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Tutor profile: Alex S.

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Alex S.
Creative Writing instructor
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Questions

Subject: Writing

TutorMe
Question:

What makes the famous phrase attributed to Julius Caesar "Veni, vidi, vici" ("I came, I saw, I conquered") a compelling and fun sentence?

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Alex S.
Answer:

This sentence technically contains two comma splices, but those commas move the reader through the sentence faster than if they were periods (than if the one sentence was actually three--"I came. I saw. I conquered."). That speed recaptures the casual nature associated with the remark; we can easily imagine Julius Caesar saying the words and shrugging his shoulders. 'I came, I saw, I conquered. It was no big deal.' The condensed repetition of simple phrase structures (noun-verb, noun-verb, noun-verb) makes this sentence easy to remember, not only long after we are done reading but also WHILE we are reading it: when we read the third phrase, 'I conquered,' we have not forgotten what happened in the first and second phrases of the sentence because they employ the same structure. We are rereading with slight variations, and through those variations the sentence tells a small story, with beginning, middle, and end. It satisfies, even in a small dose, our craving for narrative. Finally, this sentence is so compelling because it is extremely simple and straightforward! As readers we go in, get the information we need, and get out. Done.

Subject: Literature

TutorMe
Question:

In James Joyce's novel "Ulysses," what is the significance of its two main characters, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, being 'keyless' ?

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Alex S.
Answer:

In characteristic fashion, Joyce takes given facts of everyday life, in this case the holding and losing of keys, and insists on the profundity of their implications. Stephen is asked by his friend Buck Mulligan to hand over the key to their apartment in the Martello tower, and thus forfeits symbolic control. This brings Stephen another step away from structures both social (he is so bothered by Mulligan that he will find somewhere else to sleep) and economic (he gives up access to the worldly possession of shelter), as he wanders along his chosen path of an artistic life. Even though this path is increasingly murky for Stephen, he embraces it, including everything he must forgo, consciously. Leopold Bloom, on the other hand, forgets the key to his house, but is unaware of it for most of the day. Coincidentally, Bloom's wife Molly is planning an affair that day at their home, therefore from her perspective his keylessness is a convenience. This means Bloom is symbolically divested of domestic control--he literally could not go to his own home if he wanted to. At the end of the day he must break in by hopping over a fence; by this point he and Stephen have been united and Bloom has invited Stephen to stay with him, thus resolving Stephen's keylessness with the hospitality of a responsible adult. Stephen will be faced with keylessness again, though, the next night, because he gives up possession knowingly and will likely continue to do so. Bloom, ever the optimist, is convinced that as a 'competent' citizen he himself managed quite well despite his keylessness, and that tomorrow he will probably not be so forgetful. But given the author's decision to include the coincidence of his keylessness with Molly's affair in the same story, the reader imagines his loss of domestic control is more permanent.

Subject: English

TutorMe
Question:

When might the passive voice, normally avoided in favor of the active voice, be deployed to greater rhetorical bearing in a sentence?

Inactive
Alex S.
Answer:

In the case of fiction, if the writer wishes to demonstrate that things happen to a character more so than a character causes things to happen, the passive voice can be an effective tool for imparting this effect: for example, instead of writing, "Howard went to his next appointment as stipulated by his exacting schedule" (active), one could write, "Howard was brought to his next appointment by his exacting schedule" (passive). Using the passive voice gives more insight into the character of Howard, namely that he is controlled by, and is not in control of, his schedule. Importantly, this usage convinces the reader that the writer has an advanced understanding of how Howard moves through his world. The same effect can be achieved in non-fiction contexts.

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