Coming of Age

Teacher:Benjamin Gross
Extra Help:Thursdays in room 303 & by appointment

Coming of Age in Fiction & Film


Course Overview:

What does it mean to grow up, to no longer be a kid, and what makes being an adult different from being a child? Is it simply the progress of the time, the marching by of the years, or does something happen internally that marks the end of adolescence and the start mature life? This class will examine this exactly transition¾from childhood to adulthood, what people call ‘coming of age’¾to try to answer some of the rhetorical questions above, and hopefully formulate more of our own. We will read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (probably her best, and one of the best books every written), and E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View to try to see how the transition from child to adulthood was viewed in the past (200 and 100 years ago respectively), and try to think about how our culture deals with and perceives this same transitional period. Our reading of these core texts will be paired with short stories & films, all of which regularly appear on best lists, that deal with the same transition; the films we watch will include A Matter of Dignity, An Education, Raising Victor Vargas, and  Good Will Hunting.


Essential Questions:

1.     What marks the difference between adolescence and adulthood?

2.     What is lost in the transition from childhood to adulthood, what is gained?

3.     How do internal and external factors influence the transition from adolescence to adulthood?

4.     How can you evaluate another person’s coming of age?


Skills & Objectives:

1.     Utilize close-reading skills to understand character psychology and motivation.

2.     Develop skills to analyze mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, and other elements of film.

3.     Craft formal written responses to theme-based questions.

4.     Understand how form contributes to meaning.



Unit 1: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Focus Questions:

·      How does Austen use love & marriage to show us characters values and ideas?

·      What does it mean to coming of age in late 18th century England?

·      What does conformity and defiance look like in Georgian England?

·      What about Austen makes her such a perennially loved writer?


Unit Introduction: Pride & Prejudice has been adapted for film and television too many times to count¾the 1995 adaptation essentially launched Colin Firth into stardom, the Bridget Jones Diary books and movies are based on it, as is the movie Lost in Austen where a 21st century Jane Austen loving British girl literally walks into¾through her shower, of course¾Pride & Prejudice. The book is regularly at the top of best book lists, and is, in my and many many other people’s opinion, Austen’s finest work. Centrally, it is about the Bennett family of 5 daughters (a near punishment in Georgian times because daughters could not legally inherit property from their father, meaning the property goes to the closest male relative that could be found), and the story centers around the second eldest daughter, Elizabeth, and the courtship that goes on between her and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a man with £10,000 a year, over a quarter of a million dollars in today’s money. Elizabeth is one of fiction’s favorite heroines (she’s smart, funny, and lippy), Darcy one of its favorite heroes (he has what one famous critic called “savage virtue”), and their courtship one its best love stories. Elizabeth and Darcy both embody and personify the qualities in the title; they are extremely proud of themselves, and extremely prejudiced by their own opinions, and the action of their falling in love has been stolen and copied by nearly every romantic comedy since, albeit in a poor way. The story is also very much about growing up, Elizabeth is 21, Darcy 26, and both of them have to come of age, have to carefully examine all the aspects of their life in order to figure out what kind of adult they want to becoming. It is a domestic tale, but one in which everything is on the line, because in a time when there is no divorce, marrying the wrong person is a lifelong mistake, one many characters in the novel make. Pride & Prejudice is also an extremely funny book filled with ridiculous characters who take themselves far to seriously, and who Elizabeth carefully lampoons without their knowledge. As we make our way through the story, we will immerse ourselves in Georgian England (the novel takes place in 1797, right before the Napoleonic wars) and pay carefully attention to the growth of Elizabeth, the lack of growth of other characters, and notice how Austen uses the marriages of different characters to show different ways to come of age, some successful, others failures.


Unit 2: A Room With a View by E.M. Forester

Focus Questions:

·      How does travel aid coming of age?

·      How do our ‘views’ change based on our experienced?

·      How do ‘round’ and ‘flat’ character differ from one another?

·      Can different artistic media be used to represent a character?


Unit Introduction: Who does not want to go to Florence, to walk along the Ponte Vecchio, see the Caravaggios at the Uffizi, the Michelangelos in the Piazza della Signoria? In A Room with a View, the characters love Italy; it is a point of inspiration for many of them, whether that inspiration is to fall in love in the case of Lucy Bartlett and George Emerson, or to write a pretty crumby novel in the case of Eleanor Lavish, the inspiration is the same. A Room with a View is a travel novel, and is surprisingly modern considering it was written over 100 years ago. There are travel books like there are today, the characters try to get in touch with the ‘real’ Italy and not the touristy parts just like today, and they are always worried things are too much like they are at home, the good ones at least; just think about people on one of those gigantic cruise ships being lead around in a massive group to a ‘real’ Italian restaurant and you get the picture. But some of the characters do find a ‘real’ view of Italy, and its impact on them is profound and permanent. Views can be literal (the novel opens with Lucy and Charlotte complaining they do not have a view of the Arno river) and more figurative, as in one’s view on art, love, and life in general. Forester fills his narrative with both kinds of view, and the character’s changing feelings about their ‘views ‘functions powerfully to guide how we as readers can understand them, their motivation, and their desires. Forester was also an art lover, and used the ideas of the Medieval or Gothic and the Renaissance to group his characters; for Forester, being Medieval is the worse of the two, and linked to the old fashioned Victorian era (it is no small coincidence that the Victorians love the Gothic revival style; Big Ben, for example, looks like it is from the 14th century but was actually built in 1858), while being Renaissance means you are Edwardian (modern) and open to life and love.  Like Pride & Prejudice, the novel is about young people falling in love, and thus gives us the chance to watch Lucy come of age and struggle against all the factors that both make us who we are, and keep us from becoming something new. We will carefully observe the struggles Lucy goes through as she takes in different ‘views’ and tries to find the ‘view’ that fits her best. Forester is also famous for categorizing characters as either ‘round’ or ‘flat’ in a book he wrote in 1927 titled Aspects of the Novel, so we will pay attention to the flat and round characters in A Room with a View to see how that characterization fits into all the others Forester has laid out.



Unit 1, Pride & Prejudice: Character letter exchange. Letters were the email/Tweet/text/phone call (people still make those, right?) of the Georgian world and individuals wrote copiously to one another, even if they were only one town away (think about how long it would take you to get from Tyngsboro to Chelmsford if you were walking¾nobody ran back then, seriously¾compared to someone riding a horse). Pride & Prejudice is filled with letters between the characters, some help develop the plot of the narrative, others give background about a character, while others function like a Shakespearean soliloquy lettings us into the minds of the characters; for your final Pride & Prejudice assessment, you are going to write your own sort of fan-fiction, drafting a series of letters between the characters in the story that do not already appear (obviously). You will have to take on the voice and psychology of multiple characters to draft an exchange between them that takes places within the plot of the story, but is not written about, by either the narrator of the story or one of the characters. The work we do on understanding how form creates meaning and on understanding character motivation and psychology will greatly aid you in this endeavor, and hopefully allow you to better understand that motivation and psychology.


Unit 2, A Room with a View: Character portraits. E.M. Forester begs us as readers to see the characters in the story as works of art (one he calls a Gothic sculpture, another a Michelangelo, a third a Leonardo), so we are going to use his elicitation as a jumping off point to find actual works of art to tie into the characters. For your final A Room With a View assessment, you are going to use the copious resources of the internet (Google Art Project for example has the entirety of hundreds of museums photographed so you can virtually tour them, looking at super high-res photographs of pictures and sculptures) to find actual paintings or sculptures that you think represent your character (their inner-self rather than their exterior), and explain how this ‘view’ of your character represents their ‘view’ on life.


Final Assessment: After spending the semester examining the comings of age of all our protagonists (Elizabeth, Lucy, Apu, Will, Victor, etc.), you are going to select two characters and evaluate their transition into adulthood; ultimately, you need to pick one character you think came of age well and a second who you think came of age badly and taking into account all the diverse aspects involved in coming of age (family, finances, culture, religion, etc.) and the factors that helped or hindered them, make a case for why they came of age as they did, and why you think it was good or bad. This assessment will require you to think deeply about the psychology of the characters, and be sensitive to the quite different environments they grew up in. The work we will spend the semester doing examining all the factors that effect coming of age, and the work we do on character psychology and motivation, will amply prepare you to make an evaluation, even a controversial one. It is an opportunity to really look at art both critically and personally, something you need to be able to do as a person currently transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Hopefully you will be able to see your own coming of age with a different perspective, and be able to examine your own life and decisions like you will be examining the lives and decisions of your characters.


Film Circles:

In addition to the movies we will watch together as a class, you will select and watch other coming of age movies in small groups (the groups will change depending on the film selected). Class time will be given to your film circles in order to question, discuss, evaluate, analyze, and present your group’s coming of age movie to your classmates. This will allow us to access different perspectives on coming of age that we would not normally have time for within class, and will allow you to make more coming of age connections yourself.



Many of the texts we will be examining in class are difficult, often with complex themes that are not always clearly discernable. Advancing a hypothesis about a text, film, or piece of art and being ‘wrong’ is central to the learning process. I hope we can use the risk-taking of the writers and artists we are studying in class as an inspiration, and try to push ourselves in order to enhance our thinking skills and impact how we see the world around us.



Academic Honesty: Plagiarism is a serious offense in this classroom as it involves theft and dishonesty. Intellectual integrity is central to learning, so I implore you to engage in original thought and cite sources when they are used (including Sparknotes and Schmoop). Work that is plagiarized, either from a fellow student or from an online source, will receive a zero with no chance to make it up, your parent or guardian will be contacted, and the office will be notified.


Revision: Revision is central to the writing process; no one that writes professionally turns something in they have not revised themselves and had others revise for them. We will follow this same professional behavior towards the written word in class, using class time to revise what we write in order to improve ourselves as writers. Additionally, work turned in will be revisable as my feedback on it is meant to improve your abilities as a writer.


Timeliness: If a student is not able to turn in a major assignment on time, he or she must make arrangements with the teacher within 24 hours of the due date. At the discretion of individual teachers, students may be provided extra time to receive partial credit on major assignments. Make-up assignments must be submitted within 7 calendar days (1 week) from the original due date. Assignments submitted before the 7 day window will receive a lower grade in the Work Habits strand (5 points lost for every day late) but fully assessed in all other strands. Assignments turned in after the 7 day window will be graded as a zero in all strands. Late homework must be turned in by the next class.


Honors: Honor in English is an opportunity to challenge yourself and enrich your experience of the literature we will read in class. The goal of honors is to challenge you in order to advance your independence, time management, and self-direction, and to strengthen your compositional and analytical skills. It is open to all students, but there is a good deal of independent, supplemental work involved. In order to qualify for honors credit, you must:

·      Maintain a grade of 80 or higher in all strand areas.

·      Read and respond to one piece of literary criticism for each text.

·      Complete an honors version of each project.

·      Evidence the characteristics of a classroom leader, socially and academically, including: being regularly prepared for class, speaking respectfully while advancing the tone and terroir of class discussions, assist other students when appropriate, and evidence the characteristics of good scholarship in English.


The honors assessments will supplement the cumulative assessment for each unit, and will provide an opportunity to enhance your understanding of the text. Upon completion of all the honors requirements, your semester grade will be raised by 0.5 points. Should you choose to pursue honors in English and later reconsider, the honors work you do complete will be graded for extra credit, but your semester grade will receive no additional points.


Grading Policy:

Composition (30%) Composition is synonymous with writing, and will take the form of analytical paragraphs, in class responses to the text, analytical essays, and creative writing pieces.

Analysis (35%) Analysis represents critical thinking about a text and can take the form of study questions and other assessments where you have to think about and analyze a text. It is also embedded in many of the composition assignments, so when you write an analytical paragraph, the analysis is the thoughts you have about the text, whereas the composition is how you express those thoughts. How fluidly you embed a textual quotation would fall under composition while what you have to say about that quotation and how it contributes to a theme in the text is analysis.

Oral Presentation (10%) Oral presentation may take the form of student presentations, participation in class discussions, participation in small group discussions, and other forms of vocalizing one's ideas in class, formally or informally.

Work Habits (25%) Work habits are the study skills necessary to gain mastery over the curriculum. It might take the form of reading quizzes, book annotation checks, revisions of essays, and self-reflections.


Teacher: you can paste content here, or just use the google docs folder to post course documents.

Course Documents