Detailed Prep Sheet for the Mid-Term Examination (2023)

English 320: The Short Story

Detailed Prep Sheetfor 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 obligatorysections. Section A is a take-home essay that you will bring to class withyou for the exam session and attach to the rest of the exam, which you will takein-class. Sections B and C will be administered as an in-class close-bookexam. Altogether, youwill 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 Cmust be upon a different story.There will also be a brief optionalextra-credit section, Section D, which you will write (if you choose to do so)at the end of the in-class exam session.

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The following information should help you prepare thoroughlyfor the Mid-Term. (You should also consult the GeneralPrep Sheet for the Mid-Term.)

Section A. (25points). This portion of the Mid-Term is atake-home essay. Choose one of the followingstories. (Remember that you will not be able to write upon this storyduring 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 ends.

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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 essay.

Sections B and C (and the optional extra-creditquestions in Section D) will be written in-class. You will notbe able to consult the textbook or any notes.

Section B. (25points) 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 200words.) Each is worth 25 points. In this Section (A), do notwrite on any story that you write upon in Parts A, B or C of the exam.

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As for the criteria I will be using in evaluating your answersto the questions in SectionA, you can find a succinctstatement here and a more detailedexplanation 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 to5 additional questions. Each question will beworth 10 points. You shouldn't need more than a couple ofsentences for each item you take up. In Section C, you arenot 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 questionsyou might expect to encounter in Section C. You shoulduse them as models for fashioning corresponding questions aboutother stories. (Some of the questionsprovided here as examples only may actually show upon the exam..) One the exam, the questions will be divided into groupsfrom 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 youranswers.) 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 reading assignments

Typical questions.

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  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?
    • 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.
  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?
    • 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?])
  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?
    • What other stories would it make sense to expect a question of this form upon?
  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?
    • What other stories would it make sense to expect a question of this form upon?
  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?
    • 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 motivation?
  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?
    • See how a question of this type would be appropriate for any of the short stories we have taken up?
  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.
    • 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?
  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?
    • Which of our stories so far offer payoff for this line of curiosity?
  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?
    • 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?
  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?
    • Are there any other stories we've read so far that invite us to pursue this agenda of curiosity?
  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?
    • Does this question invite being adapted to some other stories covered on this exam?
  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?
    • 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?
  15. 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.]
  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?
    • 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?]
  17. How is the characterization of Bobinôt important to the overall effect of Chopin's story "Storm"?
    • What is the recipe that generated this question? Can we follow that recipe to good effect with some other stories on our list?
  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.
    • 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 Storm"?
  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.
    • 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 sectionthat will beworth 4 points. Here you will be given a series ofstatements from which you will select up to two(2). For each (worth 2 points apiece) youwill spell out what is conceptually confused about it.(Here you will be welcome to pick a statement that is on some storyyou have already written upon.) Here are examples ofthe 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 youchoose from among any of those given on the examination.Your answers should focus on the conceptual misunderstandings atwork in the statements you pick for examination. Note thatthese do not depend on the particular facts of the storyinvolved, but only upon the meaning of a certain key term (wordor phrase) as that meaning is commonly understood in discussionsabout works of literature (i.e., "in standard literarycritical discourse").

Detailed Prep Sheet for the Mid-Term Examination (1)Return to the general prepsheet for the Mid-Term Exam.

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