Punctuating Penelope for Pedagogical Purposes

 

This week, I finally had the chance to use an adapted version of an activity I first read about in Geri Lipschultz’s “Fishing in the Holy Waters” (College English 48.1 (Jan. 1986)), an article I mention briefly in my thesis. The core of the activity amounts to having students add standard punctuation to the text of the final episode of Ulysses. While Lipschultz describes using this activity in the composition classroom, I used it in a literature class that was reading selected parts of the novel.

Instead of asking them to add in the punctuation as an assignment, I had them do the entire activity in class: first they worked individually, and then they worked as a class with one student retyping the text into Word on the computer at the front of the room. Due to time constraints, they only got through 1-2 pages as individuals and a few sentences as a whole group, but given that one of the major reasons I wanted to try this activity was to show them how slowly one needs to read Joyce, I think of that as a success rather than a failure.

The greater success, however, came in the brief discussions held after each step in the process. My students demonstrated a strong understanding of both the content and style of the passage they worked on. They were also able to see different sides of questions that have no definitive answer—such as whether Joyce’s depiction of Molly is insulting or admiring.

The activity showed students who were put off somewhat by the difficulty and reputation for obscurity of Ulysses that they could, in fact, understand it.

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