WEEK 1-3: black robe 

We'll start by looking at Black Robe's geographical and historical context and then at Laforgue's psychological predicament. We'll then focus on the tension between individuals and groups and the conflict of culture and religion. Throughout, we'll explore the narrative form, which follows a journey format and a linear chronology which is skillfully knit together with recurring motifs and images. After you read Six Categories, you'll notice that we're roughly following the same order: we start with space or geography (1) and time or history (2), then deal with character or psychology (3), conflict (4), theme (5), and format and stylistic devices (6).


Because your Black Robe essay is due, you don't have to have The Quiet American read for this class. I'll give an introduction to the novel and we'll watch the 2002 film version (directed by Phillip Noyce, and starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Do Thi Hai Yen).

Essay # 1 (20%) on Black Robe -- due at the start of class. Write a maximum 700-word essay on setting, sexuality, cross-cultural conflict, or religion.

Come up with your own angle to explore and analyze. Make sure to deal with the entire text. You may put more emphasis on one or two parts of the text, yet you need to keep in mind what happens throughout.

Remember not to list ideas or summarize plot. Instead, make a specific, original, insightful argument about the text. Make sure to 1) use the proper essay format -- see Essay Structure -- 2) make an analytical argument, and 3) support this argument with specific references to the texts.

- Late papers will be docked 5% per day. 

- Essays must be typed, double spaced, with 12-14 point font. Don’t use a cover page, paper clips, or folders; just staple the pages together.

- The essay is short, so I suggest writing a very short introduction. If you end the body of your essay on a final or concluding note -- i.e. one that underscores your main point -- you don’t need a conclusion. 

- Your audience is me. Don’t supply general background information about the author or text. Instead, get immediately to your argument about the text.

- You aren't required to cite the text in footnotes or bibliography. Simply give the page number of the edition we're using in class.

- You aren’t required to use outside sources. If you do, however, make sure to document them according to MLA or APA format. See Purdue University’s OWL site for excellent interactive explanations and style guides. Be sure to look at the OWL section “Using Research” as well as the Academic Integrity statement in the outline.

The biggest problem students have is summarizing or making observations when they should be making arguments. If you’re repeating content, or if you’re explaining something that’s obvious to an educated reader, then you’re not making an argument.

WEEK 5-6: The quiet American (continued)

Prepare for this class by reading the text and by looking at the information in QA Text and QA Context.


Mid-term exam (20%): two commentaries (in 160 minutes) on The Quiet American.

1) France, England, and the U.S.

2) Settings in Saigon

3) Phat Diem, Tanyin, and Haiphong 

4) Phuong

At the start of the exam, I’ll roll a dice to determine which two topics -- from the four above -- you’ll write on. This means you'll need to prepare all four topics. Note to the day class: you'll write one commentary on Tuesday and one commentary on Thursday.

You can explore the topics from whatever angles you want, as long as you do the following:

- use proper format -- i.e. paragraphs with topic sentences, formal diction, etc. -- see Commentaries, Essays, & Outlines

- analyze instead of summarize; make arguments instead of observations

- support your insights with specific references from the text

The exam’s meant to test coverage as well as depth, so write approximately the same amount for each of the two commentaries. 

The exam is open book, which means that you can consult the text. You may not consult other course information, notes, electronic devices, dictionaries, or any other material. You may write brief notes in the margins of your text -- no more than 20 words per page -- yet you may not write sentences or any type of sustained commentary or argument.  Students who break any of these rules will be penalized: they will not be allowed to consult anything at all -- including the text itself.

WEEK 8-10: The Year of Living Dangerously

I suggest reading SHF once quickly (it's very short and easy to read), and then thinking about it while you read Year more carefully. 

WEEK 11-13: Slaughterhouse-Five 

I suggest reading SHF again. You may find that the novel is easy to read yet takes on complexity and depth the closer you look at it.                                                


I’ll be in my office (S 2806E) Tuesday December 5 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. Please feel free to come in and talk to me about your paper or exam.

Essay # 2 (25%): write a maximum 800-word essay comparing Year and SHF in terms of setting, symbolism, or religion. 

You may hand in your essay early -- during the final class, during my Week 14 extended office hour (above), or anytime before Week 14 in the LLPA Assignment Drop-Box (in the hall, outside S 2600) -- or at the final exam. I cannot accept essays after the final exam.


I suggest looking closely at the final exam topics and the questions below them. The more you think about them while you're reading the texts, the better you're likely to do on the final exam. In thinking about essay topics, you might consider the following:

- Settings 

How do the authors set up global pictures? What is the relation between their home settings (Australia and the US) and the foreign settings (Indonesia and Germany)? What influence do you think the Australian and American nationalities of the authors has on the way they explore or develop locations, characters, conflicts, the themes of history, politics, and religion, as well as images, symbols, figures, and other tropes? 

What is the relation between the concrete spaces of geography and the abstract spaces of theology, science-fiction, and fantasy? How do the two Billies escape into worlds of elevated abstraction -- such as religion and the mythic arcs of the Wayang in YD and the fourth dimension of Tralfamadore in SHF? (Note that space is 3-D while time is 4-D). How do the authors use larger connective spaces -- radio hiss, the moon, and akasha in YD; galactic space in SHF?

What role does consumerism, material things, and economics play in the two novels? Which objects and locations are most useful to the points the authors are making about possessions, wealth, and materialism? 

- Symbols

Which symbols are used to represent the predicaments of the main characters? How do the authors give symbolic meanings to the following: birds; transport vehicles; protective structures and buildings (hotels and awnings; slaughterhouse and bubble); light vs. dark; objects of control and confinement (cord, wheels, flatcar, pipe, amber, etc.) vs. objects of freedom and escape (thread, sex, consumer items, etc.).

- Religion

What are the authors saying about religion? Are they supportive, skeptical, or hostile? What stories or images do they take from religion? You may wan to compare Cookie's use of the confessional as well as Billy's use of the Wayang, Christianity, and Islam in YD to the references and stories about Christianity recounted by Trout and the narrator in SHF.


Final exam (25%): two comparative commentaries (in 160 minutes) on Year and SHF.

The format is the same as for the mid-term exam, except that in both commentaries you must compare texts. Do not repeat in any detail the argument you make in your essay.

1. Narrators: Cookie (Year) and Vonnegut (SHF)

2. Protagonists: Hamilton (Year) and Billy (SHF)

3. Secondary characters: Billy and/or Kumar (Year); Weary and/or Trout (SHF)

4. Female characters: Jill, Ibu, and/or Vera (Year); Mary, Valencia, and/or Montana (SHF)

Here are some questions you may want to answer in your final exam: What kind of characters are they -- flat, deep, static, dynamic? -- and how do these traits affect what the authors are using them to explore?  Why are the characters appropriate to the stories the authors are telling? For instance, what might happen if you moved a character from one novel to the next -- say, if Vonnegut's Billy reported on 1965 Indonesia, or if Vera replaced Valencia or Montana? What functions do the characters serve in the development of i) other characters, ii) conflicts and bonds, iii) theme, or iv) narrative strategy?

- Text & Film

Remember to focus on the text in both your essay and in the final exam. You can mention the film, but say something like “in the film,” and use it as a point of comparison, as a way to get at how the text works – not the other eay around.

Here are some imporant difference to keep in mind between the text and film version of YD and SHF.

Authors & Narrators

In YD, the author had no experience of the incidents he writes about, so his absence from the film has little effect. Cookie, on the other hand, is an integral part of the group of reporters in the Wayang Bar, and he clearly indicates the manner in which he narrates the story.

In SHF, Vonnegut is absent in the film, yet in the novel he clearly fictionalizes his experiences in the war and acts as a semi-omniscient narrator. Vonnegut even speaks directly to his reader at key moments.


In the film version of YD, Cookie and Vera don’t exist, and Henderson plays a very different role.

In the film version of SHF, Trout and his stories don’t exist (except parenthetically, when Rosewater reads The Gutless Wonder). This is important, given that Billy seems to get his Tralfamadore idea from one of Trout’s storie. In the film, it seems like the Tralfamadorians are not merely a projection of Billy’s desire for escape.



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