(Not) Reading Horatio Alger

Starting out with reading Horatio Alger’s Wikipedia page was a good idea because it gave me a bit of insight as to what trend I may expect.  For the closer analysis, I focused on the story Dan The Newsboy.   I was left with this word cloud when I omitted “said”, “Dan”,  and “asked”.

I wasn’t sure why Mother had such a huge part in the story, but I easily recognized the terms “Money”, “little”, “boy”, and “good” as having to do with Alger’s obsession with writing about young men who go from rags to riches. At the top of the cloud, I noticed that “girl” was incredibly small, which could possibly indicate a lack of love interest for the main character, or at the very least it indicates the lack of attention given towards girls vs boys within his story.

[Above: Brown: Boy, Blue: Sir, Teal: Mr] 

Finding the relationships between Mr, Sir, and boy did NOT yield the results I thought they would, however. Although there is a slight correlation between the terms, I couldn’t a solid enough pattern within this story. However, when I expanded the corpus to the class folder of texts, the results fell more in line with what I had expected.

Just as I had suspected, several key terms that were prevalent in Dan The Newsboy,  were also present in the word cloud for the larger corpus. From this discovery alone, the general plot of his stories can be inferred to fall in line with the narrative of young boys going from rags to riches. The word “Mother” which struck me as odd in the first cloud fell out and become a minor point when compared to the work as a whole. Instead, the link between Mr/Man and boy became more concrete and in line with my hypothesis of Alger using the stories as a vehicle for his own desire to interact and have control over the young boys in the story. When I looked at a more detailed line graph of Mr and Boy, the trend was much more apparent than it had been in the initial analysis.

Although the two do not match up exactly, there is a much more discernable pattern and correlation between the two words in the expanded corpus.  Through distant reading, the analysis of Alger’s life and the way his work is characterized could easily be supported without needing to go through and read every single novel that he’s put out. The emphasis on the word money as well as his emphasis on the word “good” lend themselves to the bigger picture of his narratives.  I don’t doubt that close reading could yield similar results, but the time invested would have been significantly greater.

Voyant Part 2

As I tinkered further with Voyant Tools I was both stumped and encouraged by some of my findings. For the purpose of analyzing Virginia’s writing style as far as syntax goes, I tossed in a few other books from her relative time period such as Heart Of Darkness and The Catcher in the Rye.  I went in with a basic question of the word count of her sentences and whether or not her usage of the words “thought” and “looking” were symptomatic of being a modernist writer, but came out with more questions than I had initially.

First of all, Virginia Woolf did end up having the longest sentences on average compared to the other two, however, the words that dominated her novel To The Lighthouse weren’t mirrored in the other two books.  I initially believed that these questions were answered easily and quickly, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that I couldn’t come to a conclusion because I had used such a narrow scope. More than that, my knowledge of each writer is severely limited, so without careful study, I would never know whether or not it was a matter of chance or if my findings are sound. Even with the visualizations I had access to, Voyant Tools did not make me clairvoyant.

The more I dug into the research, the more I realized that I needed to expand the corpus further. More research is necessary about individual authors before I add them into the analysis as well. For example, I know that Virginia Woolf is a British woman, and it makes me wonder if that’s the reason her work differs from the other two authors used initially. Will another female British writer have similar quirks? Is Woolf’s style unique to her? To me, it seemed as though the data leads on to a vortex of questions and quandaries.

On that subject– Virginia’s work stood out between the three.  Ignoring the first three terms, there are quite a few where Virginia’s (the middle point of the line graph is Virginia’s novel) is less or more than the other two points.

I think for a hypothetical research project it would be interested to dig in and analyze the difference that nationality and gender have on a writer.  It seems that there’s something there with the word choice and subject matter.


Voyant Tools

The text I analyzed was “To The Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf. For the most part, it was almost like an information overload. Without a specific topic in mind, the information at a glance didn’t have much meaning to me.  After looking around at the different tools, I found that the ones that offered insight into the frequency of the words, such as the point-graph and the  Cirrus cloud, helped focus my view. For example, the two large words in the Cirrus cloud were “Ramsay” and “Thought”.  I plugged those words specifically into the plot-graph and saw that the two words actually match up closely in frequency. When put in the context of the book,  (Mrs. Ramsay observing everyone in The Window and the drop representing Mrs. Ramsay’s death in the second section) it proved to offer valuable insight into the characterization and usage of the Ramsays’ point of view to drive the story forward through thoughts.

[Shown above: Graph of “Thought” and Ramsay”]

Another trend I noticed was the relationship between the word “Looking” and “Lily”.

In the book, Lily Briscoe is a painter that spends her time trying to capture the essence of the beach house and its inhabitants. The graph matches very closely, and the point that they diverge becomes a point of interest.  Upon further inspection, the split happens during a dinner party when her name is mentioned by other individuals. I believe that Lily “looking” out at the world is an important part of the story because it’s the mouthpiece for Virginia’s own reflection. This would work as a starting point for making a case for that, by showing how closely related the two keywords truly are in the text.

Of course, because it is a program, Voyant did not give any insight into the meaning of any of these correlations. It was very much so a launch pad into understanding the book as a whole or finding evidence for a specific interpretation. Also, I was lucky enough to find the words that created a pattern simply because I made educated guesses and poked around. There is nothing in Voyant that can automatically make those connections for you (as far as I know).  Overall, it was an interesting experience.


Regarding Wikipedia

Initially, I wanted to work on an Author that goes by the name Albert Nothlit.  He is a requested page and seemed promising, however upon further inspection I believe that he may need a higher level of exposure in order to be considered notable enough for a Wikipedia page. Although he came close, the decision came down to the low number of sources pertaining to his work. Although he has won an award and there are a couple sites with interviews and reviews, overall the credibility of these websites may be called into question. So, instead, I will be trying to format and improve Edith Pattou’s page. When I was younger her books were one of the first novels that inspired me to start writing my own stories. Although I never knew much about her as an author, I was inspired by the worlds she created.

Her Wikipedia page was incredibly barren and most of the statements made about her aren’t cited. Her biography of early life is only a single statement, however information she has given about her early life and inclination towards writing has been discussed in interviews and on her own website. There is a section for the work she has published, however the accolades she’s received from them aren’t listed anywhere on the page. There are a good number of credibly sources that can be referenced, so notability affecting information available seems as if it won’t be an issue.

I’d Prefer Not To Do This

Jokes aside, I had read “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” a few years back and to this very day the sheer novelty and oddity of the piece persists. As always, the plain text required a couple read-throughs to properly digest. Once that was out of the way I found myself properly satisfied with understanding the broad plot of the story, though admittedly I believe that a lot of the small nuances were lost on me due to my general lack of context knowledge. That being said, I was excited to move on to the annotated versions of the piece to help fill in some of the gaps in my understanding of the piece. What I found, however, was an experience so radically different from the plain-text read through that I am not sure the two can even be equitable.

First of all, I don’t think that I would have been able to get through the story by reading the annotated versions first. Although there was an abundance of information, at times I felt like there was a bit of an information overload. It became a chore– not through distraction– but through the sheer workload of trying to balance reading the annotations with reading the actual story without the flow of the narrative breaking apart. Constantly I found myself losing what was going on in the story after reading through the analysis given.  Slate had a more seamless annotation style than Genius did, opting for a dotted underline versus highlighting the passage. Despite that, the effect was essentially the same with having to choose between fully enjoying the story for what it was and reading to understand the context and literary techniques employed.  As a disclaimer, however, that isn’t to say that I enjoyed the annotated versions less than the plain-text version. It was all thrown up to understanding that the two are created for a different purpose. The annotated versions were no longer just a story and shouldn’t be treated as such. If I had wanted to read to simply “understand” the plot, then the plain version is superior. Reading the annotated version presents a different challenge: understanding how people have perceived his work. I don’t believe that the annotations should be taken as fact-of-intention, but they can be taken as “proof of impact” on readers. That being said, the Slate version differs greatly from the Genius version in their approach to this. While the Genius seems to be more all over the place the curated Slate version offers a guided annotated experience and is delivered with more professionality than the Genius version.

As far as using images to heighten the story and commentary, I feel like some of the usages of visuals in the Genius text were a little ineffective at driving points forward. Ironically, they made me realize how ineffectual my own annotations with images were.  Images seem like an easier option than linking to relevant texts, however, in actuality the opposite is true. A suitable image is likely hard to find because that specific picture has to carry the weight of representing more than just an object. Finding an image that can accurately represent an idea or feeling is a challenge within itself, let alone coming up with the context and wording to frame it. Most of the visuals used in the analysis were straightforward and used to illustrate the points they were making at a very superficial level.

Yes, thanks for that picture of a turkey, I was a little unclear on how they looked like.

Overall, themes of social commentary reared up very frequently in both annotation sites. When I read through the plain-text version I had simply taken it as a story without thinking too much about what could be the driving motivation behind the post. Although I try, sometimes I feel as if I’m not the most “literary minded”. Yes, I am capable of picking out uses of metaphor, anaphora, and a bunch of other literary techniques, but when I read a story I seldom enjoy reading with that explicit intention. Rather than scour a piece for hints of what the author could mean I would rather focus on the broad sense of emotion packed behind it and the way it interacts with the imagination. Switching to these annotated versions– for me personally– is like shifting gears in my mind to focus on the former rather than the latter. I’m not complaining though because I realize both go hand in hand and are equally important.

To sum it up: plain text reading emphasized understanding the plot and framed the story as just that– a story. The annotated websites shifted my focus to understanding the way that it impacted other people. It also served as a more defined window into the time and mind space of the author. Also, I don’t mean to knock any of the annotations posted on the websites, a bunch of them were incredibly informative and I know I still need a lot of work on my own annotations!


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