The English Studies Department of Saint John’s High School views its role as primarily defined by the philosophy of Saint John’s High School as a College Preparatory school. Thus, the English Studies Department Curriculum is conceived with the purpose of preparing students to be successful in college. A secondary consideration in the philosophy of this Curriculum is the fact that the enrollment of Saint John’s is drawn from a number of different communities, and thus the student body which enters the institution represents a broad range of backgrounds and abilities.
Saint John’s educates students so that they can live informed, meaningful adult lives, making decisions informed by an awareness of the ethical and moral implications of those decisions. In teaching composition and literature, the English Studies Department finds the ideal venue for the discussion of the moral and ethical issues that confront us as human beings. Great writers and great works of literature portray characters caught in ethical and moral dilemmas. The greatest works created in the various literary forms derive their impact and strength largely through the issues that characters face within those plots. Discussion of those works, aside from consideration of the more mechanical aspects of the literature, involves considering characters making choices, with those choices framed within some ethical and moral context. These discussions in turn logically lead to the opportunity for consideration of the moral and ethical implications of character choices and motivations.
• Freshman Seminar
• Freshman English I
• Sophomore English II
• Junior English III
• Senior English IV
• Advanced Placement Literature
• Advanced Placement English Language and Composition
|• Modern American Drama
• The Short Story
• Modern European Theater
• Modern European Fiction
• Contemporary American Poetry
• Gothic Novel
• Mystery/Detective Fiction
Mr. Michael Curran
Mr. John Deedy
READING AS A ST. JOHN'S STUDENT
As you prepare for your reading at Saint John’s, consider the following. Saint John’s English teachers will evaluate your reading performance in several ways. Teachers will use Objective Testing as well as Essay Assignments in assessing the quality of your work. Success in your assignments depends upon your ability to Prepare, Organize and Participate. As you may be unfamiliar with the Saint John’s curriculum, the following notes will assist you in best preparing for these reading evaluations, and they will assure that you gain maximum benefit from the time you spend at your reading. Take the time to organize your thoughts after you read. That information will shape your class participation.
Annotation: You should always pencil marginal notes in your copies of the various reading works. Books exist so that readers will read them, but that reading is always best when it is an interactive process, undertaken in a kind of imagined conversation with the author. The following points are some items that you should note in your text, as you read:
Point of View: Who is telling the story? What is significant about the point of view from which this narrator tells the events that comprise the sequence of events? How would the story differ if told from the point of view of other characters in the work?
Background: What initial information does the author share with you, regarding the setting, characters, events and possible themes? How does this information prepare you and shape your perception as you proceed with your reading?
Setting: Where and when does the story take place, and where do shifts in that setting, or time and place, occur? What are the possible significances of these shift points? Would the story be different if it occurred at a different time or in a different place? If so, why is that true?
Conflict: What are the central conflicts that occur in the work? What elements come into conflict? What levels of conflict occur? Are there both internal and external conflicts? What are they? How do they affect the outcome?
Characters: Who are the participants in the sequence of events? What identifies them, and how are they similar to and different from the other characters? What significances can you attach to their experiences or to their lack of experience? What values or attitudes do the characters possess? Do those values or attitudes change during the sequence of events? If so, how and why do they change? If not, why do they not?
Plot: What is the sequence of events? What points in the sequence does the author emphasize? Why do you think that is the case? What does this emphasis suggest about the author’s own convictions, regarding both the important events and the reasons for that importance?
Climax: What is the turning point in the events of the story? Why do you identify this particular point as the turning point in the story? What are points of high tension in the story? What purpose do they serve?
Themes: All of the above items combine in order to communicate the central ideas that the author sought to highlight for the reader. What are those central ideas? How do they somehow involve universal human concerns or problems?
As you read, label the points at which you believe that the author consciously employs one or more of the above elements of literature. Place these labels directly in the text, so that you can use them when discussing the work in class. Transfer these thoughts about the readings to Reading Notes in a notebook. Organize these notes by the following categories: the page number where you found the device, the device noted and your explanation of what the author is doing at this point. In this way, your reading of the book becomes an exercise in detection.
Remember, writers perform their craft to communicate ideas to an audience. The writer created the work because he or she felt they had a series of ideas that were so important that they were worth the considerable effort involved in creating and editing the work. Readers ought to read purposefully, in order to understand that communication.
Remember also that writers often obscure their communication behind the many elements of their writing. You, the detective/ reader, should approach the work in an analytical fashion, seeking to learn more about what the author wished to communicate through the work. When you have answered the questions above, you will solve the case, and you will then ready to discuss the book on a test or in your class.
THOUGHTS ON CHARACTER FOIL
A character foil is composed of a pair of contrasting characters, according to a common definition, but it really involves much more than that. In any character analysis, it is possible to have pairs of characters whose traits are different, but who do not comprise a foil. What transforms characters in such a situation into foils?
Perhaps the most striking feature of a character foil is the fact that it represents an implicit choice. In one manner or another, it represents the author’s statement to the audience that, yes, there was a possible alternative course of action in this character’s life. The other character or characters in the foil are the physical proof that those other possible paths exist. The foil also asserts that since people differ, their choices differ as well. That difference in choice, motivated by those characters different personalities, governs their eventual character development.
To fulfill the definition of character foil, characters must embody the following ideas. A character foil minimally involves a pair of characters, potentially more, who are in close proximity in a plot. This fact of their closeness makes the comparison process simpler for the audience. The characters should possess similar backgrounds if the foil is to have the maximum effect. In the course of their parallel character development, these characters should encounter similar choices, or ideally the same choice. The crux of the foil comes with the characters’ opposing decisions about this choice. The differing decisions stem from some reason inherent in their personalities, and that motivating factor illustrates the effect of personality on choice.
From this point on, the characters play out the consequences that attend upon their differing choices. The audience witnesses this further development with both the understanding of the choices made and the underlying rationale that motivated those choices. Thus, the audience has the opportunity to compare the relative merits of each of the choices, as well as their eventual consequences. Often, those merits and consequences are of central importance to one of the themes of the piece of literature.
One definition asserts that a foil is a character that sheds light upon another. This is actually very close to the truth. Foil characters do illuminate each other, forcing the audience to acknowledge details of characterization they might otherwise ignore. Shakespeare, in particular, incorporated considerable detail into the foil characters in his plays, making them models for the use of the character foil device.
We must always remember that literature comprises a moral universe, often one that is more moral than the one that we actually inhabit. In Shakespeare’s case, this is very much so. His characters are usually concerned with the moral alternatives in a given situation. Their fate hinges upon their choice, in a moral and practical sense. Often the fate of their nation hinges upon the choice as well, emphasizing the consequences that flow from people’s decisions. In such cases, character foil becomes an extremely important device in the work, for through the character foil, Shakespeare expresses all that is worthy as well as all that is repellent in his world, and in our own.
THOUGHTS ON TRAGEDY
The literary concept of tragedy is one that is quite different from the conventional newsroom concept of fires and fatal accidents. In the concept of tragedy, the immediate focus is the life and choices of a single man, but the implications are expandable to all humanity. Discussion of the tragic elements of a piece of literature thus goes far beyond the battles, betrayal and bloodshed, to deal with the betrayal of man by himself.
A tragic hero is an individual who is essentially a good man, and often an exemplary man. It is for precisely this reason that the writer chooses him as a tragic figure. The purpose of the tragic hero and of his suffering is to set an example, to serve as a demonstration of the weakness of even the strongest of men. In the classical concert the tragedy, this man, of necessity, was the head of his respective state. The reasoning was that thus the consequences of the hero’s fall would be all the more obvious and all the more catastrophic, owing to his position.
The tragic hero often enjoys apparent good fortune and displays promise of still greater potential lying within. Yet also lying within this man is a single failing, a single weakness, which disposes him to make particular types of judgments in a deficient manner. Usually, this failing is such that in another, one not so highly placed, it would be negligible. Yet owing to the peculiar circumstances of the hero, this failing will have consequences far outweighing its usual gravity, were it in the character of another.
This tragic flaw concept was something that Elizabethan audiences understood well. They expected the flaw, they accepted the reality of it and they waited for it to have its deadly effect, with feelings of mingled pity and terror. Shakespeare’s audiences realized that the tragic hero would face a decision in the course of the play, and they knew that when the hero made his choice regarding that decision, he did so under the influence of the flaw. They recognized, again with mingled pity and terror, that once the hero made that tragic choice, it was irreversible. They accepted the fact that it could only lead to the utter destruction of the hero, whether that destruction was physical or not.
A Shakespearean tragedy is a five-act play involving a Tragic Hero. The play traces the progress of the hero from a position of respect, through a rise in status, to the point of a tragic decision and finally presents the tragic downfall of the hero. The events of the play place the character in a position where he must make such a decision. The decision made is an irreversible one. The hero makes the decision and nearly immediately recognizes that the choice made was the incorrect one. The hero tries to change the decision, but, of course, this is not possible. The remainder of the play presents the hero suffering the consequences of the action.
The Tragic Flaw is a defect or weakness in the personality of the main character, which causes the character to make certain types of decision incorrectly. In another person, such a defect would probably not have any adverse effect, but the tragic hero is so placed that the defect does have serious consequences.
Shakespeare’s tragic plays generally conformed to a five-act pattern of development. This pattern is as follows:
Act of Introduction
Act of Development or Act of Rising Action
Act of Climax or Act of Tragic Decision
Act of Falling Action
Act of Resolution or Act of Catastrophe
The individual tragedy acts each follow a predictable pattern of events. The Act of Introduction, for example, progresses through the exposition of the following points:
An introduction to the principal characters
An introduction to the setting
The introduction of the central conflict
A suggestion of the tragic hero’s tragic flaw
The Act of Development, also known as The Act of Rising Action, progresses through the exposition of the following points:
The central conflict develops and intensifies
The tragic hero shows clear signs of the tragic flaw influencing judgment
Character development progresses, giving the audience greater knowledge of the personalities of all of the principal characters
The Act of Climax or Act of Tragic Decision follows, and during this act, the following generally occur:
The tragic hero faces the tragic decision
The tragic hero, based upon influence of the tragic flaw, makes the tragic decision
Almost immediately, the tragic hero recognizes that the decision was incorrect
The Act of Falling Action follows the Tragic Decision, and in this act, the following occur:
The tragic hero attempts to change the decision and its consequences
The tragic hero fails in this attempt to change the decision
The consequences of the tragic decision become apparent to the hero and to the audience
Finally, the play concludes with the Act of Destruction or Act of Catastrophe, where the following occur:
The consequences of the tragic decision occur
Friends and family members of the tragic hero suffer as a result oh the hero’s choice in Act Three
The tragic hero is destroyed by the tragic decision’s consequences. The destruction may involve death or downfall.