Introduction to Literature; Plot; Character

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ENG 150 Reynolds 1

Online Lecture 1: Introduction to Literature; Plot; Character If you've ever taken a literature class, you will have realized that not all literature is the same. There's the stuff you read for information (mostly nonfiction, and not our concern in this class), there's the stuff you read for fun (literature with a little "l"), and there's the stuff you read in classes like this (Literature with a capital "L"). The stuff you read for fun ("literature") is mostly easy to read. Most romance, science fiction, and mystery novels fall into this category, for example. (Okay, you hard-core sci-fi fans: I said "most"!) It's usually plot-oriented; that is, you read it to see what's going to happen next, and you enjoy it more if it builds suspense and keeps your interest. It entertains you. It doesn't require much thought; no one needs to discuss it to discover its hidden messages--it doesn't have any. When you've finished it, you're finished. This sort of reading rarely challenges your ideas about the world. In fact, it usually reinforces the things we'd all like to think are true: everything happens for a reason, the good are rewarded and the bad suffer, everything comes out okay in the end. You'll notice that most of these books have happy endings. When they don't, you cry along with the characters, but their sad fates don't make you question the order of the universe. Those who die, die for a clear and logical reason. Literature with a capital "L" is different. It demands more of you. It requires both your attention and your participation. It asks you to think, to analyze, to stop occasionally in the middle and ask, "Why did that happen?" or "What is he doing in this scene?" Many of these stories (or poems or plays) make you uncomfortable. They make you question your comfortable and easy assumptions about the world and your place in it. And sometimes there's not a happy ending. In return, Literature helps you grow. It allows you to experience events emotionally and intellectually without having to suffer the physical danger. You get to experience the Vietnam War in "The Things They Carried" without having to worry that you'll be the next to die. You get to meet a serial killer in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" without having to worry about being murdered. You get to follow a woman into insanity in "The Yellow Wallpaper" without having to be institutionalized yourself. You get to look into the hearts and minds of the characters and take home for free what they teach you about yourself, your family, and your friends. Everything in this class is designed to enhance that experience--to help you learn to read more effectively, so that you can experience Literature more fully, and enjoy it more. And any reader will tell you, that's the point of all this: enjoyment. I can't promise you that any of the information you receive in this class will ever make you a dime. I seriously doubt that any Human Resources director is going to look at your resume and say, "Oh! Here's someone who's read A Streetcar Named Desire! Let's hire him!" Your gains will be less tangible: an enhanced ability to see things from other points of view, to detect patterns in people's actions, to have a deeper understanding of the complexities of human motivation. Okay, okay, enough with the theory; let's get to some real stuff.

ENG 150 Reynolds 2 One example of a literary work that challenges the traditional canon is "All about Suicide" by Luisa Valenzuela, an Argentinean writer. A brief, shocking story, "All about Suicide" is part of a large and growing genre of literature from around the world that purposely violates our standard literary expectations to make its point - in this case, a point about the political realities of Argentina in the 1960s.

LUISA VALENZUELA (1938- )

All about Suicide (1967)
Translated by Helen Lane Ismael grabbed the gun and slowly rubbed it across his face. Then he pulled the trigger and there was a shot. Bang....
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