's e-mail address is wofo@hotmail.com.

The visitor to this site will find here such material as excerpts from old class lectures, model essays for student writers, cultural trivia quizzes, my poems, my cartoons, my personal family photos, my personal essays, and much more. Even though I have retired from full-time teaching, I will continue to maintain this website as long as I am able. Visit this site often. As you can see from the hit counter below, this site has been visited over 29,000 times by first-time visitors since I retired. (According to statistics provided by Tripod, the host of this website, I am receiving about 450 hits a month from both first-time and repeat visitors.) I modify old stuff and add new stuff almost every day.

Allow me to add this disclaimer concerning my personal essays: Heaven help me! I alone am responsible for whatever in my essays is out-of-date, insensitive, unorthodox, distressing, idiosyncratic, unprofessional, unclear, exaggerated, biased, impolite, naive, heretical or hysterical, incomplete, unconvincing, politically incorrect, boring, or just plain wrong. If any of my Gentle Readers can instruct me on how to improve the essays, they are more than welcome to send me an e-mail at wofo@hotmail.com. Some of the most useful improvements I have made in this site are the result of complaints, questions, criticisms, and tirades by my Gentle Readers. Don't worry about hurting my feelings. Any response I get that shows people are looking at my site makes me happy.


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Here are some websites you might find interesting.

Mister O's Cartoons

Here's another new site! More Snake Stories and Images: or, Have You Had Your 2011 Snake Encounter Yet?

Here's a new site! Burmese Pythons and Other Dangerous Reptiles in the U.S.

Click here to find links to my other websites on a variety of topics.

Here are some of the many collections of photos I have made over the years:

Here's a new album of photos my granddaughter brought back from her trip to Europe.

Click here to see Random Photos from 1880 to 2007.

Click here to see Miscellaneous Photos from 1937 to 2007.

Click here to see Album #8: Miscellaneous Photos from 1951 to 2007.

Click here to see Sarah Goes to Washington, 2007.

Click here to see Album #5: Photos from July 15, 2007, to September 14, 2007.

Click here to see Album #6: Photos from September 15, 2007, to November 14, 2007.

Click here to see Album #9: Photos from November 15, 2007, to December 12, 2007.

Click here to see Album #11: Photos from December 13, 2007, to July 21, 2008.

Click here to see Album #12: Photos from July 2008 to May 2009.

Click here to see Album #13: Photos from June 2009 to July 2009

Click here to see Album #14: Photos from July 2009 to Present

Click here to see More Old Photos

Click here to see McGill Photos: Class of 1958

Contents Of This Site

General Information

1.New Essays
a. An Update on the Hobbits
b. Peter's Sword: Getting the Imagery Right (This essay discusses images of St. Peter's sword in religious art.)
c. The Hobbits of Flores Island: Paleoanthropologists at Work(This essay discusses scientific efforts to understand ancient human remains found in a cave in Indonesia.)
d. Science, Math, and Philosophy for the Folks in the Pews: Chapter One. The Mass Spectrograph and the Age of the Earth (This essay explains some of the science and mathematics behind radiometric dating.)
2. More Sample Essays for ENG 093, ENG 101, and ENG 102 (Scroll down to ENG 093, ENG 101, and ENG 102 sections to find links to more sample essays.)
a. "Why Downtown Birmingham Can Be Scary After Dark" (An ENG 093 one-paragraph essay supported by three examples)
b. "Sharp Is What A Knife Should Be" (Another ENG 093 one-paragraph essay supported by three examples)
c. "Storm Surge: What Causes Most Hurricane Damage" (An ENG 093 one-paragraph esay supported by three different statistics)
d. "If You Don't Know Chuck Berry, You Don't Know Rock and Roll" (An ENG 093 one-paragraph essay supported by three statements by authorities)
e. "Chuck Berry, the Rocket Scientists, and the Expensive Gold Record" (An ENG 093 one-paragraph essay supported by one long example carefully explained)
f. "Just How Bad Battlefield Wounds Can Be" (An ENG 093 one-paragraph essay supported by three examples) WARNING! The graphics with this sample essay are gruesome. Avoid this sample if you are easily upset.
g. "The 2005 Newsweek Poll of Public High Schools: Good News or Bad News for Alabama?" (An ENG 093 Stage Two one-paragraph essay supported by statistics and examples)
h. "The Great American Public Education Monster" (Another ENG 093 Stage Two one-paragraph essay supported by statistics and examples)
i. "So Many Words in English: It Almost Makes Me Zozzled" (An ENG 093 Stage One one-paragraph essay supported by three groups of multiple examples)
j. "Ukelele Music and Hula Dancing at the Luau: Asian and Pacific Loan-Words in English" (Another ENG 093 Stage One one-paragraph essay supported by three groups of multiple examples)
k. "Of Course I Speak A Little Hebrew: Hebrew Loan-Words in English" (Another ENG 093 Stage One one-paragraph essay supported by three groups of multiple examples)
l. "Don't Get Mad! Get Hot as a Two-Dollar Pistol: English Expressions Meaning 'Angry'" (Another ENG 093 Stage One one-paragraph essay supported by three groups of multiple examples)
m. "Tomahawks and Teepees in Tuscaloosa: Native American Loan Words in Modern English" (Another ENG 093 Stage One one-paragraph essay supported by three groups of multiple examples)
n. "Rejection in Rome: Masons and Freemasons in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" (An ENG 101 essay)
o. "Hemingway's Use of Rifles as Indicators of Personality: A Small Insight into the Macho Style of 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'" (An ENG 101 essay)
p. "The Sad Dance of Life: A Reading of Katherine Mansfield's 'Her First Ball'" (An ENG 101 essay)
q. "Make Love, Not War: A First-Time Reader's Guide to Henry Reed's 'Naming of Parts'" (An ENG 102 essay)
r. "Our 'Quaint' and 'Curious' Custom: A Reading of Thomas Hardy's 'The Man He Killed'" (An ENG 102 essay)
3. Introducing The Basic Five-Paragraph Format
4. A Sample Five-Paragraph Essay
5. A discussion of the Sample Essay
6. Another Sample Essay
7. Some Advice on Reading Poems, Plays, and Short Stories
8. Content and Correctness: Or, How Did He Come Up With That Darn Grade?
9. Click here for more on grading and how to use the Harbrace Handbook.
10. More Sample Five-Paragraph Essays
11. Personal Photos

General Education Trivia Quizzes

Click here on Trivia Quizzes to find out how strong or weak your background of general knowledge is.

Click on the Portrait Gallery logo below to see photos and paintings of the authors covered in my classes.

The Student Writer Hall of Fame

Here is where you enter Mister O's Student Writer Hall of Fame!

If you have written a one-paragraph essay which you think is really good and which follows closely the format for a Stage One or a Stage Two one-paragraph essay or if you have written a well-made five-paragraph essay, then here's your chance to get some public recognition.

Click on the Hall of Fame logo below to see what kind of writing your fellow students are doing and to see how your writing can appear in the Hall of Fame.

English 093

1. Stage One Paragraph: Sample #1
2. A Discussion of Sample Paragraph #1
3. Another Paragraph With Discussion
4. Click here for more sample Stage One paragraphs.
5. Click here for more sample Stage Two Paragraphs plus comments.
6. More Sample Five-Paragraph Essays

English 101

1. Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour": On the Road to Women's Lib
2. Law and Freedom: Notes on the Background of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"
3. Before The Awakening: Rebellion and Sex in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"
4. "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
5. Louise Mallard and the Elixir of Life: Understanding Drinking Imagery in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"
6. Louise Mallard's Revelation: Epiphany in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"
7. Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado": The Madness of Montresor
8. Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado": Insight and Insanity
9. "The Star": Arthur C. Clarke and the Conflict between Science and Religion
10. Emily Grierson and Uncle Tommy: Chosen by Wierdness"
11. Unscrambling the Chronology of Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"
12. Lessons from the Lion: Patterns of Courage and Cowardice in Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"
13. A Sample Analytical Essay on Willa Cather's "Paul's Case"
14. Another Sample Analytical Essay on Willa Cather's "Paul's Case"
15. Still Another Sample Analytical Essay on Willa Cather's "Paul's Case"
16. An Analytical Essay on Graham Greene's "The Destructors"
17. An Analytical Essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"
18. Another Analytical Essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"
19. An Analytical Essay on Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
20. An Analytical Essay on Katherine Mansfield's "Her First Ball"
21. Human Sacrifice and Fertility Cults: The Background of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

English 102

1. Some Comments on Connotations and Denotations of Words
2. Blake's "The Tyger":The Dreadful and Difficult Side of the Creator
3. A Sample Analytical Essay on David Bottoms' "Sign for My Father, Who Stressed the Bunt"
4. How Not to Woo a Wife: A Reading of Browning's "My Last Duchess"
5. A Sample Analytical Essay on e. e. cummings' "Buffalo Bill's"
6. A Sample Analytical Essay on e. e. cummings' "in Just--"
7. The Individual versus the Majority: A Reading of Emily Dickinson's "Much Madness Is Divinest Sense
8. Keith Douglas and the Struggle to Remain Human: A Reading of "Vergissmeinnicht"
9. Sample Essay on Robert Francis's "The Hound"
10. Robert Frost's "Auspex": or, All about Eagles
11. Barking with the Big Dogs: A Reading of Frost's "Canis Major"
12. A Sample Analytical Essay with Footnotes and Bibliography on Robert Frost's "Design"
13. Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay": A Sad Farewell to Golden Ages
14. Astronomy and Symbolism: A Reading of Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice"
15. Wrong Roads through the Yellow Wood: Mischief and Meaning in Frost's "The Road Not Taken"
16. The Three Victims in Robert Hayden's "The Whipping" (one-paragraph short essay)
17. Terence's "Stupid Stuff": Depressing Themes in A. E. Housman's Poetry
18. Geography, History, and Metaphor in A. E. Housman's "On Wenlock Edge"
19. Sample Essay on A. E. Housman's "Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff"
20. Sophistication and Grief in New York City: Frank O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died"
21. Horror and Anger on the Field of Battle: A Reading of Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est"
22. Sound Imagery in Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" (one-paragraph short answer)
23. Shock and Resentment in Ransom's "Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter"
24. Beyond Moralizing: "Richard Cory" as Poetic Experience
25. A Sample Character Analysis Essay on Shakespeare's Othello
26. Beyond the Ordinary: An Appraisal of Shakespeare's "That Time of Year"
27. Sample Essay on Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poem "They Flee From Me"

Poems by Mister O

1. On the Ancestry of Housecats
2. T as in Tulip, or Calvin Revisited: A Sort of Elegy
3. By My Father's Coffin at Graveside
4. The Kid and the Chameleon
5. Investigating the Loss of the Card Catalog from the LRC (formerly known as the Library)
6. The Privacy Fence
7. Two Old Testament Passages
8. The Destruction of Jabin: A Narrative Poem on Judges 4 and 5
9. King Eglon and Ehud the Judge: A Villanelle on Judges 3
10. Sonnet 102
11. Walter Taylor, 1884-1970
12. For Pam-Pa
13. The Next-Door Widow's Persian Cat
14. An Observation Concerning Certain Physical and Metaphysical Properties of This, the Best of All Possible Worlds
15. Haiku #1
16. "Life Expectancy Up Dramatically"
17. R.O.T.C. Drill at Spring Hill College: A Vietnam Epigram
18. Five String Banjo
19. Homage to Jerry Lee "the Killer" Lewis
20. Pastoral Poem
21. Haiku #2
22. Collectibles
23. The Geometer Reflects Upon His Grave, Grave Loss
24. Haiku #3
25. Haiku #4
26. Haiku #5
27. Haiku #6
28. Three Similes on a Universal Theme of History
29. Relapse
30. Sinkholes in Jefferson County, 1973
31. Easter Sunday, A.D. 33
32. The Relativity Effect
33. Morality Play
34. A Metaphysical Proof for the Existence of God
35. A Short Sermon on an Obvious Theme
36. Maiden Aunt
37. New Orleans
38. St. Monica's Chapel Revisited
39. Lines for Larry
40. River Fable (for T. S.)
41. The Heart's Cosmogony: A Spring Poem
42. Twelve Year Old Bourbon on an April Eve
43. Pine and Oak: A Sonnet
44. A Kennedy Family Album
45. Left-Handed Melodies
46. Gotterfunken: For Stuart S.
47. Rewriting My Notes from Music Appreciation
48. Looking at Old Photos Fifty Years after Commencement
49. Waking Up in the Recovery Room: for Dr. Zelko Hrynkiw
50. The Third Testament: for Rev. Harris Hand

Click on the image above to see cartoons created on the Paint Program.

English 261

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Should You Be Reading?
2. Do I Need A Title For All My Essays?
3. What is Good Literature?

The Basic Five-Paragraph Format

It may not be the only format for a succcessful essay, but the basic five-paragraph essay is a format that will never let you down. Almost any serious writing assignment can be organized by the basic five-paragraph format. There is a sample essay just below this section. It will be helpful to you to compare this format to the essay below. So, here are the basic elements of the five-paragraph format:

(reflects thesis of essay)

Introductory Paragraph
(begins with a motivator and contains a thesis sentence and plan)

Three Supporting Paragraphs
(contains the main evidence, support, and reasoning behind your thesis idea)

Concluding Paragraph
(Contains a restatement of your thesis idea and ends with a clincher sentence)

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The following is a sample essay in the standard five-paragraph format:

Why Israelis and Palestinians Can't Live in Peace

When a Palestinian suicide bomber blows up an Israeli grandmother and her eighteen-month-old grandaughter or when the crew of an Israeli tank cuts down two Palestinian shepherds who approach an IDF tank too closely, things have obviously gone too far. Clearly it is time for peace. Unfortunately, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians seems very unlikely because there are religious differences, personal animosities, and environmental issues which almost guarantee that there will never be peace between these two belligerent neighbors.

Most Israelis are Jews and most Palestinians are Muslims, so the religious differences between the two sides help to keep trouble brewing. Many Jews, for example, believe that they are entitled to "the promised land" because they are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham's "legitimate" son by his wife Sarah. Under the Jewish laws of that time the true son of the true body of the true wife of the tribal leader was entitled to be heir to his father's estate. Most Muslims, however, believe that they have the stronger claim to "the promised land" because they are the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, Abraham's first-born son by Hagar, the servant girl. Under most Semitic tribal laws of the time, the leader of the tribe designated his heir, and it is true that Abraham designated Ishmael as his heir. Both sides believe that God promised the land we know today as Israel to Abraham's descendants, so what we have is an impossible situation. Two sets of heirs are squabbling over who should get the estate.

There are also personal hatreds between the leaders of the two factions which make it unlikely that the current crop of leaders in that part of the world will ever sit down at a peace conference to seriously attempt to bring peace to the region. The leader of the Palestinians, for example, is Yasser Arafat. He got his start in the late 1940's as an Arab terrorist dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. The current Prime Minister of Israel is Ariel Sharon, who got his start in the late 1940's as an Israeli terrorist dedicated to the destruction of the Palestinians. For more than fifty years these two leaders have been trying to destroy each other. Each one has made numerous attempts to assassinate the other. So, it seems very unlikely that these leaders will ever trust each other enough to negotiate a legitimate peace settlement. And, even though these two fellows are in their 70's and will soon pass from the scene, all the likely leaders who will replace them are equally hostile to one another. (Arafat died in November of 2004. So far the same hostility between Israelis and Palestinians has continued.)

However, the most compelling reason for continued strife between the two sides is an environmental issue, the availability of fresh water for human consumption. The population of Israel has increased by over twenty percent in the past ten years, but the supply of fresh water has not increased at all. The principal source of fresh water is the Sea of Galilee, but environmetalists tell us that this great lake of fresh water in the northwest corner of Israel is close to becoming polluted. It is certain that if the population of the area continues to grow, there will eventually be conflict over water rights. Human beings must have water to live, so it is obvious that there will be on-going strife in the future over who controls the sources of fresh water. Even if all the other causes of conflict were resolved, there will still be a fight over water.

Unfortunately, the religious differences, the personal animosity of the leaders, and the environmental problems are merely the most obvious of the causes of conflict. There are all sorts of additional historical, sociological, and psychological reasons why this conflict is so hard to resolve. One thing is certain, however, the conflict is still raging. As I was writing this last paragraph, I heard a news report that a suicide car bomber had blown up a bus load of Israeli soldiers and civilians near Megiddo in northern Israel. Sixteen Israelis and the bomber are dead, and 42 people are in the hospital. Truly things have gone too far.

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Connotation and Denotation

Poets often play with the connotations of words. So what do we mean by connotation?

Connotations are the suggested meanings of a word. For example, both "nag" and "steed" mean "horse." In other words, the denotation, or dictionary meaning, of the two words is quite similar. Both words are synonyms of "horse." But, oh how different the company these two words have kept. We hear the word "nag" in connection with old, not-too-fast race horses; we hear the word "steed" in connection with heroic figures like Prince Charming or some other knight in shining armor. Thus we say that the connotations of "nag" are negative and the connotations of "steed" are very positive.

For more on how connotations are used in a poem, see your class notes from our discussion of the poem "Naming of Parts." By the way, here is a picture of the M-1 rifle referred to in that poem:

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A Discussion of the Sample Essay

It will be very helpful to you to work carefully through this discussion. Why? Because this is the sort of paper that will be expected on most of your writing assignments in Eng 101 and Eng 102, and it is the sort of essay that you will be taught to write if you are enrolled in ENG 093. If you don't really get the drift of this discussion, you need to ask for help. In my opinion, it is impossible to get an "A" or a "B" in Eng 101 or Eng 102 if you have not mastered this format.

A good essay is not just a rambling collection of loosely related sentences and paragraphs. A good essay develops a clear idea or makes a clear point. The point that a good essay makes is sometimes called the central idea or the thesis. In the sample essay just above, the thesis is this: there are several reasons why the Israelis and the Palestinians will probably never live at peace with one another.

Look at the title of the essay, and you will see that it reflects or indicates the thesis idea. Look at the last sentence of the first paragraph, and you will see that it is the sentence which states the main idea of the whole essay,i.e., there are reasons why the two sides will never know peace. (This is the sentence known as the thesis sentence.) Look at each of the three body paragraphs, and you will see that each of those paragraphs discusses and explains a reason why peace will be difficult or impossible to achieve. Finally, look at the last paragraph and you will see that it begins with a sentence that once again repeats the main idea of the paper, i.e., peace will difficult to achieve. In other words, the author of this paper has given you at least four specific reminders of exactly what his point or position is.

Look again at the first paragraph. The first sentence is what is called a motivator, or an attention-getter, or an interest-builder. By mentioning the two recent tragedies that have arisen out the conflict, the author has stimulated his reader's interest in the conflict and prepared his reader's mind for further discussion of that subject. (Re-read the opening of the first paragraph, and see whether you find your interest or concern aroused.)

Look one more time at the first paragraph. Notice that the last sentence provides the reader with a plan or blueprint of the whole paper. That sentence indicates that there are three main reason for the conflict, namely, religious differences, personal hatreds, and serious environmental issues. Not only does the plan tell you what is in the body paragraphs, it also tells you the order in which the ideas will be taken up.

Now look at the last paragraph, and notice how the first sentence of that paragraph restates the thesis sentence. It is clear to any reader that the essay is coming to a close, and the author wants to drive home his point. This author wants you to believe him when he says that those religious differences, personal hatreds, and environmental problems are almost certain to keep the two sides fighting one another for a long time to come. Finally, look one last time at the this paragraph, and notice how the last sentences sound like the paper has ended properly, like the author has really "clinched" his argument. The very end of the paper should sound like the paper is finished, don't you agree?

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Sample Essay #2

This five-paragraph essay illustrates the same basic five-paragraph format applied to a literary topic, an analysis of Robert Frost's little poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Here's a text of the poem:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay": A Sad Farewell to Golden Ages

There is much more to Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" than some leaves and flowers. Once a reader comes to grips with the general sense of the poem, the connotations of words such as "green" and "gold,"and the significance of the allusion to Eden, that reader will realize that Frost's little poem is a classic restatement of the old theme: as sad as it may be, nothing really good and valuable lasts forever.

The general sense of the poem is fairly obvious: Nature's beginnings (spring, new birth, youth, a spectacular dawn, first love and so forth) are as valuable as gold, but those beginnings are inevitably over too quickly. As Frost puts it, more or less, gold is too hard a hue to hold for long. Frost then gives an example from the natural scenery of Vermont. Nature's "early leaf's a flower," i.e., a newly unfurling leaf is almost as delicate and beautiful as a flower, but it doesn't stay that way long. Almost before you can savor its beauty and delicacy it subsides into an ordinary leaf, bound to go the way of all leaves, of Eden, and of all new beginnings. "Nothing gold can stay" for long; sadly, all good things pass away too soon.

Much of a reader's sense of what the poem is getting at can be derived from the connotations of the words "green" and "gold." In addition to its literal reference to the color green, the word "green" suggests newness, youth, freshness, and new beginnings. In addition, the word "gold" suggests at least two things: gold is symbolic of great value and it is also suggestive of the Golden Age stories from mythology. Golden Ages were those times in ancient mythologies when everything was wonderful; but in all the mythologies (including the old Hebrew tale of Adam and Eve), somehow mankind has been banished from such paradises. Golden Ages are always in the past and never lasted long in the first place.

Most important, however, in grasping the meaning of this poem is the allusion to the Garden of Eden. When he says "Eden sank to grief," he is linking the poem's moral, philosophical, and spiritual meanings to the Adam and Eve myth. If Eden came to grief in the same way that dawn gives way to day, that is, in the same way that the magnificent and magical gives way to the ordinary and prosaic, then we can only sigh a wistful sigh and say "Nothing gold can stay." In other words, there may have been a Golden Age of Perfection once upon a time, but it has long ago retreated into the realm of the ordinary; there may be golden moments ahead of us, but they too will pass away as quickly as dawn turns to day.

The general sense of the poem, the connotations of words, the significance of the allusions to Eden and the Golden Ages -- all of these enrich the poem. And even though the poem does not bring us some great new insight (we always knew that youth and beauty would pass away), the insight is clothed in new garments. Frost's simple poem brings the old truth to life in a fresh and striking way.

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Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour": On the Road to Women's Lib

Kate Chopin has often been called a forerunner of the Women's Liberation Movement, and her little tale called "The Story of an Hour" illustrates why she is thought of in that way. When one examines the 1890's setting of the story, when one notices the complexities of Mrs. Mallard's character, and when one traces the themes of repression and freedom in the story, it becomes clear that Chopin's story is clearly in harmony with the women's rights movement of the late 20th Century.

By setting the story in her own time, the 1890's, Chopin placed her character in a world where for women divorce was impossible, where men made all the decisions, and where there were virtually no respectable jobs outside the home for women who needed to work. (Chopin herself went through the frustrating experience of trying to support herself and her six children after the early death of her husband.) It was a world where women did not have the right to vote. It was a world in which women were almost required to be passive and submissive. When Mrs. Mallard thought of her husband, for example, she visualized him as "a powerful will bending [her will to his]." In short, it was a world in which women were in serious need of some rights; it was the sort of world in which an intelligent woman like Chopin was bound to develop feminist yearnings.

Chopin certainly gives Louise Mallard the soul of a feminist, even though her outside appearance is that of a dutiful wife. When she first hears that her husband has been killed in the train wreck, she "wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment" and then locks herself in her upstairs bedroom to grieve. Her reaction apparently seemed quite genuine and appropriate to her sister and to Richards, her husband's friend who had come to the house to break the bad news. In fact, her sister is so convinced that Mrs. Mallard is grieving that she becomes concerned and begins to call through the door: "Louise, open the door! I beg you; open the door -- you will make yourself ill." But the lady is not making herself ill. She is feeling very well indeed because she has passed through grief quickly and has begun to enjoy the idea of having her freedom, and -- when she finally unlocks the door and walks out of the room -- Chopin compares her to the Goddess of Victory. In the scale of feminist values, rejoicing over one's freedom obviously has a higher value than mourning over the death of a man, any man, even a husband.

Chopin also harps on the typically feminist themes of female repression and female liberation. At one point she actually says that Mrs. Mallard had a fair face "whose lines bespoke repression," and elsewhere she calls it a "crime" to believe, as her husband surely did, that anyone had the right "to impose a private will upon a fellow creature." But right beside those images of repression, we see Louise Mallard rejoicing over her newly found freedom: "'Free! Body and soul free!' she kept whispering." Indeed, before she had the news of her husband's death, Louise had dreaded the idea that her life might be long; but as she starts down the stairs toward her new life of freedom, "she breathed a quick prayer that life might be long." Just like a modern feminist, Chopin has made it clear that freedom outranks submissiveness.

It is really rather clear that such a person as Louise Mallard dealing in the way she does with the conflict between submissiveness and independence in such a repressive setting turns the story into somewhat of a feminist parable. And when, in the end, it turns out that her husband is not dead after all, she drops dead on the stairs, making the feminist moral of the parable clear as can be. The doctor who examines her may say she died "of joy that kills," but the reader knows better. Louise dies out of disppointment that she has once again lost her freedom by regaining her husband. And that surely sounds like feminism to me!

The following question might occur to you as you reflect on Chopin's story: where has Mrs. Mallard's husband been if he wasn't on the train? Everyone in the story thought he was on the train, but he was travelling somewhere far away from the train, so far away he hadn't even heard about the train wreck. What sort of business or pleasure had he slipped away to without even mentioning it to his wife?

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What Should You Be Reading?

There is an old story told around colleges and universities about a student who enrolled in a famous professor's course. During the first class, the famous professor mentioned four different books that any serious student ought to read if he or she really wanted to master the subject matter of the professor's course.

Well, the eager young student ran to the library and checked out all four books and then rushed home and started reading. Of course, the student couldn't finish all four books before the next class meeting, but by the time he returned to the next session of the famous professor's class he had finished one of the four books and had looked a little at the table of contents of the other three books.

The second class meeting was much like the first, and by the end of that class meeting the professor had mentioned three more books that "serious students" ought to read. The eager young student was clever enough to realize at this point that he would never be able to keep up with such long reading assignments. So, in the next class meeting he asked a question:

"Excuse me, Professor Brown, but I want to ask a question. During the first two classes you have recommended at least seven full-length books. How can anyone possibly keep up with such long reading assignments?"

"Oh dear!" exclaimed Professor Brown. "You thought those reading assignments were made for the next class. Actually, I am making an assignment for life." The professor paused for dramatic effect, and then he continued: "Oh, my students, there are far more books that you need to read than there are hours of life in which to read them. The real question is not which books I should read. The real question is this: Are you reading every day? Which means, are you spending your time wisely?"

It doesn't matter so much what you read. What matters is that you spend time every day reading and that you resist the urge to waste time. Nevertheless, you asked for a list of books that would help you build your background for college study. Try the following link for a list of the 100 most recomended books for college students to read: 100 Books You Need to Read

There is no quick and accurate way to measure a student's general level of knowledge; however, here and there throughout this website you will find general knowledge "trivia" quizzes. All the questions on these quizzes come from The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know by E. D. Hirsch, Joseph Kett, and James Trefil. The book covers the following topics: the Bible, mythology and folklore, idioms of the English language, world literature, world philosophy, world religion, English and American literature, the conventions of written English, the fine arts, world history up to 1550, world history after 1550, American history before 1865, American history after 1865, world politics, American politics, world geography, American geography, anthropology, psychology, sociology, business and economics, physical sciences and mathematics, geology, biology, mdeicine and health, and technology. If you are doing well on these "trivia" quizzes, you are making progress toward a good education; if you are struggling with the "trivia" quizzes, then you need to read a few more books on the list of 100 above.

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A. E. Housman's "Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff": Poetry as Training for Life

Real men or "good ol' boys," as we call them in the South, don't need poetry in their lives, do they? Well, A. E. Housman's "Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff" says real men do need poetry. From his characterization of his comrades as "fellows whom it hurts to think" to his imagery of ale and beer as an escape from reality to his marvelous parable of Mithridates, Housman moves his reader along to the conclusion that poetry, even sad poetry, is valuable training for real life.

In the opening stanza, Housman makes it clear that the "real men" down at the pub think poetry, especially sad poetry, is really "stupid stuff." The fellows in the pub mock Terence's poems: "The cow, the old cow, she is dead," and then they claim satirically that it was Terence's poems which killed the cow and which are about to kill them. In brief, Housman has portrayed the local "real men" as "fellows whom it hurts to think," that is, fellows who really are in need of a dose of poetry. And, when the ale-drinkers in the pub suggest to Terence that he needs to "pipe a tune to dance to," that is, to write something less depressing, Terence gives his wonderful defense of the kind of poetry he writes.

The basic idea of Terence's defense is that light-hearted poetry, like alcohol, lets us see the world "as the world is not." We can look "into the pewter pot" and see a pleasant version of the world, but that version will not last. Just like the tippler who can only get "halfway home or near" with his stomach full of beer, the person who sees the world in a falsely optimistic light will have a rude awakening when the pleasant fumes of unreality wear off. Therefore, Housman says, we must face it as a wise man would, and "train for ill and not for good."

It is, however, the parable of Mithridates which drives home Terence's (and Housman's) point: Mithridates made himself immune to the poisons of the earth by sampling them in gradually increasing doses. The parallel is clear. The poet believes we should be like Mithridates. We should sample all of nature's "killing store" by reading such poems as Terence writes, and then we will be "seasoned and sound." Like the old king we will be immune to life's ability to destroy us prematurely with grief.

So Housman leads us, like he leads the "fellows whom it hurts to think," to see that escapism or avoidance of unpleasant subjects is not the way to go. Rather, he recommends that we be like Mithridates and toughen ourselves up for the long haul in life. Even though we will all have to die in the end anyway, we can be like the old king and live a long time:

--I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

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Some Advice on Reading Literary Works

Short stories, poems, and plays make up a large part of the reading you will do in Freshmen English courses like ENG 101 and ENG 102. Sometimes that reading seems a bit difficult, so here is some advice to help you get more out your reading.

First of all, you should keep in mind that a short story, a poem, or a play does not really exist on the pages of a book. I'll repeat that: the words you see on the page are not really the literary work. The literary work really doesn't exist until someone is performing it, that is, until someone is reading the story or the poem or the drama. The words on the pages of a book are merely "sheet music" for the reader to follow as he performs the story.

Now when a musician gets a new piece of sheet music, he is seldom ever able to sight read it perfectly. He often has to practice some of the passages in the song more than one time. It is just the same with literary works; nobody can really sight read a short story, a poem, or a play. You must be prepared to read and then re-read many passages, you must be prepared to look up words you don't know, you must be ready to go to the library or to the internet and find helpful information about the author or about the story you are reading. And, just as it takes a pianist several rehearsals to master a new piece of sheet music, so too can it take the typical reader several readings before he really begins to perform the story well.

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Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado": The Madness of Montresor

Walling up a man alive surely qualifies as the act of a seriously disturbed person, and that is exactly what Montresor does in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." Indeed, when one examines the plot, the characterization, and especially the point of view of the story, it becomes very clear that really understanding the story is the same thing as really understanding just how cold-bloodedly insane Montresor is.

In addition to the main action of walling up the unfortunate Fortunato alive, there are several smaller elements of the plot which reinforce one's understanding of the cold-blooded nature of Montresor's madness. For example, Montresor has planned for his home to be free of witnesses by telling his servants that he will be gone all night, knowing that they will all run off as soon as he leaves the house. He has planned his revenge for a night during the carnival season when nearly everyone is in costume and no one would remember seeing a person disguised in a roquelaire, a full-length black cloak something like one of the capes that movie Draculas wear. He has prepared a chain and padlock to secure his victim, and he has prepared blocks of stone and fresh mortar. (Fresh mortar? How confident he is that his plan for revenge will succeed!) These little touches of deliberate planning remind one of Polonius' comment about Hamlet: There is method in his madness.

Nearly everything that Montresor says or does in the story reinforces Poe's characterization of him as a dangerous, cold-blooded madman. However, let us consider just the following passage from the first paragraph of the story:

At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled -- but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

Dr. Mark Wilhite, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience dealing with psychotic people, said about the above passage that "Montresor is clearly insane. No sane person devotes so much careful thought to developing such an elaborate theory of revenge."

Perhaps the best evidence of just how crazy Montresor is can be found by analyzing the point-of-view in this story. The story is actually spoken by Montresor himself fifty years after the main events take place. Montresor must, therefore, be at least 70 years old, perhaps a whole lot older. As one can see in the first paragraph, Montresor is telling this tale to a person he addresses as "you, who know so well the nature of my soul." Is "you" a priest to whom he is confessing a sin? A priest would know "the nature of [Montresor's] soul" very well. Or perhaps "you" is merely a close friend. Whatever the case, one can see that Montresor is not at all sorry for his sins. He actually seems to be bragging about the success of his plot to revenge himself against Fortunato. One thing is, however, certain: Montresor shows no remorse for his act of vengenace even as he approaches the end of his own life. We are certain of this because we see his story through his own eyes.

Although the reader never knows exactly what Fortunato did to bring on such horrible vengenace, the basic plot elements, the characterization of Montresor, and the point-of-view of the story all tend to highlight Montresor's cold-blooded insanity. Perhaps it is better we do not know how Fortunato offended Montresor and that it is a better story for making it appear that Montresor kills Fortunato for no specific good reason. After all, the better reason Montresor has, the less crazy he would appear. In any event, we leave the story with a sense that Montresor needed very little reason to set such a terrible revenge in motion. We close the book thinking he simply was. . .nuts!

"The Cask of Amontillado" is, of course, fiction; nevertheless it is not entirely illegitimate to make the following observations:

Poe's choice of the name Montresor is interesting. There really was in the 18th Century an important aristocratic family in France named Montresor. In pre-revolutionary France the Montresors were extremely wealthy. They owned several medieval chateaux. But why has this one branch of the Montresors lived in Italy for so many generations? Is it possible that Poe based his story on tales he had heard about an eccentric French aristocrat who fled to Italy during the bloodiest years of the French Revolution to avoid the guillotine?

Is our protagonist's branch of the family cursed with heriditary insanity?

Amontillado gets its name from the Montilla province of Spain. It has an exceptionally high alcoholic content, nearly twenty percent! It is amber in color and is a dry rather than sweet wine. In 2005 a fifth of the highest quality Amontillado could be ordered on the Internet for about $15.

There is still a wealthy branch of the Montresor family in Italy. Alfredo Montresor, for example, is currently one of the most important architects of Italy and also owns a gigantic villa which he has converted into a four-star hotel not far from Venice. According to a tradition in Alfredo's family, the founder of the Italian branch of the Montresors was a mysterious Frenchman who acquired his properties in Italy in a card game at the casino in Venice sometime during the very early 1800's.

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Do I Need A Title For All My Essays?

Of course you need a title for anything that is five paragraphs or longer. If you are planning your essay well enough, you will have a clear idea of the point you want to make, that is, you will have a clear idea of what your thesis is. If you have a clear idea of what your thesis is, making up a good title for an essay is easy. Here's how:

The simplest format for a title is called the Central Idea Format. In a sample essay elsewhere in this website, the thesis or central idea of the paper was that there are several important reasons why the Israelis and the Palestinians cannot manage to live in peace. That sample essay is entitled "Why The Israelis and Palestinians Can't Have Peace." The main idea of the paper's thesis sentence has been converted into an eight-word phrase, and -- bingo! -- we have a decent title for the essay.

If you are writing about a poem, a play, a movie, a short story, or some similar piece of writing, there is another format for titling an essay that works very well. This is called the Title/Subtitle format. The first half of the title is merely the author's name and the title of of the work being discussed followed by a colon (:), and the second half (i.e., the part following the colon) is a subtitle which is nothing more than the thesis idea of the essay. For example, an essay on Kate Chopin's little tale "the Story of an Hour" which develops the main idea that her story is an illustration of any early case of ideas typical in the Women's Lib Movement will be entitled something like this: Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour": On the Road to Women's Lib.

Remember that your title is your first opportunity to "sell" your idea to the reader. It is an important part of "writing not only so you can be understood but writing so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood." If you go back and look at the various essays in this website which are labelled "sample essays," you will see that all of them use the Title/Subtitle format for creating their titles.

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Correctness and Content:
Or, How Did He Come Up With That Darn Grade?

Sometimes students in English composition are puzzled when they see grades like "C," "D," or even "F" on their first papers. Someone always frowns and says "I always got A's and B's in high school English, but I can't figure out what this guy wants from me." Well, I want you to know what I expect, and the following remarks about correctness and content and especially my method of reading your papers should help you to understand why you receive the grades you do and should also help you to improve your writing as we go through the semester.

Obviously, the fewer writing errors you make, the better your grade will be. By writing errors I mean actual mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and mechanics -- that is, all the writing rules discussed in the first eighteen chapters of The Harbrace Handbook. Those chapters cover four categories of writing rules about which there is very little disagreement. Subjects and verbs either agree or they do not; words are either spelled correctly or they are not; commas and other marks of punctuation are either correctly used or they are not; either a word is capitalized properly or it is not. In other words, the papers with no, or very few, errors have a far better chance of receiving a high grade than papers which handle matters of correctness in a clumsy or careless manner. In fact, it is possible to make so many writing errors that no matter how good your content is the paper will receive a low grade.

Content, as I use the term, means everything other than correctness. It includes all those recommendations about basic formats for paragraphs and five-paragraph essays which are found in such books as The Practical Writer, the textbook for ENG 093; it includes all those recommendations for effective writing which are found in the second half of The Harbrace Handbook; it includes also my impression of whether or not a piece of student writing I am trying to grade is an effective and interesting treatment of an appropriate subject. Since improving your handling of content is the main business of an English composition course, it is clear that a paper which shows very little evidence of an effort to take such matters seriously will be a poor paper and will receive a poor grade.

Perhaps the best way to understand how I arrive at a grade is revealed by the method I use to read a student essay. My procedure is to first read the second half of the first paragraph to see if there is a clear thesis sentence and a clear plan for the paper; I then read the first half of the last paragraph to see if the writer restates the thesis of the paper clearly; and then I read the title of the essay to see if reflects the overall thesis idea of the paper. Then I quickly read the whole paper through to see if the individual paragraphs actually support the thesis idea of the paper. If I notice errors of correctness while I am doing this reading, I mark these errors on the paper. Thus, if a paper seems to me to be an effective development and support of an appropriate thesis idea and if that paper is also free of serious errors, I begin to consider awarding an "A" or a "B" to the paper. On the other hand, if the paper handles matters of content poorly and also has a substantial number of writing errors, then I begin to consider the possibility of assigning that paper a "D" or an "F." Since most papers I read fall a little short on content and since most papers also seem to have a significant number of errors, I am usually trying to decide whether to give a paper a "C-minus" or a "C-plus."

So the answer to that disappointed or upset student who wants to know how I arrived at that "darn grade" is simply this: I try to assess the content and correctness of a paper. Effective content and an absence of errors will earn high grades on student papers while weak content and shaky correctness will earn disappointing grades,but didn't you really know that all along?

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Stage One Paragraph: Sample #1

Calvinism (also known as Puritanism), which is still a noticeable part of Christianity in the South, is not a happy-go-lucky brand of religion. To begin with, Calvinists hold to the gloomy belief that all human beings are basically corrupt and sinful as a result of Adam and Eve's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. That's why some Calvinists believe that, if an infant dies before being baptized, the little tyke will burn in Hell forever. Another typically harsh belief of Calvinists is that some of these innately sinful humans are predestined to burn in hellfire no matter what they do or believe. Perhaps, however, the most familiar of Puritanism's grim beliefs is that most of our human impulses are corrupt and from the Devil and that, therefore, such urges as to have fun by playing cards or dancing or by drinking a few beers are corrupt all the time, but especially so on Sundays. In brief, Calvinism is the source of some of the sternest beliefs of Southern Protestant Christianity.

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Discussion of Paragraph #1

Notice that the sample paragraph above follows the format called "the Stage One Paragraph Format." This format may not be the only way to write a paragraph, but it is an effective method that will always help you in your writing.

The first sentence of the sample paragraph just above is an example of a topic sentence. It tells the reader exactly what the topic is and exactly what the writer's point about that topic is. In this case the topic is "Calvinism," and the writer's point is that Calvinism is a grim and humorless type of religious belief.

Now look at the last sentence of the sample paragraph. It says exactly the same thing as the first sentence, but in different words. This sentence is called the "restatement of the topic sentence."

Now look at the sentences between the topic sentence and the restatement of the topic sentence. Each of these sentences support the topic sentence by giving examples of the stern, humorless, and grim aspects of Calvinism.

So the topic sentence tells the reader what you are going to tell him, the middle sentences (also called the supporting sentences) tell the reader what you planned to tell him, and the last sentence tells him what you just told him. In other words, the writer of this paragraph has basically stated a point about Calvinism and then presents evidence to back up that opinion and then restates the opinion so that the reader cannot possibly misunderstand the point of the paragraph.

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Robert Francis's "The Hound": Facing Up to Life's Uncertainties

Robert Francis's "The Hound" is not a very long poem, but those twelve short lines suggest some rather profound insights into the uncertainties of life and how one should face those uncertainties. The comparison of life to a hound and the connotations of such words in the poem as "equivocal" and "stand" reveal that Francis views life as a risky business that must be faced with courage.

The comparison of life to a large, potentially dangerous dog suggests that Francis sees life as being full of events which spring upon us without warning. Sometimes those events are negative and can "rend" us, that is, tear us up emotionally; sometimes those events are positive and resemble those occasions when a big dog rushes at us and wants to lick us with his tongue in a friendly way. Of course, the problem is that we don't really know what life has in store for us any more than we can tell what that big dog wants to do to us until he has already leaped at us. Francis seems to be saying that life can be frightening and that we face it without any protection in much the same way that we face a large dog with only our "bare hand."

It is important to note that Francis describes the hound as "equivocal," a word which means "having more than one possible meaning." Obviously, Francis means that life is equivocal, that is, sometimes it is positive and sometimes it is negative. However, when we consider the connotations of the word "equivocal," we realize that it is related to the word "equivocate," a word which is sometimes used as a synonym for the words "lie" and "deceive." In other words, Francis seems to be suggesting that life is not always what it seems to be, that it is actually and perhaps deliberately deceptive and tricky.

Francis concludes his little poem as follows: "Meanwhile I stand/ And wait the event." Literally, of course, he is saying that once the hound has sprung at him, he must simply wait and see whether the hound comes at him with "teeth or tongue," that is, whether this time life will be negative or positive. Consider, however, the connotations of the word "stand." We know the word from many expressions -- "to stand up," "to stand fast," "to stand against," "to stand behind," "to stand one's ground" -- and all of these expressions suggest courage and steadfastness. Francis does not describe his reaction to the charging dog as "shrinking," "cowering," "running away," or "falling down." He stands there awaiting the dog's approach. He exhibits courage.

According to Robert Francis, life is like a large, dangerous dog charging at us, and we are unable to tell whether the dog will bite us or lick us. It may be an uncertain and frightening situation, but we must face the event with courage. After all, what other choice do we really have?

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