If you choose one of the suggested topics, you should by no means attempt to respond to each of the questions as if this were an exam. The questions are there to get you thinking and to help you focus your thoughts. It’s of course quite possible that you will address in your essay each of the questions I’ve posed under a given topic; but the point is that this is an essay not an essay exam. If none of the following topics interests you, you can develop a topic idea of your own. But you must okay it with me before you begin writing. If you write this essay on I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, you can write your fourth essay on Maus and vice-versa. However, you cannot write on the same novel for more than one essay, and you cannot write on the film alone.
- Compare the representation of the Salem Witch Trials in The Crucible, the film based on Arthur Miller’s play, with Maryse Conde’s representation of the same event in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. In what ways are they similar? How and why do they differ? For instance, what does each work identify as the underlying cause(s) of the social conflict that generated the witch hunt? How do they draw distinctions between apparent causes and underlying causes—through character, plot, narrative point of view?
- Power is a central theme in each of the works we’ve read or watched in recent weeks. What is the nature of power in a given community? How is it acquired? Who holds it? How is it used? Who does it affect? Who resists it? Analyze the nature of power and power relations in one or two of these works, and compare the strategies of resistance deployed by those who find themselves confronted by the power of an overwhelming social force, be it slavery, colonial exploitation, a legalized witch hunt, the Nazi state, or generalized racist, anti-Semitic, or patriarchal oppression. John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams from The Crucible, Tituba and John Indian from I, Tituba, and Vladek and Anja Spiegelman from Maus are all good candidates to choose from.
- The relationship between the narrator(s) and the story s/he tells is of central importance in both I, Tituba and Maus. Analyze this relationship in either or both of these texts. Why does the narrator (Tituba, Vladek, Art) tell his/her story? Who is the intended audience in each case? What do you see as the value of such stories?
- In “Monument and Memory in a Postmodern Age” (See the Lecture Notes for Maus) Andreas Huyssen writes of the problem of our “increasing generational distance” from the Holocaust, the “unavoidable process of forgetting at a time when the generation of witnesses and survivors is slowly fading, and new generations are growing up for whom the Holocaust is either mythic memory or cliché” (256). How does Maus, as the testimonial narrative of a survivor and his son, address this problem? Consider the following as you plot your response: the treatment of a tragic subject matter in a comic book form; the nature of Vladek’s narrative of survival; the manner in which Art juxtaposes and interweaves Vladek’s narrative with his own, or the narrative past with the narrative present; Art’s increasing awareness of the problematic nature of his own project of representation (see Maus II, pp. 14-16, 41-46).
- Discuss the significance of the animal representations in Maus and how they contribute to our understanding of the story.
- Compare the story Vladek narrates to the story Art narrates. What is the purpose and value of each? How are they alike? How do they differ? How do they connect to one another? For instance, Vladek tells a story of survival. Does Art also tell a story of survival?
- Central to Maus is Vladek’s relationship with his loved ones and the effects of his past experience on those relationships and his character in general. Some might argue that Vladek was so traumatized by his past experience that his character changed in fundamental ways and that this has an adverse effect on his present relationships with Art and Mala. Others might argue that his past experience only magnified pre-existing character traits, and that those traits were actually beneficial to his and Anja’s survival during the war, but that they now have a detrimental effect on his relationships with his family members. Analyze Vladek’s character and his relationship to Art (and Mala).
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