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Criteria for Effective Forum Replies

Effective responses to questions asked in forums are

  • insightful

    • An academic forum, especially on one literary work or author, exists to generate learning, so an effective answer shows realizations that students have made about a topic and references or quoted phrases from the work that sparked those realizations.  (It doesn't matter if those realizations are prompted by the forum question or resulted from hours or years of re-examining the work.

    • For example, in the short story, "A & P" by John Updike, most readers quickly realize that Sammy doesn't like being a grocery store cashier, but few readers catch on a first reading the notion that Sammy quits partly because of an awareness that he is lower class.  That's a realization that comes after re-reading and discussion--and it's a debatable one.

  • substantial

    • An effective answer for a literary forum (or email response to a quiz) should be at least 10 lines long and quote from the work read.  That is, although insights are guesswork, they should be explained in order to reveal why they are sensible guesses by directing readers to see the most relevant actions and phrases from the work.

    • For example, to explain Sammy's class consciousness in "A & P," a student would have to refer to the contrasting visions of the kinds of parties that "Queenie's" parents had vs. the way Sammy's parents provided for company and how those contrasting visions that were prompted by a jar of pickled herring helped to move Sammy to quit his job.

  • focused

    • Although the writing style is somewhat more casual than in an essay, since forum work is graded, the writing is like a quiz answer, so it should stay focused on the question and reveal that focus by repeating the most important words of the question or synonyms for them as the answer develops.

    • For example, explaining Sammy's class consciousness in is looking only at one of Sammy's possible motives for quitting his cashier job; there are several factors that contribute to Sammy's action, so dealing with one is selecting a focus.

Background on This Forum: This page is excerpted from about two hours of work on consecutive days for a summer class who went to a computer lab, opened the forum site by typing its URL into Netscape's "location" field, and typed answers to each other to a few teacher prompts on specific works, comparisons of two protagonists, or "global" questions that caused them to write about any of several works from the course.  They could also ask their own questions. In addition, notes by 3 teachers are included from their postings to the forum.  

In reality, many forums focus on a single topic, such as one author or one literary work.  Also, links jump to other pages, not to a place further down the page.  In most of the forums for this online introduction to literature course, you will be asked to "reply" to a question asked by the teacher or to "reply" to another student's response.

As you get more experienced with forums, you will learn some of the usual features and options, like these:
bulletAs with most pages on the Web, you have to SCROLL to scan what's on a page and then select the link you want to click on to open a new page at that Website.
bulletForums are mainly a list of links.
bulletWhen you click on a link, which is sort of like a title for an entry, a separate page opens for you to read.  (If a forum has frames, like the one on Oedipus, only part of the page changes.)
bulletTo reply to an entry you've read, you'll click on a word (link) like "Reply" or "Respond," which will open a form with typing areas where you can type your name, a title ("subject"--by default the title used on the original entry is filled in but you can change it to characterize your response), and your response.
bulletTo get back to the list, you'll have to click a word (link) like "Contents" or "Messages"--or use your browser's "Back" button.
bulletThe list of links has levels, marked by indents, because links to replies are indented under the link for the question they're answering.
bulletSome forums are closed, requiring a "user ID" and a "password."  At the moment, all of the forums for this course are open to everyone on the Web.
bulletWide open forums, like the one shown below, simply stack entries in the order received.  Clicking "Reply" helps group responses under one heading.
bulletSome forums are monitored fairly often, others not at all.

  • For instance, at the end of each semester, the forums for this course are culled, leaving only the best answers from the previous semesters.  These forums are also edited to fix misspellings and misaligned answers.

Directions: Click on links or scroll down to read sample entries. (This page is self-contained--the samples have been gathered below, names removed, and in index provided in the listing of entries just below.  S = student entries; T = notes from other teachers.) 

Color coding for this sampler:
* Links you can click are underlined and blue.
* Links you have used will appear underlined and in purple (I hope).
* Teacher questions have their name, time, and date stamps in bold green.
* Recommended student answers have their name, time, and date stamps in bold maroon.

"Death of a Salesman" - Prof Hibb 12:54:07 7/22/97(3)
    Re: "Death of a Salesman" - Student 1 13:10:56 7/22/97(1)
    Re: "Death of a Salesman" - Student 2 11:43:04 7/23/97(0)
More blameworthy murderer - Eric P. Hibbison 15:12:31 6/23/97(6)
    Re: More blameworthy murderer - Student 3 12:43:54 7/22/97(0)
"A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? - Eric P. Hibbison 16:40:26 5/23/97(6)
    Re: "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? - T1 16:47:23 5/23/97(0)
    Re: "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? - T2 17:29:32 5/23/97(0)
    Re: "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? - Student 2 11:18:51 7/23/97(1)
"A Rose for Emily" - Eric P. Hibbison 15:48:47 3/09/97(7)
    Re: "A Rose for Emily" - T3 15:14:45 7/07/97(1)
    Re: "A Rose for Emily" - Student 2 12:11:09 7/23/97(0)

In an actual forum, the following entries would pop up on separate pages when you clicked on their link from the forum list.  They're stacked here for your convenience so that you can compare entries easily.  An entry is marked by lines above and below.  They are listed in the same order as their links in the forum list, above.

"Death of a Salesman" Posted by Prof Hibb on July 22, 1997 at 12:54:07

Willy, like Oedipus, becomes a savior but at the cost of his own life. But Willy dies happier than Oedipus.

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Re: "Death of a Salesman" Posted by Student 1 on July 22, 1997 at 13:10:56

In reply to "Death of a Salesman" posted by Prof Hibb on July 22, 1997 at 12:54:07

It is difficult to compare Oedipus and Willy. Oedipus was, in reality, well known and a king, while Willy only pretended and made up stories about being well known. In a sense they both come to a tragic end, only Oedipus saves his kingdom from a plague.  In his end, Willy actually ruins things for his wife and does not really have a positive effect on either of his kids. While we feel that Hap will continue being this "player", we almost know that Biff will become a fence mender. I do not see how this could possibly be a salvation for anyone but Willy himself. Now it is true that he left 20,000 dollars to his family through a life insurance policy, but we don't even know if they ever receive this money, since many policies don't pay for suicides.

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Re: "Death of a Salesman" Posted by Student 2 on July 23, 1997 at 11:43:04

In reply to "Death of a Salesman" posted by Prof Hibb on July 22, 1997 at 12:54:07

I would not call Willy Loman a savior of anything except his own grief. That is the only thing he
accomplished by committing suicide. He thought that suicide was the answer to making everyone's lives easier, but suicide is never the answer to anything. Everyone has a purpose in life, no matter
how great or small, significant or insignificant, and the true test of a person is to keep on plugging
through all of life's ups and downs. Willy committed suicide when he found out that his son didn't hate him after all, but that should have been what would make him want to live, and embrace life with all its simple pleasures. He saved himself from having to live with his guilt over committing adultery and feeling like a total failure. Actually, he was not a total failure because even though he was not a successful business man, he had a loving wife, two healthy sons, a roof over his head, and food in his stomach. So often people take the simple things in life for granted, when they should be thankful for every moment that life has to offer. Even when times are bad, there is always something good to think on, and bad times can be learning experiences as well.

Comparing Oedipus to Willy Loman is a difficult task.  While there is tragedy in both stories, the settings and time periods are so different it is difficult to see them as similar. Oedipus was a savior by solving the riddle of the Sphinx, but a murderer and a commiter of incest, even though he did not know that until after he had done it. Oedipus was more courageous than Willy because even though he did inflict injury upon himself, he did not kill himself, but lived with his grief and his ostracism. Willy was a coward, for taking the easy way out, and also for never having the courage to follow his heart with his job choice, since it was mentioned that "there was more of him in those front steps than in all the sales he ever made", and he was good with his hands and enjoyed making and fixing things. One would wonder what would have happened to the Loman family had Willy decided years ago to follow his true calling and work with his hands, doing something he enjoyed and being true to himself instead of trying to make himself something grand with his big pipe dreams.

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More blameworthy murderer Posted by Eric P. Hibbison on June 23, 1997 at 15:12:31

Which character is the more blameworthy for the killing he does--Oedipus, Claudius, or Hamlet?

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Re: More blameworthy murderer Posted by Student 3 on July 22, 1997 at 12:43:54

In reply to More blameworthy murderer posted by Eric P. Hibbison on June 23, 1997 at 15:12:31

All have committed unnecessary murders. They should all be blamed for their murderous acts. But out of Oedipus, Claudius, and Hamlet, I would have to say that Claudius was the most "blameworthy." Claudius had committed murder purely for self-advancement. He killed King Hamlet (the first) because he wanted his power, kingdom, riches, respect, and his wife. He had no justification in his actions, such as, defending himself or a family member. Hamlet killed out of rage, love for his father and mother, avenging his father's death, and dislike for a very bad person. Hamlet's reasons are justified, although the way he handled his revenge caused other people to die unnecessarily. Oedipus also was a murderer who didn't have any real cause for the murders he committed. Although he wasn't as bad as Claudius, his reasons for killing were poor and stupid. He unknowingly killed his own father along with some of his guards, at the place where three roads meet (Phocis), just because he felt he should have the right-of-way.

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"A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? Posted by Eric P. Hibbison on May 23, 1997 at 16:40:26

In May, 1997, I posted this question to a listserv for community college English teachers. The first 2 responses are from other teachers who also use that listserv, who are quoted with their permission. Post your response by clicking on "follow up."

Here's an hypothesis regarding an old chestnut, Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," which many of us use in an Introduction to Literature course or American Lit. Survey. Please agree or disagree with the following statement and tell why: Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" reads better as a symbolic short story than as a literal narrative.

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Re: "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? Posted by Eric P. Hibbison on May 23, 1997 at 16:47:23

In reply to "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? Posted by T1 on May 23, 1997 at 16:40:26

Re: Rose for Emily. I also thought Ol' Homer had just somehow died, and that Emily simply couldn't bear to be without him. However, I found a book of criticism of this story in the Clemson University library (which I can re-find if you'd like). It included some information that according to some of Faulkner's papers, he originally had included a short scene that would've told readers that Emily and her Black hired helper had an agreement that if he'd keep a secret she'd give him money upon her death. The Black guy allegedly ultimately became disgusted with this arrangement, but stuck to his end of the bargain. The actual secret was not revealed. According to this book, and, I guess obviously, Faulkner later deleted this scene. SM ()

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Re: "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? Posted by T2 on May 23, 1997 at 17:29:32

In reply to "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? posted by Eric P. Hibbison on May 23, 1997 at 16:40:26

I wouldn't count on the story being literally impossible. Before you reject the possibility of Emily keeping Homer's body in her home or in her bed, realize that parallels exist. In Delaware not too long ago (late 1980s?), after an elderly man died in bed, his wife and adult daughter lived in the same room with him for several years. Neighbors' complaints about odor finally led to discovery of the body. There wasn't a clear crime involved. He had died of natural causes, and this probably wasn't pension fraud. Apparently, both women really had convinced themselves that the man was ill and therefore not eating much. (Understandably, there were some doubts about the women's sanity and about the possibility of folie a deux.) Let me know if you want the exact newspaper references.


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Re: "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? Posted by Student 2 on July 23, 1997 at 11:18:51

In reply to "A Rose for Emily": literal or symbolic story? posted by Eric P. Hibbison on May 23, 1997 at 16:40:26

The question of whether or not Faulkner's story "A Rose for Emily" is literal or symbolic could be
answered yes to both accounts. It is very possible that it could be literal, considering the number of twisted individuals in the world today. Listening to the evening news is like reading one horror story after another, and the same thing goes for newspapers. I would not at all be surprised to hear of a similar story happening right here in Richmond. The only point that raises a doubt is when considering the time period that this story was written in. That, however, does not make it impossible, just less frequent or common than it would be in today's times.

Looking at the symbolic aspect of "A Rose for Emily", I can think of two symbolic meanings right off the top of my head. First of all, the title of the story suggests that Emily gets a rose, but this rose is not a real rose, and not even what most people would consider a rose. Homer Barron is Emily's rose, the only bright spot in her life, though not much of one if you ask me. She did enjoy his company, and being courted by someone outside of her social class has some element of excitement to it. The other element of symbolism is what was mentioned in class, that the curtains in the room where the decayed body of Homer Barron was found were pink or rose colored--a decorating pun, if you will, by Emily to demonstrate the meaning of Homer to her. These curtains are possibly the only hint of bright, airy coloring in the entire house, setting it apart from the dim and dreary attitude lingering in the other rooms.

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"A Rose for Emily" Posted by Eric P. Hibbison on March 09, 1997 at 15:48:47

Who is the more blameworthy murderer--Emily Grierson or the Misfit from "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?
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Re: "A Rose for Emily" Posted by T3 on June 16, 1997 at 21:57:28

In reply to Re: "A Rose for Emily" posted by Eric P. Hibbison on March 09, 1997 at 15:48:47

How sure are we that either of these characters committed murder. Sure, the conventional thing to do is to convict these characters on pretty circumstantial evidence. Do we see Emily feed Homer the toxins? Perhaps he had a heart attack in a fit of passion! And the Misfit's father? Perhaps his memory is more reliable than the shrink's diagnosis despite the Misfit's cruelty now. Oh, these two are pieces of work all right. But murderers? Maybe not....
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Re: "A Rose for Emily" Posted by Student 2 on July 23, 1997 at 12:11:09

In reply to "A Rose for Emily" posted by Eric P. Hibbison on March 09, 1997 at 15:48:47

I would have to say that The Misfit from "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a more blameworthy murderer than Emily Grierson because of the motives behind the killings. The Misfit killed basically for the fun, and excitement of it, not caring how many people he killed, who they were, or why he was killing them. Recklessly, he was running around killing people, with no plan of action except to get things like clothes and vehicles and keep on running from the law. It may sound strange, but somehow, killing seems to have more justification if there is a reason for it. Not that that makes it right, by any means, but it makes it more human, I guess. Emily killed Homer Barron because she wanted to possess him; granted, this is a twisted way of possessing and loving someone, but we must keep in mind that Emily was not a mentally stable individual. She was only trying to hold on to the only good thing she had ever had, and she learned about possession from her father, so in a sense it is not really her fault. Maybe that is letting her off the hook, and being hard on The Misfit because he is a hardened criminal. What do you think?

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