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Tuesday, December 8

December 8, 2015

Violence: Today we discussed:

  1. The multiple failures of vision in Book One of Native Son. Pretty much everyone in the novel fails to see something important. Bigger didn’t view the Daltons as individuals, but just generic white people. He also panicked in Mary’s bedroom, and failed to see any other way out of his dilemma than smothering Mary. The Daltons obviously didn’t view Bigger as a full human being — they thought he would want things like education and opportunities — and failed to see their own hypocrisy. Mrs. Dalton was physically blind. She appeared to Bigger as a ghostlike “blur.” Mary was, we could say, blind drunk. Plus she clearly didn’t see that her actions were putting Bigger in danger. Jan failed to see the flaws in his belief system. Etc., etc. The upshot of all these failures is the death of Mary — and the rebirth of Bigger.
  2. That rebirth — which is mentioned most clearly, in the passage I read you from early in Book Two, where Bigger realizes “(h)e had murdered  and created a new life for himself.” Is that regenerative violence? Apparently.
  3. Bigger’s hubris causes him to overestimate his own smarts, which everyone else in the book underestimates. He killed accidentally, but he had pretty much committed the perfect crime. Had he disappeared afterward, in a time before DNA tests and the Internet, he might well have gotten away. But he revisited the scene of the crime, in part, because he got greedy (the “kidnapping” scheme), and partly because he enjoyed it.  Then, of course, he was undone by his carelessness. (Think about the way the Leopold-Loeb murder was discovered.)
  4. So, failure of vision often = hubris = violence. Which is pretty much the same idea we’ve been talking about all semester.

Written assignment for Thursday:

This book would be much easier to understand if there were only one murder in it. However, there are two, and the second one might well be the more important. Please explain how the murder of Bessie is different from the murder of Mary — and what effect this has on your view of Bigger (and the book as a whole).

Radio: Today was the first workday for your final projects. On Thursday (this Thursday), your meeting notes and rough proposals (typed, please) are due at the beginning of class.

Siren: How To Talk To People, Parts I & II:

If you can’t talk to people, you’re going to have a very difficult time in journalism, no matter what you do. Even if you’re the editorial writer or the reviewer or the head of the food section, you are going to have to know how to interview people, guaranteed.

Today we took a few brave volunteers to attempt 1) interviewing a reluctant subject on the gun control issue, as we did last Thursday, and 2) getting past a gatekeeper who controls access to someone you need to interview.


  1. You need to be prepared and have a script, even if it’s just a script that gets you past the introductory phase of the interview. You have to quickly introduce yourself, your publication and what it is you want, as clearly as possible. Of course, you also need to know the questions you want to ask, and prioritize them accordingly. If you only have time for one question, it had better be the one you really need answered.
  2. You need to be polite, yet firm. (Or firm, yet polite.) Most people don’t want to talk to you. You need to give them some reason why they should, and not automatically take “No” for an answer. That doesn’t mean you follow them, harangue them or threaten them. It does mean that you know how to inform someone about the background of an issue, correct misunderstandings and reframe a question, if necessary, to get a fuller, more quotable answer.
  3. You need to be patient. People are going to be confused. They’re going to put you on hold.

You need to anticipate that, and start with the default position that    other people’s time is more valuable than your own. That small kindness can go a long way when you’re talking to a beleaguered secretary or publicist.

4. You need to be ready, and stay focused. You might be interrupted multiple times during the course of an interview.

You might have to re-introduce yourself and what you want — and thus, go back to Step One. You should also plan on having very little time to ask the questions you have, so, as stated in Step One, know them and prioritize them.

5. You need to take whatever you can get, and show your work. If all you can get is the three-legged squirrel of interviewing — the “no comment” — you still take it, and use it. (Assuming it’s from an important enough person, of course — we don’t really need “no comment”s from your average man or woman on the street.) Getting and including a “no comment” shows that you at least tried to do your due diligence, and then the questions are cast back on the commenter. Why didn’t they want to answer you? Conversely, if you DON’T include this information, the obvious question a reader would ask is, “Why didn’t the newspaper try to get a comment from this important person?”

More on this Thursday. Remember: January copy is due by Dec. 22.

Style: Today you shared your William Carlos Williams apology poems. The style/author for this week is Jesse Eisenberg. Please read this packet, take notes, and come on Thursday ready to discuss.

Middle School:

Survey: Poetry: Today I gave you a persona, and we took a bus ride in character.

You are to write a persona poem about this character and their problem (NOT the bus ride; that was just a way to develop your character further by interacting with other people). There are no other guidelines re: length, organizers, etc. (though by default it might well include some sort of narrative).

However, let me caution you: the notecards you filled out containing additional details about your character can be helpful. They can also derail your poem if you include them for the sake of including them, even if they have nothing to do with the problem at hand. Focus! It’s critical in poetry.

These poems are due next Tuesday, Dec. 15. Remember that your main assignment is the notecard final, which is due at the beginning of class Friday. Both classes will be together on Friday, but I’ll be collecting these from everyone.

Survey: Fiction: Today you took some notes on story and plot and then you tried to reconstruct A Rose for Emily in chronological order (the story) from the plot (the very complicated way in which the story is presented). It wasn’t easy. If you want to work on yours more tomorrow, they are in our office – just stop by and I’ll give it you. Otherwise, we’ll be discussing these on Thursday.

On Thursday, Assignment #3 is due (printed – make sure it’s double spaced, and include the word count!!). No other homework.

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