Category Archives: English_1B_Spring 2012

A YouTube Video on Critical Thinking

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This short video will reinforce the skills/ideas needed to be successful in both English 1A and English 1B. Watch this and then reply with a comment after viewing.

Langston Hughes’ Theme for English B

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This an original trailer to the extra credit project Titus, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic play with foreign subtitles and original English dialogue.

Titus Andronicus (character)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Titus Andronicus
Creator William Shakespeare
Play Titus Andronicus
Date written between 1588 and 1593
Source Fictional
Family Sons: Lucius, Quintus, Martius, Mutius
Daughter: Lavinia
Brother: Marcus Andronicus
Nephew: Publius
Grandson: Young Lucius
Role Roman nobleman and general
Portrayed by Anthony Hopkins and Peacock among others

Titus Andronicus is the main character and tragic hero in William Shakespeare’s  play of the same name  , Titus Andronicus,  a Senecan tragedy. Titus is a Roman nobleman and a general in the war who distinguished himself in ten years of service against the Goths. Despite his exemplary service the war’s toll on him is sufficient that he declined the emperorship. Nonetheless, he begins the play as an exemplary citizen. However faith in the traditions of the Roman system of government eventually leads to his death as others seek revenge.


Some sources claim that the name Andronicus comes from Anronicus Commendus, a 12th-century Byzentine Emperor, who shared Titus’ proclivity for shooting arrows with messages attached. When Anthony Hopkins played a stylized version of the character in the 1999 film Titus, he described the character as a combination of King Learn and Hannibal Lector. Although Titus Andronicus is the main character, some productions have adapted the play to be seen through Young Lucius.

Role in play

Further information:

The play begins with Titus returning home after many years at war with the Goths, bringing with him the remaining 4 of his 25 sons. Titus is selected by the people of Rome to be the new emperor but refuses this offer due to his already advanced age. In his stead he chooses the former emperor’s eldest son Saturninus. By the ceremonial sacrifice of his most noble captive, Alarbus – the eldest son of Tamora, Queen of the Goths – Titus unknowingly sparks off a series of events that are motivated by the desire for revenge. Throughout the play Titus seeks revenge on Tamora for injustices against his family while simultaneously being the target of Tamora’s own quest for revenge. Titus murders five people during the play, including one of his sons and his daughter. Displaying strict adherence to Roman law he murders his son, Mutius, for defying the order he has given for his daughter Lavinia to marry the new emperor Saturninus. The second act of filicide occurs at the end of the play when Titus murders Lavinia so that she will not have to live with the shame of having been raped and mutilated on Tamora’s orders by her sons Chiron and Demetrius. In Titus’ final act of revenge upon Tamora he kills Chiron and Demetrius and uses their blood and bones as the ingredients of a pie. “Let me go grind their bones to powder small, / And with this hateful liquor temper it, / And in that paste let their vile heads be baked”(5.3.197-199). Titus serves this pie to Tamora before killing her. As is customary in a Shakespearean tragedy and as a Senecan hero,[Titus Andronicus also dies in the end, killed by Saturninus who is then in turn killed by Titus’ last remaining son, Lucius, bringing to an end the cycle of revenge that has prolonged the play.

This play is set after Rome falls and there is a lack ofjustice, morality, and the government fails; the Eastern emperors take over until the Roman Catholic Church takes charge.

Thhis review is from Wikipedia, where you can find further information.


Cry the Beloved Country

This is a trailer to the adaption of Alan Paton’s novel Cry The Beloved Country.  If you wish to earn a 1% extra credit for this film, write a 500 word thematic analysis on Word and paste as a comment after you have proofread your short analysis.

Schindler’s List

This is a trailer to the adaption of Thomas Keneally’s Shindler’s List. If you wish to earn a 1% extra credit for this film, write a 500 word thematic analysis on Word and paste as a comment after you have proofread your short analysis.

Watch this testimony from the little girl in the Jewish ghetto:

‘Red coat girl’ from ‘Schindler’s List’: I was ‘horrified’


Commentary on Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane, considered to be among the best films of the 20th century, debuted in 1941.  This film uses time shifting, scene shifting, symbols, duality, solipsism, use of the narratee, and unique photographic techniques to produce Hollywood’s first postmodern film.  While watching the film, one can observe how contemporary film makers develop these same techniques to create a unique way of influencing the audience.  Like other contemporary postmodern films, Citizen Kane demonstrates  multiple themes.

Anyone who has seen the documentary film Generation Zero will see how the screenwriters represent the chaotic views of the societal turnings in American history, especially the fragmentation of the fourth turning during the Great Depression when they wrote the script .

The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia.  You can get additional information by viewing this site.

“Storytelling techniques”

“Citizen Kane eschews the traditional linear, chronological narrative and tells Kane’s story entirely in flashback using different points of view, many of them from Kane’s aged and forgetful associates, the cinematic equivalent of the unreliable narrator in literature.[70] Welles also dispenses with the idea of a single storyteller and uses multiple narrators to recount Kane’s life. The use of multiple narrators was unheard of in Hollywood movies.[70] Each narrator recounts a different part of Kane’s life, with each story partly overlapping.[71] The film depicts Kane as an enigma, a complicated man who, in the end, leaves viewers with more questions than answers as to his character, such as the newsreel footage where he is attacked for being both a communist and a fascist.[70] The technique of using flashbacks had been used in earlier films such as Wuthering Heights in 1939 and The Power and the Glory in 1933 but no film was so immersed in this technique as Citizen Kane. The use of the reporter Thompson acts as a surrogate for the audience, questioning Kane’s associates and piecing together his life.[71]”

One of the narrative voices is the News on the March segment.[70] Its stilted dialogue and portentous voiceover is a parody of The March of Time newsreel series[72] which itself references an earlier newsreel which showed the 85-year old arms czar Sir Basil Zaharoff getting wheeled to his train. Welles had earlier provided voiceovers for the March of Time radio show. Citizen Kane makes extensive use of stock footage to create the newsreel.

One of the story-telling techniques used in Citizen Kane was the use of montage to collapse time and space. Using an episodic sequence on the same set while the characters changed costume and make-up between cuts so that the scene following each cut would look as if it took place in the same location, but at a time long after the previous cut. In the breakfast montage, Welles chronicles the breakdown of Kane’s first marriage in 5 vignettes, which takes 16 years of story time and condenses it into two minutes of screen time.[73]”

Seven, Aquinas, Chaucer, Dante, and American Culture

This is a trailer to the film SEVEN.  If you wish to earn a 1% extra credit for this film, write a 500 word thematic analysis on Word and paste as a comment after you have proofread your short analysis.Seven, Aquinas,Chaucer, Dante, and American Culture

Dante’s Inferno

Printable PDF Version

In our fragmented postmodern American culture, people are numb to violence. Seemingly normal citizens consider even the most atrocious acts as everyday events. During April, 1996, Richmond, California, police arrested a six year old boy for the attempted murder of a four week old baby. Criminally tried for brutally slashing the throats of his ex-wife and her male acquaintance, O.J. Simpson, acquitted for the crime, now faces a civil trial for the same offense. Despondent over a quarrel with her lover, Susan Smith killed her two small sons by strapping them into safety seats, pushing the car into the middle of a lake, and watching them drown. In May, here in Riverside, California on a beautiful sunny morning in front of the county courthouse, a distraught 31 year old husband shot his wife to death and the police in turn shot him to death while his horrified nine year old son watched the carnage. In the tradition of Aquinas (1225-1274), Dante (1265-1321), and Chaucer (1340-1400), thoughtful writers continue to examine the medieval conceptions of hell, purgatory, and heaven, putting them into a late twentieth century context. Like his medieval mentors, Andrew Kevin Walker exposes the banality inherent in humankind and American society’s total disregard for natural law in his film script SE7EN.

Film critic Bryant Frazer says that Andrew Kevin Walker’s script and David Fincher’s film SE7EN is a “mean little movie about sin, the city, free will, and the most grotesque notions of justice” (1). What is most interesting about this postmodern film is its total reliance on a medieval sense of morality, hell, purgatory, and justice. The story takes place during an eight day period. Located in an unnamed urban American slum, the two main characters, Morgan Freeman as retiring detective William Somerset and Brad Pitt as rookie detective David Mills, discover a set of grisly murders. With each murder, the detectives find a reference to one of the seven deadly sins. Packed with allusions to Aquinas’ Summa 7beologica, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the film’s story provides punishments to match the crime. John Doe is the film’s self appointed executioner/preacher who carries out “the word of the Lord.”

Charles Sykes discusses the decay of the American character in A Nation of Victims; he contends that Americans are scrapping “principles of morality” while searching for personal identity; this personal identity crisis is a “ubiquitous feature of postmodern society” (152).

The film SE7ENs storyline demonstrates how Sykes’ definition of “victimization” mentality permeates our culture and contributes to the urban violence we accept as “everyday events.” He also contends that “while postmodern politics declares everyone guilty, postmodern psychology lets almost everyone off the hook for just about anything” (145).

In SE7EN, Andrew Kevin Walker’s character John Doe, the self appointed executioner, epitomizes the practice of “ideological Puritanism” that exculpates one from blame and projects guilt onto others. Though he claims to be administrating God’s justice, he fails to understand the admonition of the Christian principles: “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (I Pet. 3:9) and “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine said the Lord”‘ (Rom. 12:19) and John Doe enjoys his role as executioner, failing to comprehend the hypocrisy of his judgments.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition forming our American culture, we rely on certain common ideas to relieve our collective pain. Generally, we understand the idea of sin as being a separation from God or a separation from those principles of justice that make a society “work.” After one sins, the person must confess, repent, and atone before receiving redemption. In Dante’s Inferno, those who have not repented are suffering punishments befitting their crimes. The Purgatorio is a place where the pilgrim can learn by seeking change. Chaucer’s “Parson’s Tale” contends that all have the ability to receive redemption by repenting and atoning.

While trying to sort out the complexities of post industrial age fragmentation, decanonization, and solipsism in society, Richard W. McCormick discusses the difficulty of defining postmodern literature and films in his book Politics of the Self. He says, “postmodernism can be political in an active, positive sense: its politics have lost that faith in the ‘ultimate truth’ that binary thinking depends on, but this implies no uncritical acceptance of the status quo (or anything else)” (12). Experiencing SE7EN reminds the viewer of the implications of the unthinkable ultimate truth of life in America’s urban communities and helps viewers examine their own deadly sins.

St. Thomas Aquinas, best known for his commentaries on the Bible, summarizes human knowledge of God and man, making a distinction between reason and faith. He contends that “reason seeks knowledge” from both experimental and logical evidence and that “faith seeks understanding through revelation but uses the knowledge provided by reason. Thus they can never be in conflict, and both come from and reveal God as the source of all truth” (Benet 44).

Dante builds on the Aquinas model of morality. In Dante’s hell, and in his purgatory, people are punished for the seven deadly sins described by Aquinas. While in Italy on diplomatic missions (1372-73) for the English King Edward III, Chaucer discovered Dante’s Divine Comedy, incorporating Dante’s vision of hell, purgatory, and heaven into The Canterbury Tales. According to Chaucer, the seven deadly sins are pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust; the remedy for pride is humility of mouth and heart and works, for envy is love, for wrath is gentleness and patience, for sloth is fortitude, for greed is mercy, for gluttony is abstinence, and for lust is chastity (511-40).

In the film SE7EN, on Sunday (the first day of eight), Mills introduces himself to Somerset and a mentor/pilgrim relationship between the two develops. Though carrying a gun in the line of duty, retiring detective Somerset reveals he has never shot anyone or been shot. He uses reason and patience to solve crimes. He understands that society is hell and he has learned to confront it on a daily basis without losing his sanity or humanity. He is the antithesis of Mills. Somerset is humble, loving, patient, industrious, merciful, fugal, and chaste while Mills is turgid, envious of Somerset’s success, and angry. Mills likes to take the easy road; he reads Cliffs Notes to learn Dante and Chaucer while Somerset spends all night pouring over these great masterpieces of literature, looking for connections to the crimes committed by a single serial killer during the week.

“Murder One” on Monday: the victim’s sin is gluttony. Mentor Detective Somerset, anguished over rookie pilgrim Detective Mills flippant responses to the crime scene, dismisses Mills, sending him out of the room to investigate elsewhere. The coroner determines the victim has been force fed for at least twelve hours and then kicked until his stomach burst. Back at the station while discussing the crime with his superior, Somerset predicts that this crime will take longer to solve than he has time left on the force before his retirement; he requests reassignment. He suggests that Mills is too inexperienced to supervise this investigation, a job Somerset deems a case of multiple murders; he contends this should not be Mills first solo assignment. His request is denied; he stays on the case and so does Mills. In SE7EN, the sight of the decaying corpulent gluttonous corpse is so revolting that viewers immediately cringe in horror, establishing a negative postmodernist tone for the film.

In Dante’s Inferno, the sin of gluttony is punished in the Third Circle. These “shades are mired in filthy muck and are eternally battered by cold and dirty hail, rain, and snow” and tormented by the three headed dog, Cerberus (Mack 872). In the Purgatorio, those gluttons who have repented their sinful ways suffer hunger and thirst in the Sixth Terrace. Chaucer’s parson contends that the antithesis of gluttony is abstinence. When Somerset goes back to review the crime scene, he finds the word “gluttony” scrawled in grease on the wall behind the refrigerator. Later in the film, mentor Somerset explains to pilgrim Mlls how the sinner victims suffer from “forced attrition.” Bound to his chair with his hands and feet tied under the table and forced to lap the food directly from the plate, this obese man could not get away from his tormentor to give up food and drink and atone for his sin.

“Murder Two” on Tuesday: the victim’s sin is greed. The police captain sends Mills to investigate the homicide of a rich and famous attorney who takes advantage of the poor, the helpless, and the ignorant. In Dante’s Inferno, the attorney would be punished for this sin in Circle IV where the shades roll weights in semi circles. In the Purgatorio, greedy sinners must atone in the Fifth Terrace; they are bound hand and foot and forced to “lie stretched on the ground, face first” (XIX). Chaucer’s parson contends that the antithesis of greed is “mercy and pity in large doses” (534). He discusses how the greedy man shows no pity or mercy for those in need; indeed, the greedy man exploits the needy.

Detective Mills goes to investigate the second murder; he finds the victim’s mutilated body in a pool of blood. The word “greed” is painted on the floor in more of the victim’s blood. The police find a bathroom scale and a pound of flesh with a note indicating this pound of flesh was fair retribution for the many pounds of fleshthe attorney took from his clients. The only fingerprints and handprints the police find, located behind a painting at the crime scene, spell out the words “help me.” These prints do not match the victim’s prints. A fingerprint search determines the prints belonged to a convicted felon. Back at the police station, Somerset concludes these murders represent two deadly sins–gluttony and greed; he predicts five more murders–murders representing sloth, lust, pride, wrath, and envy. Somerset and Mills start an intensive library research of the seven deadly sins; they also pay a snitch to get illegally gained library records from the FBI of those people who have checked out flagged books relating to murder, mayhem, punishment, and sin.

Pilgrim Mills’ wife Tracy invites mentor Somerset to dinner. Not unlike the beautiful Beatrice who resides in the white rose of Paradiso and inspires the pilgrim Dante, Tracy is a loving supporter of her husband. Tracy is Mills’ first love and Somerset admires her commitment. He laughs with Mills and Tracy over their dingy hellish apartment–not a nice place to live. Like Beatrice, Tracy is present physically in this urban hell but not psychologically.

“Murder Three”: the victim’s sin is sloth. Somerset and Mills take a swat team to find the convicted felon whose fingerprints they found at crime scene two. The victim is a drug dealer who feeds on addicted souls, a person who makes money the easy way. This victim is the same felon whose hand prints were found in the crime scene of “Murder Two.” Somerset and Mills find the starved wretch tied to his bed with his hand cut of; but still alive. The detectives determine the sadistic executioner used the severed hand as a tool to provide a map to the next crime scene. Permanently incapacitated and at death’s door, the felon could give detectives no information about the killer because the doctor who examines him tells the detectives the felon had eaten his own tongue and his brain turned to mush. The doctor continues, “He’s experienced as much pain as anyone could stand and he still has hell to look forward to” (SE7EN).

Somerset and Mills decide the murderer must have kept the felon tied-up for an entire year because of the dated photos found by his bed. The torturer, John Doe, minimally fed the felon nutrients, antibiotics, and vitamins through tubes. He inserted a tube in his victim’s genitals to remove urine. Police find the word “sloth” written in dirt over the bed. Mentor Somerset mentions the amount of planning and patience required to perform such a devious act; he tells Pilgrim Mills the executioner is preaching a sermon about sin.

In the Purgatorio, shades atoning for sloth are made to run without rest (XVIII).Chaucer’s parson contends that the antithesis of sloth is a virtue called fortitude. In postmodern America, a person who is slothful refuses to take responsibility for the self and becomes a victim. The despicable self-absorbed slothful felon drug dealer has become feeble and unable to help himself. He can’t atone for his sin by running without rest while tied to his bed. Outside the felon’s apartment, a reporter takes Mills’ photograph. Mills becomes enraged and screams at the man. Pilgrim Mills tells mentor Somerset, “He pissed me off..” To this Somerset sardonically responds, “It’s impressive to see a man feeding off his emotions.”

At her request, Somerset meets Tracy for breakfast and she confides in him; she’spregnant and not anxious to have a baby in this hellish inner-city. She needs advice;she hasn’t told Mills about the baby. Somerset advises her to not tell Mills yet, at least not until she decides not to end the pregnancy. She heeds Somerset’s advice.

Pilgrim Mills insists that the murderer must be a madman. Mentor Somerset insists, “It’s dismissive to call him insane.” The FBI connection provides the detectives with Jonathan Doe’s name and address from his library card. When Somerset and Mills finally locate Doe’s filthy apartment, they find 2000 notebooks with 250 pages of rambling vulgarities and violence in each book. They find photography processing equipment and photos of victims, including one of a beautiful woman and one of Mills taken by the reporter Mills abused with profanities outside the drug dealer’s pad. Now they know; Doe is the obnoxious reporter. John Doe calls the apartment to talk to Mills; he tells Mills how much he admires the detectives. He says his plan must be sped up now; he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise.

“Murder Four” discovered on Saturday in a sleazy basement “sink of iniquity”: the victim’s sin is lust. In this murder, a perverted john rapes a prostitute to her death by wearing a sawblade device on his penis while he commits the act. John Doe, the perverted serial killer, holds a gun in the john’s mouth so he will complete the act.

In the Second Circle of the Inferno, shades guilty of lust lament and moan as an unending storm blows them around. In the Purgatorio, shades lament their sins in life by purifying themselves by fire, praising “aloud those wives and husbands who were chaste,/ as virtue and as matrimony mandate” (XXV 133-35). Chaucer’s parson contends that the antithesis of lust is chastity. He reminds his audience that Jesus sanctified marriage and performed a miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding. The “sawbiade john”will never recover from “the hellish hurricane which never rests” because he understands (after the act) that his spirit was driven by violence. The murdered prostitute will not ever have the opportunity to give up her profession voluntarily.

“Murder Five” discovered on Sunday morning: the victim’s sin is pride; the word “pride” is written over the bed where police find the corpse–a beautiful woman who counts on her appearance to get ahead in the world, a beautiful woman whose photo was found in Doe’s apartment. John Doe cuts off the woman’s “nose to spite her face” and then leaves poison so she can kill herself. In Dame’s Inferno, those shades suffering from pride retain the same characteristic of arrogance they practiced in life (XIII). In the Purgatorio the shades perform penitence on the fifth ledge by bending down with knees next to their chests while bearing heavy stones on their backs and reciting the Lord’s Prayer (X-XI) Chaucer’s parson contends that the antithesis of pride is humility or meekness; the sinner must come to true knowledge of himself and have humility of heart, of mouth, and of works (515). The no longer beautiful woman chooses to ingest poison over a living the rest of her life without good looks. She is unable to “have humility of heart, of mouth, and of works.”

After completing murders representing five of the seven deadly sins and presenting himself to Somerset and Mills at the police station on Sunday, John Doe turns himself over to police custody.    Furious, Mills says Doe is “pissing in their faces” because he is not finished. Spattered with blood, Doe requests an attorney and then, through the attorney, offers to make a full confession if Mills and Somerset will accompany him to the site of his, yet undiscovered, last two murders. If the detectives refuse, Doe will plead insanity and get off .    Somerset and Mills agree to Doe’s terms, realizing the “public” wouldn’t understand if the police find more bodies after Doe’s arrest. The crime lab reports blood from three separate individuals on Doe’s clothing–his own, the “once beautiful” woman’s and one unidentified person’s. They also understand the court might let Doe go free on an insanity plea.

The self appointed executioner explains how he helped society by eliminating the disgusting fat man, force feeding him until his stomach burst, and then kicking him to insure irreversible injury and death. He continues his diatribe on his reasoning behind the other murders by explaining that he did not execute innocents:

My work is special; you can’t see whole complete act yet–it’s really going to be something–you won’t miss a thing … I was chosen. . . I turn each sin against the sinner.     [Those people were] abominations to society: a lawyer who dedicated his life making     money to lying and keeping murderers and rapists out of prison, a who was so ugly on the     inside she couldn’t bear to go on living if she couldn’t beautiful on the     outside, a     disease spreading whore, a drug dealing pederast. (SEVEN)

Shackled behind a chain link barrier in a police car with Somerset and Mills, on the way to the site of his last revelation, self appointed executioner John Doe lures Mills into an argument, enraging Mills. Executioner Doe tells Mills, “We see a deadly sin on every corner and we tolerate it. Realize detective, I’m here because I want to be. Don’t ask me to pity those people. I don’t pity them anymore than I pity those at Sodom and Gomorrah” (SEVEN).

Pilgrim Mills loses his cool, yelling at Doe, “You’re no messiah … you’re a movie of the week …. you’re a fucking T shirt at best” (SEVEN). When Pilgrim Dante starts on his tour of hell, purgatory, and heaven, he heeds the advice of his mentor Virgil and learns from the sins of shades suffering for committing the seven deadly sins. Pilgrim Dante keeps the image of the sparkling Beatrice in his mind; Dante wants to purify himself and be worthy of her love. Unlike Dante, Pilgrim Mills fails to get the message. Mills’ pride and arrogance keeps him from following mentor Somerset’s advice. Mills takes his wife Tracy for granted and doesn’t consider what life will be like for Tracy in an urban slum. He doesn’t think about Tracy’s career or the problems of raising a family in “hell.” Like other postmodern thinkers, Mills is lost in his own solipsism.

“Murder Six” on Sunday morning before Doe turns himself over to the police: the victim has no sin. This murder is the surprising conclusion Doe has promised to expose to Mills and Somerset. The murderer’s sin is envy. John Doe goes to Detective Mills home, rapes Mills’ wife Tracy, and then decapitates her. In Dante’s Purgatorio the sin of envy is punished on the second terrace where the sinner’s “eyelids are sewn up with iron wires” (XIII). Chaucer’s parson contends that the antithesis of envy is to love oneself and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. John Doe, the envious, doesn’t love anyone and no one loves him. Doe wants a “perfect Beatrice” too. If he can’t have the “perfect Beatrice” then Mills can’t have one either.

Doe planned his seven deadly sins carefully. He paid a delivery man $500 to bring a box containing Tracy Mills’ head to a designated location outside of the city. Mills holds a gun on shackled Doe while Somerset intercepts the delivery.

“Murder Seven” on Saturday evening: the new executioner’s sin is wrath. Full of rage, Detective David Mills loses his cool when he discovers Doe decapitated his only love–“his Beatrice.” Doe tells Mills he coveted Mills’ normal life so he tried to play husband. “She begged for her life and for the baby inside her   . . [looking at Somerset] … oh, he [Mills] didn’t know.” Somerset says, “David if you kill him, he will win.” Mills’ rage grows as he considers the loss of his “Beatrice” and a child he didn’t know was growing in her womb; he pulls the trigger to satisfy his rage. Dante says in the Inferno that the wrathful receive punishment by the muddy river Styx.

In the Purgatorio the sinner atones on the Third Terrace by wandering around in a dark filthy smoke and learning that man’s free will can cause his downfall if he fails to make proper choices. A person must learn to “cool down,” consider consequences, and not allow anger to get in the way of reason. Chaucer’s parson contends that the antithesis of wrath is gentleness, patience, and tolerance. Pilgrim Mills’ hatred is so overpowering he loses all sense of reason and puts himself into a hell on earth, unlike pilgrim Dante who rejects the folly of the seven deadly sins and returns from his tour of hell, purgatory, and heaven to live the remainder of his life searching for the road back to heaven.

In Letter Bomb, Peter Schwenger says, “that stories imitate other stories is the first in a series of variations on the theme of mimesis…. it is not only stories that imitate other stories; so do we” (75). In our postmodern age, overly concerned with the problems of duality, we rely on literary canon to provide the archetypal characters our zombie-like nonparticipatory TV mentality spectator society can understand without putting forth effort. Andrew Kevin Walker’s script uses this duality effectively in the antithesis of the characters of Mills and Somerset and within the mind of John Doe.

The film ends with a comment from Somerset: “Ernest Hemingway once said, The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.  I agree with the second part.”
And so, I suspect, Aquinas, Dante, Chaucer, and Milton’s art will continue to pick at our consciences beyond the end of the twentieth century. Evolution is a slow process as is civilizing humans; society needs literature and film to recreate our canonical art, reminding us we still must avoid pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust. As we leave the postmodern, post industrial era, we may not need the vulgar language and excessive graphic images of violence in SE7EN to remind us of our responsibilities to society.

© Janice Morris Kollitz 1997

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson


The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play. and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix– the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys. and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers or sisters.

Soon the men began to gather. surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call to their children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times. Bobby Martin ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother.

The lottery was conducted–as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program–by Mr. Summers. who had time and energy to devote to civic activities. He was a round-faced, jovial man and he ran the coal business, and people were sorry for him. because he had no children and his wife was a scold. When he arrived in the square, carrying the black wooden box, there was a murmur of conversation among the villagers, and he waved and called. “Little late today, folks.” The postmaster, Mr. Graves, followed him, carrying a three- legged stool, and the stool was put in the center of the square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it. The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool. and when Mr. Summers said, “Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?” there was a hesitation before two men. Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter. came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it.

The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.

Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, held the black box securely on the stool until Mr. Summers had stirred the papers thoroughly with his hand. Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued. had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more easily into he black box. The night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper and put them in the box, and it was then taken to the safe of Mr. Summers’ coal company and locked up until Mr. Summers was ready to take it to the square next morning. The rest of the year, the box was put way, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves’s barn and another year underfoot in the post office. and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there.

There was a great deal of fussing to be done before Mr. Summers declared the lottery open. There were the lists to make up–of heads of families. heads of households in each family. members of each household in each family. There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory. tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this p3rt of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching. Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his clean white shirt and blue jeans. with one hand resting carelessly on the black box. he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr. Graves and the Martins.

Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. “Clean forgot what day it was,” she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly. “Thought my old man was out back stacking wood,” Mrs. Hutchinson went on. “and then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it was the twenty-seventh and came a-running.” She dried her hands on her apron, and Mrs. Delacroix said, “You’re in time, though. They’re still talking away up there.”

Mrs. Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd and found her husband and children standing near the front. She tapped Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd. The people separated good-humoredly to let her through: two or three people said. in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, “Here comes your, Missus, Hutchinson,” and “Bill, she made it after all.” Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully. “Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.” Mrs. Hutchinson said. grinning, “Wouldn’t have me leave m’dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe?,” and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival.

“Well, now.” Mr. Summers said soberly, “guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work. Anybody ain’t here?”

“Dunbar.” several people said. “Dunbar. Dunbar.”

Mr. Summers consulted his list. “Clyde Dunbar.” he said. “That’s right. He’s broke his leg, hasn’t he? Who’s drawing for him?”

“Me. I guess,” a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. “Wife draws for her husband.” Mr. Summers said. “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.

“Horace’s not but sixteen vet.” Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. “Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year.”

“Right.” Sr. Summers said. He made a note on the list he was holding. Then he asked, “Watson boy drawing this year?”

A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. “Here,” he said. “I m drawing for my mother and me.” He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said thin#s like “Good fellow, lack.” and “Glad to see your mother’s got a man to do it.”

“Well,” Mr. Summers said, “guess that’s everyone. Old Man Warner make it?”

“Here,” a voice said. and Mr. Summers nodded.

A sudden hush fell on the crowd as Mr. Summers cleared his throat and looked at the list. “All ready?” he called. “Now, I’ll read the names–heads of families first–and the men come up and take a paper out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your hand without looking at it until everyone has had a turn. Everything clear?”

The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions: most of them were quiet. wetting their lips. not looking around. Then Mr. Summers raised one hand high and said, “Adams.” A man disengaged himself from the crowd and came forward. “Hi. Steve.” Mr. Summers said. and Mr. Adams said. “Hi. Joe.” They grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously. Then Mr. Adams reached into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one corner as he turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd. where he stood a little apart from his family. not looking down at his hand.

“Allen.” Mr. Summers said. “Anderson…. Bentham.”

“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries any more.” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.

“Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”

“Time sure goes fast.– Mrs. Graves said.

“Clark…. Delacroix”

“There goes my old man.” Mrs. Delacroix said. She held her breath while her husband went forward.

“Dunbar,” Mr. Summers said, and Mrs. Dunbar went steadily to the box while one of the women said. “Go on. Janey,” and another said, “There she goes.”

“We’re next.” Mrs. Graves said. She watched while Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely and selected a slip of paper from the box. By now, all through the crowd there were men holding the small folded papers in their large hand. turning them over and over nervously Mrs. Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs. Dunbar holding the slip of paper.

“Harburt…. Hutchinson.”

“Get up there, Bill,” Mrs. Hutchinson said. and the people near her laughed.


“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.”

Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”

“Some places have already quit lotteries.” Mrs. Adams said.

“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young fools.”

“Martin.” And Bobby Martin watched his father go forward. “Overdyke…. Percy.”

“I wish they’d hurry,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son. “I wish they’d hurry.”

“They’re almost through,” her son said.

“You get ready to run tell Dad,” Mrs. Dunbar said.

Mr. Summers called his own name and then stepped forward precisely and selected a slip from the box. Then he called, “Warner.”

“Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery,” Old Man Warner said as he went through the crowd. “Seventy-seventh time.”

“Watson” The tall boy came awkwardly through the crowd. Someone said, “Don’t be nervous, Jack,” and Mr. Summers said, “Take your time, son.”


After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. “Who is it?,” “Who’s got it?,” “Is it the Dunbars?,” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”

“Go tell your father,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.

People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!”

“Be a good sport, Tessie.” Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”

“Shut up, Tessie,” Bill Hutchinson said.

“Well, everyone,” Mr. Summers said, “that was done pretty fast, and now we’ve got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time.” He consulted his next list. “Bill,” he said, “you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?”

“There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. “Make them take their chance!”

“Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,” Mr. Summers said gently. “You know that as well as anyone else.”

“It wasn’t fair,” Tessie said.

“I guess not, Joe.” Bill Hutchinson said regretfully. “My daughter draws with her husband’s family; that’s only fair. And I’ve got no other family except the kids.”

“Then, as far as drawing for families is concerned, it’s you,” Mr. Summers said in explanation, “and as far as drawing for households is concerned, that’s you, too. Right?”

“Right,” Bill Hutchinson said.

“How many kids, Bill?” Mr. Summers asked formally.

“Three,” Bill Hutchinson said.

“There’s Bill, Jr., and Nancy, and little Dave. And Tessie and me.”

“All right, then,” Mr. Summers said. “Harry, you got their tickets back?”

Mr. Graves nodded and held up the slips of paper. “Put them in the box, then,” Mr. Summers directed. “Take Bill’s and put it in.”

“I think we ought to start over,” Mrs. Hutchinson said, as quietly as she could. “I tell you it wasn’t fair. You didn’t give him time enough to choose. Everybody saw that.”

Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box. and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground. where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.

“Listen, everybody,” Mrs. Hutchinson was saying to the people around her.

“Ready, Bill?” Mr. Summers asked. and Bill Hutchinson, with one quick glance around at his wife and children. nodded.

“Remember,” Mr. Summers said. “take the slips and keep them folded until each person has taken one. Harry, you help little Dave.” Mr. Graves took the hand of the little boy, who came willingly with him up to the box. “Take a paper out of the box, Davy.” Mr. Summers said. Davy put his hand into the box and laughed. “Take just one paper.” Mr. Summers said. “Harry, you hold it for him.” Mr. Graves took the child’s hand and removed the folded paper from the tight fist and held it while little Dave stood next to him and looked up at him wonderingly.

“Nancy next,” Mr. Summers said. Nancy was twelve, and her school friends breathed heavily as she went forward switching her skirt, and took a slip daintily from the box “Bill, Jr.,” Mr. Summers said, and Billy, his face red and his feet overlarge, near knocked the box over as he got a paper out. “Tessie,” Mr. Summers said. She hesitated for a minute, looking around defiantly. and then set her lips and went up to the box. She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.

“Bill,” Mr. Summers said, and Bill Hutchinson reached into the box and felt around, bringing his hand out at last with the slip of paper in it.

The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, “I hope it’s not Nancy,” and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.

“It’s not the way it used to be.” Old Man Warner said clearly. “People ain’t the way they used to be.”

“All right,” Mr. Summers said. “Open the papers. Harry, you open little Dave’s.”

Mr. Graves opened the slip of paper and there was a general sigh through the crowd as he held it up and everyone could see that it was blank. Nancy and Bill. Jr.. opened theirs at the same time. and both beamed and laughed. turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above their heads.

“Tessie,” Mr. Summers said. There was a pause, and then Mr. Summers looked at Bill Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and showed it. It was blank.

“It’s Tessie,” Mr. Summers said, and his voice was hushed. “Show us her paper. Bill.”

Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.

“All right, folks.” Mr. Summers said. “Let’s finish quickly.”

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.”

Mr. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said. gasping for breath. “I can’t run at all. You’ll have to go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.”

The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.

Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.

“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

Susan Glaspell’s One Act Play Trifles

Susan Glaspell’s one-act play, Trifles, is based on actual events that occurred in Iowa at the turn of the century. From 1899-1901 Glaspell worked as a reporter for the Des Moines News, where she covered the murder trial of a farmer’s wife, Margaret Hossack, in Indianola, Iowa. Hossack was accused of killing her husband, John, by striking him twice in the head with an ax while he slept.

Initially it was assumed that burglars had murdered the farmer, but a subsequent sheriff’s investigation turned up evidence suggesting Mrs. Hossack was unhappy in her marriage. Ultimately, she was charged with and found guilty of the crime and sentenced to life in prison.

Over the course of sixteen months, Glaspell wrote twenty-six articles covering the case, from the announcement of the murder until Hossack’s conviction. The author found herself feeling more and more sympathy for the accused, in spite of the grisly nature of the crime.

Years later, Glaspell and her husband, George Cook, along with some friends, founded the Provincetown Players, an amateur theatrical company on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1916 the group presented a summertime series of plays that included Eugene O’Neill’s Bound East for Cardiff. In need of a new play to end the season, Cook suggested Glaspell should write a one-act for the company. Her memory of the Hossack trial inspired Trifles.

Trifles is a murder mystery that explores gender relationships, power between the sexes, and the nature of truth. In the play, the farmer and his wife never actually appear; instead, the story focuses on the prosecutor, George Henderson, who has been called in to investigate the murder; Henry Peters, the local sheriff; Lewis Hale, a neighboring farmer who discovered Wright’s body; and Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, wives to the two local men.

While the men bluster and tramp around the farmhouse searching for clues, the women discover bits of evidence in the ‘‘trifles’’ of a farmer’s wife—her baking, cleaning and sewing. Because the men virtually ignore the women’s world, they remain blind to the truth before their eyes.
Trifles Summary

The setting for Trifles, a bleak, untidy kitchen in an abandoned rural farmhouse, quickly establishes the claustrophobic mood of the play. While a cold winter wind blows outside, the characters file in one at a time to investigate a violent murder: the farm’s owner, John Wright, was apparently strangled to death while he slept, and his wife, Minnie, has been taken into custody as a suspect in the crime.

The sheriff, Henry Peters, is the first to enter the farmhouse, followed by George Henderson, the attorney prosecuting the case. Lewis Hale, a neighbor, is next to enter. The men cluster around a stove to get warm while they prepare for their investigation.

Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale follow the men into the kitchen; yet, they hesitate just inside the door. They are obviously quite disturbed by what has happened in the house and proceed with more care than their husbands.

In a play filled with minor details (trifles) that take on major significance, the entrance of the characters is very revealing. There is an obvious divide—social, psychological, and physical—separating the men from the women, a fact that takes on a larger significance as the play progresses.

The investigation begins with Henderson questioning Lewis, who discovered the murder the day before. Lewis explains that he was on his way into town with a load of potatoes and stopped at the Wright farmhouse to see if John and Minnie wanted to share a telephone line with him, since they were neighbors. The farmer admits that he didn’t think John would be interested, since he didn’t like to talk much and didn’t seem to care about what his wife might want.

When he appeared at the Wright’s door early in the morning, he found Minnie rocking nervously in a chair, pleating her apron. When he asked to see her husband, she quietly told Lewis that he was lying upstairs with a rope around his neck, dead.

Lewis summoned his partner, Harry, to check the grisly scene. The two men found John just as his wife described him. Minnie claimed someone strangled him in the middle of the night without disturbing her. ‘‘I sleep sound,’’ she explained to her shocked neighbor.

Henderson suggests the men should look around the house for clues, beginning with the bedroom upstairs and the barn outside. Henry casually dismisses the room where… » View complete Trifles summary

Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard

Tthe following is commentary on the play Master Harold and the Boys from the website Library Thing.

South Africa, 1950. Sam and Willie, black men in their mid-forties, are working at a tearoom. The men are practicing for an upcoming ballroom competition when Harry, the white seventeen-year-old son of the owners, arrives from school. Harry and Sam engage in intellectual sparing as they discuss men of magnitude. The lively conversation turns into reminiscing as Sam remembers his first interactions with Harry. The tone is friendly until Harry receives news that his father is leaving the hospital to return home. Harry’s mood turns sour, and he takes his anger out on Sam and Willie. The angrier Harry gets, the uglier his behavior becomes, and Sam and Willie are faced with humiliation as Harry repeats his father’s language of the apartheid. A line is crossed that will forever change Harry and Sam’s relationship.

Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”…and the Boys is a one-act play that exposes the injustices of the apartheid system. The grown men know that standing up to the teenager’s humiliation would mean paying a price too high that neither one can afford. It is hard not to cringe when Harry devolves into a bigot and repeats the words of his father to subjugate Sam and Willie. The tearoom becomes a microcosm of a country where policy dictated one’s place in society based on one’s skin color. The play is a study in power—who has it and who does not, and the implications to interpersonal relationships. Harry sees himself as Sam’s mentor, therefore in power; when Sam seeks to dissuade Harry from speaking poorly of his father, Sam’s reaction is to dig deep into the discourse of bigotry to put Sam back in his place. The play offers rich material for discussions about racism, bigotry, power, and human relations. (5 stars)

Here are two more good websites about the play: and