Assignment # 3: Flannery O'Connor's violent epiphany (deadline 1/4/2016)

In her short stories, Flannery O’Connor brings her characters to a moment of epiphany when it is no longer possible for them to return to the old ways of life.The proud are humbled, the ignorant are enlightened, and the hypocritical are forced to recognize that the discrepancy between their smug surface and its hollow spirituality is the proof of their inadequacy in the eyes of God.  For O’Connor, this epiphanal moment can only be achieved by violence and destruction: “In my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace….  We hear many complaints about the prevalence of violence in modern fiction, and it is always assumed that this violence is a bad thing and meant to be an end in itself.  With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself.  It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially” (“On Her Own Work”).

In the three stories we read (“A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “Good Country People,” “Everything That Rises Must Converge”), can you find any “moments of epiphany” which are produced in extreme violent situations? How do these violent situations “reveal” the hidden message of God? What mysterious transformations have the characters undergone when they are shocked into an awareness of their smug ignorance? Write an essay of 250-300 words. 


Assignment # 2: Compare and Contrast: (deadline: 12/8)

Write an essay (250-300 words) based on ONE of the following questions:

  1. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) and “The Story of an Hour” (1891) were written during the transitional period in which issues of women’s civil rights and suffrage were hotly debated and women’s access to higher education and entrance to careers outside of domestic work demanded. These two stories provide valuable insights into the predicaments of married middle-class white women in the late 19th-century America. Compare and contrast these two stories and their similar or different ways of protesting against the limited and constraining roles allotted to women during that time. Why do both two stories take place inside a house, and almost entirely within one room of that house? Why do “patches of blue sky” or gazing out a window play a significant part in the action? 
  2. Alienation is the theme of both “A Hunger Artist” and “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Compare and contrast these two stories; examine the details that describe the two protagonists’ loneliness and frustration; their futile interactions with the people that surround them. Why is the panther more popular than the hunger artist? Similarly, why does the spider girl “defeat” the “haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals”? If these two stories are allegorical, what kind of message do these two authors want to deliver to their readers?  


Assignment #1: Maupassant, Poe, Wharton, and Hemingway (deadline: 10/16)

Write an essay (250-300 words) based on ONE of the following questions; cite relevant texts to prove your points:

  1. The ultimate irony of Maupassant's "The Jewelry" comes at the end of the story. Once the secret of Madame Lantin's jewelry is revealed, what details from earlier in the story take on a different significance?
  2. "The Cask of Amontillado" is a chilling story, but Poe uses humorous elements as Montresor recounts his experience with Fortunato. Discuss Poe's use of irony and black humor in the story. 
  3. Write an essay that compares and contrasts the differences (e.g. personalities, lives, facial features, opinions about their daughters, etc.) of Alida Slade and Grace Ansley in Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever."
  4. Find the first indication in "Hills Like White Elephants" that the two main characters are not getting along. What is the first clue about the exact nature of their conflict? Why are they going to Madrid? Why do the characters refrain from speaking about it explicitly?


Postcolonial Voices: (deadline: 6/17)

Write an essay (250-300 words) based on ONE of the following questions; cite relevant texts to prove your points:

  1. In Katherine Mansfield's "Garden Party," what do we learn about Laura when she talks to the workmen about the placement of the marquee? How sure of herself is she? How does she demonstrate confused feelings toward the workmen? Describe Laura's thoughts and feelings when she visits the Scott family and views the corpse. Why does Laura think Scott's dead body is "wonderful, beautiful"? What has Laura learned by the end of the story?
  2. In Jean Rhys's "The Day They Burned the Books," why does Eddie say that he doesn't like daffodils? What do these flowers mean to both Eddie and the young narrator? How do they both feel about the English--and why? What do Mr. Sawyer's books represent to Mrs. Sawyer? Why does she want to destroy them?
  3. In Alice Munro's "Walker Brothers Cowboy," what is the narrator's attitude toward Nora? Compare her description of Nora with her description of her mother. How does our view of the father change when he visits Nora? How does the narrator's view change? Does she feel estrangement or a greater sense of fellowship?
  4. In Margaret Atwood's "Death by Landscape," referring to Lois's collection of paintings of the Canadian wilderness, the narrator says, "Looking at them fills her with a wordless unease." What makes Lois uneasy? What is her relationship to nature? Why is she both drawn to and repelled by nature? What does she see in the paintings?


Mrs. Dalloway (deadline: 4/17)

Write an essay (250-300 words) based on ONE of the following questions; cite relevant texts to prove your points:

1. At one point we learn that "[Septimus] went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare's plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square" (1156). What does this suggest about Septimus's social and political views before he goes to war? In what way might these views have come into conflict with the realities of war that Septimus faced? How are notions of war, empire, and masculinity connected in Mrs. Dalloway?

2. Why does Septimus view Dr. Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw with distrust and even hostility?In what way does the creation of Septimus serve as Woolf's critique of the dominant ideology of British empire, its promotion of macho masculinity, the cult of the hero, and the subordination of women?

3. Woolf creates three incidents in Mrs. Dalloway to unify the otherwise disconnected and fluid thoughts of those passers-by: the motor car scene, the skywriting episode, and the beggar woman singing opposite Regent's Park Tube station. What are their significances? What types of thoughts go through people's minds when they witness these three incidents? What kind of symbolic meaning does each incident have?     


Heart of Darkness (deadline: 3/27)

Write an essay (250-300 words) based on ONE of the following questions; cite relevant texts to prove your points:
  1. How is Brussels portrayed in Heart of Darkness? What kinds of imagery define the city? What does the description of the Company's people hint at Marlow's forthcoming journey into the jungle?
  2. Compare the description of Kurtz's "Intended" (1054-7) with the description of his African mistress (1044). What role does each woman serve in the narrative? Why does Marlow lie to Kurtz's "Intended" and tell her that "The last word [Kurtz] pronounced was--your name"?

"In the outer room the two women knitted black wool feverishly" (1005).
"They were dying slowly--it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now--nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom" (1010).

*drawings courtesy Catherine Aanyango