Friday, August 30, 2013
Prompt 1: Characters as LensesFocus on one of the following characters: Clerval, Elizabeth, or Walton. Through paying close attention to the role and development of your chosen character through the first half of the novel, argue that we should understand the novel in a particular way through the lens of that character. To put it another way - what can we learn about what the novel means through focusing on one of these three characters? There is no specific argument in this prompt, but your essay should have a specific argument.
Prompt 2: The Purpose of PlaceBeing careful not to overgeneralize, and citing multiple examples from multiple chapters, discuss the role of place in the novel so far.
Example 1: We might argue that the use of extreme environments teaches us something about the nature of the monster, or reflects something about the nature of the monster.
Example 2: There is a great deal of water and ice in the novel, and a great deal said by Victor especially (although not exclusively) about that water and ice. What does the use of water and ice mean? Again, my general prompt needs to become a specific argument.
Prompt 3: Frankenstein and the HumanI ask this with great trepidation, because it often leads to underdeveloped responses. Here’s the short version: “Is the monster human?” The reason this simple question often leads to weak or underdeveloped writing is that people tend to give very little attention to the great complexity and difficulty of defining what it means to be human in a way that will withstand scrutiny - especially in a novel that at some level challenges our preconceptions about what the word means.
So, here’s the slightly longer version: Answer whether or not the monster is human, where your definition of “human” is clearly and articulately defined, and rooted in an outside, probably academic text (scientific, psychological, historical, philosophical, etc.). You should be defining humanity not in a trivial or casual way, in other words, but using a well-developed theory of human nature.
Prompt 4: Frankenstein and WomenThis prompt is inspired by a former student. Here’s an excerpt from a post of hers for context:
I read Frankenstein about three years ago, and the English class was to direct attention toward the theme of the creation of a disaster. However, reading Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel a second time, I approached it by looking closely at the individuals characters. Overall, I find all of the characters to be passive. In terms of Victor Frankstein’s monster, I couldn’t classify his actions as passive, but because he hasn’t been nurtured and integrated into society, I’m not so sure he comprehends what it means to be passive. The females are the most passive of the novel, listening and agreeing with what men tell them. Victor Frankstein’s mother, she takes a more passive role as the husband swoops in to provide shelter and security to Elizabeth (Shelley 26). Elizabeth herself can’t even formulate her own opinions, listening to either what the police say or Victor about Justine Moritz role in William Frankenstein’s death. Justine Moritz is the most passive woman in the novel so far, welcoming death despite her not murdering William (Shelley 91). However, when I consider that the author of Frankenstein is a woman, this brings me to a question that relates to my insight: Is Mary Shelley telling the story from a man’s point of view? The story of Victor’s despair is told through Victor telling it to Robert Walton.
Your job is to answer one of the two following questions, in the form of an essay, both of which are inspired by and should be contextualized by the above quote. DO NOT ANSWER BOTH - JUST ONE.
a) Focusing on specific passages and/or characters (don’t try to do everything), address what it means that Shelley is “telling the story from a man’s point of view,” also keeping in mind that Shelley was raised in an environment, unusual for its time, in which feminist thought was accepted and even welcomed. Is there a strategy, or an implicit argument, to the dominance of male voices in the narrative?
b) Are the women of the novel, in fact, passive? What is the significance (political, intellectual, theoretical - you pick the kind of significance) of their passivity, or their lack thereof? As always, support your argument with details from the text!
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Playing Zork and Similar Games
Zork and similar works of interactive ficiton are games which you play by typing commands, which can be only subject-verb, but may be more complicated; you can, for instance (and sometimes must) use conjunctions or prepositions. “Attack thief” might work, but you might prefer “attack thief with sword” or “attack thief with axe.” Other examples are “eat sandwich,” “open door,” “unlock door with red key,” and so forth. Adverbs and adjectives are pointless and probably will cause a command not to work; subjects, verbs and prepositions are what count. Prepositions may not work in all games (i.e., the Scott Adams adventures mentioned below). Conjunctions can be worthwhile, and may work: “take everything but hammer,” “drop everything but saw.”
You will always find yourself in a “room,” although sometimes the rooms are outdoor locations. You move around to different rooms with compass directions, which can be abbreviated. “Go North,” “North,” and “N” should all be equivalent.
You can “quit,” “save,” or “restart” a game. You should experiment with “verbose” to always turn on long descriptions, “inventory” to see what you are carrying, and “look” or “examine” to examine objects more closely: “examine egg,” for instance. You will quickly learn that one of the difficulties of interactive fiction is choosing the right word and phrasing commands correctly (of course, representing events the way we wish to is a problem in all narratives). This may not be entirely unlike the difficulties involved in writing well.
Creating a game
Creating a small piece of interactive fiction would be an interesting and doable final project for this class. It helps to be a programmer, of course, but shouldn’t be absolutely necessary. I have received outstandingly good and also very bad projects in this form; you should only do it if you really want to, and want to put in the necessary effort. You can inform yourself on what’s involved on the interactive fiction archive, the address of which is below.
Some relevant websites
Here are sites where it is straightforward to play Zork, the game we will investigate as a class:
Here’s a site where you can play a broad selection of Infocom’s interactive fiction online, including “Zork.” “Enchanter,” “Sorceror” and “Spellbreaker” are in a fantasy setting, where you play a wizard. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is based on the SF novel, and created by the same author. “Deadline” and “The Witness” are mysteries, which you have to solve in the allotted time. Infocom was the premier commercial maker of interactive fiction in the 1980s.
Here’s the interactive fiction archive, which not only has a plethora of non-commercial games, but also various other resources: ifarchive.org. Note that there are several beginner’s guides on the main page.
Within this archive, note especially the following massive catalog of games.
Here you will find the “frotz” interpreter for Windows systems, which will enable you to run almost all text adventures on your own system (you can also choose to run many of them on the internet, as detailed above).
Note: If you encounter any bad urls above, let me know - there is always a chance that one of them is out of date!
You need to check your Pitt email where, during class, you should receive an invitation to the class blog. If you joined the class very recently, you may need me to send you a separate invitation. Please be sure that the blog is working for you before leaving class.
Post your first blog entry - something short, to verify that it works.
You need to know the location of the syllabus, if you should ever need it.
Thanks for joining the class!