ENG 444/544: American Literature from 1945 to the Present

Spring 2010 Mid-Term Examination Preparation

The mid-term examination will consist of four parts: a matching section asking you to link quotations to the texts in which the quotations appear; an essay discussing either Saul Bellow's Seize the Day or Jack Kerouac's On the Road; an essay examining a single poem from among those discussed in class; and an essay discussing either Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. The first two parts will be written in class on Wednesday, March 3, while the second two parts will be written in class on Friday, March 5. The examination is worth 25% of the course grade, or 250 points. A more detailed description of each part of the examinatiuon with the assigned point values is provided below.

Mid-Term Examination Parts I & II [To be written on Wednesday, March 3]

To Be Written on Wednesday, March 3

Part I. Matching [60 points]. When you arrive on Wednesday, you will receive the key to the assigned readings presented below and Part I of the examination consisting of 20 quotations from the nine pieces of fiction and drama discussed to date in the course. Each answer is worth 3 points for a total of 60 points. Your goal is to match the letter of the alphabet assigned to the relevant story to the quotation. For this portion of the examination, you will have nothing on your desk but the key, the list of 20 quotations, and a pen or pencil. All other materials must be placed on the floor or on a chair beside you. To complete this portion of the examination, simply place the correct letter of the alphabet in the blank preceding the quotation as illustrated in the examples below. Please note that you will respond to 20 quotations but there are only 9 assigned readings. As a result, some titles will be the correct answer three or more times. There is no way by process of elimination to determine a correct answer, so do not waste time trying to figure out which titles have already been used and which haven't.

 

A Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
B "Death of a Traveling Salesman" by Eudora Welty
C "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O"Connor
D The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
E "Goodbye and Good Luck" by Grace Paley
F "Last of the Solid Gold Watches" by Tennessee Williams
G On the Road by Jack Kerouac
H Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
I "A Woman, Young and Old" by Grace Paley

Here are some sample matching questions. See if you can answer them without difficulty using the above key:

_____ "I have you placed as the type that loses the girl to the George Raft type or the William Powell type."

_____ Blue Roses! My gosh, yes--Blue Roses! That's what I had on my tongue when you opened the door!

_____ So now, darling [girl], tell this story to your mama from your young mouth. She don't listen to a word from me. She only screams, "I'll faint, I'll faint." Tell her after all I'll have a husband, which, as            everybody knows, a woman should have at least one before the end of the story.

Part II. Essay on EITHER On the Road OR Seize the Day [70 points]. After you submit to me the completed matching section of the examination, I will give you Part II of the examination and you will respond to ONE of the following topics. The topics identified below will appear on the examination exactly as they are stated here. Come to class prepared to write your response on the lined paper that I will provide. You may use your books and may have passages marked or notes in the books; you are also required to bring a thesis statement and outline or list of supporting examples on a 4 X 6 index card. Here are the topics for the two novels. Write about ONLY Seize the Day OR On the Road.

Essay Topics for Seize the Day

  1. We discussed Tommy Wilhelm as a tragic figure in Bellow's novel, but members of the class disagreed about the effect of the novel's final scene, some arguing--as do the liner notes on our edition of the novel--that Wilhelm experiences an epiphany initiating new hope, while others viewed the novel and its ending more pessimistically. State whether you read the end of the novel as optimistic or pessimistic and defend your reading by relying on examples from throughout Tommy Wilhelm's experience.
  2. Consider how the novel's structure might contribute to our understanding of how the title, Seize the Day, functions relative to Tommy Wilhelm and his dilemma. If you choose to pursue this topic recall that the novel maintains the traditional unities of time and place by restricting the present time action to one day in Wilhelm's life, but allowing movement through time and place in Wilhelm's memory. Again, defend your position by selecting examples from throughout the novel.
  3. Examine Tamkin's role in the plot and in Tommy Wilhelm's life. Is there any validity to his claim that he is "treating" Wilhelm, or is he simply a con man exploiting a mark? Does Tamkin, through his actions and advice effect a comment on the concept, seize the day? Again, defend your position by selecting examples from throughout the novel.

Essay Topics for On the Road

  1. Kerouac once explained that "Beat" was derived from three related meanings: "hip" [Some blew "hot" like Kandel; others blew "cool."]; "beat" as in beaten up, beaten down, tired and battered; and beatific as in angelic or holy. Since On the Road is considered the quintessential Beat novel, we should be able to see all three meanings of "Beat" at work in the novel. Having read and discussed Kerouac's novel, present your own sense of what it means to be "Beat" and present and discuss three key passages from On the Road, one to illustrate each of the three meanings identified by Kerouac.
  2. In your view, is Sal Paradise a static or a dynamic character? That is, does Sal change or mature over the course of the novel and, as a result, represent a set of values in contrast to those represented by the decidedly static Dean Moriarty? Or at novel's end, does Paradise remain indistinguishable from Moriarty? State a thesis defining what, in your view, Sal Paradise represents and how Dean Moriarty functions in the novel to direct our understanding of Paradise.
  3. Discuss how description of the environment functions in the novel. When Paradise, in isolation, describes the mountains or a river or the plains, do these descriptive passages function somehow to direct our attention to a message about America in the 1940s? If so, precisely what, in your view, is the function of these often lyrical descriptive passages?

 

To Be Written on Friday, March 5

Part III. Analysis of a Single Poem [50 points]. Write a thesis driven examination of any ONE of the following poems. Your interpretive analysis should somehow place the poem in the context of the Beat movement through discussion of its imagery, formal qualities, and--in your view--message. If you write about one of the Beat women poets, you should establish a frame for discussing the poem through the ideas presented in Ronna C. Johnson's overview of the Beat women writers or the interview with the poet as well as from your own interpretive analysis. If you write about Ferlinghetti or Ginsberg, you might examine the political issues or fundamental expression of value sustaining the poem. In any case, your interpretive analysis should develop a thesis through a close reading of the poem's imagery, formal qualities, and, when relevant, allusions. You must use your books and may have passages marked or notes in the books; you are also required to bring a thesis statement and outline or list of supporting examples on a 4 X 6 index card. I will not distribute copies of the poems at the examination, so you MUST bring your professor's pack. Choose ONE POEM from the following list:

  1. By Diane Di Prima: "The Quarrel" or "Requiem."
  2. By Joanne Kyger: "Tapestry" or "The Pigs for Circe in May"
  3. By Lenore Kandel: "First They Slaughtered the Angels" or "Junk/Angel."
  4. By Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poem 1, 2, 3, 5, or 6.
  5. By Allen Ginsberg: "A Supermarket in California" or "Sunflower Sutra," or "America."

 

Part IV. Essay on EITHER Death of a Salesman or The Glass Menagerie [70 points]. The topics identified below will appear on the examination exactly as they are stated here. Come to class prepared to write your response on the lined paper that I will provide. You may use your books and may have passages marked or notes in the books; you are also required to bring a thesis statement and outline or list of supporting examples on a 4 X 6 index card. Here are the topics for the two plays. Write about ONLY Death of a Salesman OR The Glass Menagerie.

Essay Topics for Death of a Salesman

  1. In "Tragedy and the Common Man," Miller argues that tragedy results from the "presence of a character who is willing to lay down his life...to secure...his sense of personal dignity" and that tragedy is "the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly" (144). In your view, to what extent does Willy Loman fulfill Miller's requirements for a tragic hero? Consider these quoted passages and Miller's broad argument in the essay to discuss Loman as an effective or a failed tragic hero.
  2. To what extent is Miller's play an aggressive challenge to the American Dream? In what ways is this challenge enacted and what conclusions can you draw about Miller's purpose in challenging this concept? Raymond Williams' comments in "The Realism of Arthur Miller" (313-325) as well as Miller's comments in our assigned readings might help to provide a frame for discussing Death of a Salesman and the American Dream. For an in-class essay, you might narrow your focus by centering on a single character in the play.

Essay Topics for The Glass Menagerie

  1. To what extent is Tennessee Williams' play a comment on the American Dream? Raymond Williams' comments in "The Realism of Arthur Miller" (313-325) as well as Miller's comments in our assigned readings might help to provide a frame for discussing The Glass Menagerie and the American Dream. For an in-class essay, you might narrow your focus by centering on a single character in the play: Amanda, Tom, Laura, or Jim.
  2. Explore how the glass menagerie [especially the unicorn] and the concept of blue roses function in the play. Note that blues roses typically imply mystery or attaining the impossible, granted wishes. This topic would, of course, require some investigation of traditional notions regarding unicorns and blue roses. Of course, an investigation of how these particular concepts function in the play would necessarily involve an analysis of Laura.