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When contemplating the exercise of writing a personal response to literature, students first should select a work that touches them emotionally or in some other very personal way. In other words, students should feel some connection with the text about which they are writing a response since it is termed "personal."
In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," for instance, the quilts about which there is a clear difference of perspective between Dee and her mother become symbolic of the mother/daughter conflict of tradition vs. the "progress" that Dee as Wangero, a Black Nationalist, believes she has attained. This difference of opinion can, then, elicit a response from students on something which they value for one reason while other members of the family oppose this position. Or, students can respond to the question of the value of traditions, writing about what traditions are of importance to them, for example.
With respect to Nathaniel Hawthorne's works, symbolism is a key element in many of his narratives. The most salient of these symbols is the scarlet letter of Hawthorne's opus magnum of the same name. When Hester Prynne is made to wear this scarlet letter, she is marked as an adultress, a woman who has sinned grievously and is to be scorned by the Puritans. Hawthorne's narrative ends with his admonition to "Be true!" and tell the truth because secret sin is more devastating than the overt admission of it. For, while Scarlet is made a pariah, she, nevertheless regains some respect in the community, but Dimmesdale is tortured by his inner guilt and can make no reparation.
So, in writing a personal response to this novel of Hawthorne's, students may wish to consider the importance of honesty, the importance of realizing that everyone is human and makes mistakes, and the importance of forgiveness and redemption. There may be some incidents that are in the experience of the students which relate to one of the novel's issues about which, then, the students can write.
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