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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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YOUR FIRST SERVES:
STUDENT WORK: THE FIRST THREE SERVES

Students were given time to read The Awakening (unit 1) the week before we began to discuss it in class.  We focused on 1/3 of the novel each class, and the suggestion in the daily discussion board prompts was to focus on that specific third in the post for that day.  The students were to think of their posts as a "serve" that others would read but not "return" at this point.  These were their very first posts in the class.

Here are three examples of student work from these first three posts ranging in quality, with their survey comments and my reflections.  I also commented on the first posts in these sequences in the student work section of survey 2.

1) Student F: Lockjaw and Lockthought

Serve 1)  Misery v Happiness

I feel that Edna was a brave soul who did what was best for her to do at the time.  I believe she was an independent woman who allowed her mind to think freely; unlike many thinkers male and or female of the time.  She was mature beyond her time and was seeking freedom and happiness.  I think that everyone has a right to happiness, and I don't feel that she abandoned her husband, children and community for selfish purposes.  She needed to live her life rather than die in a life that was a lie.  I thought it was a powerful novel, containing much symbolism and contreversy.

Student F's first impulse seems to be to criticize, to evaluate.  Her post is a series of opinions, declarations, pronouncements delivered in straightforward fashion.  She is clear, epigramatically clear, and even a bit memorably poetic in a phrase like "die in a life that was a lie."  At 100 words or so, she is well under the 150-250 word guideline for well developed posts.

Serve 2)  Independence and Individuality

Edna is a woman of many things- one of which is not her time.  She finds herself and breaks out of the restrained traditional societal mold to unleash her bonds.  Her escape from this, is leaving her family and unfortunately her sad death.  However, before the end of her lifetime she achieves independence and realizes herself to be an independent individual- and still a woman.

Even shorter at 65 words or so, but, even more significant, perhaps, there is no thought development over the first post.  The one seed or sign of potential development is the use of "sad" describing Edna's death, which qualifies all the positive comments so far.  Interesting flair for language -- " Edna is a woman of many things- one of which is not her time" -- so there is potential here.

Serve 3)  Freedom

Edna dreamed of freedom- so often that she frequently did not sleep, yet daydreamed about it.  She felt so close to it in her vision of her as a young girl running through the meadow independent and disentangled.  Edna's suicidal decision to take her life was in essence in hope of freeing her life and attaining one lived without shelter and boundaries.  I see her decision as a tragic one, yet a decision made with a fleeting faith in freedom.

The flair for language play shows up again in "fleeting faith in freedom," but, again, still shorter than even the first short post and still virtually no development in thought from that first post.  The only promising glimmers are the first reference to a specific part of the novel and the movement from "sad" to "tragic" in describing Edna's situation.

Student F's Commentary:

The approach that I took when composing my posts was a personal one; what I mean by that is that I gave my opinion on how I perceived what I read BEFORE viewing the other posts.  The reason I did this was because it was easy to convey my thoughts about the story in typed words opposed to expressing it vocally.  Thus, when I finished posting I then took a look at the other messages reflecting on how they altered my view points.  I felt that the only way to get MY message across was to post first, then read.  In one post however, I did respond to someones post that strayed from the topic of the novel- that approach was the only one that I attempted in a different manner.

My Reflections:

From my perspective, this is clearly a weak series of serves.  Student F has not gotten my message yet.  She violates course philosophy in describing her approach as a "personal" one and violates course guidelines in doing her post "before" reading others.  The posts are all very short and very similar.  Student F seems to have gone right to the bottom line: assessing Edna's solution to the internal conflict that is tearing her apart.  She gives her opinion, gives it before listening to others, gives it over and over again.  I wonder if this is an example of someone habituated to giving "the answer" and giving it in the most direct way possible, or perhaps she has just not been paying attention.  Her approach in this series of posts is not one to foster either her own growth or a variety of viewpoints within her community.  This is certainly a student who, in addition to writing socially, could benefit from greater knowledge and application of the five eyes to free her from both lockjaw and lockthought.

2) Student D: Fluidity and Flexibility

Serve 1)  The Struggles of Change

Though I this story to be about self-realization and self-empowerment, the book also illustrate struggles that go along with growth and change.  Though at times Edna can seem selfish, she is only beginning to think and think for herself.  Her newly found freedom to think also allows her realize the lack of love and personal attachment in her family life.  When she was young her aspirations to marry those she felt love for fell through only to settle for Leonce.  Again in her life, emotional interests stir up her life.  Though she does not immediately react to them in a physical or sexual manner she gets involved emotionally.  An important realization that comes with her emotional turmoil is that fact that she does not want to be anybody's possession or property.  For this period of time this thought was too radical to be understood by most people.  Edna must essentially adjust to a whole new life if she wants to be free from things that tie her down.

In context it is clear that Student D is building on a previous post, so in actuality this is more a "return" than a "serve."   D  focuses an analysis eye on the central character, and the distinction  among physical, sexual, and emotional involvement is a thoughtful contribution to thinking about Edna. 

Serve 2)  No Escape from Emotion

The irony of "The Awakening" is overwhelming by the end.  Edna's motivation to escape her sheltered lifestyle is sparked by her relationship with Robert earlier in the book.  After Robert is gone she goes home to realize that she does not want to be stuck in her upper-class, passionless life.  Edna goes out on her own, though she says she doesn't want anything to rule her, she gets caught up in her own emotions.  By the time Robert is back in the reality of her life and not her fantasy, their lives are very different.  Though Edna and Robert briefly proclaim their love for one another, Robert is soon gone realizing the potential harm that can happen.  The tables have turned. Edna is now free to be with the one she "loves", yet Robert has grown more mature and understands he cannot toy with married woman.  Edna's emotions are what she becomes slave to rather than her lifestyle.  By the end Edna is lost in her reasons to free and also cannot return to old lifestyle.  Sadly, her suicide is the only way for her to be free from everything.

In this second serve, still clearly in analysis mode, Student D has advanced over the first serve both in progressing through the novel as well as, most importantly, in his thinking about Edna.  The realization that "Edna's emotions are what she becomes slave to rather than her lifestyle" is really quite astute and shows a quite thoughtful mind. 

Serve 3)  Ultimate Abandonment

I had ended my last post I said, "Sadly, her suicide is the only way for her to be free from everything."  Edna's suicide is a sad event, yet the reasons for her suicide are maybe the sadder.  At the time of her suicide, Edna felt that she had nowhere to go and no one to be with.  This is simply untrue.  Edna seems to plainly rule out all of her family and those that she had befriended in her process of "awakening".  Though she briefly thinks of her children, she thinks of how she abandoned them and how she could not live knowing she abandoned them.  The logic is a little strange.  Though Edna did selfishly commit suicide, it is not an unexpected outcome.  From what we have learned about Edna she has never truly dealt with her emotions in the right manner.  Early in life she settles for Leonce because he is a upper-class model husband, not because she truly loves him.  At the end, Edna stands on the beach thinking about how it is too late to change things and ultimately he must leave it all behind and take her own life.

Students are not literally in written conversation with each other at this initial point in the project, but note how D is in conversation with himself -- the next best thing.  Moving through the novel from beginning to end is paralleled by movement in thinking about the conflict within Edna and her resolution in stages as well.  D consciously makes a transition from his own previous post, and, as he comes to the end of the novel, makes a move from analyzing to criticizing, a perfectly appropriate thing to do. 

Student D's Commentary:

In my first post, I looked at it on a universal standpoint.  I tried not to discriminate the book's message between men and woman.  I said that the book was plainly about self-realization and self-empowerment and the struggles that come with personal growth.  We were asked to focus on the earlier part of the book, so I analyzed the emotional turmoil that Edna had faced as a result of her awakening.  This emotional roller coaster that Edna rides throughout the entire novel became a topic that a touched on in the next two posts.

The last two posts were focused more toward the end of the book.  An important scene was the reunion of Edna and Robert.  I found this scene to be ironic and humorous at first but ultimately sad. The tables had turned for Edna.  Edna is now free to be with person she "loves", but now Robert has grown and matured and knows he cannot toy with a married woman's emotions.  Roberts's rejection ultimately is what leads Edna's emotional roller coaster to derail.

In my last post I focused on the suicide.  Though a part of me feels that it was extremely weak of Edna to kill herself in the height of her independents, I know that it is truly a sad event.  Looking back on my post I seem blame Edna maybe more than she deserves, maybe out of frustration for the character.  I feel that Edna has never expressed her emotions well and that this ending does not come at any shock.  In my second post I feel I summed up my over all feelings: "By the end Edna is lost in her reasons to (be) free and also cannot return to old lifestyle."  Though the it is hard to get passed the sad and frustrating ending, I find that what I had originally hypothesized about struggles of self-realization and growth in my first post, was the true universal lesson of this novel .

My Reflections:

As opposed to the locked quality of Student F's posts, D is delightfully fluid, which seems the perfect attitude toward discussion.  He is in conversation with himself and open to changes in position as new feelings from focusing on different parts of the novel come in to play.  So open is he, in fact, that in his commentary he even revises a previous position on Edna.  Beautiful!  D seems a sensitive person, a good analyzer, a flexible thinker, and thus, with attention to writing socially, will be an excellent discussant.


3) Student J: Insightful and Inciteful

Serve 1)   something borrowed something new

I would now [I have cut off the first part, which was a return to someone else's post] like to discuss the significance of Edna's children throughout the novel.  I was wondering if anyone else noticed that the children played a minimal role in the storyline of the novel.  Yet, they dominated Edna's thoughts before she killed herself as evidenced on page 175 in which, "The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days,".  Even now as she is about to leave her children forever, Edna still sees them as a constant reminder of a life of self-imprisonment.  We now see why the children were absent from Edna's daily life during the majority of the story.  The new and improved Edna could not stand the constant reminder of a life she so desparately longed to be apart from.  Although she made so many changes in herself, she was still unable to escape the bonds of marriage and motherhood.  The problem that I have with this is that, throughout the novel, Edna spoke of her children in loving affection.  So if she hated them for caging her, why love them at all?  Also, why did Mrs. Ratignolle tell Edna to think of the children?  Did Ratignolle expect Edna's self-inflicted demise?  Hopefully someone else knows because I'm really not sure.

J starts with an analysis type post, written quite socially -- excellent!  The subject on which he focuses and the question he asks about it are quite meaningful.

Serve 2)  Big Rob in the Second Half

The character of Robert is clearly vital to the central themes of the storyline.  As we discussed in class, Robert's character at Grand Isle seems very young and almost whimsical.  We are told on page 53, "...Robert each summer at Grand Isle had constituted himself the devoted attendant of some fair dame or damsel," evidencing a tendency for "puppy love"; a clear sign of immaturity.  We see Robert take a particular liking to Mrs. Pontellier, following around the Isle much like a canine companion (perhaps a metaphor?).  However, we are unsure of his intentions because he appears to have deeper feelings for Edna than the other vacationers believe.  These intentions are arguable at best, but we do see evidence of Robert assisting Edna through the beginnings of her awakening. By teaching Edna how to swim and consistently speaking of fantastic, imaginary adventures, Robert shows Edna how to express her untapped emotions.  Yet, Robert leaves for Mexico at the end of his vacation and we are unsure of the fate of these two until his return.

When Robert returns at the end of the novel, find a very different character than he who we were introduced at the Grand Isle.  Not only does Robert avoid Edna for the first days of his return, but his attitude toward her is more formal than we would have expected.  On page 161, even Edna thinks to herself Robert, "...seemed nearer to her off there in Mexico,".  Edna's image of Robert, the Robert she fell in love with, is that of a young man at Grand Isle.  Unfortunately for her, Robert has gone through his own awakening and appears to be prepared for life in a patriarichal society.  In fact, even after the two declare their love for one another, it is Robert who ends their liason.  It is my feeling that Robert, understanding his role in society, knows he cannot break the bonds of marriage. It is Robert's action that helps Edna realize that she cannot completely free herself from the domestic prison in which she resides.  Ultimately she concludes to take her own life, as it is the only avenue through which she may remain forever free.  One might say that Robert indirectly led Edna to drown herself that day at Grand Isle.  If only he had stood against society and taken her away from domestic bondage, Robert and Edna could have had a classic, storybook ending.  Is it Robert's fault?  Or is Edna the sole possessor of her fate?

Another analysis eye from J, and, like the full first post, long at over 400 words, but this time a bit less obviously social in style.  He moves to a new topic, but one equally relevant to core issues in the novel, and he signals that he's building from class discussion -- all good indicators.  He virtually exhausts all there is to say about Robert, and his comments about Robert's awakening into his role in patriarchal society are incisive.  He has prepared his potential returners well with background, his climactic questions are meaningful, and subsequent discussion promises to be richly significant.

Serve 3)  Do we really like this Edna character?

The question was raised in class as to whether or not we think Edna is a good person.  It seems to me that we were more likely to "jump on the Edna train" earlier in the novel, as we were proud of her spiritual and sexual awakening.  But Edna leaves us feeling unsure of her intentions as she takes a cowardly exit from this earth.  The question remains, "Was it cruel and selfish for Edna to commit suicide and leave her family behind?".  In my previous post I discussed the fact that Edna's children remained nearly absent from the action of the storyline.  I think the author did this purposefully to express the lack of affect Edna had in her children's lives.  Honestly, how could it be unfair to leave children motherless when they really didn't have a mother to begin with?  In the same right, Leonce Pontellier is away on business during the majority of the novel.  How can he truly grieve for a wife he rarely sees?  I do not think Edna was selfish in killing herself.  Her family is fully capable of taking care of itself, in fact, it might run even more smoothly without her presence.  Noone will have to consider counting on her to do motherly chores, as she wasn't that reliable when she was alive.  I don't think we can vilify Edna for leaving a family that doesn't actually need her.

The only reason I could see for criticizing Edna would be if she killed herself for ridiculous reasons, but she did it to avoid living a life of mental imprisonment.  Now I know I've stressed this enough already so I'll keep my argument brief.  In the moments before Edna comitted suicided, she invisions her children and sees them as "antagonists" who would "drag her into the soul's slavery". Now I don't know about you but I don't think I could live under those conditions.  She knew that society would not let her escape the bonds of maternity so she had to take matters into her own hands.  I don't agree with suicide as a solution, but I feel that the severity of Edna's downward spiral left her with no other option.  I do not disagree with the decisions she has made, nor do I think she is a bad person for leaving her family.

A third straight exemplary post from Student J.  He has moved to the criticize eye, which is very appropriate for the last stage of discussion.  He runs with a question raised in class for the purpose of nailing it down more concretely, and he is aware of and draws upon his own earlier post, so once again, like with D, we see a conscious mind at work.  The move he makes in the first paragraph is quite intriguing -- making us think about how much more difficult it is to side with Edna as the novel goes on and we are introduced to more layers of complication.  The two questions J raises toward the end of the first paragraph are powerful and polemical -- sure to draw blood.  Ironically, he makes us aware that if we are sensitive readers it should be harder to affirm Edna as the novel goes on, but then goes on to show that it still can be done.  He boldly challenges contrary believers by indentifying what he considers the only valid counter-argument -- and then taking a whack at it.  Beautiful!

Student J's Commentary:

In keeping with the tennis analogy for discussion posts, I would describe my posts as either a serve or a volley.  My first post was a volley because I addressed the already brewing discussion and sent it to a new area of the court [I cut out the volley section above].  My second and third posts were serves as I tried to bring in a new topic with strong support in hopes of stirring class discussion.  I tried both methods to see which would more greatly affect the class.  I have yet to make conclusions as to what method is better. . . .

My second post, and my first serve, dealt with the changes in Robert and his affect on Edna during the novel.  The first paragraph summarize his actions at Grande Isle while the second focused on his return from Mexico.  I made some claims here about his intentions toward Edna and supported them with the text.  Most importantly I again ended with questions for the reader, trying desparately to spark some discussion.

My final post attacked what I thought was the most important debate in the novel: whether or not the reader should support Edna.  This time I took my idea from class discussion earlier that day.  I was surprised at the large amount of discord in the classroom and felt that my input might change someone's opinion.  I tried to support my argument by stressing Edna's mental slavery and how she couldn't imagine life if it came within the bonds of the domicile.  Looking back now, I feel that my argument could have used some fine tuning and it probably wasn't as influential as it could have been.  The major difference here from the other two posts lies in the lack of rhetorical questions in the closing sentences.  I guess I thought the topic was provocative enough and didn't need any further pushing for people to catch on.

All in all I am pleased with my posts.  I feel I was successful in pushing class discussion and presenting the board with new ideas.  Perhaps in my next set of posts I will follow more closely to the five eyes document.  I tried to let my thoughts flow in my writings and didn't want the five eyes to hold me back at all.  After writing the fourth post [a different assignment not included here] I found the eyes helpful and intend to use them in future posts.

My Reflections:

Already in the first week of class this student shows himself as very skilled in discussion.  He  has bought into the tennis analogy, he is so community-oriented that he is "desperate" to spark discussion, he has class discussion and the views of others consciously in mind when he chooses what to write about, he is aware of the changes in his own posting style at the different steps, he sets some goals for the future, he shows mastery not only of relevant details but the big issues in the work, and he concentrates his attention there.  Much the model student!