English 340:  Multicultural American Literature                    Mid-Term Examination [300 Points]

Your mid-term examination will consist of three sections:   An identification section including five character names, significant objects, or key phrases selected from the assigned short stories [100 points] and a short essay question asking you to discuss identity and assimilation in three stories [80 points].   Sections I & II will be written on Monday, October 5.   Section III, an essay on The Namesake [120 points], will be written in-class on Wednesday, October 7.  Instructions for completing the identification questions and the text of the short essay question are provided below.  For The Namesake essay on Wednesday, you will write a coherent, detailed discussion of one of the novel’s central characters.   Instructions for completing the essay and the list of acceptable characters are reproduced in Section III of this document.

Section I:  Identification Items [100 Points]

The five identification items [quotations, character names, or objects] will be selected from the assigned short stories.  Your task will be to identify the story and author relevant to the item, then to comment on the significance of each item in four or five concisely worded sentences.  You comments should indicate how the designated item is significant to the narrative structure, a thematic concern, or a conflict in the story.  A list of the stories and authors will be provided with the examination.  In our class discussions we used the following examples of identification items:  a butter churn top, a carved sandalwood box, and the quotation copied below.  Here are sample responses to these three ID items:

A Butter Churn—In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, Dee/Wangero wants to “collect” the hand-carved butter churn and use it as a centerpiece on her table.  For her, the butter churn would become a decorative item that displays her heritage to her college friends.  For Maggie and mom, the churn is something that they use everyday and Maggie even remembers which uncle carved it, although Dee doesn’t.  Because of this conflict, the butter churn reveals how Dee defines “heritage” differently than Maggie and mom and helps us to understand the meaning of the story’s title. 

A Carved Sandalwood Box—In “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” by Jhumpa Lahiri, Lilia keeps the candy that Mr. Pirzada gives her at dinner each evening in this box, which belonged to her Indian grandmother and seems to symbolize for her a connection to her parents’ home country.  Before Mr. Pirzada arrived, Lilia didn’t think much about her ancestry, but his candy gifts came to symbolize for her something special about their friendship and to link her to her family’s cultural past, as is evidenced by her using the sandalwood box to store the candy.

“[She] hastily arranged a marriage with a young man of whom she knew, but lately arrived from Japan, a young man of simple mind it was said, but of kindly heart”—In “Seventeen Syllables” by Hisaye Yamamoto, this statement appears just after Mr. Hayashi has violently destroyed and burned Tome’s haiku award and Tome has explained to Rosie why she married Mr. Hayashi.  It causes us to revise our opinion of Mr. Hayashi, who had been growing increasingly more angry over Tome’s obsession with haiku.  While we probably cannot accept his violent outburst, we at least now understand the circumstances that caused him to explode because he was a simple farmer who showed his kind heart when he agreed to marry Tome with no questions asked.
 
The above answers are samples, not definitive answers.  Every respondent would likely reply differently.  To score well, use character names, summarize [in your view] the principal emphasis of the story, and refer to specific events or to language that supports your point.

 

Section II.  Short Essay on Assimilation and Identity [80 Points].  The strongest answers to this question will use our supplemental readings—Takaki and DuBois, for example—to establish a framework for discussing the two stories that you select.

Many of the stories that we’ve read and discussed address generational conflict and the senses of gain and loss that accompany the younger generation’s assimilation to American cultural values or to values outside the home.  Compare and contrast any TWO of the following stories’ development of this assimilation theme.  Narrow your focus by opening with a definition of the specific relation of assimilation and identity that you would like to explore, making sure that you have selected a focus that applies equally well to each story.  It is probably best to focus on the experience of a single character from each story.

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Seventeen Syllables” by Hisaye Yamamoto

 

Section III.  Essay on a Character in The Namesake  [120 Points]

Write an essay that discusses how ONE of the following characters develops themes of identity and assimilation.  Be sure to carefully plan your response and to begin your essay with a clear, focused thesis statement.  To score well, you will need to present a thesis that identifies the topics that you will cover, develop each topic through discussion of specific examples from the novel, and write a conclusion that identifies how your analysis of the character results in an interpretation of the novel grounded in an identity or assimilation theme.  Of course, Du Bois’ notion of double consciousness and/or Takaki’s notion of “twoness” might help you to focus your address to one of the characters.