Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Jane Smiley's Moo: Handout 1

The namesake of this blog is up this week for my grad class in higher ed in film and fiction. Here is the first of three handouts, from me, that will guide our discussion tonight. I go first because the three students, Matt, Mary Helen, and Steve, who have the next two handouts have outdone the ole prof. Good for them!

Higher Education in Film and Fiction

Moo (1995) by Jane Smiley

Questions for Discussion; please add your own!

1 Moo is set at a land grant university. What is your view on how Smiley characterizes the university and its people? Would you do it differently?

2 Why does Smiley call the hog, who lives in Old Meats, Earl Butz?

3 There are only a few humanities professors portrayed in Moo. Three of them are Cecilia Sanchez, Margaret Bell, and Timothy Monahan. Characterize each of them.

4 Does the novel raise issues regarding the purpose of a university?

5 What do you think of the way the novel ends? Think of a different ending to the novel, and justify your decisions.

6 IU professor (and Purdue graduate) Murray Sperber wrote about college sports and undergraduate education in his book, Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education. Here is a snippet from the liner notes:

Acknowledged for years as the country's leading authority on college sports and their role in American culture, Murray Sperber takes us beyond the headlines and the public controversies to explore the profound and tragic impact of intercollegiate athletics on undergraduate education. Sperber explodes cherished myths about college sports, particularly at "Big-time U's," the large public research universities with high-profile men's football and basketball teams playing at the top level of the NCAA.

Using original research culled from students, faculty and administrators around the country, he proves that many schools, because of their emphasis on research and graduate programs, no longer give a majority of their undergraduates a meaningful education. Instead, they offer a meager and dangerous substitute: the party scene surrounding college sports that Sperber calls "beer and circus," and which serves to keep the students happy and distracted while the tuition dollars keep rolling in.

Comment upon this view, in particular in relation to the undergraduate culture at Moo U., and your own observations and experiences at Purdue and elsewhere.

7 Governor Orville T. Early is portrayed as an antagonist to the culture of Moo University. Comment upon the relationships that state supported universities have with state government, the citizens of the state, and the business community.

8 Unlike Straight Man, Smiley’s novel does not have a central character that is the narrator, but is told from the “omniscient” point of view, where the author serves as the observer and even chronicler of many characters. Why do you think Smiley chose this narrative structure?

9 Here is a clip from an interview with Jane Smiley at http://www.powells.com/authors/smiley.html:

Dave: When you approach a new book, clearly part of the challenge is to keep the reader interested and to tell a story you haven't before, but how much are you driven by telling a story in a different way than you've done before?
Smiley: Generally, my intention is to do something I enjoy this time that I missed out on doing last time. After I wrote A Thousand Acres, I missed telling jokes, so I wrote Moo. After I wrote Moo, I missed having a linear story, and that's why I wrote Lidie.

Comment upon this in relation to the structure and presentation of Moo.

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