Topics: you can choose one between 8 topics!
Related materials: film “On the Waterfront,” or the book “The trial and death of Socrates
1. Write a Platonic dialogue of your own. One speaker is a citizen of Athens who served as a member of the Assembly in 399 B.C. and voted to convict Socrates. It is twenty years later and he is explaining the trial and justifying his position to his son. This child, however, is a student at Plato’s Academy and therefore accustomed to hearing Socrates highly praised. He is also well schooled in posing probing, even infuriating Socratic questions. If you wish, you may choose to make the father the one who uses Socratic Method on the son. Consider all you have learned about the trial and its context and do your best to emulate Socrates’ method of cross-examination.
2. Write a dialogue updating the Crito. Suppose a young person is about to be published into a war he or she opposes as unwise and unjust. There are three options: going to war, going to jail, or fleeing the country. A friend comes to this person and argues for fleeing to Canada or Sweden. The young publishee is like Socrates, the friend like Crito. They debate the issue. Both conflicts (the young publishee’s and Socrates’) involve a collision between duty to the law or state and the values of personal ethics or family welfare. How would the debate go? What would the Socratic publishee do, and why?
3. Terry Malloy goes through a compressed but considerable moral development in On the Waterfront. Where does this growth begin and why? Show how each stage is dramatized with the examination of a specific scene. What crucial choices does Terry make and, in each instance, how is he influenced by others? How would you say his choices at each stage are a function of his sense of himself? What values do these choices reflect? Where does Terry end up?
4. If you are intrigued by the film as a work of self-justification by its director and screenwriter for giving names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, write an essay on how effectively the film does justify their choice. How good is the analogy between Terry’s testimony and theirs? Is it always right to cooperate with the authorities and, if not, why not? You might want to conduct a bit of research on the times, or on the feud between Kazan and Arthur Miller, especially if you have read, seen, or studied Miller’s play The Crucible. Kazan and Miller had been the closest of colleagues – one writing fine plays, the other brilliantly directing them—until both were summoned by HUAC. Kazan’s film is a defense of testifying; Miller’s play a denunciation, using the trials in Salem in 1692 to denounce the anti-communist crusade as a witch hunt. If you are interested in Miller’s approach, let me know and I’ll supply an article he wrote about it all.
5. Write an essay on the “villains” of On the Waterfront, who are also moral agents. Early in the film Johnny Friendly has a speech giving his view of life and justifying his brutality. Terry’s brother Charley in several places explains his position on moral matters. Do Friendly and Charley differ and, if so, how? How are their views of life and their experiences causes of their choices? How would you describe their moral ideas? Is either character worthy of our sympathy, or both, and, if so, why?
6. On the Waterfront as a descriiption of a society, specifically of American society in the middle of the last century. The film is about workers, labor unions, and those who negotiate with or control them. Does the film convey a coherent social or political message, something broader than just an analogy to justify Kazan’s and Schulberg’s testimony? Does it effectively link social and economic issues about money and power to moral ones about right and wrong? What kind of values does the film seem to endorse? Is it really an attack on “collectivism” and an ode to “moral individualism” as some critics have claimed or is it more complicated than that? You might consider applying some of the methods of social analysis you studied in Social Science last year to the film.
7. We discussed the idea that a moral decision is only difficult when it is a choice between two goods and two bads. Write an essay on the theme of moral dilemmas and choice in the film focusing on all the principal characters, not just Terry but also Edie, Father Barry, Charley, and Johnny Friendly. All of these people undergo changes based on their choices in the course of the film. What are the principles and values on which they act or which draw them in another direction? How do their backgrounds and experiences condition these choices – or how do they overcome these conditions to act as they do. After your analysis, draw any conclusions you think are justified.
8. This is a topic for those interested in cinematic art. Write an essay on the construction of On the Waterfront, the choices made by its director regarding, for example, cinematography (e.g., camera angles, cross-cutting, long-shots, close-ups, etc.), lighting, the blocking of scenes (who is where and why), the disposition and use of props as visual symbols, the integration of Bernstein’s music, why and where the acting strikes you as particularly effective. You might want to consider the distinguished and influential place of this film in American film history, or you might choose to focus on a few crucial scenes. I’d still like this paper to include some account of the moral force of the film, without which it would not have had the influence it clearly has enjoyed; but the emphasis here would be on how this force is generated by the filmmaker’s art.
Format: Use 12-point font, double-spaced with decent margins all around. All papers should have a title, numbered pages, your name, and the date. While this assignment is not designed to be a research paper, outside sources are, of course, acceptable, so long as they are meticulously cited in the way you learned in Rhetoric last year (Chicago style). 4-6 pages
Grading: “I like to scribble in your margins – or, now, type in comments as I read. It’s a rather conversational way of responding, as if I were hearing you and replying. Many of my comments aren’t corrections but simply things you made me think of or little congratulations on especially sharp insights and elegant writing. It’s an occasion for me to go on teaching. I don’t use rubrics because I didn’t like them when I was a student or during the year I tried using them as a teacher. For me, the paper grade takes into account pretty much everything: organization, grammar, spelling, understanding of the texts being examined, originality, quality of research if any is done, plus my sense of what a good or bad essay is, based on the thousands I’ve read.”
Please use easy sentence structure!
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