Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Slaughterhouse-Five and Tortilla Curtain Book Circles

Please have at least two members of your book circle comment here about your latest meeting. You should report on the ideas your group discussed, as well as on the quality of your group process. Feel free to record questions your group was unable to answer, as students from the other AP Lit classes will be reading and responding to your comments. When you comment, please include both the title of your book and the pages you read for your last discussion. Please post your comments withing 24 hours after the book circle meeting.

In addition, at least two members of your book circle should visit the blogs of the other AP Lit classes and respond to their comments. Please complete this within 24 hours after the other students post.


Blogger DanaitA said...

Book: Slaughter House Five
Reading for 1st meeting: Ch 1-3
My group discussed the anti-war aspect of the book and how Vonnegut expresses his anti-war views. We discussed the repetition of "So it goes" and discussed why it is important that it is said whenever a death occurs.My group did a pretty good discussion, although we had a hard time asking many questions because we believe that they will most likely be answered when we read further. One question that puzzled us is whether Billy is Vonnegut and whether the narrator in the first chapter is Billy of Vonnegut. Another major topic of discussion we had is about the significance of the Trafalmadore's carrying there eyes in the hands. We think that our next discussion will be more in depth because we will have read enough to answer many of our basic questions.

8:20 PM  
Blogger The Katie S. said...

Book: Slaughter House FIve

After reading Chapters 1-3, we had many thoughts and ideas although many of our queries were unanswered or only partially satisfied. As Danait said we definitely delved into whether Billy Pilgrim is Vonnegut himself, but are uncertain. However, we also acknowledged that regardless of whether or not he is, names are extremely important. Beyond this, we also noted that theres seems to be an almsot anti-commercialism in Vonnegut's writing as he references Motor Cars, Coca-Cola and other well-known makers.
We also discussed the complacency with which Billy Pilgrim seems to approach war and just moving through time and life as with, it would seem, the Trafalmadore's philosphy mixed in his story-telling.
Furthermore, we mentioned that the war which Vonnegut describes does not contain many of the eager, dream-filled folks like Ronald Weary, but more often children and those hurled into it whether they like it or not regardless of how they appear to the other side. For example: the German Shepherd Princess. She's a farmer's dog.
Overall it was a fairly thorough and fast-paced discussion even if we have questions left until next time.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Sarah E. said...

Book: Tortilla Curtain
Section: Part I

Our group discussion was, in my opinion, the most meaningful/in-dept literary discussion I have taken part in so far this year. It is evident that all the members are enjoying the book and are really looking deeper to find meaning in it. We began discuccion with each member's initial "take" on Part I, whether or not they liked it, what confused them etc. The discussion then developed into questions we had from the reading including questions regarding plot, for example how exactly Candido and American came together after Candido's marriage to her older sister. Our more philosophical questions included, is the book actually commenting on immigration or is the author utilizing the issue to address a more universal theme? We then connected the book to "Beloved" in the similarities between the use of an issue to address an issue of humanity. We moved on to examining the repetition of different characters natural responses the emergency situation, for example Delaney's first thoughts upon hitting Candido, Kyra's initial response to the death of her dog etc. We wondered if these scenes were a comment on human nature and the fact that humans tend to consider their well being first and formost, as Delaney exemplifies in his concerns for his own vehicle after hitting Candido. We then moved into the broader idea of what really defines a good person? and can anybody truly make that definition/judgement? All in all it was a ver in-depth viewing/discussion of not only the text but also how the text relates to life today and what we learn from these characters seemingly opposite experiences.

9:13 AM  
Blogger barbarab88 said...

Book: Tortilla Curtain
Section: pg 3-120

I am responding to Sarah E.'s response. I agree that this book talks a lot about first reactions and humanity. However, our group did decide that this book is a pointed agruement on immigration. We looked at the symbols of the novel (what the coyotes, the community, and the gate represents) and the humor of the book. We read deep into the text trying to explain to ourselves America's predicament: her home land with all ammenities but no freedom or the US with no ammenities but all the freedom for a woman. As for the natural human response to emergency situation, we believed that it was direct satire on the ridiculousness of American's and their emphasis on material values rather than people. As for the dog, we agreed that its killing was a symbol for immigration. I think this book definately does has some universal ideas in it, such as needy verses the unneedy and such. However, we did agree that it was a direct satire on immigration and American's in general and that is prominantly what this novel is about.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Talia said...

We also noticed the importance of the dog, who from a distance sounded terrifying, but when it came closer, it was just a farm dog named Princess. Things always seem to look different from different sides and angles, like war. Some see that children are being sent, some don't. I think this will also tie into the whole eye motif, how things are different and the importance of vision, both physically and mentally.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Steph Zepelin said...

Hello from the Land of Sale.
It's Steph

we noticed that whenever the narrator said, "So it goes..." he was talking about death and avoiding just saying "and he died. the end," or something like that. He avoided describing or talking about death by saying "So it goes."

my group and I think that the narrator is Billy Pilgrim, but that his name is not ACTUALLY Billy Pilgrim because he says that ALL the names in the book are changed. My group and I also talked about the importance of names and how he will repeatedly use a character's full name. We hypothesized that he was "protecting" the real person's identity that way.

If you haven't, you should read the first page and the dedication...they are quite amusing.


5:02 PM  
Blogger C. Makovsky said...

Hi Slaughter House Five Group,

I'm glad you noticed Billy's complacency and how that seems to mirror the Trafalmadorian ideas. Try to figure out why Vonnegut put the aliens into his book and whether they express valid ideas or not. Billy seems to embrace their ideas, but does Vonnegut?

I'd like some more detail about specific topics and questions you discussed.

What is most frustrating or confusing about the book?

"So it goes" is important. What conclusions did you arrive at? I'm curious! This leads to very important ideas, so I hope you come back to this topic.

5:56 PM  
Blogger C. Makovsky said...

And hi to the Tortilla Curtain group as well!

I noticed how engaged you were with your conversation. You kept it going to the bell. That's one of the things I love about this novel; it really grabs you and makes you think about contemporary issues.

I'm glad you're talking about the themes of the novel. I hope you also study its artistic elements. The book is rich, with quite a bit going on below the surface.

Also, do you like Boyle's style?

6:04 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Our group also discussed "so it goes" and decided that the repetition of this saying represents that way that Billy, as someone who was almost accidentally in the war, tries to avoid reality, whether that be through his stories about the Tralfamadorians or his flashes into different spaces of time. We also questioned whether he was really kidnapped by the aliens or whether he created this whole situation in his head as a kind of metaphor for the war. We hope to find more answers in the following chapters, as well, as the beginning seems to only scratch the surface on ideas about the Tralfamadorians and Billy's experiences in the war.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Matt P said...

(SH 5, ch. 1-3)
Katie S.-
My group also discussed the true identity of Billy Pilgrim. We decided it was Vonnegut because of the way very beginging of the book is written. The war's effects on the speaker's entire life are very evident and we believe that this is evidence of Vonnegut being the speaker.
There was also talk of a possible eye motif, so we will focus on that.
Our group is not particularly fond of Billy Pilgrim and the "go-get-em" attitude he so greatly lacks. We are interested to see if he can redeem himself in our eyes later in the book.
I think it is important to mention Vonnegut's dry humor (especially in the first chapter) which I particularly enjoyed. Vonnegut's stream of conciousness style also keeps things moving and interesting. He is quite the talented writer (not that anyone didn't know that).

8:44 PM  
Blogger lizzyh said...

In response to Sarah E’s group:

Just as Beloved is a book about more than slavery, Tortilla Curtain is similarly a book about more then immigration. I loved that your group addressed this. I love how similar the two couples in Tortilla Curtain are. Both couples seem to need a sense of control, they have a tough time dealing with changes in their lives that are out of their hands. For example, Kyra’s dog getting killed or Kyra’s want to be able to control every single minute of her day and make sure her life is in tip top shape: “nothing escaped her. Not a crack in the plaster, a spot of mold on the wall” (69). Similarly Candido’s want to be able to go back to work instead of resting even though the accident and the events in his life are up to fortune. It’s interesting that both wives in these two couples are in control of their family’s incomes, yet Candido hates that America is taking care of him while Delaney is okay with it. The symbolism of the gate is intriuging. Delaney and Kyra want to be able to live in a place where a gate isn’t needed: to live “outside the city limits, in the midst of all this scenic splendor”(39) while Candido and America want to be fenced in. But overtime, Kyra and Delaney do see the gate as something they need to protect themselves from the stereotypes they thought they were able to rise above. I like your universal question of what defines a good person and who holds a true definition. I think the lack of sympathy and the ignorance in this novel is a reason that the two couples don’t seem to come of as “good people” especially Kyra and Delaney. Both couples are only dealing with their own problems and they are unable to see the bigger picture of how they are connected. It’ll be interesting to see how this theme and the characters unfold throughout Boyle’s novel.

3:46 PM  
Blogger haley said...

Tortilla Curtain, Section 2
Today, my group talked about the literary techniques Boyle uses. We started with style. The novel is written in a very straightforward manner; it doesn't really leave the reader with many questions. We thought that Boyle wanted to do this to show how the world is focusing on the simple issues of immigration: illegal immigrants clogging our cities, taking jobs from Americans, and harassing us. However, there are many sides to the story. Not every illegal immigrant is bad, most just want to earn a decent living and support their families. It's not so black and white, and neither are the solutions. We also talked about motifs, mainly animals, cars, and walls. We thought the continual use of the uncivilized and savage coyote symbolized the Mexicans and the poor, innocent, tame dogs were the whites. The use of cars shows status. Walls and barriers are continually being built throughout the novel. The whites continue to try to keep bad things out. However, just the like coyote, if the people or animals want something, like the dogs, it's going to find a way to get it. And building a chain-link fence will only delay it.

4:24 PM  
Blogger haley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:24 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

Book: Slaughterhouse Five
Reading: 4-5

Our group discussed many different aspects of the novel, but we still have many questions about some of the deeper meanings and layers of the book. One thing we noticed in particular was Vonnegut's direct mentioning of Sears Roebuck and Co. as the store of choice for the Tralfamadorians' furnishings of Billy's habitat. We wondered if this seemingly out of place name was to draw attention to a commercial aspect of Vonnegut's criticism. We also have been noticing parallels between Billy's war experiences and his experiences as a civilian after the war. Perhaps this is simply a commentary on Billy's inability to escape the war, even decades afterwards, but we are exploring a deeper symbolic meaning of each event. For example, Vonnegut writes about the colors orange and black describing the wedding tent of Billy's daughter and a description of the prisoner of war camp he stayed at during the war.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Maya R said...

Nathan, greetings from Sale's class. Our group also noticed the mentioning of Sears in this section. We thought Vonnegut was criticising the mass production and assembly line aspect of culture, remarking that these aliens took notice of that aspect and used it for their benefit. I like your reference to similarities between Billy's war life and life afterward. I thought that maybe Billy's travels through time could also just be flashbacks. The similarities you talked about could be a mixture of time travel and simple war produced flashbacks. Perhaps these similarities don't really exist, but as Billy travels through time/remembers the past, he muddles details and creates these similarities himself. Just a thought.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Becca S said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Becca S said...

Response to whether or not Billy is Vonnegut
-I definitely do not think that Vonnegut is Billy Pilgrim simply because Vonnegut refers to himself later in the novel as a separate entity than Billy:
"An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains. Moments later he said, "there they go, there they go." He meant his brains.
That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book." (125)
However, I do think Vonnegut's use of point of view is very interesting. His telling of the story gives a very full (though scattered) telling of Billy's life. As readers, we know what is happening in Billy's brain, what everyone thinks about him, and what he is or is not thinking about the world around him. I think Vonnegut's presence as a character gives the novel some sense of truth and fact to balance out Billy's incomprehensible understanding of events.

I also have a question -- I know that Vonnegut really likes to play around with his characters and that he uses some of them interchangeably in different novels. The only character like this that I have picked up on is Eliot Rosewater -- the fellow soldier that told Billy about Kilgore Trout. I was wondering if anyone has ever read God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater that would be able to tell us more about Rosewater. All I know about that book is that it is "a satirical and black-humored novel about Eliot Rosewater, president of the Rosewater Foundation, dedicated to bring love into the hearts of everyone"

5:44 PM  
Blogger Mick said...

In Response to Haley
Tortilla Curtain Pages 120-240

I agree with Haley on the importance of the motif of the wall. Our group found it ironic that Cándido’s father had told him “when you’re lost or hungry or in danger, ponte pared, make like a wall…Cándido was a wall, but the wall was crumbling (168). Cándido’s father tells him to put up a wall ironic because the Americans seem to take the advice. Like Cándido, the immigration wall is crumbling. I thought a very crucial scene in the book is when Delaney attends the gathering and jokingly asks “Next thing you’ll want to wall the whole place in like a medieval city or something” (189). The other guests do not believe that Delaney’s suggestion is really so far-fetched. They seem to be trying, like medieval communities, to protect themselves against invaders or as some characters believe to rid themselves of parasites symbolized by the immigrants in the story. Additionally, our group mentioned how Delaney seems to be moving away from his liberal ideology. It seems that he begins to abandon it because it does not hold true anymore. He was able to criticize the harsh treatment of immigrants when they did not impact his way of live, but now that they have possibly stolen his car he feels animosity against them. Boyle seems to be commenting on people’s belief in certain ideologies in which have no barring on their life. For example, one may support strict enforcement of a law until they themselves are in trouble and their accuser uses strict enforcement against them. Finally, I wanted to mention a certain scene, which shows the danger of confinement. After Jack Jr. sexual explicit dialogue about immigrants, Delaney rightfully remarks, “…it might keep them out, but look what it keeps in (224). Boyle illustrates that all different kinds of people can pollute a society. There are bad apples in every bunch and as civilized people we must not judge the masses on a few rotten individuals. What does everyone think about Kyra? She appears to be one of the most radical people in the story. She says, “…she wanted strength and impregnability” (160) when the fence is being built. Does she always have to be in control and does Delaney have no backbone to stand up to his wife?

6:14 PM  
Blogger MeganF said...

Hello Mrs. Makovsky's class! I must say, I miss you guys and I will always carry memories of first semester with me. Moving on, I'm here in response to the Tortilla Curtain discussion. Haley, we agree completely with your statement that Boyle believes not every immigrant is bad and there is not a solution to everything. Instead of arguing a certain way on immigration we believe Boyle is simply pointing out a growing issue in society. This idea can be represented through the fact that the dirty, evil Mexican is "half a gringo" instead of being a pure Mexican. This may symbolize how evil is present in both groups of people. We also agree the coyotes are definite symbols of illegal immigrants, as described in Delaney's newspaper article, "The coyotes keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry and unstoppable" (215). As for your question Mick, we agree that Kyra is absolutely hysterical and that many of her actions are ironic; such as breaking up the Mexicans at the Seven Eleven and sending them back "where they belong," while building a fence with the manual labor of the very same Mexicans. It seems the Americans want to end immigration without understanding they are the ones supplying the jobs that draw Mexicans in the US. This idea runs parallel to the idea that people are furious when animals come in their neighborhoods when in fact they are the ones who draw them in by giving them food.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Rebecca S. said...

Tortilla Curtain Response:
Section 2

Our group also talked about style, but went in a different direction. We focused on how Boyle switches back and forth between the characters from chapter to chapter. One of the conclusions we came up with in understanding this was that it shows how each of the characters are interconnected and can’t separate themselves from each other. Both races are intertwined.
From our discussion of how the style emphasizes their relationships, came the topic of the man with the baseball cap. He is the most distinct villain of the novel, harassing both Candido and America, as well as Kyra and Delany. Candido calls him a “half-gringo,” both Hispanic and white. Playing on this we discussed how he possibly represents the worst of both cultures.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Artimordia said...

Book: Slaughterhouse-Five

As we completed the novel, our group discovered that many of our suspicions were right. With phrases such as "so it goes" and the general complacent and casual attitude that Vonnegut expresses throughout the entire book truly emphasizes what we believe to be one of many amongst his criticisms. (I feel like I don't want to give everything away and just drop our conclusions out there. Oh well.) Vonnegut does not agree with the Tralfamadorians who, we believe, represent man but from an alienated perspective that we can truly see how foolish our apathetic approach to life can be.
Just to clarify from previous posts. Although Vonnegut definitely placed a lot of himself in the character of Billy Pilgrim, our group, in the end, concluded that he is not Billy Pilgrim. Billy Pilgrim is too vague and too pathetic (in my opinion). Also, as read in an obituary after the passing of poor Vonnegut, it remarks that Kurt Vonnegut often used Mr. Trout as his alter ego which seems to make far more sense when reading and discovering that Trout is writing a novel about a man abducted by aliens.
Our discussion was conclusive. We understand what Vonnegut criticizes and why as he seems to ridicule war, but even so our approach to it when we think it merely happens and we can't change anything. We can't just look for a snapshot to gain the big picture. Not to mention, our memories are so important. Vonnegut definitely wants us to take note of that as well.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Artimordia said...

P.S. the artimordia person is Katie Scroggs. Sorry for the confusion, Mrs. Makovsky and all!

2:55 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

Slaughter House Five
Final Discussion

As Katie already said, much of what we already had speculated about turned out to be true. Vonnegut criticizes humanity for its complacent attitude through Billy Pilgrim and also the Tralfamadorians. This criticism through the Tralfamadorians is especially effective because of the removed nature of the aliens. Vonnegut lures the reader into disagreeing with the Tralfamadorian and helpless perspective because of the ease the reader finds in disregarding an inhuman perspective. The "so it goes" narration of Slaughter House Five lulls the reader into a sense of awareness about apathy, especially about death and the repercussions of war. Vonnegut certainly utilizes many of his own experiences in the war to feed his novel, but our group ultimately decided that Billy Pilgrim represents the attitude of those displaced from war, even if they might be face to face with it.

11:58 AM  
Blogger sarahg said...

Our group finished Slaughterhouse Five for yesterday's discussion. We decided that to best prepare for the open-question Tuesday writing, we needed to determine what Vonnegut was satirizing and why, and how he achieved getting his point across.
Satirists often use extreme or unrealistic events or characters to relay the meaning of their work. In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians mirror people who have no respect for human life--people who do not try to make things right, who do not care about the things that are wrong, and who do not feel emotion when things go poorly in their lives. This is what really helped us realize what Vonnegut was saying in "Slaughterhouse Five"--it is not an anti-war book. Vonnegut disagrees with the attitude of war; the attitude that human life is not precious. The novel is more anti-people who have succumbed to "desensitization" (as Eric put it).

5:05 PM  
Blogger Mia said...

In response to Sarah's post:

That was a n excellent way to put it! I think you nailed what Vonnegut is satirizing! The war is not the central focus of the novel. Rather, the effects on the people (or the lack thereof as you mentioned) are what Vonnegut is shedding light on. The lack of feeling in the story, highlighted by the repeated use of “so it goes” is really what we as readers should focus on.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Christy said...

Hello from Sale-land! In response to Nathan's group's final discussion on Slaughter House Five: Nathan, I totally agree with you about Vonnegut using the Tralfamadorians to criticize the war, as they would be easier to disagree with being aliens! Our group also discussed the significance of the Tralfamadorians, and we noticed how they don't feel, or show much emotion, thus revealing an apathetic view on death: the view Vonnegut doesn't want his readers to have.
As for your conclusion about Billy Pilgrim, I agree that he represents all men caught up in war, but we also saw something else. We noticed it was interesting how Billy Pilgrim and his friends in the war survived the bombings at Dresden, yet thousands of other men died in actual battle. We thought Vonnegut uses the fact that Billy lives to criticize also that often in war the people who live are not always the most deserving to live. He criticizes this by revealing Billy's weakness as a man through his "spaz" thoughts, his being a POW at Dresden, and his capturing by the Tralfamadorians. All these signify weakness in Billy, yet he lives through the war. I agree that Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorians to teach us how not to view death, and how he uses Billy Pilgrim to reveal his criticisms about war and death as well.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Justin L said...

I don't see an response for the final discussion for the Tortilla Curtain, I might just be missing it, but these are the main ideas that Mr. Sale's Tortilla Curtain group came up with during the final discussion for Tortilla Curtain. The main question we tried to answer during the discussion was why did Boyle end the novel the way he did? What purpose did he have for doing that? Our thoughts on that subject was to say that even though in America, and possibly the world, we have these strains between groups and the hypocritical actions of those groups, at the end of the day, the world is not without hope, that something good might still happen. We see this in Candido's hand reaching out to save Delaney during the mud slide. In this he might be showing how both good and evil are natural, that when placed in the toughest of situations, one will end up doing the right thing, but when left to do what you want in so-called good times, that is when the evil creeps in. We also saw the mudslide as cleansing. Often in nature, catastrophic events happen to cleanse away the old, opening up space and nutrients for new growth. Could this mudslide be a cleansing of the hate in America, so that afterwards these groups can mend relations? There was one more main topic that seemed to penetrate throughout our entire conversation and that was what is the difference between trying and achieving and intentions and actions? Is doing your best, but achieving nothing, an action that deserves the same respect as one who achieves? I think that is what Boyle is really getting at. For example, Candido tries really hard to provide for his family, yet doesn't achieve that, so at the end of the day, does it even matter how hard he tried if his family still has no food? Our group did not think that there is one answer to this specific question, but an answer for each person.

10:50 AM  
Blogger mleisy said...

One aspect of Vonnegut's anti-war we seem to be skipping over is his image of the german people. They are described as "translucent" showing they are the unseen victims of war. This fits in with Christy and Nathan's idea that the tralfamadorians represent humans with their ambivalence for war and death. We likeswise don't care for our enemies. Vonnegut personifies the Germans as sensitive caring people when they complain to Billy about the condition of his horses. They are not the senseless murderers that enemies are portrayed to be.

6:02 AM  

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