Study questions for fiction-professor sue kuennen

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The following are ideas to think about as you read the stories.  Considering these questions as you read should help you to read more effectively, comprehend the literary issues in the stories, and recognize those elements in the passages on the exams.  For more ideas about what issues to consider as you read, there are also excellent discussion questions and prompts after each story in your textbook.  If you are in an online course, you do not have to address these issues in your discussion posts.  Let your research determine the content of your posts.

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado"

  • How does Montressor get Fortunado to go with him?

  • Explain foreshadowing in the story.

  • How can we tie Poe’s "single effect theory" to the story?

  • What evidence do we have that the narrator feels guilty?

  • Apply the historical context of a Catholic/Freemasonry conflict.

  • Explain symbols such as the motto, arms, and the catacombs.

  • The KCC library has a video of "Cask"—the story narrated over drawings.

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Fall of the House of Usher"

  • Explain foreshadowing. 

  • How does the author achieve suspense?

  • Compare Roderick and his house.

  • Look for the appearance of doubles or "two" throughout the story.

  • What is the effect of the first person point of view?   

  • Explain the "single effect."

Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown"

  • Was Brown asleep? What evidence in the story convinces you?

  • What do the names symbolize?

  • Explain symbols of light/dark, forest/town.

  • Explain how this story can be seen as allegory?

  • Apply the initiation theme to this story.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux"

  • What is the purpose of the 1st paragraph?

  • Explain the cultural context of pre-Revolutionary War America.

  • Does Robin want to find the major?

  • Apply the initiation theme.

  • Explain as allegory of the human's/country's search for independence.

  • Consider how each person Robin meets could symbolize choices we all must make.

Ambrose Bierce, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

  • What foreshadows the ending? Why is a reader surprised anyway?

  • What’s the purpose of part 2? Note the shift in point of view.

  • Apply the historical context of the Civil War.

  • What themes/ meanings can we get from the story?

  • How do you explain what happened to Farquar?

  • The KCC library has a fine adaptation of this story.

Henry James, "The Real Thing"

  • Explain the irony of the title.

  • What does the story say about art and artifice?

  • How does the class system play a part in the story?

  • Explain point of view and the effect on the reading of the story.

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

  • Could the governess be lying or hallucinating? Diagnose her, using psychological terms.

  • Explain the Victorian context.

  • How does the class system play a part in the story?

  • Explain the frame point of view and the effect on the reading of the story

  • Explain the novella as an allegory of the evil that lives on even after death.

  • Research James' writing of the story in installments.

  • The KCC library has a decent film adaptation of the story starring Lynn Redgrave. The Innocents with Deborah Kerr is another adaptation. 

Guy de Maupassant, "The Necklace"

  • Explain irony.

  • Does the story reflect anti-women sentiment?

Kate Chopin, "The Story of an Hour"

  • See the story and the study of this story in the introduction portion of your text.

  • How does Chopin's style imitate Maupassant's?

  • Explore the story as a cultural artifact exploring gender themes.

  • Explain the ironies in the story.

  • Explore symbols and foreshadowing.

Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat"

  • List and explain figurative language throughout the story.

  • Find examples of understatement.

  • Apply to the concept of literary naturalism.

  • What do the characters symbolize?

  • Explain the point of view (often mistaken for omniscience, actually limited).

  • Explain the effect of repetition, e.g. the "Seven Mad Gods" speech, "rowed" references, etc.

Willa Cather, "Paul's Case"

  • Describe Paul's personality. What might explain his traits? Use psychological terms.

  • Do a reader response.  Do you like him? Why or why not?

  • How is this story naturalistic even though it does not occur in a nature setting?

  • The KCC library has a good film version of this story starring Eric Roberts.

D.H. Lawrence, "Odour of Chrysanthemums"

  • Consider female-male opposition and symbols in the story.

  • Explain the cultural context--the coal mining town and women's position therein.

  • What do the Chrysanthemums symbolize?

  • Analyze Elizabeth's relationship with her mother-in-law.

  • What do the various accents of the characters tell us?

  • Explain Elizabeth’s final thoughts.

James Joyce, "Araby"

  • Discuss the cultural context of turn-of-the-century Ireland (100 years ago). How does the setting play a part in the story?

  • Define epiphany as a literary term and explain the epiphany of this story.

  • Explain religious symbols throughout.

  • Describe the tone of the story.

  • Analyze the story as having an initiation theme.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Babylon Revisited"

  • Should Charlie get his daughter back? Will he ever?

  • Is this story an example of literary tragedy or pathos? Be sure you are discussing tragedy as a LITERARY term, not the way we generally use it.

  • Explore past/present/future motifs.

  • Explain the title.

  • What is the symbolism of the daughter and her name?

  • The KCC library has the A&E Biography of Fitzgerald.

John Steinbeck, "The Chrysanthemums"

  • Note cultural context of the 1930's in rural California.

  • Contrast Eliza's strength and passivity.

  • Note masculine and feminine symbols.

  • Analyze symbols including the fence, the tractor, the gardening costume, the shower, and especially the flowers.

William Faulkner, "A Rose for Emily"

  • Why is the last image so shocking?

  • Read and respond to Faulkner's comments in the Commentary section.

  • Comment on the unconventional order, the use of flashbacks.

  • Look at North/South symbolism.

  • Look for Faulkner's comments on the culture, old south/new south transition.

  • The KCC library has a video biography of Faulkner.

William Faulkner, "Barn Burning"

  • Explain the various conflicts in the story.

  • Explore the story as a cultural artifact.

  • Comment on class issues during the time period.

  • Discuss point of view and how the boy's thoughts are presented.

Flannery O'Connor, "Everything That Rises Must Converge"

  • Analyze the reasons behind the mother's behavior.

  • In what ways is the son actually like his mother?

  • Explore the symbolism in the hats and bus scene.

John Cheever, "The Swimmer"

  • Why must this story occur over at least two days some time apart instead of only one? Consider evidence from Ned's physical changes, weather changes, and the changes in the reaction of other people, etc.

  • Tragedy or pathos? Consider hints as to Ned's mistakes or flaws that led to his downfall.

  • Do a psychological analysis of Ned.

  • Apply the mythological approach by tying the story to Homer's Odyssey and/or Dante's Inferno.

  • Explore the suburbia themes.

  • Explore the symbolism of the pools.

John Updike, "A & P"

  • How is this story dated by the details?

  • Do you see sexism in the story? Is it offensive? Is it appropriate?

  • Why is life going to be hard for the narrator?

  • Discuss the initiation theme.

  • Apply the concept of epiphany.

  • How can we see this story as an allegory for the times—the transition from the 50’s to the 60’s?\

John Updike, "Separating"

  • How is this story a cultural artifact?

  • Do a gender analysis of the story. 

  • In what way might we see the narrator as unreliable?

Alice Walker, "Everyday Use"

  • Explain the conflicts. 

  • How is this story a cultural artifact?

  • Explain the symbolism of quilts.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-5

  • In what ways does this novel differ from traditional fiction?

  • Apply an understanding of the post-modernist literary movement.

  • Consider the unconventional point of view, use of refrains.

  • How does this work become a cultural document?

  • What social comment is included? What are the targets of Vonnegut's satire?

  • Why is this considered absurdist writing?

  • Find ironies throughout the book.

  • There is an excellent movie adaptation available at many video stores.

Raymond Carver, "WWTAWWTAL"

  • How does the author reveal gradual drunkenness?

  • Consider the point of view--minor character as narrator.

  • How do the 5 couples included symbolize different types of love?

  • Look at symbols--light/dark, knights and armor, cardiac surgeon, bees, etc.

Raymond Carver, "A Small, Good Thing"

  • Consider reading an earlier version of the story called "The Bath" and note the revisions.

  • Explain the closure at the end of the story. 

Bobbie Ann Mason, "Shiloh"

  • What is ironic about going to Shiloh?

  • What are the couple's problems?

  • Consider the limited 3rd person point of view.

  • Analyze symbols, especially those related to gender expectations.

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