Listen to part of a lecture in a literature class.
Professor. Now, to wrap up our session today, we will begin discussing Poe’s short story The Cask of Amontillado. I gather that everyone has read the story, right? Wonderful! Please remember to focus on the basics when you study literature, class. Focus on the setting, characters, plot, and theme. Pay particular attention to details, especially in regards to Poe’s work, because they are there for a reason. They help us find the deeper meaning as well as Poe’s specific intentions in his poetry and stories. Let’s take a brief look now at the setting of the story, then at the characters, and then, if we have time, we’ll discuss some of the themes. So. setting?
Student A: Well, the story starts out at a kind of festival or carnival, and then it shifts to the catacombs. Professor That’s correct. Oh, and are we all clear on what catacombs are, everyone…? No? I’m seeing a lot of blank stares out there. Well, traditionally they are a kind of underground cemetery that are found in places like Italy and France. They are cold, dark, and musty and are where families would entomb dead family members. Does that clear it up? Perfect. Now, I believe that there is another minor setting of the story. Anyone?
Student B: Well, let’s see, on their way to the catacombs, they stop by Montresor’s home, right, sir?
Professor: Very good. His home, or villa, is significant because it gives us some insight into Montresor’s family, his roots, as the vaults of his ancestors lie just underneath his grand home. The setting here also helps us distinguish between the background of our two main characters, Montresor and Fortunato. Clearly, Montresor is from the old guard. He is a nobleman with an extensive lineage. We know this because there is a family seal on the wall in the catacombs, which is called a coat of arms. It suggests that Montresor’s family is upper class and important. In contrast, we have Fortunato. What does the name itself suggest to you class?
Student A: Maybe fortune or fortunate? Lucky?
Professor: Well done. Very well done. Poe gives us a hint about Fortunato’s own history in his name itself: fortunate. Fortunato, like Montresor, is probably wealthy, yet he is most likely a member of the nouveau riche, that is, the newly rich. His family, his ancestors, never had any real money, yet he has come into a recent fortune. Let’s make this distinction clear, class. Montresor is of noble blood. Fortunato is of the aristocracy but only due to monetary wealth. He was not bom into it Fortunato gained his wealth by chance, not birth or hard work. Is everyone following me? Good. Now let’s continue with this contrast of the two main characters. How are they dressed in the story? Remember, the story starts during the night carnival in, probably, Rome.
Student B: “He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” That’s from the beginning, sir.
Professor: Excellent. Notice how Poe is setting up the contrast between characters earty on in the story, class. Fortunato is in some kind of spandex-like dress, and he has bells on his head. Now. this might remind you of a jester or even a woman. Therefore, Fortunato looks very much like a fool or even an imposter that is, he might have wealth, but, essentially, he is a down, a fake. Poe continues this technique of making Fortunato look like a fool throughout the story as well, class. Later in the story, when he talks, his bells jingle on top of his head. These images are meant to enforce how he is both pitiful and foolish. Does everyone agree with this assessment? Well done.
Now, how about Montresor? How is he dressed and what does it suggest? Anyone? Can anyone remember what Montresor is wearing in the story? Well, let me remind you, class, always to pay attention to the details, please. Now, old Montresor is wearing both a dark, full-length cloak and a black, silk mask. What does this imply, class? What does the mask symbolize to you?
Student A: Oh. I’ve got it! Montresor is dressed like an executioner !
Professor: That’s exactly right. Well done. So, on one side we have Fortunato dressed very much like a fool, and on the other is Montresor in his ominous executioner’s garb. Remember, class, that this is clearly intentional by Poe to separate the characters from one another as well as to show the reader who is in control. Oh, I believe that is all the time we have today, class. On Wednesday, we will continue with the story by discussing the major themes of the story and explore what and why certain things occur down in the dark catacombs.
Listen to part of a lecture in a geology class.
Professor: Well, when it comes to actually predicting an earthquake, it is a very hazy area. Most earthquakes occur without any warning at all. Let’s take California, for example, which is basically a patchwork of different fault lines. For example, the Hayward Fault is located in the San Francisco area of California, well, Berkeley, to be exact. Actually, the original architects of the University of California at Berkeley built the campus directly on top of the fault if you can believe that one. The fault itself splits the campus right in half. Luckily, they had the presence of mind to factor in a potential quake in the design of the campus, even way back in the early 1900s. Anyway, according to records, the Hayward Fault has not experienced a quake since the late 1800s, which is, in a sense, worrisome to many experts as well as residents. To them, it has been quiet way too long and could be the center of one of California’s next devastating quakes. We must remember, class, that even though there have been major technological advances over the past few years in measurement devices as well as new theories on how and why earthquakes occur, even the most experienced and esteemed experts cannot, and I repeat, cannot, predict when an earthquake will occur. Now, let me go ahead and take this a step further, class. Many experts have, well, not given up, but for the time being, resorted to making what they call earthquake forecasts, much like a weather forecast, which attempt to predict a window during which an earthquake is most likely to occur. Well, to continue with our weather forecast analogy, what sort of window do they usually fall under?
Student: Well, most of the weather forecasts on television like CNN will predict local weather for a week or so.
Professor: That’s about right. Weatherwomen, and men, sorry, guys, take a look at the Doppler radar and can see with their own eyes what the weather conditions are like virtually anywhere in the world right now and what is on the way, what it will be like, for example, for the weekend. Now, are they always right on the money? Of course not. But, they are able to give us a general idea of what to expect. There is some degree of accuracy to it.
Now, let’s get back to our earthquake experts, whom we also call seismologists. In the past few decades, a few of them, both in the U.S. and abroad, have attempted to make earthquake forecasts. Just as an example, a Dr. Smith has predicted there will be a major earthquake in the so-and-so area within the next five years. Well, that is a pretty broad range now, isn’t it? Many other experts would not touch something like that with a ten-foot pole if you get what I mean. They realize that trying to predict an earthquake is like shooting darts blindfolded. Right now, with how little we know about earthquakes, it simply isn’t possible.
Now, that doesn’t mean that seismologists don’t understand where they come from. Advances in what has come to be known as plate tectonics, that is, the study of continental drift and how mountains and volcanoes form, have been huge in the past century. Let’s take, for example, another major fault in California, perhaps even one of the most famous ones in the world: the San Andreas Fault. Scientists now know that it is a six or seven-hundred-mile-long fault line extending from San Francisco all the way down south of LA and is the area where the Pacific and North American plates slowly grind past one another at a rate of about two inches per year. Sure, they can measure the movement of the plates but not when it will spawn an earthquake and where. The area is just too broad. There are infinite possibilities, which are very frustrating to seismologists, especially when one single earthquake can potentially cause more damage and loss of life in a few seconds than five hurricanes over the course of a day or so. The pressure, no pun intended, class, is huge.
So what’s the problem? Well, for one thing, it is difficult for scientists to see what is going on inside the Earth or a fault underground. It is difficult, actually impossible, so far, for them to take a snapshot, unlike the meteorologist of the weather, of a fault underneath the surface, where things are happening and churning. For the most part, their deductions have had to be made from surface perceptions, which are not nearly enough. But, this is changing as experts have begun drilling deep into the ground to attain better research and to explore the inner workings of various faults, such as the San Andreas, which has been found to extend over two miles down.