English 251: Introduction to Literature
Feedback on Exam #2
Exam #2 consisted of four parts. Answers were evaluated in accordance with the "Criteria for Evaluating Exams". (There is both a succinct version and a version with more detailed explanation.)
Part A. (30 points) Consider A Doll's House as a dual-protagonist play. Then pick one of the protagonists (either Nora or Torvald) and classify the plot of the play with respect to the characterization of this protagonist.
Your aim here was to demonstrate your ability to carry through an inquiry into some depth, raising a logical series of questions and resolving them on the basis of the appropriate evidence in the concrete facts of the play. You did this to the degree that you addressed the relevant issues (given the classification scheme explained in the link above), and to the degree that you referred to the relevant supporting specifics from the action of the play. You should not take up valuable time retelling the events of the story.
Rather, if you decided to focus on Nora, you should use carefully picked events/details to answer address directly the following three questions:
Specific discussion of what might show up in an essay addressing these questions.
If you decided to focus on Torvald, you should proceed directly to address the following questions:
Part B. (30 points) You were not eligible to write on the story you wrote upon for Writing Assignment #2. As in Part A, your task was to demonstrate your ability to carry through an appropriate agenda of curiosity, this time with one of the following options.
B-1. Show how the theme of Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" comes into focus if we trace out the implications of the foil system the story is constructed around.
Commentary on what's at stake in this question.
B-2. Show how the theme of Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"comes into focus if we trace out the implications of the foil system the story is constructed around. (You should focus mostly on the contrast between the old and the young waiter, but you should also comment on the contrast between the cafe the old waiter seeks to maintain and the bar he goes to before going home.)
Comment on what's at stake in this question.
B-3. For Porter's "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," cite some of the evidence that Granny's thoughts and/or actions are motivated by feelings of which she is unconscious. Then explain what we are to understand as the reasons why these feelings are unconscious rather than facts about which Granny is aware. (If you choose this option, your discussion is to focus entirely upon the story.)
[To address this question about unconscious motivation, you were reminded to get on top of the concept of repression. There are several items on this topic in our Glossary of Critical Concepts.]
Some specifics on what is at stake in writing on this option.
B-4. Cite several of the differences between Katherine Anne Porter's story and the film adaptation by Horton Foote. Explain why the screen-writer devised these inventions. What important implicit or explicit facts in Porter's story were these inventions designed to convey? (Be sure to be specific in citing the relevant facts of Porter's story here.) What is some important meaning of the story that the film is unable to convey? (Be sure to explain how the story conveys this, and why or how it is important to the overall meaning of the story.)
B-5. Point out some of the ways in which Manischevitz and Alexander Levine are foils to one another. Then point out some of the important ways in which they "doubles" of each other (i.e., in which they, or what they undergo, are alike). End your essay with a comment on how some of what you have pointed out contributes to what you take the theme of the work to be. (Of course, you'll have to commit yourself to some specific view about what that theme, or some important part of it, is.)
Comment on what's at stake in this question.
Part C. (39 points). Here you were to answer three questions (at 13 points each), making sure not to write on a work you covered in Section B (and leaving out the story you wrote upon in Writing Assignment #2). The task in each case was show your accurate awareness of the meaning of various critical concept(s) the question you chose focused upon, in the light of the relevant specific details of the work it proposed for discussion.
C-1. Concerning Walker's "Everyday Use": What kind of a person is the narrator of this story? Does she come across as someone we respect, or as someone we don't. Cite at least one specific fact that qualifies as a reason for the answer you give.
Sample answer: The mother regards herself as inept in social settings outside the circle of her immediate aquaintance, but is proud of her ability to provide for herself and her family, and for her skill in traditional farm practices (like slaughering hogs). This modesty strikes us as sincere, and thus contributes to our sense of her as someone who is not likely to spare herself by, for example, distorting a tale to make herself look good. Moreover, though she describes herself as accustomed to being cowed by her elder daughter, who has long had a knack for making her feel clutzy and ignorant, she rises to the occasion at the crucial moment and makes what the audience has no doubt is the wise and just decision, to stick to her guns in her original decision to give the family quilts to her younger daughter. We appreciate that she, like we, has seen through her elder daughter's pretence at having come to rethink her earlier dismissal of her family as hopelessly backward oafs.
OR: What does this story say about the kind of individualism Dee represents? How does it make this point?
Comment: There are a couple of different lines along which one might one might build an answer to this question. (1) We could point out the paradox that while Dee has indeed shown what might in another person have been an admirable initiative in insisting on leaving her home town to get a university education, her motive in doing this has been to escape the shame of being associated with her family and its circumstances, in which she can see nothing redeeming. While she prides herself on ditching her given name in favor of an African one (emphasizing her "true" identity, and rejecting the one supposedly imposed on her ancestors by slave-holders), in fact she has internalized the assumptions (and attendant blindness) of the white people in the area. Despite her "declaration of independence," then, she is not the sort of individualist who embodies a self-consciously autonomous judgment: she's actually an unreflective conformist, a kind of sheep. (To the degree that she looks forward to showing off the quilts as marvelous works of art, she's anticipating the pleasure of being recognized by others as a person of taste -- according to their standards.) (2) She does, however, embody one kind of "individualism": despite all her pretensions of frustrated charity in not being able to help her pitiful relatives rise to respectable ways, she is one of those people who is basically out only for herself. (The other use that we know she would make of the quilts is to dramatize herself as a "self-made" person -- wholly responsible, in virtue of her unaccountable intelligence and strength of will, for having risen above her dismal origins, and owing no debt to sacrifices on their part.)
OR: At the end of the story Dee tells her mother and sister, "You don't understand...your heritage." How does this remark function, for the reader, as an instance of dramatic irony?
Comment: Her mother's remark that the name Dee came from her aunt and grandmother reminds us that, in casting it aside in favor of some "African" name, Dee has forgotten what they did with their lives, never having had any interest in them in the first place, because for her they have counted for nothing more than "dumb country niggers" (since that's the way they looked to the people Dee has always looked up to, and has learned to see with the eyes of). The fact that she has to be reminded of the details connected with the history of the butter paddle she appropriates to make a center-piece for her table says the same thing. If more were needed (it's not),. the remarks on Question B-1, above, contain other facts that could be pulled out and put to use for showing how it is Dee, not her relatives, who doesn't understand or appreciate her heritage.
C-2. Concerning Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place": What is the point of view from which the story is told? What problems would arise if the story were narrated by the old waiter?
Relevant things to pick among: The story is told from a non-participant point of view. More specifically: until the epiphantic moment (see the comment on the next option), the narrator confines himeself to the objective (quasi-dramatic) point of view, telling us only what can be seen and heard by an observer outside the characters, watching them move and listening to them talk and registering the details of the scene. (There is an instant -- when the narrator tells us that the young waiter's way of speaking to the old man who's staying late is of a sort "stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners" -- in which teller becomes an "editorial" narrator.) When the old waiter, having closed up shop, continues with himself the conversation he'd been having with the younger waiter, the narration moves into a different register: interior monologue, conveying the older waiter's private process of thought as he tries to reach clarity for himself about what after all has been motivating him to stay late at the cafe, and to try to operate it in the way that he has. He finally formulates for himself, and tidies up in his own mind, what up to now has been unclear, not only to us, but to him: the "clean, well-lighted place" is a refuge against being overwhelmed by a sense of despair at the great "darkness and disorder" that ultimately swallows up all human endeavor, and at the same time what makes it possible to live in consciousness of this darkness, instead of taking flight from it into forgetfulness (a concession to oblivion). Once this self-clarification is achieved, and the older waiter is unsuccessful in finding a suitable place open for himself to situate himself in for the duration of the night, he betakes himself home to bed, where he knows he will lie awake until morning. (See the comment on the third question option, below.) If Hemingway were to have tried to have the older waiter tell his own story, he would have had to forego the older waiter's stoic self-possession (the character would have become talkative, putting himself on display), and risk having him come off as self-pitying or self-congratulating. Instead, by crafting a voice that subtely echoes the pace and dignity of the older waiter's own speech and thougth, the author manages almost invisibly to endorse the protagonist's qualities of character and view of things.
OR: What is the epiphantic moment of this story, and what new light does it throw on the opening dialogue between the two waiters?
Some points to work with: The epihantic moment is the passage in which the old waiter is trying to put his finger on just what it is that makes it so important for him to keep the particular cafe open at night in the particular way he feels it has to be done. (This is a person for whom self-knowledge serious, something important to achieve.) He reaches the conclusion that there's something ominous that the cafe, just so arranged, is an antidote to, and what this is is a pervading negation, in the larger situation within which human life is situated, of all significance to human thought or feeling or action. This negation cosmic indifference and disorder (in respect of human ideas of design) he calls nada -- "nothing." What is threatening, that is, is not something, but the lack of any overall point or purpose to human existence, any detectable design immanent in the universe as a whole, any supervisory being whose witness and care ultimately redeems or censures the moral choices individuals make. This is what he expresses by replacing with the word nada all the key terms -- Father, heaven, divine will, its accomplishment, ..., grace -- of the two principle prayers within the religious tradition that has historically defined the country and culture in which he finds himself (Spain). For the protagonist, this moment of insight makes sense of his earlier insistance to the younger waiter on the need not to be impatient about closing up for the night. For us, it puts in a new light the conversation between the two with which the story opens, about the old customer's attempt at suicide. We know now what must have unconsciously struck the older waiter when the younger replied to his question about why the old man did it: "Nothing." When the older waiter immediately asks "How do you know it was nothing?" we now realize he sensed that the old man, whose wife has died, might have been in a despair similar to his own. When the younger waiter replies, "He has plenty of money," we realize, now, what a gulf of assumptions and values lie between the two. And we realize, too, that the older waiter understands this in a way that the younger waiter does not. We now see the older waiter's patience with the younger waiter in a new light: it is not weary and frustrated, but understanding -- unjudgmental and resigned. When we reread the story, we cannot help viewing the two waiters' behavior, and the possible predicament of the old customer, in the light of a thought the older waiter traverses, finally consciously, during the epiphantic passage: "Some lived in it and never felt it, but he knew it was all nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada."
OR: What happens in the denouement of the story, and how does it contribute to our feelings about the older waiter.
Most relevant point to make: The old waiter departs for home, from his disappointing passage through the bar where he has gone after closing the cafe he likes to keep open for people, like himself, who are conscious of the fact that they live in the midst of an a overwhelming darkness (the cosmic abyss, within which human existence is finally transitory and fundamentally meaningless). This mindless process of disintegration and oblivion is the source of an anxiety that, for him, is temporarily allayed by tiny pockets of light, cleanness and order. He won't be able to sleep until daylight. We feel sympathetic for him. Even if we don't share his premises, we understand his malaise at this "nothing" that, for him, negates the meaning of any human suffering or the worth of any human decision. And we respect his uncoerced, spontaneous decision to respond with charity towards the suffering of others who may share this outlook on life. There's a touch at the very end, though, that may especially stick with us, enhancing our respect: he reflects on his inability to sleep until dawn in an entirely modest, un-self-dramatizing way: "After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it."
C-3. Concerning Porter's "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" (not the film): What is the crucial anagnorisis in the story. In what does its importance lie?
Answer: Granny is shocked to discover, as she thinks, that she has been jilted by God Himself, who does not show up as she expects, in the role of the bridegroom who comes to take those who are chosen. She had always counted on her life of duty and suffering to have entitled her to be saved. Her recognition that she is not is devastating.
OR: What is the significance of the emotional state Granny is in when she blows out the candle? (Of course you'll have to say precisely what that state is, and what conveys it!)
Answer: She is furious, and determined not to forgive God for having abandoned her. Since the candle (according to the narrator) is identified with "herself," her blowing it out represents a self-extinguishing. Within the framework of traditional Christian teaching (and Catholic in particular), suicide for any reason bodes ill for the prospects of the committer's eternal soul. Killing oneself out of unforgiving anger at God Himself looks worst of all.
C-4. Concerning Malamud's "Angel Levine": OR: Cite a couple of instances of peripeteia in the story, and explain some aspect of the significance of one of them.
Possibilities: Reversals of result with respect to intention don't seem to play much role in this story. But if we consider reversals of fortune, there are
- the one Levine suffers (in the exposition of the story) from prosperity to misery: his abandonment by his children, the bankruptcy of his business, the dire illness of his wife, his own wracking back pain that makes it nearly impossible for him to do any work at all;
- in the course of the story (gradual, not sudden), there is the transformation of Levine from a confident fellow redolent of diction into a more and more shabby and dissolute figure;
- then of course there are the reversals at the end in response to Manischewitz's profession of faith that Levine is indeed an angel of God:
- when the Levine transforms from a degraded tramp into a polished figure with strong black wings, and
- when Manischewitz's wife is restored to health.
OR: What are a couple of ways in which the protagonist's wife figures in the story?
Possibilities: Her affliction is Manischewitz's affliction. The fact that he is so distressed at her suffering, and yet never entertains the wish that death might relieve her of it (because he cannot bear to imagine living without her), helps to establish him in our eyes as a good man, and to intensify our sympathy with his incomprehension of how God could allow a person such as he to suffer the disasters he does. The fact that her recovery at the end is sufficient, for him, to compensate for all his other losses reinforces his stature in our eyes. The story refuses to gratify our desire for simplicity, because in the end it is open to us to ask why, if the point of God's intervention in Manischewitz's life was to deepen his faith, did God use this other person's pain as an instrument to that end.
C-5. Describe carefully the tone of the speaker's voice in W.H. Auden's "The Unknown Citizen" OR Wilfred Owens' "Dulce et Decorum Est." Take care to note any relevant complexities. (The tone may, for instance, change at one or more moments in the discourse, or there may be several feelings at work at once, even towards the same object or situation.) If you detect irony at work, describe it exactly, and take care to distinguish whether it is verbal (i.e., part of what the speaker expresses) or dramatic (i.e., at the speaker's expense). If you write upon this question, be sure to ask me for a copy of the text of the poem you want to write upon.
Part D. (1 point) Answer one of the following questions. Write your answer directly on this sheet. A single sentence will sufficient. If time permits, and you wish to do so, you may answer two more, on a bonus basis.
D-1. Give an example of verbal irony. (You can make one up. It shouldn't be one I've used in class.)
D-2. Explain what is wrong with this statement: "One conflict in 'Angel Levine' is Manischevitz's faith as a Jew."
Answer: The statement is logically garbled. For there to be a conflict, we need to have two forces, and they have to be in opposition to each other. Here what is cited as a conflict is a single thing -- one which could potentially play a role as part of a conflict, but cannot by itself constitute one.
D-3. Explain what is wrong with this statement: "The climax of this story takes place at the end of the denouement."
Answer: The statement is conceptually confused. It presupposes that a climax is a part of the denouement. But as these terms are in fact used, the denouement (if there is one) follows the climax.
D-4. Explain what is wrong with this statement: "The song George whistles in Porter's story is 'Oh, Shenandoah'."
Answer: In Porter's story, George does not whistle anything.
D-5. Define "epiphany."
Answer: Click. A single sentence capturing the essential points of the first sentnce, would suffice.