Literature As Social Commentary

Tragedy and the Common Man

“…I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing--his sense of personal dignity."
~ Arthur Miller

This semester we will evaluate literature as social commentary through the exploration of the theme: tragedy and the common man. The primarily texts for this class are The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The viewing of various films, and the reading of thematically relevant short stories ("The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, and "The Lottery by Shirley Jackson), poems, and essays, will complement the study of these texts.

Throughout this semester, we will engage in reading and writing activities aimed to: enrich vocabulary, sharpen listening and note-taking skills, and develop the ability to critique and analyze literature through class discussion and debate as well as formal written assignments. The semester will conclude with the completion of a formal literary analysis paper and presentation – the English PBAT [Performance Based Assessment Task]. The overall objective of this class is to hone the skills needed to succeed in a college-level English literature class.

Readings: 
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Research: 

Research Topics:

The Salem Witch Trials
McCarthyism and the Cold War
Sigmund Freud - Id, Ego, and Superego
Charles Darwin - science vs religion
Karl Marx - social classes

Media Used: 
Film and related commentary: The Crucible - screenplay by Arthur Miller
Film: Mary Reilly - adaptation of Stevenson's novel
Interim Assessments: 

In-class essay on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Choose one of the following questions/prompts:

1. How does Robert Louis Stevenson explore the concept of good and evil in humankind in his novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Should this story be read as a tragedy?

2. One critic has written of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: “Without Jekyll, there could never have been a Hyde; with Hyde, one can never fully know Jekyll.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written during a period of intellectual enlightenment when highly influential ideas surfaced about economics, science, and the workings of the mind. Discuss how Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella explores new ideas/schools of thought introduced by one of the following influential minds of the time: Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, or Karl Marx.

Significant Assignments: 

Analyze “The Yellow Wallpaper” and/or “The Story of an Hour” and “The Lottery” as social commentary. Complete a feminist reading of the story (or stories). Be certain to argue whether or not the protagonist fits the “definition” of a tragic character. Remember to acknowledge Arthur Miller’s essay, “Tragedy and the Common Man,” as you argue your point. The paper must: be 2-3 pages in length (minimum), must contain direct evidence from the essay and the story to support your argument, and must include a works cited page.

Write a three-page (minimum) paper on The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Your paper should answer one of the following questions/prompts:

1. Is John Proctor a tragic hero? How does his great dilemma change during the course of the play?

2. Analyze The Crucible as social commentary. What is Arthur Miller saying about the common man and society?

3. Was the devil loose in Salem? Who/what is responsible for the witch hunt/hysteria?

*You may suggest a topic of your own, but please run your thoughts by me prior to beginning the assignment.

Your published paper must:

-Reference one academic article (literary criticism) from a respected literary source. You may use one of the various articles by Arthur Miller that were distributed and discussed in class or you may find a relevant article on your own (Gale Educational Resources - accessible through the UHHS website).

Write a 4-5 page literary analysis paper on The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Your paper should discuss whether or not the main protagonists in both texts, John Proctor and Dr. Jekyll, fit Arthur Miller's definition of a tragic character as discussed in his essay, "Tragedy and the Common Man." According to Miller, tragedy is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.” Do you agree?

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Research the seven deadly sins: lust, greed, gluttony, pride, wrath, sloth, and envy. Then, for each sin, choose a character from The Crucible who embodies the traits of that particular sin. You must provide a minimum of three examples (with direct evidence) from the play to support your case for each character/sin. Your analysis of each character/sin will be presented to the class. Therefore, you should include a creative visual or musical component in your presentation that complements your findings: symbolic collage, soundtrack, cartoon/illustration, graphic organizer (charts), etc.

Sample PBATs: 
Parallel Experiments: Freud and Dr. Jekyll
Abigail: McCarthy as Feminist