Monday, September 26, 2016

Walt Whitman and Frankenstein's Creature Walk Into a Classroom...

Walt Whitman. Photo credit: marcelo noah 
via / CC BY
My AP students are reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein right now, and, as in previous years, the students' responses to the appearance of Victor Frankenstein's Creature have me thinking. This year, I'm thinking about a poem by Walt Whitman called "This Compost" (published originally with the more evocative title "Poem of Wonder at the Resurrection of the Wheat"). 

In the poem, Whitman marvels at the Earth's ability to transform dead organic matter (including human corpses) into new life. "What chemistry!" he exclaims, "that blackberries are so flavorous and juicy," even though they grow up out of "those strata of sour dead" (lines 31, 37, and 30). The Earth "grows such sweet things out of such corruptions," and "the resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves" (lines 43 and 23). 

Boris Karloff as Victor's "beautiful"
and "hideous" creation (42-3).
Photo credit: 
twm1340 via / CC BY-SA
Victor Frankenstein's act of creation is much different. Although Victor says he had "selected [the Creature's] features as beautiful" from the "charnel-houses," "the dissecting room[,] and the slaughter-house," the result was nevertheless "hideous" (37, 39, 43). 

So what makes one act of transformation (the production of Life from Death) wondrous and sweet, while the other is horrific and disgusting? I think Uncle Walt might have been able to tell poor Victor where he went wrong. 

"Hey, Vic, old buddy, it doesn't matter what bits and pieces you chose to cobble together--your project was doomed from the beginning. Let me tell you why..." 

AP Lit students: Read Whitman's poem and tell me in a comment what you think Walt would have said next! 

And then read, or listen to, this NPR report about a very recent experiment in human DNA editing, which I think Muna I made reference to in discussion. 

Someone, I can't remember who (remind me in a comment) brought up the Creature's vegetarianism, which is discussed at length in Carol Adam's book The Sexual Politics of Meat. You all should read the relevant chapter. [Update (9/29): Take a look at this article, too, as it touches on a topic we discussed yesterday!]

We had a great discussion on Friday--let's keep that trend going!
Look at all those hands up! 

Friday, September 16, 2016

(E11) "Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make"

This year's English 11 class dramatized the poem "To Althea, From Prison" by Richard Lovelace, as an introduction to our unit on Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Here is the video of their performance. They worked hard on choreographing everything smoothly. If you wish, you can compare their interpretation to that of last year's class.

I think they did a really good job! Their next task is to imagine how they would deal with being in prison...