Topic 1: Discuss Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy.”

TOPICS for Reading Response 4 (choose ONE)

Topic 1: Discuss Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy.”


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• How do the poet’s use of rhyme and repetition contribute to the overall tone ?• How does the title relate to the content of the poem—specifically, the poem’s theme ? The word “sympathy” never occurs in the body of the poem itself. Why?• Discuss the metaphor of the “caged bird”—What are the particular images that the speaker associates with the bird? What things cause the bird particular pain or sorrow? How are these things related to the historical context of this poem?• Who is the speaker in this poem? What are the implications of the sympathy that the speaker exhibits?

Topic 2: Reflect on Browning’s “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister.” In your discussion, respond to all of the following:

• Are readers given any significant clues that might explain why the speaker of the poem so powerfully dislikes Brother Lawrence?• What is the context for the speaker’s monologue? Are these words his thoughts? Are they spoken? Where? To whom?• How do the speaker’s diction and expressions and the form of the poem contribute to our understanding of his character?


Compare Browning’s “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” to Dorothy Parker’s “A Certain Lady.”

• How do these two poems reveal the characters of their speakers to the reader?• In what ways are they similar and different? Is one more surprising than the other?

Topic 3: The relationship between human persons and the culture they inhabit, possess, and pass on is a central element of “The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica.” In your discussion of Ortiz Cofer’s poem, respond to the following:

• What is the relationship between language and culture in this poem?• Is this poem a narrative? How much of the poem is descriptive?• What is the relationship between the woman who tends the deli and the deli itself? Do they represent different things? How do they create the culture that the poem describes?• Is it important that the shop is a deli? Would the sense of the poem change if the shop sold something other than food?• What is the “hunger” of the old man in line 31?

Topic 4: The poem “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” is from Atwood’s book The Journals of Susanna Moodie(1970), which is written as if spoken by Susanna Moodie, a real person (1805–85) who emigrated from England to upper Canada and wrote several books about her experiences. In these poems, Atwood fictionalizes Moodie’s life considerably but works from actual incidents recounted by Moodie. “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” is from section II of the book, which recounts incidents in Moodie’s life between 1840 and 1871.

In your discussion, respond to all of the following:

• Does Atwood’s poem provide any internal evidence to suggest it is not a personal, confessional poem?• How might the reader discover that Atwood based the poem on another person’s experience?• Does the knowledge that Atwood based her poem on incidents in the life of Susanna Moodie change your reaction to the work?

Topic 5: Consider the concept of the fluidity of gender identity, that an individual’s gender exists on a vast spectrum. In the “The Kind of Man I Am at the DMV,” Waite intentionally obfuscates the speaker’s chosen gender while clearly interrogating the male/female dichotomy. What gender do you think the speaker identifies with? (note: there is no “right” answer here–multiple interpretations are possible, as long as they are supported by the text.) Examine the poem closely, and remember that the speaker is separate from the poet. Respond to all of the following:

• Why does the poem insist on the male/female gender dichotomy? What do you think Waite is suggesting about that dichotomy?• Consider the way the speaker describes the boy in stanza 2. What do you think the speaker is suggesting about masculinity?• How do you interpret the final three lines of the poem?


• Read this poem against Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” and/or Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” (page 1151). What do the two poems suggest about gender roles and heteronormativity?• Read Judith Ortiz Cofer’s poem “The Changeling.” Use “The Changeling” and “The Kind of Man I Am at the DMV” to investigate the way gender roles are constructed by society and maintained by individuals.

Topic 6: Choose a poem in Chapter 12 or in the Exploring Gender album.

Prompt: Write a “mini” esssay in which you show how and why the speaker experiences a conflict between particular ways of looking or being.

• Also look at how the speaker’s attitude toward, or thoughts about, something or how our vision of the speaker’s character changes over the course of a poem.• Be sure to clearly identify the speaker’s conflict and what changes during the poem.

Your postings will be reviewed according to the following criteria:

  • Writing well-developed paragraphs relevant to the prompt(s) (minimum 300 words).
  • Be sure that your thesis is explicit and supported with one to two quotations from the literature.
  • Do not write in first or second person.
  • Following the rules of Standard English. Please proofread your writing before clicking the ‘submit’ button!
  • When you include a quotation from the literature in your mini-esssay, please place an in-text citation (also called a parenthetical citation) immediately after you close the quotation marks and before you place a period at the end of your sentence. That way, anyone in the class (including me!) can easily find the quotation in the literature if necessary. If you’re not sure what to place inside the parentheses, there is instruction in the textbook in Chapter 34- Quotation, Citation, and Documentation. 
  • When you include in-text citations, there must be a Works Cited listing at the bottom of your post.
  • Be sure to follow the “Quote Sandwich” when you insert quotations.


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