Over the course of the semester, I have used my Commonplace Book to try to make sense of the American literature of the 20th century. It has been nice to get down my thoughts about the texts in this type of informal setting. I’ve never done something like this in any of my other classes, so it’s been challenging, but also very helpful to my understanding of the texts. Completing a Commonplace Book has helped me think about the texts more creatively, make connections between texts, and discover larger themes of the texts.
Looking back through my Commonplace Book entries, I see that I have focused a lot on characters. The characters’ thoughts and motivations, the characters’ similarities to other characters, relationships between characters. I think I have focused mostly on characters this semester because characters are what draw me into a story, whether I am reading it for class or for pleasure. For me, well-developed characters are what really bring a story to life and make it interesting and enjoyable. In the context of poetry, I would usually focus on the speaker, which is similar to focusing on character in prose. I probably should have branched out a little more, to examine other aspects of the texts, like setting and stylistic elements.
I think my Commonplace Book has improved from the beginning of the semester to now. I definitely have more personal reflection now than I did at the beginning. I also have improved on making my Commonplace Book more creative. Some of my early entries were pretty dull, but as the semester went on, I started adding images and links to liven up my entries. At first, this was a little daunting, but now I actually enjoy looking for images to add to my Commonplace Book. It’s been my favorite part of doing the entries.
As the semester progressed, I think I also improved on relating the texts to larger themes and ideas. Some of the central themes this semester have been the discrimination against certain groups in America and the unattainability of the American dream; the plight of Americans and their desire for a better existence. These themes have been evident in all the literary movements we studied: Romanticism, Realism, Modernism, and Post-Modernism. In my Commonplace Book entries, I have tried to relate each text to these common themes. However, I didn’t always make connections between texts, which is a weakness of my Commonplace Book. I did make connections between texts sometimes (comparing “A View From the Bridge” to Of Mice and Men, and McKay to DuBois), but most of the time, I would relate the texts to my own life (my reaction to the Beat poets) or to society at large (White Flight in the context of Junot Diaz, or 1950’s marriages in the context of “A View from the Bridge”). Although I did consider the context in which the texts were written, I feel that my Commonplace Book could be improved with more connections between texts.
In the second half of my Commonplace Book, I think my strongest entries are “A View From the Bridge”, O’Connor and Faulkner, and Passing part 1. I think my entry for “A View From the Bridge” nicely hits on some important aspects of the play. I also related it to another text (Of Mice and Men) and put it in context of the time period by discussing the unequal power dynamics commonly seen in 1950’s marriages. In my entry about the O’Connor and Faulker short stories, I like how I compared the characters in the stories to one another and discussed the role of social class in both stories. In my first Passing entry, I like my discussion of Irene and Clare’s relationship, and of the role of racial identity in the story. This entry, along with the one on “A View From the Bridge”, got me started on my second essay for this class.