ASSIGNMENT: By Thursday 2/18 write a 750-1000 word critical essay on Tropic of Cancer. You are encouraged to offer your own insights, but you might consider some of these thematic questions: Is this a novel in the conventional sense, or is it a hybrid of fiction, memoir and opinion? Is the book’s frank depiction of sexuality shocking by today’s standards, and does the fact that the sexuality is conveyed in language rather than moving images enhance its impact? What is Miller saying when he calls himself “the happiest man alive”? Discuss how Miller uses bursts of freewheeling lyrical language to convey his sensual responses to the world around him? How do Miller’s poverty and self-exile filter his worldview? How does Miller view the role of the artist, and the writer in particular? Miller expresses great admiration for Walt Whitman; what similarities in style and outlook do these two writers share? Is Miller’s attitude toward women patriarchal and sexist, romantic and idealized, or a mixture of both? What do Miller’s feminist critics, such as Kate Millett (author of Sexual Politics) and Jeanette Winterson have to say about Miller’s worldview? Can Miller’s view of sex and women be explained in part as a manifestation of the author’s times and the culture that formed him? Does Miller’s relationship with Anais Nin, and her advocacy for his writing, mitigate the notion of him as sexist? What do Miller’s champions, such as Karl Shapiro, in the book’s forward, and George Orwell, in the critical essay “In the Belly of the Whale,” Parts 1 and 3 , see as his unique, distinguishing qualities? How does this text relate to current issues of interest to you and your generation?
For additional background, watch the motion picture Henry and June, based on the published diaries of Miller’s principal patron, Anais Nin.