Please note that this list of assignments is subject to change (last revised March 4, 2010).

Changes will be announced in class before the due-dates. Late homework will not be accepted because I have difficulty evaluating responses to any one assignment on different days. However, since no particular homework assignment is ever required, you lose nothing except an opportunity by leaving certain ones undone.

Written Homework: Write a New Ending for Camille

Due March 16:  (10 pts.) The novel that Dumas wrote before converting it into a play begins with an auction of Marguerite Gautier's (Camille's) possessions after her death, and the story is told in flashbacks.  The silent film starring Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino ends with a similar scene, described below, for which you may write the dialogue.  It is possible to do this assignment without seeing the film. 

Camille lies in her vast bed dying, while a party of men representing her creditors arrive at her apartment and commence an inventory of her possessions to prepare for an auction to pay her debts  She can see them through the glass doors of her bedroom, and of course the maid keeps her informed of their activities.  At last they practically force their way into her room to complete the tally.  She is not alone, but Armand is not there and does not come.  You may include any of the other characters in the play except the Duvals, and you may invent any dialogue or action that does not violate the situation as it is here described.  One further difference between the play and the film (and consequently your rewritten ending) is that earlier in the film Armand has given Camille a copy of Manon Lescaut, his first gift to her, and the inventory men want to include it in the list.  However, she prevails upon them to let her keep it, and then she dies, alone, clutching the book.


Written Homework on Frankenstein

The assignments are due on the days when the relevant chapters are due.

Chapters 3-5, 10 pts.: To understand Victor's highly peculiar behavior once he has completed his creature, we have to recognize that his study habits have driven him to the brink of a nervous and physical breakdown, which alters his normal responses to events around him.  Write a short essay in which you show (1) what those normal responses are, according to his own account of them in these chapters, (2) that his behavior after the completion of his project shows vividly that these responses have changed, and (3) what study and work habits have caused this change.

Chapter 8, 15 pts.: During Justine's trial, Victor says nothing in her defense despite his confidence that his own creature did the deed of which she is accused. Suppose that during a recess in the trial he visits the judges' chambers and tells them what he has done in Ingolstadt and what he has witnessed in the storm on the night of his arrival. Write this speech.

Chapter 15, 5 pts.: The creature’s desire to speak to the blind man about his education and intentions without telling any lies puts him to some trouble until at last he changes the subject.  These efforts produce what is known as dramatic irony (click here for a definition).  Explain.

Chapter 15, 15 pts.: Search the text of the novel (click here) to find all prior references to "friendship," "friend," or related words.  Write a paragraph or so about what impression the author has created in you about whether human beings are entitled to friendship as they are to shelter, clothing, air, food, "the pursuit of happiness."  Does everyone deserve to have a companion so intimate that the two of them can share everything they are?  If not, why not?  If so, is this one of those "unalienable rights" such as are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, or can it be forfeited?

Chapter 16: 15 pts.:  Continue the story from the end of Chapter 15.  Write only the next day's events, impersonating the creature as he tells his story to Victor. To stimulate your imagination, you may wish to click here to consult students' responses to the question of what you would do if those you had counted on rejected you.  It is far better to write this continuation of the creature's story before reading the chapter than after; in fact, I can think of no beneficial result of writing it afterwards except perhaps to compete with the author, but writing it beforehand will help you to understand the creature better as well as acquaint you with the challenges facing the author now.

Chapter 17, 15 pts.:  Review the novel from the beginning—not by rereading every word but by turning pages and recalling the sequence of events.  Look for examples of pairs of similar events, pairs of characters, pairs of descriptive passages, and list them, identifying the chapter and paragraph number.  For example, you will find Victor studying death and then creating life; you will find two cases of scarlet fever; you will find two fathers (Alfonse Frankenstein and Caroline Beaufort's father), two young people who playfully flee a companion and end up in the arms of the creature.  You will find at least three storms; look for some special similarity or difference between two of them that makes them stand out and almost beg to be compared.  If you can also explain what pertinent thoughts such a comparison brings to mind, all the better, but it is the list itself (a long list) that matters most. 

Chapter 19, 15 pts.: Write a proposal on how to foil a blackmailer. You are to assume that you have been coerced into forging documents or building a bomb or doing some other task that you are able to perform in isolation. If you refuse, your family will be murdered, and you cannot warn them. Nevertheless, you have decided that it would be wrong to comply, and you mean to cease work on the project and give the blackmailer nothing when he comes to collect what he has demanded of you. You have only the normal equipment of campers and those who live in the wilderness, plus some sophisticated chemicals, as your resources. TELL HOW YOU WILL PREPARE FOR THE BLACKMAILER'S EXPECTED ARRIVAL.

Chapter 19, 5 pts.: In Seize the Night, Dean Koonts remarks that “superstition is the dark side of wonder. Creatures with simple, animal intelligence fear only real things, such as their natural predators, but those of us who have higher cognitive abilities are able to torture ourselves with an infinite menagerie of imaginary threats: ghosts and goblins, vampires and brain-eating extraterrestrials. Worse, we find it difficult not to dwell on the most terrifying two words in any language. . . ‘What if?’”
       Describe a fearful situation in which you (or an imaginary you) start a hysterical spiral of “What if” questions, leading you from mere apprehension through fear to terrified panic. These thoughts do not all have to be in the form of questions, and the words “What if” need not actually be used, but the progression from rational to irrational fright should be clear.

Example of how such a scene might begin:

       There I stood, back against the broom closet wall, half smothered by a nauseating stench of dead rats. Beyond the closed door of the closet I could hear the mutant monkeys gibbering as they swept the pitch-dark kitchen in search of me. I clutched the iron-holder attached to the door, determined to keep the door from opening. I prayed that they would suppose it locked. My arm muscles already ached. Suddenly a nerve in my calf began to twitch.
       “What if,” I thought, . . .

You may complete this passage or write one of your own from scratch.

Chapter 20, 15 pts.: Whenever Huck Finn is faced with an emergency, he either makes up a rip-roarin' lie or at the very least puts on an innocent expression and denies any knowledge of the matter. Victor Frankenstein, though, is a very different type of person. What do we learn about him from his handling of the sudden appearance of his creature at his window in Chapter 20?  Contrast his behavior with the creature's response to the emergency (in that very same scene and the one that follows).  Does this enable you to understand and explain why Victor is constitutionally unable to guess what the creature means by “I will be with you on your wedding night”?

Chapter 21, 15 pts.: Write a letter as if you were Victor. Address Elizabeth. You are in Ireland, she in Geneva, Switzerland. Explain (do not narrate) all about the creature and defend yourself for having kept silent for so long—and for having gone away. Defend yourself for having behaved as you have very recently done, and explain how the terrible consequences of all these actions or inactions have finally determined you to make a clean breast of the whole matter.


Written Homework on Huckleberry Finn

The assignments are due on the days when the relevant chapters are due.

Ongoing Project (Variable points): This is best done as a review of the novel, but it may be submitted piecemeal as you get it done or all at once at the end. Give each chapter of Huckleberry Finn a title. Defend each title by explaining what makes it appropriate. This is the important part of the exercise.  A summary of the event(s) your title brings to the reader's attention is not what is needed. Rather, you must make clear why this feature of the chapter deserves to be spotlighted in the title. I will award 1/4 of a homework point for each satisfactory response.

Chapter 7 (10 pts.): Write out an explanation of each step in Huck's complicated plan of faking his own murder. Explain what he wants people to believe to have happened and how each one of his actions contributes to that end. For example, rather than saying, "While out hunting birds, he shoots a wild pig," which implies that he is on a normal hunting expedition and doesn't get what he wanted, tell why he is hunting at all. Only then will it become clear what he is really after and why he settles for a pig when he went looking for birds.

Chapter 13 (6 pts.): Study the fabrication (oh, heck, let's call it a lie) that Huck feeds to the ferryboat captain to induce him to rescue the hard cases aboard the wrecked steamboat.  What various merits does it have as a lie designed to achieve this particular end?

Chapter 14 (6 pts.): Study Jim's diatribe against King Solomon and his objections to the concept of foreign langauges.  Although Huck says, "You can't learn a nigger to argue," it seems clear that Jim out-argues Huck in both cases.   Explain two things: (1) In each argument, where does Jim miss the point? You might treat this question by writing words for Huck to speak to set him straight.  (2) What signs of subtle intelligence do you discern in Jim's remarks?

Chapter 17 (6 pts.): Study Huck's description of the Grangerfords' home in the three paragraphs on pp. 75-76. What is Huck's opinion of it? What is yours? This is a case of mild dramatic irony: where you see beyond th elimited experience of the narrator. You might care to see pictures of Twain's own home in Hartford, Connecticut.

Chapter 19 (10 pts.): Paragraph 1 of chapter 19 is a remarkable piece of descriptive writing. Try rewriting it in formal style, with standard English grammar and no back-woods terminology or similes. However, do not abridge it. Look up in your dictionary any unfamiliar words, and render the whole meaning of the paragraph. Start at the point where Huck writes, "Not a sound. . . ."

Chapter 21 (6 pts.): In your opinion, does Col. Sherburn play by the "rules" in killing old Boggs? What are the rules of fair play as you learned them playing as a child? The question of "social justice" becomes rather acute at this point in the novel.

Chapter 23 (6 pts.): Starting with the fact that any play is a sort of deception, list all of the deceptions and deceivers in chapter 23.

Chapters 25-29 (6 pts.): Find indications that Huck has fallen in love. Indicate specific page numbers where the passages in question can be found. Quotations are useful.

Throughout: Remember that you may still give each chapter a title. Defend each title by explaining what makes it appropriate. This is the important part of the exercise, and a summary of the event(s) your title brings to the reader's attention is not what is needed. Rather, you must make clear why this feature of the chapter deserves to be spotlighted in the title. I will award 1/4 of a homework point for each satisfactory response.

Chapter 31 (10 pts.): Huck's discovery that "you can't pray a lie" probably sounds familiar to all of us. What he says about prayer and sin is not only theologically orthodox but consistent with common sense as well. In a brief essay, share a personal story about making this same discovery yourself.

Chapter 31 (10 pts.): The decision that Huck makes to "go to hell," at the top of p. 162, taken out of context (especially taken with the final paragraph of chapter 33), is another of those parts of the novel that have made it the target of censorship. If the threat of eternal damnation cannot deter Huck from defying his society, what may we expect from children who read this book? How can they be kept in line? This is what the would-be censors are thinking. Defend the novel not in spite of this passage but because of it. What makes Huck think he would have to go to hell? Do you think he is right? Probably not, but since he thinks so, does this passage subvert traditional morality? Explain why you think as you do.

Chapters 34 on (5 pts.): Tom Sawyer is a great reader of romances. Have you ever read great escape stories that resemble those Tom is using as models for his adventure, especially novels by Alexandre Dumas? If so, find a passage in such a work written before 1885 (the date of publication of Huckleberry Finn), a passage that can be read aloud in under five minutes, and bring it to class. Let me examine it, and if I approve it, either you or I can read it aloud to the class.

Chapter 37 (1 pt.): A spelling like "clo'es-line" (chapter 37, paragraph 6) is called "eye-dialect" because it doesn't sound odd but does look odd; the pronunciation it represents is used by practically all speakers of standard English. It suggests a nonstandard dialect without actually sounding nonstandard. Another term to know is "spelling pronunciation," as when one pronounces the "th" sound in "clothesline" or the "t" in "often." Spelling pronunciations are considered a sort of pretention. Another example of eye dialect is "britches" (p. 74, foot), for "breeches." That is simply how people pronounce "breeches"; using the double "e" sound would be a spelling pronunciation. Find another example of eye dialect in chapter 40.

Chapter 38 (5 pts.): Find out what a "bar sinister" (now generally called a "bend sinister") stands for in a coat of arms, and explain the joke Twain is making about nobility when Tom says "all the nobility" have one in their coats of arms (chapter 38, p. 195) This web site is a starting point for learning about the language of heraldry (the figures appearing on the shields of knights, called "coats of arms") General heraldic symbolism is available here. Idle students with time on their hands may wish to draw the coat of arms Tom Sawyer devises (see "Generate your coat of arms" at this site).