Week 3 Discussion Guide: Thursday--The Hawthorne Project.
In class, we will review the characters and plot of "My Kinsman, Major Mollineux," and we will talk about writing about what literature means and how it works. In college-level writing, it is especially important to avoid falling into mere plot summary or paraphrase as a substitute for a real thesis, support and reasoning in a paper about literature. That summary/paraphrase of evidence also often would not be appropriate for papers in other disciplines. Persuasion in the humanities: the possible (rare, if really debatable), the probable (most common, but how to distinguish from other probabilities), and the certain (rare, if really debatable). In the end, though, your readers want your thesis to tell them some "news." How to test theses for insight or "news" value--"'Dog bites man' is not news; 'man bites dog' is news." (One might amend that old truism to say "'Ten dogs bite man' also is news" because it's an unusual extension of a familiar phenomenon.)
In literary analysis (including historical documents as well as fiction and poetry), "news" usually is hidden not in what happened, the plot that all competent readers can comprehend. Literature's more complex and subtle meanings are hidden in the "how" and "why" the plot was created and the "how" and the "why" the narrator delivers the plot to us. Look especially for unusually precise details of character or place description, especially if that kind of detail is repeated in later descriptions. "Thematic repetitions" of images, words, actions or ideas also can be used to charge a text with additional layers of meaning beyond the obvious literal sense of the text.
After we make sure we all know what happened in the Hawthorne story, I'll give you a textual analysis worksheet based on typical New Critical and Structuralist methods of literary analysis: "close reading" for character construction, plot, point of view, setting and scene construction, ambiguity and irony, allusion, images and symbols, structural oppositions, dramatic structure and the sense of an ending. We'll apply some of these methods to "MKMM" to "discover in it a pattern that helps to make the text meaningful." You may find Hawthorne's vocabulary challenging. Click here for some advice about building a scholarly vocabulary. You also might get some idea of his progress toward artistic maturity by tracking the publication of his early works, and by seeing where 'MK,MM" fits into this sequence.
If you have additional time after you have read the story and the "Dream of the Text" link above, you might be interested in this page about using Structuralist analysis to discover an "interpretive crux" Hawthorne has created in the tale, an intentional set of conflicts that appear designed to produce intellectual and emotional effects in our minds by making ideas collide.
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