Literature and Place

a blog

Archive for February, 2011

For Tuesday, February 22nd: featured posts and idea maps

Featured posts: In this second round of posts, I already see an improvement in the quality of all of your responses. Both of the featured responses for this week show how Tuan’s discussions of spaciousness and crowding, freedom and captivity, are illustrated in two short stories, “The Metamorphosis” and “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The first response looks more closely at a specific scene in Kafka’s story; the second deals with the entire arc of the story. Either of these approaches is fine. The key is that both, in some way or another, consider why the parts they discuss are signifant to the meaning of the whole literary work (again, see the small packet from last week that discusses this as one goal of the kind of literary analysis we’re doing in this course).

**Another stylistic note–please note this for ALL future papers: chapter titles and short stories are indicated with quotation marks because they are parts of a larger work or anthology (ex: “Spaciousness and Crowding” or “The Metamorphosis”). Full works (Space and Place) are italicized.

Post #1:

From Taun’s “Spaciousness and Crowding” and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, we are given an understanding of the limitations or freedom given to us with space. Referring also to defying standards such gravity as Tuan mentioned in last week’s reading “Body, Personal Relations, and Spatial Values”. In Kafka’s work, we are introduced with the character Gregor Samsa as he awoke from bed as a bug. The transformation is unexpected and bewildering to him but he chooses to make the best of his unfortunate situation even though he is reluctant at first. He is confronted with the process of assimilating to his new body and the spaces around him.

            The author Kafka already demonstrated Tuan’s “Spaciousness” with the title “The Metamorphosis”.  The word metamorphosis is defined as a change of form, structure or substance. Once a man and already comfortable with the laws of gravity and space biologically, Gregor Samsa is reborn as an insect and must learn it all over again. We can see so already within the first paragraph “He was lying on his back, which was hard, as if plated in armor, and when he lifted his head slightly he could see his belly: rounded, brown, and divided into stiff arched segments: on top of it the blanket, about to slip off altogether, still barely clinging” (Kafka, pg.301) According to Tuan’s first reading “Space, Place, and the Child”, Gregor Samsa may well be related to a baby that is first, lying on its back, can lift its head slightly, and kick around its blanket with the control of its limbs (Tuan, pg. 21). As Tuan mentions in “Spaciousness and Crowding”, “ An infant is un-free, and so are prisoners and the bedridden. They cannot, or have lost their ability to move freely; they live in constricted spaces” (Tuan, pg.52) Like an infant on the bed, Gregor is a prisoner of his own body and space.

            The change of body form for Gregor has proved to be uncomfortable and laborious. For a person size is the way a person feels as he stretches his arm (Tuan, pg. 53). Since Gregor is an insect, how does his size affect him? How can he expand himself the way we could in terms of speed and distance? (example: bike to car to small aircraft) (Tuan, pg. 53) When Gregor realizes that he is late for work, he struggles to get out of bed. He thought with the help of the maid and his father “All they would have to do would be to slip their arms under his curved back, lift him out of bed, bend down with their burden, and then wait patiently while he flipped himself right side up onto the floor, where, one might hope, his little legs would acquire some purpose” (Kafka, pg. 305) Using the help of others, Gregor is not confident enough to help himself out first and therefore feels vulnerable and exposed (Tuan, pg. 54). This applies to the Western world although, contrast to be open and free Tuan mentions that a claustrophobic “sees small tight places as oppressive containment, not as contained spaces where warm fellowship or meditation in solitude is possible” (pg. 54) This concept could firmly agree with Kafka’s character as Gregor once before was a man of isolation considering he locks doors, even at home. He is challenged with the idea of letting go his solitude in exchange of understanding his new space. The environment of a small room he is given affects his space as he is bigger and wider than humans.

            As individuals, we are given the choice to defy gravity and the space given to us. We can expand or limit our space. However it is the expanded space that gives us freedom to do as we please. The transformation that we experience from a child to an adult is a process of assimilation just as it is for Gregor Samsa waking up as an insect.

Post #2:

In the chapter, Spaciousness and Crowding, Yi-Fu Tuan suggests that when it comes to space and place, the themes of spaciousness and crowding do not always have to revolve around their literal translations, or the common assumptions that surround them. They are what Tuan calls, “antithetical feelings.”  In broader terms, Tuan points out that limited space does not always mean that a place will be crowded, and just because an area or location contains a surplus of open space, doesn’t necessarily call for the generalization that the place is that of high spaciousness.  Tuan’s philosophy about these elements of space of place, is that they have to do with certain emotions and feelings. In my opinion, Tuan’s principles couldn’t be more evident in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

“The Yellow Wallpaper” revolves around an unnamed woman who appears to suffer from some mental illness, and lives with her caring husband, John in a large house. Because of her condition, John insists that his wife spend most of her time residing in a big spacious room. However, the walls of the room are covered with wallpaper, which the wife is not very fond of. As a matter of fact, she detests it. She finds everything about the wallpaper to be absolutely repulsive.  Her negative infatuation towards the paper results in her behaving irrationally and erratically, to the point as if the room is suffocating her to the brink of insanity. This ties into Tuan’s belief that spaciousness does not have to be interpreted based upon its literal area, but rather a person’s inception and feelings.

Tuan further touches upon this idea by stating that spaciousness is closely associated with freedom. “Freedom implies space; it means having the power and enough room in which to act.” (Tuan 52.) In other, words I guess it would be to fair to say that space shares some sort of correlation, with a person’s comfortbility level.  The wallpaper in the room is so undesirable in the eyes of the woman, that it holds her captive. She seems to be trapped and the only way out is to peel the papers of the walls stitch by stitch.  It is not until all of the walls in the room are bare, that the woman feels free. As a result she notes that she can now creep around as she pleases, and even notions that the room is now pleasant.  So in short, Tuan’s ideas of spaciousness not always being revolved around the theme of large areas, is clearly evident based upon the attitude and actions of the main character in “yellow wallpaper.”


Your idea map: Tuan obviously uses maps in a lot of different ways in Space and Place. These maps are not only geographical guides but also often guide a viewer through a concept, a way of thinking about what happens in a space or place, or a person or group’s relationship to it. In anticipation of your first formal essay for this course, you’ll be creating an “idea map” much like the sample distributed in class. As you’ll see, this sample map is for an argumentative essay about animal rights. In the center of your map, however, there will be a different focus:

“How do concepts of ‘place’ and ‘space’ shape our understanding of  [literary element: plot, character development, setting, or narrative point of view] in [any story we’ve read so far]?”

Please fill in the blanks as you choose.  Consider, too, that this will turn into a five-page essay,  so you’ll want to choose a story about which you feel you can sustain a longer discussion. Assuming your idea map is at least as developed as the sample I gave out in class (though don’t be shy about letting it spill over into multiple pages), I will count this as your blog post for this week. Here are the two qualifications:

1) every0ne should come prepared on Tuesday, February 22nd, with THREE HARD COPIES of their idea map (so, if you’re in the Thursday group, you’re submitting on Tuesday this week so that we can all discuss our maps together) and

 2) if I feel your map is not reasonably developed when you come in on Tuesday (i.e. if it looks like it has been created in less time than it takes to ride the bus to Queens College or if it does not actually include concrete ideas that can be used in a paper), I reserve the right to ask you to complete a blog post about Thursday’s reading on top of this, as we normally would.

You can create your idea map on the computer (using the Microsoft Word drawing tools) or by hand. You cna alos try using PowerPoint or Prezi. You may want to do multiple drafts of the map. The idea map is a tool for generating ideas and is not a step-by-step “outline” of a final essay.

There are a number of ways to begin to add to the map. Your first level of branches could lead to ideas from Tuan that have caught your attention that you know you want to use OR they could contain specific instances that define one central character (if that’s the literary element you’ve chosen) in a story. Each branch should allow you to follow a train of thought outward until you cannot think of anything else that relates. Then, start a new branch. You can include short sentences or questions but please avoid using brief phrases or single words, which won’t help you to develop your ideas very well.

On Tuesday, before we trade idea maps, I’ll show you a sample idea map I’ve created from your small group responses to Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”

How you design this is largely up to you. The important part of the process is allowing yourself to seriously explore the different trains of thought that relate to the topic of your first paper, rather than just settling on the first thing that comes to mind (and, perhaps, discovering later that you don’t have much to say about it).

Happy mapping!

Professor Zino

This week’s “featured” posts — please comment

Hi all,

It’s Saturday evening and I’m sorry for the delay. Normally the weekly featured blogs will be up by Thursday evening, or Friday at the lastest, though it seems that there was some glitch in the Qwriting system during the last 24 hours, one that has only now been rectified.

Below you’ll see the two posts from this week. I’ve also re-printed my response to the question about how to respond to a classmate’s post (please read that before commenting). Be sure to indicate which post you’re responding to in your comment.

 Overall, your entries for this week showed me that we have a solid foundation on which to begin our semester-long practice of crafting and developing a piece of literary analysis. All the blogs, of course, show room for development, too. 

One thing that the authors of the blog posts below do well is isolating a particular concept from Tuan’s chapter around which to construct their post. (Both do this through summarizing and paraphrasing Tuan. Reminder: even when you paraphrase an idea and use none of the author’s original language, I would like you to cite the page where that idea appears. Also, we are using MLA format in this course, so that means that you’ll cite, in parentheses, the author’s last name followed by the page number. If you mention the author’s name in the sentence, just cite the page please.)

Both posts also remain focused on using Tuan to develop one aspect of the story (in post #1, the perspective of the children living in Omelas, and, in post two, the way the girls–particularly Queenie–carry themselves). Focusing on analyzing one element then allows us to ask why that aspect of the story is meaningful to the whole (read the short section on “part and whole” from the handout I gave you in class last week for more on this.)

All of you, in your comments, might suggest to these authors ways that they can show why the isolated aspects of these stories they have analyzed are important to interpreting the meaning of the whole story.

Lastly, here’s just one more formatting rule to remember: full books are italicized; selections from full works (i.e. chapters or articles) and short stories (which are generally part of larger anthologies) belong in “quotes.” 

Happy reading,

Professor Zino

Q: What can I say on a classmate’s blog?

Entries on a classmates’ blog should begin with a summary or short excerpt to “achor” your post. Here’s a basic example of how to do this: “When Joe writes, ‘_______,’ he raises a point I have been thinking about as well….” You might comment on the style of a classmate’s writing, the way it changed or helped you to develop your thinking about a story, or the way it provided a helpful example of how to use one of Tuan’s ideas.   Your posts should be at least 100 words. Another rule I’d like you to follow is the “2:1 ratio” — for every few sentences of summary or quotation you take from the response, you should give twice as much of your own commentary. 

Post #1: Space, Place, and the Child

Yi-Fu Tuan describes how children first use senses to explore and learn about the world around them.  It is only through years of exploration with the use of their senses, coupled with cultural and social experiences, that children form the complex mature view of their world.  In Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, Tuan’s view of this subject corresponds to the way the children of Omelas view their world around them.

The children view Omelas as a fairytale land filled with happiness and good.  Le Guin describes the children during the Festival of Summer as “naked in the bright air” (243).  This symbolizes their innocence and lack of knowledge of the foundation that their happy existence is based upon.  The author describes the adults’ smiles as “archaic”.  They are like statues given smiles that they must uphold.  The adults living in Omelas know of the horrific truth that their society is based upon.  The child is unknowing of this reality and is only capable of seeing and hearing what is presented to them; “smiles, bells, parades, horses” (244).

It is not until between the ages of eight and twelve when the children are mentally capable of processing cause and effect and being able to apply a hypothetical situation to the future.  Before this time, they are unable to emotionally consider the feelings for another.  It is all about themselves and how things affect them.  This is when the children of Omelas are brought to see the child, locked in a basement lacking all of the positive experiences that they have been so fortunate to have been surrounded by throughout their lives.

After this, the children now have the capacity, mentally, and the knowledge that the adults have.  It is juxtaposed to everything they had ever experienced and seen throughout their lives.  Le Guin describes how most of the children “over weeks or years” (246) eventually begin to accept and take the mentality that the adults living in Omelas have.  That this is necessary to their happy existence and there is nothing that they can do about it, without sacrificing their own happiness and the happiness of all of the other citizens of Omelas.  It is then that the children come to realize the reality of Omelas and look beyond what was put in front of them.  At this age, they are able to dissect their world.

Post #2: Space and Place and “A&P”
One point brought up in the chapter Body, Personal Relations, and Spatial Values from the book Space and Place is that the taller a building is constructed the more prestige it gains. Those buildings that are taller than the rest are looked-upon with admiration. This can also relate to people, as seen in the story A&P with a girl who made herself appear tall by walking with her body straight, and by stretching her neck as high as possible while wearing a bikini. She walked with her head up high showing that she was very proud of how her body looked like. Everybody looked at her as if she was out of her mind because she was trying to stand out of the crowd. This can be seen in architecture where every building is short except one that is very tall. As a result, it also stands out of the ordinary but nobody says anything because they have seen those types of buildings all around the world but not girls walking in bikinis so they were shocked by that particular scene. Their body uneasiness didn’t stop her from defending her uniqueness. She did it by showing others that she could walk proudly along the aisles like a queen who shows-off her dress.

            The chapter of Space and Place argues that walking upright is confronting gravity. Gravity is a force that tries to keep you down from rising. This is seen in the story of A&P where three girls defy society’s dressing standards. One of society’s most important rules is that you are only supposed to wear certain types of clothes to certain places for example if you are going to a wedding, you wear a fancy dress but you don’t wear it to go shopping to the supermarket. It seems to me that she is reveling against society and making a stand saying, “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t wear?” just like you challenge gravity when you walk even though if gravity exists than you should have spent your entire life lying down.

Answers to frequently asked questions on course commitment forms

Hi all,

As many of you have posed some a few similar questions about and goals for the course, I’ve listed them here rather than responding on your individual blogs so that everyone can see my responses.  I will hold these forms and refer back to them when I asses your progress at the end of the semester. If you’d like a copy of your page for your own records, just ask! **If I haven’t seen your form, please leave the completed paper on my desk when you walk in tomorrow.**

Q: When are responses due?

A: Your individual post and your comment to a classmate (due every Tuesday) should be posted by midnight on the night right before they are due. If this is absolutely impossible for some reason, please get the response posted by noon on the same day. Finally, when you come to class, please leave  your hard copy on my desk before you sit down. You will complete 12 one-to-two full-page, doubled-spaced responses this semester, and 12 “feature” comments, which will add up to 1/4 of your final grade for the course.  I will not be accepting responses after the day they are due. *If there is no specific reading assigned for your response day because we are doing another activity in class, like peer interviews for a paper draft, you may comment on any story you have not already written about from the week before. Please do not assume you can “skip” a response because no reading has been assigned.*

Q: Is there extra credit in this course?

A: No. That said, if you consistently produce thorough, well-developed responses and post insightful comments on your classmates’s work, and you find yourself in between two grades at the end of the semester, I will be much more tempted to grant you the higher grade.

Q: How does a text interact with a larger society?

A: I’m so glad some of you are asking this already! This is a BIG–but important–question. It’s also a question that literary critics must ask if they are going to write intelligently about a piece of literature. One way that a text “interacts” with a society is through reflecting or challenging the beliefs, behaviors, or values of a particular group of people (probably a group that the author knows well). As critics, we can do historical research and read “theory” (research that has accounted for the way many people read, think, or behave and generalized from it) in order to figure out a relationship betweeen a text and the society it discusses (or the society to which its author belongs). Applying a “lens” for reading — like placing colored glasses over your eyes —  allows you to “see” the text in a new way by bringing outside factors into conversation with a text. In this course, we’ll be using Tuan’s ideas about “space” and “place” as our lens, which will probably lead us to combine research about many different topics (history, psychology, gender norms, structual features of a story…among other things).

Here’s another example of a “lens”: Readers who are concerned about how the mind works and what basic instincts motivate a person’s behavior might use a “psychoanalytic” lens to read a story. In this case, such a reader might refer to work by the psychoanalyist Sigmund Freud on the “unconscious,” using his research and experience with patients to try to understand factors that might influence a fictional character’s behavior. Often, the ways that literature interacts with a larger society are vast and may be unanticipated by the author him/herself.  However, since literature is never produced in a vacuum, most critics agree that it is okay–and, usually, extremely useful–to consider ideas and influences on a text that even the author did not expliticitly and consciously intend to communicate. This wraps the texts even more thickly within the web of values and belief systems within a society. See the section on “Critical Approaches to Literature” in An Introduction to Fiction for more on this.  If you’d like to learn how to apply these separate and specific “lenses,” one by one, you might want to take ENG 170 in a future semester.

Q: What are the due dates for the formal writing assignments?

A: Please consult our class schedule on the syllabus and then mark these dates in whatever paper or electronic calendar you use to keep track of your schedule. (If you don’t have a calendar on which you can record due dates for all of your classes at once, it’s a good idea to get one!). 

Q: What is required for the presentations at the end of the semester (May 1oth and 12th)?

A: Today I contacted the Dean for General Education to request flip video cameras for you to use (or perhaps share) in May. For your final presentation, I am going to ask you to compose a 5-minute video that captures the main ideas about the space/place you have researched and discussed for your final essay. Don’t worry, these flip cams are relatively easy to use. We’ll talk more about this in a few months. (Though, like the final essay, it’s never too early to start thinking out this.) If for some reason we are not able to get the flip cams, I’ll update you with alternate plan.

Q: What are “idea maps”?

I’m glad you asked about this! We’ll use idea maps for the first time on February 22nd in anticipation of the first paper. This week, or at least before the 22nd, I’ll post one here on the website (remind me if you’re curious!).  

Q: What can I say on a classmate’s blog?

Entries on a classmates’ blog should begin with a summary or short excerpt to “achor” your post. Here’s a basic example of how to do this: “When Joe writes, ‘_______,’ he raises a point I have been thinking about as well….” You can comment on the style of a classmate’s writing, the way it changed or helped you to develop your thinking about a story, or the way it provided a helpful example of how to use one of Tuan’s ideas.   Your posts should be at least 100 words. Another rule I’d like you to follow is the “2:1 ratio” — for every few sentences of summary or quotation you take from the response, you should give twice as much of your own commentary. 

Q: Will there be topics assigned for the three formal writing assignments?

A: Yes–for the first two papers. The third 10-page research paper will be a self-directed project on a story and topic of your choice. You will, however, have to clear this topic with me by Thursday, April 28th (a good date to mark in your calendar). Over the spring break is a perfect time to review what we’ve read and discussed and to decide upon a final paper topic.

Shared student goals: We can use these class goals from your commitment forms (in addition to the learning goals on our syllabus) to guide our progress inside and outside of class. This semester you have said you want to…

  • improve the stucture and organization of your writing
  • find a writing style that is useful inside and outside of academia
  • write essays faster
  • learn to elaborate on ideas
  • become familiar with alternate writing styles by reading your classmates’s work
  • explore the features that blogs offer and practice blogging
  • become more organized and hand in work on time
  • speak more in class

Now that you’ve read this, I’d also like you to read through the new page that’s been posted on our site: it’s called “sample essays.” The items on this page are meant to serve as an early guide to what will be expected in the final essay. If I find other outside essays that will serve as helpful examples, I’ll be sure to post those as we go.

Did I miss anything?? If so, let me know by commenting on this post!

Thank you for reading. I’m looking forward to discussing our first set of stories tomorrow,

Professor Zino

Welcome to Literature and Place!

Welcome to the course blog for English 162W. Before Thursday, I should hear from each of you (please email me at with the web address of your individual Qwriting blog. One by one, you’ll see the “blog roll” on the right hand side of our screen expand as I link your blogs to the course site.

Please see the “readings” page for the short passage for Thursday’s class.

I’m looking forward to a productive and thought-provoking semester with all of you…and to getting your course commitment forms on Thursday.

Stay warm!

Professor Zino

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar