Tianjiu’s AP Literature Growth Reflection

To be frank, when I first entered this class at the start of the year, I was worried. Analyzing literature always seemed like such a behemoth to conquer, and I wasn’t sure I was equipped with the talent to do so. I knew that I already had some basic knowledge about analysis from AP Lang, so I went in clutching that, hoping that it would serve as a good foundation to build on.

The first unit we jumped into was poetry. Admittedly, poetry has always been hard with me, with its plethora of devices and hidden meanings. But as I did the TPCASTTs, that fear slowly started to fade away. Even though I wasn’t able to understand the poem at the very first glance, the systematic approach allowed me to make inroads at that skill I eventually hope to achieve. Rewording the poem in my own words forced me to think about what the poet meant, and as the paraphrases came together, I was able to analyze it as a whole better. And as I did the Great Poets Teaching project, I saw that by looking at a poet’s political and cultural background, I could better break through the fog that was shrouding what seemed like nonsensical sentences at the beginning.

One of the achievements in Unit 1 that encouraged me and the drive to keep going was my Q3 Diagnostic, on which I received a full score. The Q3 Diagnostic gave me the courage to believe in my abilities, and to take risks to try new techniques in my writing and to look for deeper connections. Similarly, the Poetry Response, which I did on “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, showed me how to connect symbols and to see how they contribute to a poem’s overall theme. One part of the feedback on that assignment caught my particular attention: “While the control of your sentences and voice is shaky at times….” I knew that I wasn’t going to be a good literature student if my sentences were shaky and uncontrolled, and this has been something that I’ve worked hard on throughout the year.

I was quite excited going into the short story unit, as I have always appreciated the thoughtfulness and the conciseness of short stories. But what I got on my first draft of the Short Story Interpretation essay shocked me. I didn’t have the depth of analysis, and at times, my language was incoherent and sloppy. It just seemed like a mashup of talking about different elements in the story without any real direction or connection back to the larger theme (which is something I have learned to do now). I knew this was a problem from the feedback on the poetry response, so I pushed myself to look over every sentence and every paragraph, making sure what they conveyed was not only meaningful but also with clarity. My efforts paid off after conferencing with you and discussing what it means to analyze prose. That conference over this essay gave me back the confidence to tackle short stories, and as a result, that essay contained some sophisticated analysis and had solid cohesion.

Perhaps the achievement I am most proud of this year was the DragonNotes video I made with Guinness and Nazanin. Taking from the lessons I learned from the interpretation essay, I was not only able to approach “You’re Ugly, Too”’s theme analysis with thoughtfulness and maturity, but also able to condense it down into the lyrics of a rap. Condensing it down was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done for literature because as I said before, short stories are just so jam-packed with meaning that it was nearly impossible to do so. But the end product, after hours and hours of editing, was worth it. I learned what it meant to approach the AP Q2 by critically thinking about prose, and I collaborated with others to deliver a polished project.

Using all of the skills I learned for the DragonNotes video and the short story essay, I achieved an excellent mark on the U3: Q2 in-class writing (8/9). I would not have been able to do so without re-learning how to write coherently or without critically thinking about prose, so this piece was the culmination of those two assignments together.

Another exciting project that demonstrated my growth over semester 1 and semester 2 was the Novel Lecture. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is honestly one of the hardest but also one of the richest books I’ve ever read, and I’m deeply proud that I stuck with it till the end. The Heart of Darkness connects several of my pieces in semester 2. For example, getting up to talk about the novel in a lecture style felt natural to me because of its richness and what I learned about going more in-depth on specific elements that the author used to convey his meaning. Furthermore, my U5 AP Q3 also benefited greatly as a result of me re-reading and delving into some hidden nooks and crannies of the book. The prompt of the Q3 was to show how an author links together humor and suffering. I knew that The Heart of Darkness was all about suffering, and nowhere did it explicitly have humor to “lighten the mood.” But I thought critically about what Conrad was trying to show his audience, and I was able to show that the extreme lengths that Conrad goes to are precisely what’s humorous about it. He goes to such lengths to show the brutality of the Europeans in Africa that it almost seems comedic to the reader, driving home his points not only on a rational level but an irrational level as well. I am sincerely grateful to those “Letters to next year’s seniors” written by the seniors last year, who recommended this book to me.

Mrs. Brayko, I really can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me this year. Going through the portfolio has been a huge help to look at my growth throughout both of the semester and how they connect. But more importantly, you taught me how to be a better writer and a better reader, and everything will benefit from that. From reading political arguments to advanced literature, I am fully equipped to tackle them in college and have a solid foundation to improve from. Some of the most important aspects I have grown in are seeing how a poet uses devices to advance his theme and meaning, how to critically think about and condense short stories down to their essence, and how to read and think about advanced literature like The Heart of Darkness. I experienced growth this year that I never thought was possible, and it just makes me more excited and inspired to take on the challenges that lay ahead.

Essential Question Reflection Unit 4 (Semester 2)

How does literature get to the “heart of the matter”?

Because of literature’s sheer flexibility and versatility, there are many ways in which literature can get to the “heart of the matter”. One way is by teaching the reader the truth, or in other words a lesson. The author of the literature is the teacher, and by writing, he/she is teaching the reader how to become a better person. For example, one of the sonnets I’ve read in Unit 4 is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, where he talks about love and what it means to him. A key point that he brings out is that true love is not easily altered, and does not falter with time. In saying that, he might cause the reader to reevaluate how he/she views love and what relationships are supposed to be, or perhaps to manifest abstract thoughts in words. As an example, towards the end of 116, he says that he could not possibly be wrong in his interpretation of love because he feels it so strongly, and if what he feels is not love, then no man can ever possibly loved anyone. This leads me to another way of how literature gets to the heart of the matter, which is the reflective approach. Even if a piece of literature doesn’t explicitly teach the reader about anything, the act of taking a reader through a story and showing how the character reflects on his/her actions is enough to show a truth about the world. For example, in The Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad, as Marlow travels through the interior of Africa, he encounters torture and cruelty put on the natives by the European colonizers. This scene forces Marlow to reflect about the reasons why he was there in the first place; one of which was to “help” civilize the natives there. And when Marlow meets Kurtz, who is very clear on “exterminating” and “suppressing” the natives, he realizes that maybe the Europeans aren’t nearly as good as they think they are. Instead of the natives being the savages, he realizes that it was the Europeans who are the real savages. This type of reflection by characters in a story can provoke a lot of thought in readers – as it did in me – about how we view the world and the morals we use the evaluate our own actions.


To me, the way literature gets to the “heart of the matter” is very unique compared to the other disciplines I have been exposed to. For example, in science, the truth is often determined through observational studies and experiments to see if one’s thought experiments hold true in reality. In math, there are rigorous proofs to show that an equation or a theorem is the way it is. But literature is completely different. I think it embodies the human condition because it originates from the abstract (the authors’ experiences) and is transformed, thoughtfully, into words. Additionally, our own experiences also define how we interpret and absorb works. Thus, it’s actually really difficult to clearly say how literature gets to the heart of the matter – as it is different for everyone.