September 14

Possible Paper Topics for The Handmaid’s Tale

-how language clarifies and disguises the truth
-question of identity – how Offred is forced to self-erase (consider how this applies to memory; we are our experiences)
-how a person’s physical sense of self shapes her character (public and private spheres)
-who or what is betrayed? What allowed for the betrayal? Can institutions be victims?
-is any person in Gilead free? Is it a freedom from or a freedom to?
-is the violence against women only physical? How are we to understand the role of women in victimizing other women?
-literacy and its relationship to power
-the tension between security and privacy; who determines the balance? Under what circumstances should the balance change? Does the wider population have any control with regard to the parameters?
-how victims of subjugation perpetuate the cycle
-what is history? How certain can it be?
-accountability of earlier generations in shaping future events (305 – former racist policies made the takeover possible)
-to what extent does the culture in which we are raised shape our values? What does this suggest about self-determination? About morality? About culpability and accountability?
-when should the private sphere trump the public sphere? Is this limited to reproductive issues?
-is Atwood suggesting that institutional religion is susceptible to corruption?
-should a person’s private, intimate decisions be evaluated/judged for his/her potential public consequences?
-if both the victim and the victimizer have power – power to withhold forgiveness, power to injure – then what does it mean to be powerless?
-how easily the victim becomes the victimizer
-if a civil society depends on individuals yielding to the greater good, then what happens when individuals are only motivated by self-preservation?
-what is the relationship between guilt and relief? Does shame mean a person still has a conscience?
-the tension between security and privacy; who determines the balance? Under what circumstances should the relationship change? What control does the wider population have with regard to the parameters?
-the power of language – to express, to hide – particularly as it relates to identity
-lying (to others and to oneself) as an act of self-preservation
-the paradox of knowledge; which is more lethal – knowledge or ignorance?
-active passivity as means of survival
-the absence of language is more powerful than its presence
-how the disconnect between the mind/heart and the body is a form of protest, of protection
-what is history? A series of jumbled facts and dates? How does the chronology impact the narrative? Is there any certainty in history?

October 13

Maxine Hong Kingston – Woman Warrior

Maxine Hong Kingston on The Woman Warrior, Creativity and Culture

Listen to Part I of this interview (it is approximately 25 minutes long) and react to Kingston’s ideas.What was most compelling to you? What surprised you? Any ways you can personally connect with her ideas, her observations, her passions?

Bill Moyers’ World of Ideas interview with Maxine Hong Kingston

September 10

The Handmaid’s Tale


While the novel was first published in 1985, it has garnered considerable attention within the last 2 years. Many see parallels to current issues. What connection did you make between the world of Gilead and our world? Post your response, and comment on another student’s post. Be sure to do so by 9 pm.


In the Historical Notes Professor Pieixoto warns his audience to be “cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gileadeans…because [a historian’s] job is not to censure but to understand.”

What do you make of this description of a historian’s job? Should a historian be entirely objective? Is it possible to do so? What are the potential consequences of seeking only to “understand” and not to judge?

May 22

Grammar Matters

After listening to Harold Evans’s argument, consider two questions:

1. Identify an example of a “zombie” according to his definition. Does the change in part of speech matter? Explain.

2. What is the grammar error that vexes YOU? Why?

September 25

Memoir Unit

Memoir Blog response

Begin to prepare for your memoir by sharing a description of a particular time and place from your childhood you wish you could return to. Try to consider not only what you remember about this time and place, but also why you might remember the details you do. How has this place contributed to the person you are today?

Our objective here is not to present our memoir in its entirety but to float and share ideas that will facilitate the writing process.

Below you’ll find a link to an article discussing the new prompts on the Common App. You may find some of the models helpful; scroll down to find the links to them.