English 222 American Literature Questions on Hemingway through Hurston, CSU Fullerton Fall 2013



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Note: see the Journal Schedule and Instructions Page for the details on how to keep your journal, how many questions to respond to for each text, etc.


"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (Norton Vol. D 826-42).

1. In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," how does the text handle Harry's injury and the process whereby he becomes gravely ill and dies? How was he injured, why didn't he treat the wound properly, and what stages of illness can you discern as the story unfolds?

2. In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," it's clear that the presence of the hyena (which is noted several times) symbolizes Harry's approaching death. How, exactly, is the hyena represented so that it accomplishes this goal? Moreover, does the hyena symbolize anything besides Harry's death? If it does, where in the text do you find support for such a reading?

3. In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," what seems most significant about the way Harry analyzes his own life and his present predicament as a writer who still has much worth writing but no time left in which to write it, now that he is on the point of dying? If he thinks of himself as a failure, how does he account for that supposed failure?

4. In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," even though the story is mostly about Harry in his final days, we also hear both from and about his wife Helen. What is her "back story," and what seems to be her perspective on her life, her relationship with Harry, and his illness and passing?

5. In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Harry's final moments or hours are apparently taken up with a dream in which he is loaded into a small plane flown by a friend named Compton, who then flies the plane towards the summit of then-snowy Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. How do you interpret this symbolic journey – as a redemptive vision in which Harry somehow recovers some of the dignity and authenticity he had supposedly squandered, or do you read it in a less positive light? Either way, explain the basis of your own interpretation of Harry's dream.


As I Lay Dying (Norton Vol. D 698-793).

1. There are many narrative voices or "consciousnesses" in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying -- the Bundren family (Anse, Addie, Darl, Vardaman, Cash, Dewey Dell, and Jewel), neighbors Cora and Vernon Tull and others (Peabody, Whitfield, Samson, Armstid, Mosely, and MacGowan). Trace the development of one of the more significant characters through several sections in which that character's words and consciousness are the central factor. Namely, what is revealed about the character, and to what extent does he or she seem to change from one section to the next that you examine?

2. In Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, which relies on a multiplicity of narrative voices to tell its story, it makes sense to suppose that a given character is best understood not simply by means of what he or she says but also, or even primarily, by means of what others think and say. In other words, an individual's identity in Faulkner seems to be made out of a constantly woven and unwoven web of interactions, desires, and assumptions on the part of various characters. Discuss an instance in which we learn at least as much about a given character in this manner as we do from anything that character actually says or is said to be thinking.

3. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is obviously complex in its way of narrating a tale (non-linear, at times fragmentary, partially stream-of-consciousness-based, etc.), but it nonetheless tells a coherent story about the death of Addie Bundren and the quest of the remaining Bundrens (all of them with troubles of their own) to transport her body to Jefferson, Mississippi. Choose one relatively brief section of the text that you find easiest to comprehend and explain how it helps you understand some other section or aspect of the text that you find more difficult to follow.

4. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying might well be interpreted as unfolding in a fundamentally "comic" fictional universe (the author sets most of his tales, this one included, in a fictional but realistic place called Yoknapatawpha County, modeled somewhat after Lafayette County, Mississippi), meaning that in spite of much sadness and misfortune (Addie's death, Darl's eventual madness, Cash's leg injury made even worse by a cement cast, Dewey Dell's unwanted pregnancy, etc.), the story ends on a note of renewal, not despair. Choose one significant event or aspect of the text that you think fits this notion of a comic universe rather than a tragic one. Alternately, you might choose something about the story that you think cannot be subsumed under that heading or concept, and explain why.


From "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (Norton Vol. D 348-50); All Poems (Vol. D 871-80): "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (Vol. D 871); "Mother to Son" (Vol. D 871-72); "I, Too" (Vol. D 872); "The Weary Blues" (Vol. D 872-73); "Mulatto" (Vol. D 873-74); "Song for a Dark Girl" (Vol. D 874-75); "Genius Child" (Vol. D 875); "Visitors to the Black Belt" (Vol. D 875-76); "Note on Commercial Theatre" (Vol. D 876); "Vagabonds" (Vol. D 876-77); "Words Like Freedom" (Vol. D 877); "Madam and Her Madam" (Vol. D 877-78); "Freedom {1}" (Vol. D 878); "Madam's Calling Cards" (Vol. D 878-79); "Silhouette" (Vol. D 879); "Theme for English B" (Vol. D 880).

From "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (Norton Vol. D 348-50)

1. In "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," what basic argument does Langston Hughes advance regarding the development of African-American art in the United States? How is jazz central to his argument? That is, what qualities does jazz possess that supposedly make it ideal as a vehicle for a genuinely "black" mode of expression?

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (Vol. D 871)

2. Who is the "I" that speaks in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"? The Rivers the rivers in this poem are obviously charged with symbolic meaning in that they reference historical experience and the flow of time. But what more specific connotations can be found in some of the eight or so references to rivers? For example, the Euphrates, the Congo, or the Mississippi that carried Abraham Lincoln to New Orleans?

"Mother to Son" (Vol. D 871-72)

3. What is the most important piece of advice that the mother in "Mother to Son" imparts to her son? What should we make of the "crystal stair" metaphor that she uses at the beginning and end? Consider, for example, that it could be an allusion to the story of Jacob's dream about a ladder ascending to heaven, a dream he had while fleeing from his brother Esau – see Genesis 28:10-19. How would that kind of allusiveness affect the poem's meaning?

"I, Too" (Vol. D 872)

4. The first line of "I, Too" is rather Whitmanesque in its claim to "sing America." What kind of song does the speaker go on to sing, if we are to take the poem's content as the equivalent of a song? What does the verbal form "am" in the poem's final line (rather than a repetition of "sing") add to our understanding?

"The Weary Blues" (Vol. D 872-73)

5. In "The Weary Blues," how does singing the blues, according to the speaker who heard a black man singing them, affect the singer? How do the lyrics given to us (i.e. the material in quotation marks) compare to the effect described by the speaker throughout the poem and especially towards its conclusion?

"Mulatto" (Vol. D 873-74)

6. In the form of a partial dialog between a mixed-race child and his white father, "Mulatto" describes the rape of a black woman by a white man in the South. The italicized words make up the dialog, of course. What's the substance of that argument, and if there's a winner, which party is it? Moreover, what about the non-italicized portions of the poem -- how do they affect the meaning of the conversation itself?

"Song for a Dark Girl" (Vol. D 874-75) and "Silhouette" (Vol. D 879)

7. Both "Song for a Dark Girl" and "Silhouette" are poems about the abominable Southern practice of lynching black men for various alleged offenses or violations of a strict racial code. How do these poems, their imagery and perspectives or voices taken together, convey the horror of lynching?

"Genius Child" (Vol. D 875)

8. In your view, who is the genius child in "Genius Child"? What attitude does the poem develop with respect to such a child? Why should the song be sung "softly," and what might happen if the song were to "get out of hand"?

"Visitors to the Black Belt" (Vol. D 875-76) and "Note on Commercial Theatre" (Vol. D 876)

9. Hughes' "Visitors to the Black Belt" and "Note on Commercial Theatre" both deal with fundamental matters of identity and authenticity amongst African Americans living in places such as New York City and Chicago. In at least one of these two poems, what is the speaker's point of contention with white American culture – how does the speaker deal with the error in perspective that he is calling to account?

"Vagabonds" (Vol. D 876-77)

10. Hughes' "Vagabonds" is a brief, almost Blakean poem about the desperate plight of America's poor. One could, of course, easily voice one's sympathy for impoverished and homeless people in ordinary prose. What does the poetic form of Hughes' lament add to the critique?

"Words Like Freedom" (Vol. D 877) and "Freedom {1}" (Vol. D 878)

11. "Words Like Freedom" turns on a distinction between two words -- "freedom" and "liberty" -- whose meanings overlap but are not identical. What, then, is the distinction between them and how does that distinction perhaps account for the speaker's different reaction to the two words? (It may help to recall that the word "liberty" has strong roots in the discourse of the American Revolution: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as in the Declaration of Independence.)

12. In "Freedom {1}," Hughes takes issue with the common C19-20 white-culture insistence (an insistence that became quite loud during the 1950s when the modern Civil Rights Movement got underway) that any attempts on the part of African Americans to gain full equality were somehow premature and impatient. How does the poem counter that notion? How does the speaker give the desire for genuine freedom an undeniable urgency?

"Madam and Her Madam" (Vol. D 877-78) and "Madam's Calling Cards" (Vol. D 878-79)

13. Madam Alberta K. Johnson is one of Langston Hughes' personae in his poetry. What kind of personality jumps out at us in "Madam and Her Madam" and "Madam's Calling Cards"? What, that is, animates Alberta? How does she assess her own value and circumstances? (In responding, you might want to have a look at another short Hughes poem, "Madam's Past History", which isn't in our anthology but offers us a bit of Alberta's back-story.)

"Theme for English B" (Vol. D 880)

14. The speaker in "Theme for English B" is assigned a brief version of what today would be called a personal essay in which he's supposed to tell the reader something he considers true, something expressive of his own identity. Why does he find that seemingly straightforward one-pager so hard to formulate -- wherein, for him, lies the complexity of the task, and how does he resolve the difficulty, if you think he does?


"The Eatonville Anthology" (Norton Vol. D 530-38); "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" (Vol. D 538-41); "The Gilded Six-Bits" (Vol. D 541-49).

The Eatonville Anthology (Norton Vol. D 530-38)

1. Hurston's stories in The Eatonville Anthology at times resemble the moral fable genre we find in Aesop and more recent authors such as the C17 French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine, or the C19 folklorist brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. What typifies the approach Hurston takes to characters, scenes and events in one or more of her stories, and what do you take to be the "moral" of the stories that you choose to discuss?

"How It Feels to Be Colored Me" (Vol. D 538-41)

2. On 538-39 of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," how does Hurston explain her induction into the complexities of racial perception in Florida during the 1910's, when she was a child?

3. On 539-41 of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Hurston addresses not only the impact that her early experiences with racial perception and bias made upon her, but also her current (i.e. 1920s Harlem Renaissance) thinking about race. In doing so, she brings up areas of life such as acting, music (jazz) and fashion. Leaving aside the final paragraph on 541 (in which she compares herself and others to "bag{s} of miscellany propped against a wall"), discuss a few of these stratagems for what they offer by way of insight about race.

4. On 541 of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Hurston compares herself to a "brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall" and others to different-colored bags of miscellany (541). What is the point of this unusual metaphor? What is the significance of the contents of these variously hued bags -- what view of human nature does Hurston's metaphor convey?

"The Gilded Six-Bits" (Vol. D 541-49)

5. From 541-43 of Hurston's "The Gilded Six-Bits," what characterizes the relationship between Joe and Missie May? How do they speak and act towards each other at this early point in their married life?

6. From 543-45 of Hurston's "The Gilded Six-Bits," Otis D. Slemmons arrives in town, determined to make his mark as the proprietor of a new ice-cream parlor, and makes the acquaintance of Joe and Missie May. What impression does he (and his alleged gold jewelry) make on the as-yet happy couple?

7. From 546-49 of Hurston's "The Gilded Six-Bits," we hear how Joe and Missie May fall upon hard times in their marriage, with Joe coming home one day and finding none other than Otis D. Slemmons in bed with Missie May. How does the strain upon the marriage play out, and by what specific means do the couple recover their balance and renew their affection for each other? Is it simply a matter of apology, or does it take more than words? Explain.