Friday, September 30, 2011

Sample Classification Paper, Option 1

Below appears an example of a classification paper, first option, as discussed here.  It treats a type of hero that is forbidden from consideration in student papers, so that it can serve as a model while not actually doing the students' work for them.  Please note both that it is an early draft, and so can stand to be improved, and that it is on the short end of acceptable length for student papers, when formatted according to stated submission guidelines here.

Also, I am well aware that I give Le Morte d'Arthur where the source I reference gives Le Mort d'Arthur.  The spelling of the title varies from edition to edition, as is evident here, and I use the one with which I am most familiar.

The anti-hero can be defined as a character who achieves heroic ends by carrying out actions that are themselves generally considered evil; they attain fair ends by foul means.  Typically, the Arthurian knight Sir Gawain is not lumped in with such figures as stand to define the anti-hero type.  A close examination of his attributes, however, reveals that he very much fits the model.

As a knight of the Round Table, the highest order of traditional chivalry in English-language literature, and a close kinsman of King Arthur, the legendary paragon of royal virtues, Sir Gawain would be expected to be a fairly common sort of hero.  A common image of the Arthurian knight is one of an ennobled warrior riding a white horse while wearing shining armor.  He (and it is almost always a he) is seen rescuing maidens from unjust captivity and battling against evil creatures given to laying waste to the peaceful countryside and its population of simple farmers who would otherwise sing merrily as they go about their honest work of tilling fields and husbanding livestock.

Sir Gawain falls short of that standard.  For example, in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the standard text of English-language Arthurian legend, Gawain errs gravely in his first mission as a knight in Arthur's service.  He moves to slay a knight who was attempting to yield himself, actively denying the plea despite the fact that "a Knight that is without mercy, is without worship [sic]"; he intemperately kills the knight's lady, instead, as he is unable to check his sword-swing when she throws herself over her knight in an attempt to protect him--"he smote off her head by misadventure" (Malory 1.119).  In failing to show mercy to a foe who had conceded defeat, and in failing to control his martial abilities, particularly as they befell a noblewoman, Gawain violates the Round Table Oath to which all those of the high chivalric order were sworn not just at their induction, but annually (1.134).  Violating one's sworn oath is generally regarded as an action good people do not perform; neither is killing those who have yielded or who are not in a position to defend themselves.  Gawain's commission of both acts is marked as evil.

Even so, Sir Gawain does manage to meet his end well.  When his brothers, Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris, are killed by Sir Lancelot as he rescues Queen Guinevere from being burned at the stake, Gawain vows vengeance upon him (3.312).  Given the dictates of the warrior culture in which all four lived, it is a wholly appropriate response, the more so because Gawain is the eldest brother and therefore the patriarch of the Orkney royal household; Gawain's actions thus read as well performed.  He does eventually have the opportunity to attempt that vengeance, and fights against Sir Lancelot, receiving a head-wound in the process.  Complications from that injury lead to Gawain's death.  On his death-bed, though, he forgives his recent foeman, absolving him of guilt for his death; "I Sir Gawain, Knight of the Round Table, sought my death, and not through thy deserving, but it was mine own seeking."  He recalls the greater good of Arthur's realm above his own personal vendetta; "come over the sea in all the haste that thou mayest, with thy noble Knights, and rescue my noble King that made thee Knight, that is my lord and uncle, King Arthur."  He even refers to Lancelot as "Flower of all noble Knights that ever I heard or saw in my days," which is high praise (3.350-52).  Gawain dies as a result of performing his duties, which is admirable, and he forgives his enemies as he dies, which is the mark of a particularly noble soul.  He ends his life in line with the promise of his chivalric calling.  He passes on as a hero.

That the Arthurian Sir Gawain functions as an anti-hero becomes obvious upon consideration of his knightly career in Malory's depiction.  Since Le Morte d'Arthur occupies a position of singular importance in English-language Arthurian legend, serving as the primary reference text for it, its portrayals of the knights of the Round Table and their deeds underpin much other writing in the English language and indeed of productions in other media.  The anti-hero that figures so prominently in many of them is thereby shown to have much older iterations than is commonly realized, showing that what goes on now is very much of a piece with what has gone on for a long, long time.  It illustrates that our past can yet teach us much about our present selves.

Work Cited
Malory, Thomas. La Mort D’Arthur. Ed. Joseph Haslewood. 3 vols. London: R. Wilks, 1816. Print.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sample Summary

What appears below is excerpted  and slightly adapted from another blog I maintain.

Tamar Lewin's September 12, 2011, article "Student Loan Default Rates Rise Sharply in Past Year" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, Lewin notes that there have been larger numbers of students failing to make their required student loan repayments, particularly at for-profit colleges, which largely serve low-income students and are the fastest-growing portion of the college population. Lewin makes mention of gainful employment regulations and of the ability of students to opt for income-based repayment plans, which does ameliorate the depressing tone of the article and makes it a bit more effective a piece of reporting.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Fall 2011 Term Begins

Today, the Fall 2011 term began at the technical college where I work.  My teaching schedule is not quite what I had expected, but it is a good one, and I am eager to begin upon it.

I find that this time, I do not have nearly so much of the nervousness that I have in past terms had at getting new sets of students to work with.  Part of this, I think, is my increasing familiarity with the job and its demands; this is my eighth term at the technical college, the fourth as a full-time instructor, and my fifth year of teaching at the college level, generally.  I am still young in the career, but I am not an untutored novice stepping into the front of the classroom for the first time.

Part also is that I have given much thought to the way in which I teach.  I am happy to work with students who are also willing to work, and I am not going to waste time with those students who are not.  Willingness to work has nothing to do with age, gender and orientation, racial/ethnic background, religious position, or socio-economic status, as I have long maintained.

No, what I do is offer guidance and direction to my students, showing them that the things I do can be done with enthusiasm and enjoyment--but that it is not easy to get to the point where they can be enjoyed.  Practice, practice, practice, and more practice, with evaluation and criticism of performance are needed to get to the point where attention to the niggling mechanics is no longer necessary and the greater questions of when and how to deploy techniques can be addressed.  In short, it takes a long time with the dull, repetitive work on fundamentals before sufficient competence can be achieved to have fun with things.  And it is boring to go over a basic concept again and again and again...but that does not make it unnecessary.

It is a tacit lesson underlying much of my teaching.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sample Definition Paper

Below appears an example of a definition paper as discussed here.  It treats a type of hero that is forbidden from consideration in student papers, so that it can serve as a model while not actually doing the students' work for them.  Please note both that it is an early draft, and so can stand to be improved, and that it is on the short end of acceptable length for student papers, when formatted according to stated submission guidelines here.

One of the primary narratives, if not the primary narrative, is that in which a person overcomes substantial opposition to emerge into some position of greatness; that person is typically referred to as a hero.  Just as there are many stories, and many people to tell them, there are many types of hero; one that has become increasingly popular in the mainstream culture of the United States is the anti-hero.  Such characters as Túrin Turambar and Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever do fulfill such traditionally heroic functions as being the focus of the texts in which they appear and triumphing over significant opposition to come to greatness.  They do so, however, by way of carrying out actions that are in themselves evil; that accomplishment of fair ends by foul means typifies the anti-hero.

Túrin Turambar, for example, initially appears as a conventional hero.  As J.R.R. Tolkien puts it in The Silmarillion, the young Túrin is a son of all three of the great houses of humankind in the earliest days (381-82), which marks him as a focal character in the dynastic conflicts that appear throughout the text.  Specifically, Túrin is the son of Húrin, "the mightiest of the warriors of mortal Men" (286), so that he comes from the kind of ennobled pedigree often associated in stories with heroism.  And he does rise up to that standard, vowing to fight solely against those bound in service to the evil powers of the world (245).  He even slays a dragon, and indeed the first of dragons (273-75), a deed archetypally heroic.

As he acts the hero, though, he also does much that usually calls for a hero to kill the doer.  For one, he commits an assault at the dinner table of his foster-father, later running the person he assailed to death (244); neither is particularly heroic, and they spur him to live as an outlaw (244), which is also not commonly associated with high heroism.  Worse, he slays his long-time best friend (255).  Worst of all, he ends up marrying and impregnating his own sister (271, 275).  Neither killing one's own comrades nor committing incest is aligned with high ideals; rather, both are considered despicable acts worthy of execration.  Túrin evidently feels this, turning his blade upon himself to end his own life (278)--and suicide is not seldom considered an evil action.  Clearly, then, Túrin Turambar partakes of the evil, making him an anti-hero.

Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is even clearer an example of an anti-hero than Túrin.  Certainly, he does stand in the focal place of a hero; the series of books in which he appears is named after him, which hardly indicates that he is an ancillary character.  And he does overcome significant opposition in the text.  For one, he is a leper, subject to a disease that threatens to rob him of all sensation (2-8); it is a catastrophic, destructive illness, so that all of his actions are themselves triumphs over it.  For another, he is presented with what he perceives as an impossible situation (38-44)--hence his title "the Unbeliever" (65); his perseverance in it is a surmounting of challenge.  And he does come to hold a position of importance; he is accepted as a member of the ruling body of the milieu in which he finds himself, treated as a messianic figure (257-59).  Clearly, then, Covenant is set up to take the part of a hero.

Even so, he is marked as evil.  Aside from his disease, which both traditionally and in the text is taken as a sign of abomination and reason to exclude him from the community (1-8), he is repeatedly described as closed to the forces of the milieu in which he finds himself (107, 257), and being closed-off is taken as a sign of malicious intent.  It is not entirely unjust; he is brought to the milieu at the behest of its version of Satan (32-37).  That evil power sends him with a message, so that Covenant functions as a servant of the devil, clearly an evil role.  Also, early in the text, Covenant rapes a sixteen-year-old girl who had previously offered him hospitality and medical care (90-92); not only is the host-guest relationship violated in this, which has long been a sin, a young woman is violated, which is inexcusably reprehensible.  It is manifest, then, that Covenant is far removed from the typically heroic, even though he comes to fill a number of its functions; he, too, is an anti-hero.

There are other examples that can be considered to aid in supporting a definition of an anti-hero as a character who accomplishes fair ends by foul means, not only within the literary genre in which Túrin and Covenant appear, but in other genres and other media.  That there are so many anti-heroes calls for an accurate assessment of what makes them fit into that type of (nominally) heroic character; having a fitting definition of the type is the first step in doing so.

Works Cited
Donaldson, Stephen R. Lord Foul's Bane. New York: Del Rey, 2004. Print.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982. Print.