responses and essay question

You will write FOUR passage commentaries (mostly opinion based and back it up from passages and references from it text)

(Part I) and ONE essay (Part II). Here are the criteria I will use in grading your exams, in order of importance:

1) Literary Interpretation: Do your passage commentaries and essays demonstrate sophisticated literary interpretation and analysis?

2) Critical Thinking: Does your work demonstrate clear, focused, complex thinking? Are your claims consistently strong and specific, and supported by relevant examples and illustrations from the texts? Are your commentaries and essays well-developed?

3) Content knowledge: Do your passage commentaries and essays demonstrate detailed knowledge and a deep understanding of the literary works?

4) Expression: Does your work express meaning clearly and in well-structured prose?

Since you have full access to your notes and the literary works themselves, your commentaries and essay should be detailed and informative and include ample references to the texts. At the same time, this exam will be an exercise in concision. Pay attention to the word-count guidelines; they provide you with a sense of the relative level of detail I’m looking for.

Note: Please PROOFREAD your assignment before turning it in. You may lose credit if your work is difficult to read due to typos, grammatical mistakes, or other easily preventable mistakes.

Regarding research and “group work”

1) NO OUTSIDE research of any kind is expected for this. In fact, I discourage it. (“Outside research” here applies to all forms of secondary sources, from scholarship found through our library databases, to any material found on the web.)


Choose FOUR of the following FIVE passages and write a commentary for each selected passage. Each commentary should be one long paragraph (250-300 words). Each commentary will be graded on a 10-point scale (where 9-10=Exemplary; 8-8.5=Competent; 7=Some Competence; <7=Needs work).

Commentaries will be evaluated according to how clearly, accurately, and concisely you do the following:

• Identify the title and author of the passage.

• Briefly summarize the immediate plot context from which the passage has been taken (i.e., what’s happening in the story at the point where this passage occurs?) Note: be sure to clarify the relevant speaker(s), and/or characters, and any ambiguous references and pronouns found in the passage.

• Identify any relevant themes or interpretational issues evoked in the passage, and discuss the significance of the passage for an interpretation of the larger text (i.e., from which it has been excerpted).

*NOTE 1: successful commentaries will go beyond mere paraphrase and summary of the passages and provide informed reflection on what is significant about the passages—plot-wise, and in terms of their thematic significance.

*NOTE 2: You should devote roughly half of each commentary to a discussion of the plot context, and roughly half to a discussion of the thematic and interpretational issues evoked in the passage.

Passage 1 One of our mother’s Dresden figurines is broken, I thought, and I said aloud to Constance, “I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.” Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. “The way you did before?” she asked. It had never been spoken of between us, not once in six years. “Yes,” I said after a minute, “the way I did before.”

Passage2 “And I don’t want to listen to any more of your stories; they have no logic. They scramble me up. You lie with stories. You won’t tell me a story and then say, ‘This is a true story,’ or, ‘This is just a story.’ I can’t tell the difference. I don’t even know what your real names are. I can’t tell what’s real and what you make up.”

Passage 3 But I thought more than once before we crossed the river and after, how it would be God’s blessing if He did take her outen our hands and get shut of her in some clean way, and it seemed to me that when Jewel worked so to get her outen the river, he was going against God in a way, and then when Darl seen that it looked like one of us would have to do something, I can almost believe he done right in a way. But I dont reckon nothing excuses setting fire to a man’s barn and endangering his stock and destroying his property.

Passage 4 He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.

Passage 5 And so I have often lived through that hour, that day, that week, in which was wrought the miracle of my transition from one world into another; for I did indeed pass into another world. From that time I looked out through other eyes, my thoughts were colored, my words dictated, my actions limited by one dominating, all-pervading idea which constantly increased in force and weight until I finally realized it in a great, tangible fact. And this is the dwarfing, warping, distorting influence which operates upon each and every colored man in the United States. He is forced to take his outlook on all things, not from the viewpoint of a citizen, or a man, or even a human being, but from the viewpoint of a colored man.


Choose ONE of the following three essay questions and write an essay, 1000-1200 words long, for each.

ESSAY 1: Catcher in the Rye Holden Caulfield is one of the most compelling and memorable first-person narrators in all of American literature. He is frequently identified as a classic example of an unreliable narrator. Holden himself even admits to being “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life” (22). Yet, as we’ve discussed in class, reliability/unreliability is a tricky, complicated business; it’s not an all-or nothing affair. On the one hand, Salinger’s use of first-person narration helps to generate in the reader real sympathy (perhaps even empathy) for Holden; we trust him enough to care about him. (Although how much we sympathize or vicariously identify with him will vary with each reader.) At the same time, as the novel progresses the reader begins to see aspects of Holden’s personality that he himself is unaware of, and in this way the novel creates some critical distance between the reader and Holden. (In other words, we come to see that Holden’s perceptions and interpretations of the world are not entirely “reliable.”) In your essay, discuss how the novel manages to do both of these things at the same time. Ultimately, how does this tension add greater complexity to Holden’s character and to the novel as a whole?

ESSAY 2: As I Lay Dying Read the SparkNotes plot summary of As I Lay Dying I’ve provided on the next page. It’s an accurate and useful synopsis of the novel’s plot events. At the same time, it neglects to account for how readers actually experience the events and storyworld of this novel—that is, as filtered through the highly personalized perspectives of multiple characters. How does Faulkner’s use of multiple first-person narrators affect our experience of the events and the characters represented in this novel? How would this novel be different if it was narrated in a third-person “omniscient” style? For this essay, discuss the significance of Faulkner’s narrative style for our engagement with this novel. You don’t need to be comprehensive with your essay; instead, present and develop 2-3 key claims about how Faulkner’s use of multiple first-person narrators changes both the meaning of, and our experience of, the events and characters of this novel. Ultimately, your essay should highlight aspects of the novel that the SparkNotes plot summary misses in its attempt to present a more “objective” summary of the novel’s plot.

ESSAY 3: The Woman Warrior Discuss the role that “talking story” plays in the shaping of the narrator’s identity in The Woman Warrior. First, address the impact, both good and ill, of Brave Orchid’s talk stories on the identify formation of the narrator. Then explain how the narrator’s own instances of storytelling might be seen as acts of self-creation, or identify formation. In your discussion, be sure to draw on at least three of the five titled sections of the book.

Plot summary of As I Lay Dying (from Addie Bundren, the wife of Anse Bundren and the matriarch of a poor southern family, is very ill, and is expected to die soon. Her oldest son, Cash, puts all of his carpentry skills into preparing her coffin, which he builds right in front of Addie’s bedroom window. Although Addie’s health is failing rapidly, two of her other sons, Darl and Jewel, leave town to make a delivery for the Bundrens’ neighbor, Vernon Tull, whose wife and two daughters have been tending to Addie. Shortly after Darl and Jewel leave, Addie dies. The youngest Bundren child, Vardaman, associates his mother’s death with that of a fish he caught and cleaned earlier that day. With some help, Cash completes the coffin just before dawn. Vardaman is troubled by the fact that his mother is nailed shut inside a box, and while the others sleep, he bores holes in the lid, two of which go through his mother’s face. Addie and Anse’s daughter, Dewey Dell, whose recent sexual liaisons with a local farmhand named Lafe have left her pregnant, is so overwhelmed by anxiety over her condition that she barely mourns her mother’s death. A funeral service is held on the following day, where the women sing songs inside the Bundren house while the men stand outside on the porch talking to each other. Darl, who narrates much of this first section, returns with Jewel a few days later, and the presence of buzzards over their house lets them know their mother is dead. On seeing this sign, Darl sardonically reassures Jewel, who is widely perceived as ungrateful and uncaring, that he can be sure his beloved horse is not dead. Addie has made Anse promise that she will be buried in the town of Jefferson, and though this request is a far more complicated proposition than burying her at home, Anse’s sense of obligation, combined with his desire to buy a set of false teeth, compels him to fulfill Addie’s dying wish. Cash, who has broken his leg on a job site, helps the family lift the unbalanced coffin, but it is Jewel who ends up manhandling it, almost singlehandedly, into the wagon. Jewel refuses, however, to actually come in the wagon, and follows the rest of the family riding on his horse, which he bought when he was young by secretly working nights on a neighbor’s land. On the first night of their journey, the Bundrens stay at the home of a generous local family, who regards the Bundrens’ mission with skepticism. Due to severe flooding, the main bridges leading over the local river have been flooded or washed away, and the Bundrens are forced to turn around and attempt a river-crossing over a makeshift ford. When a stray log upsets the wagon, the coffin is knocked out, Cash’s broken leg is reinjured, and the team of mules drowns. Vernon Tull sees the wreck, and helps Jewel rescue the coffin and the wagon from the river. Together, the family members and Tull search the riverbed for Cash’s tools. Cora, Tull’s wife, remembers Addie’s unchristian inclination to respect her son Jewel more than God. Addie herself, speaking either from her coffin or in a leap back in time to her deathbed, recalls events from her life: her loveless marriage to Anse; her affair with the local minister, Whitfield, which led to Jewel’s conception; and the birth of her various children. Whitfield recalls traveling to the Bundrens’ house to confess the affair to Anse, and his eventual decision not to say anything after all. A horse doctor sets Cash’s broken leg, while Cash faints from the pain without ever complaining. Anse is able to purchase a new team of mules by mortgaging his farm equipment, using money that he was saving for his false teeth and money that Cash was saving for a new gramophone, and trading in Jewel’s horse. The family continues on its way. In the town of Mottson, residents react with horror to the stench coming from the Bundren wagon. While the family is in town, Dewey Dell tries to buy a drug that will abort her unwanted pregnancy, but the pharmacist refuses to sell it to her, and advises marriage instead. With cement the family has purchased in town, Darl creates a makeshift cast for Cash’s broken leg, which fits poorly and only increases Cash’s pain. The Bundrens then spend the night at a local farm owned by a man named Gillespie. Darl, who has been skeptical of their mission for some time, burns down the Gillespie barn with the intention of incinerating the coffin and Addie’s rotting corpse. Jewel rescues the animals in the barn, then risks his life to drag out Addie’s coffin. Darl lies on his mother’s coffin and cries. The next day, the Bundrens arrive in Jefferson and bury Addie. Rather than face a lawsuit for Darl’s criminal barn burning, the Bundrens claim that Darl is insane, and give him to a pair of men who commit him to a Jackson mental institution. Dewey Dell tries again to buy an abortion drug at the local pharmacy, where a boy working behind the counter claims to be a doctor and tricks her into exchanging sexual services for what she soon realizes is not an actual abortion drug. The following morning, the children are greeted by their father, who sports a new set of false teeth and, with a mixture of shame and pride, introduces them to his new bride, a local woman he meets while borrowing shovels with which to bury Addie.