Closed Prompt 2: October 15

Closed Prompt 2 -2006 Prose

Fergal Hennessy

In the excerpt from Lady Windermere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde makes use of an everyday social situation to show the opinions of the characters and to make a larger point regarding the superficiality, ambiguity, and redundancy of interactions among the British upper class. As the characters speak, they are revealed to have varying goals and personalities, through the syntax and tone of their dialogue.

The Duchess of Berwick seems the most at home in the scene. Eager to gossip, and expressing mock horror at Lord Darlington’s dry, cynical remarks, she easily says the most out of the three characters. She voices her disparagement of families and the less respectable conversationally, with statements like “I don’t know what society is coming to. Really, someone should do something about it.” The long, drawn out remarks that drag on and on without creating any meaning reinforce the image of an empty headed aristocrat. As such, she fails to comprehend the nuances of Lord Darlington’s remarks – asking Darlington to “Do a concession to my poor wits, just explain what you really mean.” Ironically, though she seems to take her inclusion in the elite aristocracy, as well as the conversation, for granted, she is left out – the analogies of marriage and card games go over her head as the conversation turns to Lord Darlington.

Lady Windermere’s tone is completely different. Far from the openness of the Duchess of Berwick, Lady Windermere’s dialogue is short, concise, and to the point. The syntax created makes her feel efficient, unemotional, cold, and conclusive, with statements such as “I will have no one in my house about whom there is any scandal.” Her statements are disapproving and detached, and instead of voicing her criticism, it is implied. Earlier on in the selection, such criticism is directed at Lord Darlington, with the above statement being, not so ambiguously, directed at Lord Darlington. This is one of her only two contributions to the first two-thirds of the conversation, of which the first was simply a clarification. Her resolute near-silence, perhaps more than her conciseness of speech, indicates her disapproval of Lord Darlington. However, as the conversation turns from social chatter to the nature of society, she becomes interested in the conversation, and, likewise, Lord Darlington. Her dialogue in the final quarter of the selection is longer, the syntax is more welcoming, and even includes a question – “why do you talk so trivially about life then?” What I think this signifies about Lady Windermere is interesting: though she may look down upon common, undignified, and unexpected behaviors, she is bored of societal life as well – the first half of the conversation is so dull and formulaic that she doesn’t need to interject – the conversation will continue in the same direction whether she contributes or not. Accordingly, she is surprised and a little pleased when Darlington turns the conversation away from the trodden path. This is what leads to the loosening of tone and the invitation to the party.

Lord Darlington is a different character entirely. Introduced to upset the scene, his dialogue is marked by irony and satire. His extravagant and indiscriminate use of irony, producing phrases like “As a wicked man I am a complete failure. Why, there are lots of people who say I have never really done anything wrong in the whole course of my life. Of course they only say it behind my back.” leaves his motives unclear, while also derailing the conversation. Most if not all of his statements are made impersonal by the excessive irony – you are aware that it upsets societal expectations, but it leaves you no more enlightened regarding Darlington’s character. He is aware of this, and even goes so far as to allude to it as a defense mechanism, stating “nowadays, to be intelligible is to be found out”. I think that this statement is perhaps the most important one uttered in the entire excerpt – much of the selection is typical gossip, consisting of language without communication, or, worse, it is communication so bland that it discourages thought instead of provoking it. Lord Darlington’s statement seems to suggest that he believes that to be understood completely is to be categorized, and that Lord Darlington is using irony to create a sense of surprise, something absent in the aristocratic atmosphere that he intrudes in.

In conclusion, I think that Wilde uses dialogue in a variety of ways in the excerpt from Lady Windermere’s Fan. Each character uses tone, voice, and syntax in a unique manner that either allows them to be categorized or shows their refusal to be categorized. The contrast between the readily characterized characters and Lord Darlington helps the author show how trivial, formulaic, and overall uncommunicative, language was in aristocratic Britain.

Closed Prompt 3: Response to Course Material

Response to Course Material #1: Fergal Hennessy

During the first six weeks of AP literature, we have focused mostly, if not completely, on close reading and how to better use close reading to find meaning in works of literature. I think that this is good preparation for the AP exam, and is extremely relevant for being able to determine the meaning of prose and poems.

Close reading has been a focus, directly or indirectly, for all of our assignments so far. While varying in the amount of detail, from our readings and annotations of short stories and poems such as The Bet, I Hear America Singing, and A Supermarket in California, to the longer assignments that involved reading short books, annotating them, and connecting them to the world we live in, our assignments involved close reading. However, the focus is not on close reading for close reading’s sake, but instead to learn how better to close read and find the intended meaning in works of literature. The poems that we read and annotated were annotated and read primarily to build ideas for discussion, and the books we read (How to Read Literature Like A Professor and The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing), were mainly examples and the fundamentals of how authors create meaning through text.

The ideas brought up with close reading have complicated my view of literature. Before I read How to Read Literature Like A Professor, and prior to our applications of the book regarding poems like I hear America Singing, I was not considering the full range of implications that the most insignificant parts of the literature could have. If I were to pick the most eye-opening concept that I have been exposed to in this time, it would without a doubt be the one that is repeatedly stated in Foster’s book: “everything is a symbol”. This idea, for me, is compelling generally not because it changes the overall impression that the work of literature gives me, but because searching for symbols and drawing meaning from details, whether intentionally placed or not, makes me think more about the meaning of the work and, collectively, helps me find patterns in novels and genres of novels.

The first six weeks of Advanced Placement literature have changed the way that I read literature, primarily in the way I view symbolism. Almost all of the texts we read focus at least partially on the way that authors use symbolism to state an opinion. Other than that, there is a wide variety of topics that the works write about. I think that this use of symbolism, especially arising from close reading is a characteristic of literary works that I think will be helpful both on the AP exam and as I read future works of literary merit.

Closed Prompt 2: 2004 Prose Response

Closed Prompt 2 – 2004 AP Test Prose Prompt

Fergal Hennessy

In the opening passages of Henry James’ The Pupil, relationships between the characters are displayed and developed through point of view, contrast and tone. The essential meaning comes down to the differences between the characters and how the author portrays those differences.

From the beginning of the narrative, Mrs. Moreen is the center of development. She is the decision-maker in that which features so prominently in Pemberton’s mind – his salary, and yet she does not understand his need, providing the need for extended interaction between the characters. This is reflected in the point of view – Mrs. Moreen, who has something that Pemberton wants, features much more prominently in the conversation than Pemberton, a mere nobody, probably of the working class, that Mrs. Moreen could easily replace. She leads the conversation, though her answers are vague and provide little information “Oh, I can assure you that all that will be quite regular”, and, like Pemberton, the audience is given the task of understanding what she means, because her dialogue is given in full, as opposed to Pemberton’s, in which only the intended meaning is provided. Here, the point of view and the dialogue serve to highlight the importance of Mrs. Moreen’s role in the story.

Contrast also plays an important role. Mrs. Moreen is “large and affable”, contrasting with the modest, even timid, Pemberton. Her appearance, from her size, to her large suede gloves, to her “fat and jeweled hand” paints a picture of someone who has never had, and never will, have to worry about monetary interests. This is in direct contrast to the nervous and economical Pemberton. The contrast that is created here serves to clearly highlight the differences between the aristocracy that Mrs. Moreen belongs to, and the money-pressed lower working class that Pemberton is a part of. The inability to communicate and understand each other’s concern and lack of concern on matters of money is part of a larger commentary on the class differences in late 19th century England.

Contrast plays a very different role regarding the interactions between Pemberton and Morgan Moreen. Morgan Moreen, in very direct contrast to Pemberton, has an overbearing and arrogant attitude, and is foreign in many ways. His arrogant attitude is evident in “casual observation that he couldn’t find it” when asked to find a fan. Pemberton sees this and reflects that “the first thing he would have to teach his little charge would be to appear to address himself to his mother when he spoke to her”. The immediate conflict created by Morgan’s entrance on the scene reflects a dispute between the working class and upper class that is very different from the one created by Pemberton and Mrs. Moreen. This conflict is caused by sheer arrogance and a sense of foreignness between Morgan and Pemberton. The alienness between them is heightened by Morgan’s strange appearance “sickly without being delicate”, and a “big mouth and big ears”, Pemberton’s uncertainty as to Morgan’s intelligence and disposition, and ultimately, is heightened by the sarcastic french “ooh, la, la” in regard to the money problems that Pemberton broaches with Mrs. Moreen. The contrast here, is about an unwillingness to communicate and understand the problems of other people, as opposed to Mrs. Moreen’s inability to do so. Morgan’s indifference to the problems of Pemberton is further reflected by the dialogue in which Morgan is not present, in which Mrs. Moreen states “And all over-clouded by this, you know – all at the mercy of a weakness-”, which Pemberton immediately takes to mean, without any prior knowledge, that Morgan has heart trouble. The literary significance of heart trouble is very often an emotional difficulty, and this is exactly what Morgan has – an indifference to the problems of others. The very differences between the two individual contrasts that Pemberton has with the Moreens is part of what James was trying to say about the barriers of class and their effects on society.

Finally, tone plays an important role in our perceptions of James’ scene. Without many of the impressions that Pemberton gives us, we might see the story in a very different light. For instance, Mrs. Moreen is described as a “large, affable woman” – without which the scene  might take on a different connotation: we might see Mrs. Moreen as withholding important information for little reason. Also, the very ordinariness of thought that Pemberton displays, and accentuates with his worrying about the everyday problem of money, gives us a base to contrast the alien Moreens against.

In conclusion, I think that the meaning that is created between the characters comes in large part from the way that the author uses tone, contrast, and point of view to emphasize the differences in thought and action between Pemberton and the Moreens. This meaning is related to the differences between classes in nineteenth century England.


Fergal Hennessy Closed Prompt 1 – Review

2008 AP exam Student Answer Critiques

Example 2A:

While this essay was lacking slightly in the organization of ideas, each individual concept was both accurate and accompanied by examples that were relevant and supported the conclusions drawn. While each concept was supported by multiple examples, in many cases the examples, while relevant, either included no quotes from the text or included a generalization, followed by a simplified quote from the text. I think that including longer quotes in these sections, followed by how the quotes contributed to the meaning, would have made the connections clearer and deeper. For example, in the first paragraph of the third page, while the student states “… the following rhetorical question actually allows the reader to pinpoint his unease, and the following sentences expand upon his beliefs.”, there is no mention of either the rhetorical question or the subsequent sentences. Apart from this, the essay was near faultless, with deep and relevant conclusions, such as the author’s essential interpretation of the excerpt, that “Desai allows the reader to easily characterize the family, and contrast it with Arun.”, and the adept interpretation of the meaning of the change of perspectives. Overall, I think it was a exemplary essay, which well deserved it’s given score.

Score: 8

Example 2B:

While the author has some good ideas about the way that meaning is created in the post, many of the concepts are handicapped by the lack of connections to the excerpt in the post. For example, the second paragraph begins with “Arun’s internal monologue and his reaction to what goes on in the world around him lend credence to the overall believability and impact of his experience in America”, yet fails to provide an example of the same in the following paragraph, instead focusing on summarizations that are stated without explanation. The overall structure of the piece is good, with an opening thesis and surrounding paragraph that make many bold yet provable claims. This notwithstanding, the response falls short of its thesis because of a failure to support its claims adequately with examples from the text. I think that the author did a very good job of describing the tone of the excerpt, from the unfalteringly oblivious Mrs. Patton to the attitude of Arun as the scene progresses. The essay did a fairly good job of finding the key points and the emotion in the piece, being hindered only by the lack of examples taken from the excerpt. I think that the essay could have been given a seven.

Score: 7

Example 2C:

Though the passage is both well organized and is clear in objectives from the beginning to the end, it fails to do a deep analysis of the meaning created by the devices used by the author. While the author uses ample quotes, the quotes feel underdeveloped and the meaning that is taken from them is visible almost immediately, to the point of being redundant. For example, sentences like “He feels safe in the city being surrounded by people, and  very insecure in the woods – “The grasses stirring with insidious life, and bushes with poisonous berries.”” describe the surface qualities of the sentence without analyzing what it means for the character. When the author does conclude this paragraph, it is without going into any more detail than the discomfort that Arun feels. Many other chances for similarly not taken, such as the complete absence of content describing the dialogue between the three characters, despite having a paragraph devoted to the meaning created by speech. The fundamental nature of the thesis “A young boy is confused by his host family’s actions…Desai uses speech and point of view to characterize Arun’s experience.” is neither assertive enough nor detailed enough to supported an in-depth analysis.

Score: 4