For this task, you will read a passage and then listen to a lecture on the same topic. You may take notes while you read and listen. Then, you will write a response to a question that asks you about the relationship between the reading and the lecture. The question does not ask you to express your personal opinion. You may refer to the reading passage again when you write, but you will only be allowed to hear the lecture one time. You may use your notes to help you answer the question. Typically, an effective response will be 150 to 225 words. You should allow 3 minutes to read the passage. After 3 minutes, listen to the lecture. Finally, allow 20 minutes to plan and write your essay.
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American literature of the early 20th century saw the rise of a number of influential authors writing in a new style. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, E.E. Cummings, and Ezra Pound, among many others, left an undeniably deep impact on how we write, even today. The author and poet Gertrude Stein is sometimes included in such lists, but her work is notably less influential than that of her contemporaries. For a number of reasons, critics have often pinned her work as an eccentricity worthy of little more than a historical footnote.
For one, Stein’s works tend to be inaccessible to the reader, primarily because she did not clearly communicate thoughts and emotions in much of her writing. Literary critic Edmund Wilson asserted that Stein’s shortcoming was that she took many of the concepts that underlay Cubism, a style of painting that emphasized visual representation without clear emotion or meaning, and attempted to apply them to language. This resulted in work that relied heavily on the sounds of the words used, rather than on the meanings they held.
Moreover, Stein’s work rarely included conventional punctuation. Her sentences blend together into long, unbroken chains, without commas or periods to signal where one idea ends and another begins. In avoiding punctuation so often, Stein made her prose and poetry unnecessarily difficult to decipher. Few authors have avoided punctuation in the same way because it simply distracts from the writer’s message and adds little value, if any.
Certainly, it is easy to be deceived as to Stein’s literary influence by the historical importance of Stein’s salon—regular gatherings in her home frequented by a number of renowned artists. However, in studies of American literature, the work produced by a figure is far more valuable than are their social connections. Although Stein was close with several major authors and artists of the time, that fact alone does not give her real historical significance.
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