English 320: The Short Story
Detailed Prep Sheet
for the Mid-Term Examination.
[Note: If you print off this prep
sheet for use off-line, remember that anything that shows up
as underlined is not being singled out for special emphasis,
but represents a link that you can follow-up only by going
back online and clicking on it.]
The Mid-Term Exam is worth 100 points. It consists of 3 obligatory
sections. Section A is a take-home essay that you will bring to class with
you for the exam session and attach to the rest of the exam, which you will take
in-class. Sections B and C will be administered as an in-class close-book
exam. Altogether, you
will write 2 short essays (worth 25 points apiece) and a series of briefer answers
(worth 50 points). Each question you write upon in Sections A, B, and C
must be upon a different story. There will also be a brief optional
extra-credit section, Section D, which you will write (if you choose to do so)
at the end of the in-class exam session.
The following information should help you prepare thoroughly
for the Mid-Term. (You should also consult the General
Prep Sheet for the Mid-Term.)
Section A. (25
points). This portion of the Mid-Term is a
take-home essay. Choose one of the following
stories. (Remember that you will not be able to write upon this story
during the in-class portion of the exam.)
- Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"
- Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O."
- Porter's "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall"
- Walker's "Everyday Use"
- Singer's "Gimpel the Fool"
- Boyle's "Greasy Lake"
- London's "To Build a Fire"
For the story you select, write an essay of around 300 words on one
of the following topics. The same criteria for evaluating your essay
will apply as for your essay in Section A.
Option 1. Using the
scheme explained in our Glossary of Critical Terms, classify the plot of
one of the following stories in terms of the characterization of the
protagonist. (Along the way you might ask whether or not the story you
are focusing on is an initiation story.) Then explain how the story
exploits plot-type it embodies in the service of its particular thematic
Option 2. In their parting shot
on the subject of character and characterization, our editors are at pains
to get novice readers to consider that, in short stories, character may be
more fundamental than plot. "The action of a story," they
point out, usually grows out of the personality of its protagonist and the
situation he or she faces. As critic Phyllis Bottome observed, 'If a
writer is true to his characters they will give him his plot.'"
Demonstrate some of the important ways in which the character of the
protagonist creates action, in
the story you choose to focus on, and explain how what this causes us to
notice is important to the story's overall reason for being.
For this take-home portion of the mid-term:
- Type or print-out your essay. (That is: please do not submit
handwritten copy.) Use single-spacing with one-inch margins and
12-point font. (If you use a typewriter, you'll automatically end up
with this. If you print out an essay, be sure to set the font at
12-point. [I would appreciate it if you would use Times New Roman
font, but this is not mandatory.])
- Be sure to put your name, section, and e-mail address in the upper
right-hand corner of the page. (If you are enrolled in one section,
but attending the other, be sure to mention that fact.)
- Bring your essay with you to the in-class exam session. You must
turn it in there.
- On our exams and in our essays, students are acting under Kansas State
University's provisions regarding Academic
Honesty and Plagiarism. An important point in these provisions
is that instructors may spell out what degree of collaboration is
permitted among students on specific assignments. For
this exam, you are positively encouraged to use the class Message Board to
help each other in thinking through the facts and issues that are relevant
to any of the questions on this prep sheet. This includes your
take-home essay. However, the composition and editing of your
essay must be entirely your own work. You
must include a signed statement at the end of your essay signifying that
you are entirely responsible for the composition and editing of your
Sections B and C (and the optional extra-credit
questions in Section D) will be written in-class. You will not
be able to consult the textbook or any notes.
Section B. (25
points) From the questions below (on the exam I'll eliminate 4),
write upon one (1).
Each answer should consist of at least one solidly developed,
well-organized paragraph. (Shoot for at least 200
words.) Each is worth 25 points. In this Section (A), do not
write on any story that you write upon in Parts A, B or C of the
As for the criteria I will be using in evaluating your answers
to the questions in Section A, you can find a succinct
statement here and a more detailed
- In explaining to his lecture audience his concept of
unconscious motivation, Freud devised an imaginary story
of a rowdy whose behavior forces those in attendance at
the lecture to take action. What are the facts in
this story about social interaction that illustrate the
following features of human psychology: a wishful
impulse inconsistent with the person's self-image; the
self-image with which this impulse is inconsistent; the
motive behind repression; the repression itself; neurotic
symptoms; the cost to the person of these symptoms; the
work of psycho-analysis.
- What are some facts of "The Story of an Hour"
that make clear that the protagonist did indeed love her
husband? (Be sure to consider the events
before she goes off to be by herself as well as at what
happens after she is alone.) How is this important
in directing the audience's reflection to the institution
of marriage rather than to "men" as the subject
of the story's theme? What does the story invite us
to think about that subject? Explain.
- In Updike's "A & P," what do we understand
as the most pressing anxieties of the protagonist,
judging from his thoughts, observations, feelings in the
run up to the story's climax? (Be sure to give
examples of how these fears are conveyed!
Among the topics worth considering: Stokesy, the
housewives in the aisles, the nature of the protagonist's
work) How are these fears important in our
understanding of the choice the protagonist makes in the
climactic scene? (Put another way: when we
rethink the story, we notice that a conflict is already
at work, in the protagonist, and not so latently, long
before the conflict comes to a head in the story's
climax. Are these two conflicts related in some
important way?) How does your awareness of
those fears effect the way you feel towards the
protagonist? What does this have to do with what
you take to be some important part of the story's theme?
- What are several of the important differences between the
mentality and outlook of the narrator and the protagonist
of Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"? For
each that you specify, you'll want to indicate how the
story conveys it. Why are these differences
important within the story as a whole? (You'll want
to commit yourself to some view of the effect the story
is designed to have on the reader, or some understanding
of the story's overall theme.)
- Is Gimpel drawn as a flat character or a round
character? Explain how this is so, and how it fits
what you see as the purpose of the story Singer has
- What are the leading traits of the narrator of Walker's
story "Everyday Use"? How are these
important in both the generation of, and the resolution
of, the central conflict?
- Explain how the foil relationship between the two sisters
in Walker's "Everyday Use" contributes to the
overall theme of the story.
- [A different sort of foil question -- see how?:] In Boyle's "Greasy Lake," how does the
encounter with the two girls at the end of the story
differ from their earlier encounter with the girl in the
blue Chevy? How do you account for the
difference? When at the end of the story the girl
offers to party with the three friends, what makes the
narrator say, "I thought I was going to cry"?
Section C. (50 points) You will write short responses to
5 additional questions. Each question will be
worth 10 points. You shouldn't need more than a couple of
sentences for each item you take up. In Section C, you are
not eligible to write upon
- any story in this section twice or
- any story you already wrote upon in Section A or B.
Here are some examples of the kinds of questions
you might expect to encounter in Section C. You should
use them as models for fashioning corresponding questions about
other stories. (Some of the questions
provided here as examples only may actually show up
on the exam..) One the exam, the questions will be divided into groups
from which you will be allowed to pick one to write upon. (You can expect,
then, that you won't be addressing the same critical concept in all of your
answers.) The purpose of this section is to enable you
- to show your awareness of how a variety of critical concepts bring us to
frame relevant curiosities.
- to show you know how to ground a claim in relevant evidence
- to show you know how to follow up an observation with a successful inquiry
into its significance
- to show that you have practiced doing these things with the stories in our
- How does "Godfather Death" communicate the view
that Divine Providence has established an order of nature
in which the world's population will always be stable?
- Here's an instance of a question that gives you some proposal
about some aspect of a story's theme and asks you to notice what
details of the story might be relevant to it.
- What point does Freud use the story of the horse of
Schilda to make about the demands of civilization and the
psychological health of the individual? How does he use the story
to do this?
- What would be the analogous question we would pose whenever we
have an allegorical parable? (What point is Jesus making
in the Parable of the Good Seed? Is it identical to -- or
different from -- the point he is making in the Parable of the
Sower? [By the way, does the object "seed" stand for
the same thing in each parable?])
- Discuss how the characterization (flat or round, static
or dynamic) of the Death and of the doctor support what
you take to be the theme of "Godfather Death."
- How does "A & P" work as a story of
- What other stories would it make sense to expect a question of
this form upon?
- Is Updike's characterization of Queenie in "A &
P" flat or round? Explain you answer, and then
say something about how this choice makes sense given
what the story is ultimately concerned with.
- What is some important element of foreshadowing in the
plot of Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?
What does it foreshadow, and how? When we reread
the story, how do we come to see this as important in the
portrayal of the protagonist's character?
- What other stories would it make sense to expect a question of
this form upon?
- What is some instance of foreshadowing in Faulkner's
"A Rose for Emily"? The narrator knows
where this is leading, but why doesn't he disclose this
to the reader at this moment?
- Why did it make sense to follow up the answer to the first
question in this case by a different sort of question than appears as a
follow up in the previous item? Do we nevertheless in this
case eventually also come round to issues about the protagonist's
- What are we to understand as the climax of "The
Story of an Hour"? How does it qualify as the
climax? How does it also qualify as an epiphany?
- See how a question of this type would be appropriate for any
of the short stories we have taken up?
- What is the denouement of "The Story of an
Hour"? Point out some way in which it
contributes to the overall theme of the story.
- Are there any short stories we have read so far for which this
question would lead to a dead end? Here's a variation:
- What constitutes the dénouement of London's "To
Build a Fire," and what of importance would be lost
if it were eliminated?
- See how the sort of "thought experiment" exploited
in the follow-up here amounts to a special way of exploiting
the general concept of foil?
- What constitutes the epiphantic moment of Chopin's "The Story of an
Hour"? What thematically important issues does it eventually
set us to unpacking?
- Which of our stories so far offer payoff for this line of
- What happens to the narrator of Poe's "A Tell-Tale
Heart" as he approaches the telling of climactic moment of the
story he is telling us? What motivates this?
- Note that this question turns upon the distinction between what is
told (described) by a dramatized narrator and what is exhibited
(shown) by that narrator in the present. Dramatized narrators
are a special possibility when we have a participant narrator.
Hence this question would be useful to pose for any story in which we
have a dramatized narrator. For which of the stories we've
read so far is this the case?
- "Sonny's Blues" is an example of a story that begins "in
medias res." What does this mean? What are some important
events of the story that the narrator loops back to tell us? How are
they important to understanding the story's climactic episode?
- Are there any other stories we've read so far that invite us
to pursue this agenda of curiosity?
- How does the title of Katherine Anne Porter's story connect with the
story's epiphantic moment? What issues does this raise for us to
- Does this question invite being adapted to some other stories
covered on this exam?
- What sort of "everyday use" do we figure Dee
would put the quilts to if she were to be given
them? What does this tell us about the values that
are most important to her?
- Here we find ourselves getting curious about some kind of action we
could predict for a character beyond the action actually portrayed in
the story. Can you remember what, in our class discussion,
prompted us to pursue this kind of thread in the cases of Dee and
Maggie? (What could we come up with if we were to ask the
corresponding question about Maggie?) Would this work with
any other stories we've read so far?
- What temptation does the Evil One present to
Gimpel? What are we to make of his response to it?
- Are some other stories we have met with structured around a crucial
decision on the part of the protagonist? In cases where this is
so, are we led to be curious about the motivations behind whatever
decision results? Do we find the motivation to be simple,
or are multiple factors at work? Does the understanding we reach
of the character's motivation affect our sense of that character's
character? [Note the double sense of this term
"character" in our vocabulary.]
- What would be lost if Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O."
were to be narrated by a limited omniscient narrator with an inside view
on the experience of Sister? (For the purposes of this section of
the exam you need to specify only one, even though in engaging a story
outside the exam we wouldn't stop with that!.) Why is this
- What has to be the case for a question of this form to be
relevant in connection with a particular story? Here's a
variation that, in such situations, might also be useful: what
of thematic importance in Welty's story would be lost if it were to be
recast as "Why Sis Lives at the P.O.," and told by
Stella-Rondo? [Incidentally: see how these questions are
special instances of exploiting foil relationships?]
- How is the characterization of Bobinôt
important to the overall effect of Chopin's story
- What is the recipe that generated this question?
Can we follow that recipe to good effect with some other stories on our
- Explain how the setting in Chopin's "The Storm"
relates to the main action of the story. Conclude
by pointing out how the behavior of the storm affects our sense of what Chopin
is suggesting on the level of the story's theme.
- Note that setting frequently plays a causal and/or conditional role in
a story's plot (and that, when this is so, it can be in several distinct
respects). But we have to be careful not to force a symbolic role
upon elements of the setting. What are the clues that some feature
of setting is playing a symbolic role, when it is, as it is in "The
- What are some features of London's "To Build a
Fire" that retain their interest for us enough to
motivate us someday to reread it, and that hold our
interest during rereading? Explain.
- Obviously, we undertake this question only if we think there are some features that work this
way! (But there are lots of different sorts of features that can
work this way. Can you think of how this works in some of the
stories we've read so far?)
Section D is an optional bonus section
that will be
worth 4 points. Here you will be given a series of
statements from which you will select up to two
(2). For each (worth 2 points apiece) you
will spell out what is conceptually confused about it.
(Here you will be welcome to pick a statement that is on some story
you have already written upon.) Here are examples of
the kinds of statements you may expect to encounter.
(Again, some of them may actually show up on the exam.)
- "The tale 'Appointment in Samarra'
has no moral because its theme is an immoral one, in that it cynically
implies that people have no free will, but are controlled by fate, and this is simply not
- "The fairy tale 'Godfather Death' is an example of a
story of initiation, because the godchild is initiated
into a secret medical lore by his godfather, and because,
later on, he is initiated into the deeper secret of the
connection between life and death, and to the depth of
Death's anger at what he has done."
- "In 'The Story of an Hour' the dénouement leads swiftly
to the story's climax."
- "The conflict in Walker's "Everyday Use" is Dee's
- "In the plot of the Parable of the Good Seed, the
exposition is Jesus' explanation of the story's moral at
- "The mother in Baldwin's 'Sonny's Blues' is a flat character
because she doesn't undergo any significant change in the course of the
- "The protagonist of London's "To Build a
Fire" is a dynamic character because he is
powerfully motivated to survive against all odds, even
though in the end he fails."
- "The omniscient narrator of 'The Jilting of Granny Weatherall' is
ultimately shown to be an unreliable central consciousness."
- 'The narrator of 'Sonny's Blues' is James Baldwin."
- "The narrator of 'To Build a Fire' is a reliable omniscient
- "Gimpel's wife Elka is an example of a round
character because she becomes "fat and handsome" eating all
the food Gimpel brings home from his bakery.
In Section D, you are not restricted in the questions you
choose from among any of those given on the examination.
Your answers should focus on the conceptual misunderstandings at
work in the statements you pick for examination. Note that
these do not depend on the particular facts of the story
involved, but only upon the meaning of a certain key term (word
or phrase) as that meaning is commonly understood in discussions
about works of literature (i.e., "in standard literary
Return to the general prep
sheet for the Mid-Term Exam.