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.)

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 ends.

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:

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 exam.

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 explanation here.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.)
  5. 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 settled upon.
  6. 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?
  7. Explain how the foil relationship between the two sisters in Walker's "Everyday Use" contributes to the overall theme of the story.
  8. [A different sort of foil question -- see how?:]  In Boyle's "Greasy Lake," how does the heroes' 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

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 

Typical questions.

  1. 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? 
  2. 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?  
  3. 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."
  4. How does "A & P" work as a story of initiation?
  5. 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.
  6. 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?  
  7. 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?
  8. 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? 
  9. 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.  
  10. What constitutes the epiphantic moment of Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?  What thematically important issues does it eventually set us to unpacking?  
  11. 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?  
  12. "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?
  13. 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 consider?
  14. 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?
  15. What temptation does the Evil One present to Gimpel?  What are we to make of his response to it?
  16. 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 important?
  17. How is the characterization of Bobinôt important to the overall effect of Chopin's story "Storm"?
  18. 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.
  19. 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. 

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.)

  1. "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 true."
  2. "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."
  3. "In 'The Story of an Hour' the dénouement leads swiftly to the story's climax."
  4. "The conflict in Walker's "Everyday Use" is Dee's arrogant vanity."
  5. "In the plot of the Parable of the Good Seed, the exposition is Jesus' explanation of the story's moral at the end."
  6. "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 story."
  7. "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."
  8. "The omniscient narrator of 'The Jilting of Granny Weatherall' is ultimately shown to be an unreliable central consciousness."
  9. 'The narrator of 'Sonny's Blues' is James Baldwin."
  10. "The narrator of 'To Build a Fire' is a reliable omniscient narrator."
  11. "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 critical discourse").

    Return to the general prep sheet for the Mid-Term Exam.