TOPICS FOR FINAL ESSAY
Altogether your essays should be no fewer but no more than 6 pages in length, doublespaced. You may quote secondary sources, so long as you cite the source, and elaborate on the significance of your citation.
Choose one or two or all of the essay topics below. Or use them as material to knit together your own essay.
(1) Ever more pressingly as he lies dying, Ivan Ilyich comes to understand that he has not lived rightly? Yet what is Tolstoy’s idea of ‘living rightly’? How does Ivan find it in extremis and what does his discovery consist of? What prompts it? How transformative is it? Is it enough to redeem his existence, and to have made it worth living?
(2) The theme of human connection, and the lack thereof, and the search for it: all the novels this quarter may be read as variations on this theme. Explore its development through the cultural eras (romanticism, realism, modernism, postmodernism) surveyed in this course.
(3) In what sense is Oedipa Maas, of Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, a spiritual heir of Lily Brescoe? Whereas Woolf believes in Lily, however, Pynchon can’t help satirizing Oedipa’s mystic-artistic quest. If Pynchon thinks we can’t make sense of (what he calls) America, then how is Oedipa to live? How (supposing that we accept her quandary as ours) are we to live?
(4) The world envisioned by Pynchon in 1965 has come to pass: our attention is constantly tugged, pulled and scattered by a constant drizzle of bite-size bits of information, postings, signage, media stimulation. Thoughtful reading, such as reading a novel, in this scheme, may just be an island of calm, a loving act of knitting-together (echoes of Mrs Ramsay…). How do you, by reading her story, offer the communion—the mass—that Oedipa Maas is searching for?
(5) Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Melville’s Bartleby, Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich, Pynchon’s The Crying: Life, it seems, is half-lived so long as it merely happens. But what else does a human life require to be well lived? What does narrating life— narrative, literature, art—have to do with salvation? How so?
Friendly Reminder: Cut-and-paste and unacknowledged citation is plagiarism