The Kind a Literature Teacher Might Ask
STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD
Things a Teacher May Ask About Strands of Bronze and Gold (And brief answers—they would need to be fleshed out and added upon for any paper)
Grade Level Expectations: Grades 9-12
1. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details—A theme in Strands of Bronze and Gold is the struggle of maintaining oneself against the controlling influence of a powerful and authoritative personality. In the beginning, Sophie is overwhelmed by M. Bernard’s good looks, his over-the-top personality, his influence over many people, and his great wealth. She loves his lavish gifts and her fabulous surroundings. She tries continually to please him (wearing her hair down, wearing clothing she feels is immodest, etc.), especially when she is infatuated with him. Further, M. Bernard isolates Sophie so that he is her only companion, refusing to let her meet people, withholding her mail and hiring a lady’s maid who speaks only French.
However, Sophie does her best to make connections with servants. She persuades Bernard to give her the mail, and eventually, as her infatuation lessens, she determines what she will give in on, and what she will not. She begins secret activities that allow her to express her individuality. She snoops, visits the forest, and meets Gideon. Even Sophie’s eventual decision to marry M. Bernard, is her choice, rather than giving in to him and simply being absorbed by him.
Another theme could be that of the evils of men with too much power over others, as in slavery or abusive relationships.
2. Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme—In the beginning, Sophie is vain, materialistic, immature, selfish and self-absorbed, and expects others to care for her. Gradually she recognizes the servants as people, with personalities and needs. She realizes that it is her responsibility to help them when she can do so. She pities Bernard and tries to aid him as well—at first because she wants to help him to be happy, but eventually because it helps everyone else to keep Bernard placated. Towards the end of the book, Sophie sacrifices herself for the sake of her family by becoming engaged to Bernard. She tries to protect Gideon and she realizes the low priority of her appearance and material possessions compared to what really matters. She realizes the importance of maintaining her integrity.
3. Cite evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.—Since this is the story of a serial killer, at first the text does not allow the reader to know the full extent of M. Bernard’s evil. He is charming and friendly and generous. However, there are hints as to his true character. The over-opulence of the house is too much, his generosity is too much. Mrs. Duckworth’s mindless devotion is too much. M. Bernard’s collections show a propensity for owning things—eventually Sophie herself is to be part of his collections of wives. There is the hint that M. Bernard was attracted to Sophie’s mother and obsessed with her hair. There is also the symbolic diseased tree. His treatment of the dog and the servants are cruel, and his obvious self-absorption is unattractive. Gradually he shows how controlling he is. As Sophie slowly uncovers M. Bernard’s history with his wives and learns about their personalities, she also slowly realizes the full extent of his dangerous character. Sophie (and the reader) cannot know for a fact that M. Bernard killed the cat, but the assumption is that he did. The cause of M. Bernard’s deterioration in sanity is left uncertain. Is he an alcoholic? A sociopath? Did the death of his son leave him unhinged?
4. How does the language evoke a sense of time and place; how does it set a formal or informal tone. Since Strands of Bronze and Gold takes place in 1855 Mississippi, the dialogue is more formal. Sophie calls M. Bernard “sir” and there is sprinkling of words that were more common at that time period—“mourning crape,” “missish,”etc. M. Bernard sprinkles his conversation with French words, giving him a cosmopolitan aspect. The dialogue of the slaves, meanwhile, includes some dialect, as it would have in those days and setting them apart from the other characters, as they would have been in those days. Descriptions in the book are lavish, echoing the lavish decoration of the house, as well as the time period.
5. Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare). STRANDS often quotes the Bible in a way that church-attending people (including Gideon, who is a minister) would be familiar during that day and age. Sophie also quotes the writer Hannah Moore to aid in a description, as well as the poet, Richard Lovelace, in order to understand Gideon’s character. All of these sources help to establish character and setting.
6. Cite some advantages and disadvantages of the point of view used—The point of view is first person, from the vantage point of seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram. Being written from the protagonist’s viewpoint helps to establish a positive connection to the heroine. The reader more quickly sympathizes with her and understands her character. It aids the mystery in that the reader can only know what Sophie knows, and therefore the story unfolds more slowly. This is also the disadvantage.
7. Is symbolism present in the book?—The house itself is a symbol of M. Bernard’s character in Strands. At first glance, it is a beautiful place, full of works of art and opulent decorations, just as M. Bernard is a handsome, charming man. However, there is a lurking smell of uncleanness, of hidden mildew and rot. The deformed oak tree which M. Bernard refuses to cut down is another symbol of M. Bernard’s character—twisted and rotten inside.
8. What are some of the conflicts for the characters?—Sophie vs. Bernard, Sophie vs. her own vanity and love of luxury, Sophie vs. Odette, Sophie vs. her loneliness.
9. What are some hallmarks of traditional gothic tales that this book exhibits?—Abbeys and crumbling ruins are common in gothic tales, and the setting of STRANDS is a medieval abbey. Also on the estate is a decrepit chapel and a copy of an ancient Indian temple. There is the threatening secret of the fate of M. Bernard’s former wives and the suspenseful danger to an innocent, yet canny, young heroine. There is the passion and danger of falling in love with an evil man, who is also a brooding villain, and the vulnerability of women in that time period. Another clue that STRANDS is a gothic is that inclement weather, such as a rainstorm and an ice storm, plays a part in the atmosphere.