Young Adult Lit/Crit

April 30, 2008

Thoughts on A Northern Light

Filed under: A NORTHERN LIGHT — traverse02 @ 9:18 pm

Where to begin….

A Northern Light is a great novel. And as much as I would like to go off the deep end–for the sake of discussion, of course–and rant about how Donnelly vilifies the White Male American, I can’t help but reflect on (and to be honest, sit in awe of) the rebellious spirit coursing through these pages. I especially enjoyed reading Jerry’s post from the previous 619 class where he brought up the historical connotations of the setting and posited that this was very much a 21st century story (or, rather, a story for the 21st century).

I see Mattie as a 21st century woman. And given the name, along with the fact that she is often called Matt, I sometimes read her as a male character. Donnelly toys with this, and ultimately, Mattie’s gender becomes moot. Also, by placing her in this time period, Donnelly sets Mattie in opposition to many classic tragic heroines–and here I can’t help but think of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening–that have been common in literature since Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Instead of drowning herself in the proverbial lake, or ocean, or what have you, she manages to overcome the status that has been imposed on her by her family and her community, and becomes truly free (until she enters Grad School or something). As Karen would say, we finally have a female protagonist that doesn’t kill herself.

Sarah and Joyce made some great comments about the scene where Mattie questions the role of motherhood and how it might hinder her development as an artist, and although I do agree with Mattie’s point of view on the matter, I must say, male writers were just as lonely. Two words: Kafka and Poe. Hell, genius is misunderstood whether you are male or female. Motherhood could be a major imposition on how much time is allowed for being creative, but it could also be an inspiration. Fatherhood, for the real men out there that have some character and stand by their families, is just as demanding, and there have been plenty of writers, male and female, who have been had time for family. I really think this was Mattie at her most cynical.

I look forward to discussing this book tomorrow. See y’all then.




A NORTHERN LIGHT-Other Bloggers’ Perspectives

Filed under: A NORTHERN LIGHT — sunyprof @ 6:03 pm

I thought you would enjoy reading some of the discussion last year’s class had about the novel, especially this post by Jerry Degan and the comments that follow it.

If you’re interested in browsing the blog, please do. You’ll find much of interest there including some wedding pictures!!!

Also, Chester Gillette was tried and convicted of the murder of Grace Brown (who I’m sure you know he met in Cortland) in the Herkimer, NY, courthouse 100 years ago last month. This is an interesting site to further investigate the case that was made famous by Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, published in 1925 the same year Fitzgerald published GATSBY. KES

A Northern Light

Filed under: A NORTHERN LIGHT — sostrom @ 12:09 pm

I just finished A Northern Light, and it is among my favorites this semester.  There has been blog discussion of reading this novel through a feminist lens, which seems like a natural choice. 

There are several scenes that really struck me as particularly illuminating of the struggle women had (and still have) in trying to balance their roles as daughter/sister/wife/mother with their individual selves.  The scene in which Mattie visits Minnie and her two newborn twins first addresses this issue.  Mattie is shocked to find the house, Minnie and the babies are in utter disarray.  After she gets the house in order, Mattie has the epiphany that “Emily Dickinson was a damned sneaky genius” (273).  She realizes that with a husband and children, the female authors she so admires would never have written a word.  She also notes that male authors didn’t have to choose between loneliness and their passion for writing.  Yet, at the conclusion of this scene, Mattie “nestles against” Royal and finds that “suddenly nothing else seemed to matter” (275). 

What did you think of this scene?  The clear division Mattie feels about her passion for writing and her feelings for Royal?  Do you think that her feelings for Royal are genuine affection, or are they more a combination of the influence of society’s pervasive belief that women should marry and the community’s perception of Royal as a good catch?  Finally, isn’t it amazing that a girl so bright and capable still struggles with self-esteem issues when it comes to her relationship with a man? 

Overall, our discussion of A Northern Light has been very female-centered.  How do you think boys will respond this novel?  I’d love to hear what the men in our class think about this book.

And finally, can someone remind me why this book was challenged?


April 24, 2008

Reading A NORTHERN LIGHT from Multiple Critical Perspectives

Filed under: A NORTHERN LIGHT — sunyprof @ 9:16 pm

We didn’t have time to talk tonight about the ALAN REVIEW article which pairs CATCHER and IRONMAN and applies Structuralist and Marxist theories to these novels.

What theoretical perspectives do you think would best inform a reading of A NORTHERN LIGHT? I’d like small groups to form around reading the novel from a particular perspective. F/J may be helpful here. Clearly, those of you who have TYSON from 541 may find it useful as well.

Please comment and suggest which theory you would like to apply to the novel. Thanks! KES

Blog at