Welcome to the Monkey House: A Midway Review

My first experience with Kurt Vonnegut came about when I was unpacking my now-husband/then-fiance’s box of nicknacks when we moved into our first apartment together.  He had about twelve books and two of them were Vonnegut-written: Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle.  He told me that he had been a member of an after school Kurt Vonnegut club – AKA – heaven!  I chose to read Slaughterhouse Five because it was the one that I had heard of and I made plans after finishing it that I would incorporate it into my curriculum as soon as possible.

Part of my Summer Reading Project Plans include Slaughterhouse Five, but because I have been craving the opportunity to expand my Vonnegut library, I decided to pick up, Welcome to the Monkey House.

Goodreads.com Synopsis

4985 (Via Goodreads.com) This short-story collection Welcome to the Monkey House (1968) incorporates almost completely Vonnegut’s 1961 “Canary in a Cathouse,” which appeared within a few months of Slaughterhouse-Five and capitalized upon that breakthrough novel and the enormous attention it suddenly brought.

Drawn from both specialized science fiction magazines and the big-circulation general magazines which Vonnegut had been one of the few science writers to sell, the collection includes some of his most accomplished work. The title story may be his most famous—a diabolical government asserts control through compulsory technology removing orgasm from sex—but Vonnegut’s bitterness and wit, not in his earlier work as poisonous or unshielded as it later became, is well demonstrated.

Two early stories from Galaxy science fiction magazine and one from Fantasy & Science Fiction (the famous “Harrison Bergeron”) show Vonnegut’s careful command of a genre about which he was always ambivalent, stories like “More Stately Mansions” or “The Foster Portfolio” the confines and formula of a popular fiction of which he was always suspicious. Vonnegut’s affection for humanity and bewilderment as its corruption are manifest in these early works.

Stories I Have Read:

  1. Where I Live
  2. Harrison Bergeron
  3. Who Am I This Time?
  4. Welcome to the Monkey House
  5. Long Walk to Forever
  6. The Foster Portfolio
  7. Miss Temptation
  8. All the King’s Horses
  9. Tom Edition’s Shaggy Dog
  10. New Dictionary
  11. Next Door
  12. More Stately Mansions
  13. D.P.

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This collection of short stories is  accessible to a variety of audiences and literary enthusiasts because of the diversified subject matter, author’s purpose, style, and the time in Vonnegut’s career in which they were written.  Audiences can clearly see the traits of the journalist that was once Vonnegut through his use of short, direct sentences in his earlier works.  As part of the Postmodern literature movement, Vonnegut utilizes a heavy dose of dark humor, parody, and irony.  The writing style that charmed me in Slaughterhouse Five and “Harrison Bergeron” are pervasive throughout the short stories that are collected within, Welcome to the Monkey House.

Because each short story can stand on its own, I have chosen to read no more than three at one time, allowing each one to be digested and appreciated fully.  I can see the merits of utilizing many, if not all, of the chapters in any level of literature courses and Creative Writing classes.

Review: 

Five of Five Stars

Midterm Projects and Genius Hour

Monday marked the first day of Midterm Week for us at school.  I chose to have all of my midterms be project-based, and I am mostly pleased with the outcomes.

For my AP Language & Composition course, I chose to have my students complete a Nonfiction Novel Project that was shared with my College Board Summer Institute class last summer.  A novel is chosen by each student and they are required to read it, write a synopsis, define key vocabulary terms, identify and explain five to ten rhetorical devices per chapter/section, and give the novel a proper review in terms of the author’s writing style and content.

The Creative Writing class had been working on 500 word stories and essays throughout the quarter, and their midterm was to turn one of them into a five-to-seven page story.  I asked them to really work on developing their characters, as this was the focus of their previous assignments.

English III was really a lot of fun because it was the group of students whom I chose to work on Genius Hour.  Most of the projects were really well done and the students shared how much they enjoyed the process and opportunity to research something that they wanted to.  I had two class periods participate in Genius Hour, and while it was difficult for some students to get started, I would say that overall the project was a success.

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I had students prepare presentations that addressed the following questions:

  • What was your project objective when you first began the project?
  • Your project objective might have changed at some point.  If it did, how and why?
  • How did you bring your resources together to support your project objective?  What resources did you use?
  • Why did you choose your topic?  What connections do you have to it?
  • What did you learn as a participant in this process?  What did it reveal that you can use in the future?
  • Now that the project is “completed,” what follow up questions do you have?
  • If we began Genius Hour – Round Two, would you stick with this topic or would you begin a new one?

Presentations came in many different formats.

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If I were to put a description on how successful I felt my first attempt at implementing Genius Hour went, I would say that it was effective, but much room was left for improvement.

What Went Well:

  • Student Enjoyment – the majority of students said that they were glad that we did Genius Hour, and the few that were apathetic have that general attitude about school and responsibility in general.
  • Time in the Media Center – I was worried about not having adequate time, but as it turned out I was able to book the Media Center as often as I felt it was necessary.
  • Creativity – This particular class of students has a high level of creativity and zest for the dramatic, so I was not let down when I had high hopes that the Genius Hour projects would be creative and vivid.
  • The Initial Use of Blogging – I had my students maintain blogs about their Genius Hour projects, documenting the information that they uncovered, how their project formation was developing, and their thoughts about it in general as the process unfolded.
  • Using Feedly – This was the single most efficient tool that I have found to assist me during a project.  Feedly allowed me to subscribe to all of the student blogs and only log into one account to see their postings.

What Needs to be Improved Upon:

  • Increased Diligence on Blogging – If I gave students time during class to complete their weekly blogs then they were completed.  Sadly, I soon discovered that left up to their own devices, the students would not post, even after being shown the ease in which creating a blog entry was on their smartphones with the use of the WordPress application.
  • More Student Conferencing – I spent an adequate amount of time checking in with students, but I realize at the end of the journey that I left too much of my feedback on their blog entries as opposed to a face-to-face discussion.  I think that this would help the students in their understanding of the project requirements.
  • Stronger Parameters – Now that I have had the first round of Genius Hour completed, I realize that I need to increase the specifications of the project in general.  I now see that the requirements that I gave were good, but should have been increased to help support the students’ understanding and perhaps even their devotion to the project.  Examples might be a more specific rubric, example projects (which I now have), specific blog topics, a formal project proposal, a formal project update log, etc.