E300 FICTION JOURNAL QUESTIONS, CSU FULLERTON FALL 2014 (9/6/14)
Email | Home | Syllabus | Policies | Questions | Presentations | Journals | Paper | Final | Blogs | Audio | Guides | Links
CSUF Irvine Campus | CSUF Library | CSUF Catalog | CSUF Calendar | CSUF Exam Schedule
QUESTIONS ON OUR FICTION READINGS FOR E300
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.
Guy de Maupassant. "The Jewelry" (90-95).
1. Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry" (the author's first name is pronounced like the Hindi word for clarified butter, "Ghee," not English "guy") is included in our anthology as an instance of excellent plot mechanics. Consider the very beginning of the tale: how does the narrator set up the story, up to the point just before we hear about the young wife's love of theater and "false jewelry" (90)? What assumptions and expectations does he seem determined to call forth in us, the readers?
2. On page 91 of Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry," the narrator delivers a summary of the brief life of Monsieur Lantin's wife. With what attitude are the basic facts of her life set before us? What effect does the swiftness of this kind of recounting have on you as a reader trying to understand the significance of what is being represented to you?
3. Again with regard to page 91 of Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry," what do you make of the wife's moral character at this point, presumably before you have read the latter part of the tale? How does she handle her husband's mild disapproval of her taste for theater, jewelry and, later, fine clothing? (The French word de Maupassant uses for the lady's predilections is goûts, "tastes.") We know that she displays the jewels in front of her husband even though she knows he isn't comfortable with her collecting them – what is your first interpretation of that tendency? How does your interpretation change, if it does, when you reach the end of the tale?
4. On page 91-93 of Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry," M. Lantin confronts not only the death of his dear wife but also her dark side – adulterous liaisons with at least one wealthy lover who showered her with ridiculously expensive jewelry as tokens of his appreciation. Describe the progression in his enlightenment regarding the true quality of his late wife: as a modern journalist might ask, "what does M. Lantin know, and when does he know it?" Moreover, what is the emotional impact on him when he learns the worst?
5. On page 93-95 of Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry," the narrator describes the changes M. Lantin's feelings and behavior undergo in the wake of the awful revelation about his wife's dishonesty and shameful conduct. What seems to be the spur to these changes in the way he sees his wife and his own past with her, aside from his knowing the simple fact of her dishonesty? Once he receives his 200,000 francs for the whole lot of her ill-gotten gifts, what kind of life does he lead, and what's the irony in his doing so?
6. On page 95 of Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry," what last twist of the knife, so to speak, does the narrator add to the very end of the story in order to cement our picture of M. Lantin's unhappiness? What moral or observation about life does this final twist reinforce? Does it change anything in your view of M. Lantin's first wife? Why or why not?
7. General question about Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry": this story is in the Norton anthology mainly as an example of effective plot-making, but the narrator's approach is also worth attending to. Now that you have finished the story, how do you view the narrator's way of revealing information as the story progresses? Is the narrator a reliable or unreliable source of information? Explain why you answer as you do.
Edith Wharton. "Roman Fever" (118-28).
1. On pages 119-20 of Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," which is included in our anthology as an example of excellent plot construction, the story's setting is significant. So on these first few pages, where are Alida Slade and Grace Ansley? What are they doing there, and why might the ancient Roman and modern Italian ambience be more than just "window dressing" – i.e. what symbolic or thematic significance might it lend the tale of these two widowed upper-class friends? Or to put the question another way, how might the setting enhance the themes that the story subsequently pursues? (You may want to read the entire story before you respond to this question.)
2. On pages 120 bottom - 122 top (to the end of Part I) of Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," the narrator gives us mainly the thoughts of Alida Slade. How does Alida think of herself, and how does she compare her past and present (married life, widowhood, etc.) with that of her old friend Grace Ansley? Alida's comments about their respective daughters should certainly form part of your response: what do those comments add to our understanding of the other things Alida says? Do you find her self-assessment entirely credible? Why or why not?
3. On pages 120 bottom - 122 top (to the end of Part I) of Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," the narrator allows us a little window into the thoughts of Grace Ansley. The paragraph towards the end of the first section is brief, as is the narrator's own comment at the very end of the section, but both seem quite revealing in their way. How so?
4. On pages 122-124 (through "Perhaps she had begun too long ago") of Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," Alida Slade and Grace Ansley strike up a conversation about their daughters, Jenny Slade and "Babs" Ansley. How do the daughters factor into the topic of conversation, which partly involves a generational comparison? How do Alida Slade's private thoughts compare to what she actually says to Grace Ansley?
5. On pages 124-27 (through "'Yes, I suppose it would,' Mrs. Ansley assented") of Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," the conversation takes a surprisingly dark turn. What secrets are here unmasked, and how does the process of unmasking begin? What seems to be Alida Slade's motivation in making such a bold move? Who has the upper hand at this point, and why so?
6. On pages 127-28 of Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," we are in for one surprising final twist in the story of conflict between Alida Slade and Grace Ansley. What final secrets are revealed, and how do they change the power balance (if that's the right term) between these two old friends, whom I think we can now just openly call "frenemies" rather than true companions and mutual well-wishers?
7. General question about Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever": this story is included in our anthology as an example of excellent plot construction, so what exactly, in your view, is so compelling about the way Edith Wharton has put the story together? In what sense does the plot help Wharton to generate the maximum emotional impact from what happens between a pair of old but not-so-amiable friends? One might argue that not much "happens" in this story -- the friends are just sitting together on a terrace, not doing anything in the ordinary sense -- but one might also point out that such comments rely on a rather simplistic notion of events, action, "things happening," and so forth. How, then, does Wharton's story challenge such oversimplification when it comes to defining events and their significance?
Edgar Allan Poe. "The Cask of Amontillado" (164-70).
1. On pages 165-67 of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how does the narrator, Montresor, manage to get Fortunato to follow his lead and descend into the palazzo's catacombs to test a large store of newly acquired Amontillado Sherry wine? What knowledge of the man (and, supposedly, of Italians in general) does Montresor rely on to help set his devious designs in motion?
2. Although no particular insult is ever specified, what clues does Montresor provide on pages 165-68 top of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" that might allow us to get a sense of why he has become so murderously incensed at the unsuspecting Fortunato? What underlying differences between the two men do the conversation's details point us towards? They're both noblemen, aren't they? So why the intense hatred flowing from Montresor towards Fortunato?
3. On pages 168-69 of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how does the narrator, Montresor, build suspense as he takes his hearer (and us) through the steps of his revenge against Fortunato? How does Fortunato's response to his situation and to Montresor himself enhance the already considerable terror of the scene, one that would have evoked in Poe's nineteenth-century audience a not altogether irrational fear of "premature burial"?
4. On page 169-70 of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," the narrator relates the chilling end of his confession: the chaining and walling up of hapless Fortunato. Focus on what Montresor says about retribution at the outset of the story (165), and put those observations to work here at the end. We know that fifty years have passed and only now has the crime been revealed; at the same time, it hardly seems true that in Montresor's case, retribution has not indeed overtaken the "redresser" (i.e. the revenger). What drives that point home towards the story's end, making it clear that we are dealing with a classically unreliable narrator in the voice of Montresor, and with a story in which a killer's plight may be as dreadful as that of the man he killed? Similarly, Montresor says at the beginning that the revenge-taker must "make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong." Did he do that all those years ago, or did he fail? Explain.
Jamaica Kincaid. "Girl" (170-71).
1. On page 171 of Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl," what do you consider the main narrative thread (i.e. plot) that emerges or is implied by the time you get to the end of this very short piece? If anything is referenced as happening, what is it?
2. Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" is included in the Norton anthology partly for its interesting qualities with respect to point of view. On page 171, we hear many different statements, most of which did cannot have originated in the consciousness of the narrator, if we take that narrator to be the girl referenced in the title. What does this story imply about the way a person's identity is constructed or developed, not just in narrative but perhaps, to a great extent, in life itself?
David Foster Wallace's "Good People" (215-20)
1. On pages 216-17 of David Foster Wallace's "Good People," what are Lane A. Dean, Jr.'s initial sensations and reflections about the situation he is in? What is that situation, and what is he trying to do to resolve it? How much do we learn from him (or rather from the omniscient narrator's reports of what Lane is thinking) about his girlfriend Sheri, and to what extent does that information or sense of who Sheri is seem authentic or trustworthy?
2. On pages 217-19 of David Foster Wallace's "Good People," what key inner conflicts does Lane A. Dean, Jr. confront as he ponders the difficulty in which he and Sheri now stand? How does his religion instruct him regarding these conflicts and perhaps complicate matters for him at the same time? Why does Lane keep characterizing himself as "frozen" and Sheri as incomprehensible or unknowable to him at this point?
3. On pages 219-20 of David Foster Wallace's "Good People," Lane A. Dean, Jr. apparently believes he has been granted "a type of vision," a "moment of grace," in which, as he later comes to think, he is allowed to peer "into Sheri's heart" (219) and therein find out what she is going to say and do. What is this "vision" -- what seems to be its reality-status, and to what significant questions and reflections does it lead Lane regarding both Sheri and himself?
4. Consider the role of the narrator in David Foster Wallace's "Good People." Even though the story as a whole is a character study in which we seem to be getting direct access to the thoughts of the young man Lane A. Dean, Jr., the access is provided by a narrator. What effect does the presence of a narrator have on the way you process Lane's thoughts and feelings?
Toby Litt's "The Monster" (241-43)
1. In Toby Litt's "The Monster," there's a great deal that the monster doesn't know about itself and its surroundings. But what does this so-called monster seem to know? How does it gather such information and what does it do with the knowledge after gathering it?
2. In Toby Litt's "The Monster," what differentiates the monster's way of perceiving itself and the world around it from the general way that human beings learn about themselves and their environment as they grow up? By inference, what is Toby Litt perhaps suggesting about what we might call "identity formation" in human beings? What is it that gives us our sense that we know not only what but who we are?
3. In Toby Litt's "The Monster," the final sentence runs "The monster had no story, unless being a monster is story enough" (243). Reflect on the story as a whole, and try to explain what Toby Litt may be suggesting about how we make sense of the fiction we read, and why we usually take some pleasure in doing that.
Anton Chekhov. "The Lady with the Dog" (251-62)
1. On pages 251-53 (Part I) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," we hear that Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov is spending a couple of weeks at the Russian resort town Yalta, where he meets a young married woman named Anna Sergeyevna. Along with Moscow and the provincial town "S—" where Anna lives, Yalta is one of this setting-saturated story's significant locations. Even at this early point, what do we begin learning about the characters in connection with these places? More particularly, what interesting observations about Yalta emerge when Dmitri thinks about the place and when the subject comes up in conversation with Anna?
2. On pages 251-53 (Part I) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov is introduced to us as a man with fairly strong opinions not only about his wife but also about women in general. What irony about such views does the narrator underline with respect to Dmitri's actual relations with women? What kind of life has Dmitri been leading up to now? Why is he in Yalta, and what seems to be his current state of mind?
3. On pages 253-57 (Part II) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," the affair between Dmitri and Anna flourishes for a time, but then circumstances get in the way, calling Anna home. How does she react to the passionate situation between herself and Dmitri and to what she considers its aftermath? How does Dmitri, in turn, respond to the situation in which he finds himself, both during the affair and as Anna departs back home to "S—"? What does he seem to think of Anna? How is this infidelity different from some of the others in which he has been involved, and what does he resolve to do at this point, as Anna's train recedes into the distance?
4. On pages 253-57 (Part II) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," Oreanda makes its presence felt as yet a fourth significant location in the story (a famous hotel was later built there, in 1907), one just south of Yalta that receives significant attention as the background setting of the developing affair between Dmitri and Anna. What effect does Oreanda have on the feelings of these two? Moreover, what philosophical notions does Oreanda spark in Dmitri, as filtered through the narrator on the last paragraph of page 255?
5. On pages 257-61 (Part III) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," Dmitri returns to Moscow and at first all is well as he settles back into the routine of life in the big city. But what soon happens to his mood, and why? What does he do about this distressing alternation and negation of his sense of well-being as a Muscovite (i.e. resident of Moscow)?
6. On pages 257-61 (Part III) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," what happens at the theater where Dmitri finally manages to make contact with Anna again? How well does the meeting between them go, and what do they learn from it? Why might we want to consider the theater yet a fifth significant location in this story -- is meeting at this particular kind of place likely to yield a different result than some other location? Is there a symbolic charge underlying such a location, given what generally goes on there, namely representations, performances, etc.? How so?
7. On pages 261-62 (Part IV) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," Anna starts traveling to see Dmitri, and stays at the Slaviansky Bazaar hotel. What are Dmitri's reflections about the affair's continuation and, in particular, about the concept of "secrecy" (261) as the wellspring of life? But what soon happens to his mindset regarding Anna and his relationship with her, and what seems to be the catalyst for that supposed transformation?
8. On pages 261-62 (Part IV) of Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog," we hear from the narrator that quite a change has taken place within Dmitri's soul, and he seems committed, as does Anna, to achieving "a new and splendid life" (262) together, which would at some point mean leaving everything and everyone else behind (certain places included) for the sake of their love. Do you believe that the transformation in Dmitri is authentic and likely to be permanent, or do you find it unconvincing or unpromising, even if Dmitri himself seems sincerely to believe the change in his feelings is real and permanent and that things are bound to change? Explain your reasons for responding as you do.
Edwige Danticat. "A Wall of Fire Rising" (317-29)
1. On pages 318-20 of Edwige Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," Guy's son Little Guy interrupts his father's attempt to recount his day with a rousing speech from a school drama in which he is to play the role of Boukman, a Haitian rebel leader from the Napoleonic Era, a time when Haiti rebelled from France and won its independence. How do the boy's mother Lili, and more particularly his father Guy Sr., react to the child's earnestness about the play and to his recitation of a fine passage as Boukman? What might account for the complexity of this reaction on the parents' part?
2. On pages 320-22 of Edwige Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," Guy, Lili and Guy Jr. take their leave of the communal news-watching and make their way to the town sugar-mill. How do the three of them relate to one another at this point, as a family alone together? What effect do we already begin to see the hot-air balloon having on Guy as he ponders it – what does he say and do in its presence? Furthermore, how does the story's symbolic aspect begin to become apparent in the relation between Guy and the hot-air balloon?
3. On pages 322-24 of Edwige Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," Guy and Lili have an earnest conversation about their (and Guy Jr.'s) past, present, and future. What is the substance of their conversation, and what difficulty do they have understanding each other's sensibilities about work, Guy Jr.'s future prospects, and the balloon that so fascinates Guy Sr.? Moreover, what seems to be the significance of Guy Jr.'s sudden awakening from a nightmare in which he can't remember his dramatic lines as Boukman?
4. On pages 324-25 of Edwige Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," Lili proudly informs Guy, who has returned home from his one day of latrine-cleaning at the sugar mill, that Guy Jr. has been given some new lines since he learned the first ones so well. What is the substance of the new lines, and what effect do they have on Guy Sr.? After you have finished reading the story, explain how these new lines might at least partly suggest the meaning of what Guy Sr. subsequently does with the hot-air balloon?
5. On pages 325-27 of Edwige Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," Guy and Lili have what turns out to be their final conversation. How well do they seem to understand each other during this last talk together? What does Guy admit to Lili about the basis of his desire to take the balloon somewhere far away from his present surroundings? How does she respond to this explanation? How do you understand his meaning -- why does he want to go for such a strange, unauthorized ride in that balloon?
6. On pages 327-29 of Edwige Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," Guy finally does what he has been wanting to do: he manages to board the balloon and launch it into the sky, alone. Terrified, Guy Jr. points out the balloon to Lili, who realizes that it is indeed her husband up there. Guy is said by horrified onlookers to be trying to climb over the basket's side, and he promptly falls to his death. What meaning do Guy Jr.'s words as Boukman – which he repeats in his grief – now take on when we hear them in the present circumstances? What do you make of the way Lili deals with the tragic death (probably suicide) of her husband right before her eyes? Lastly, how does Assad react to the sad, strange way his hobby-balloon has just been put to use?
7. Again with regard to pages 327-29 of Edwige Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," when you consider the ending of the story, do you think of it as entirely depressing and tragic, or do you take away from it some more positive, less bleak meaning? If so, what meaning – what value and symbolic significance does the death of Guy take on for you?
Fyodor Dostoevsky. Notes from the Underground (Modern Library 95-215).
Part 1: The Underground (95-130)
1. Beyond the literal meaning that refers to the narrator's living arrangements, what is "the Underground"? To respond, consider how the idea develops in Part 1, Chapter 1 (95-98) of Notes from the Underground. What do the narrator's attitude towards others, himself and his living quarters suggest about the significance of the lattermost to him?
2. In Part 1, Chapters 1-2 (95-101) of Notes from the Underground, how does Dostoyevsky's narrator create and then engage with an audience? Why does it seem important to him to talk to an audience in the first place since he is, after all, supposedly talking more to himself than to anyone else?
3. In Part 1, Chapter 3 (101-05) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator refers to "the Wall." What is the Wall, and how does Dostoyevsky's narrator use this metaphor as a means of characterizing his era and of examining the relationship between intellect and action, between human desires and scientific fact?
4. Also in Part 1, Chapter 3 (101-05) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator distinguishes between men and mice; what kind of mindset informs the behavior of the so-called mouse? Who has the upper hand -- the man or the mouse? Why so, and in what is the nature of the advantage?
5. In Chapter 5 (107-10) of Notes from the Underground, what does the narrator say is "the basis of every sort of consciousness and analysis" (109)? How does his explanation undercut commonly accepted ideas about what distinguishes human beings as special in comparison to the rest of the natural world? (Consider, for example, common claims about the significance of morality, language, and reason as capacities that make us unique among earth's creatures.)
6. In Part 1, Chapter 7 (111-16) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator begins by mentioning and then attacking the fundamental idea that people act on the basis of self-interest (enlightened or otherwise). What does he claim is wrong with that idea -- why is it ultimately stupid to insist on this notion that self-interest is responsible for everything we do? Also in this chapter (on page 114), how does the narrator define "civilization"? How does his definition reinforce his argument, and how does it differ from others you may have heard?
7. In Part 1, Chapter 8 (116-22) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator in part discusses his notion of human will. How does he explain this concept, and why is the concept of "volition" or free will so important to him?
8. In Chapter 9 (122-25) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator continues the topic of the previous chapter, but adds to it, suggesting that "man is a comical creature" (123) and that "Twice-two-makes-four" (124 and elsewhere) is an outrageous affront to humanity. What does such talk imply the true quality and purpose of our actions and about the stories we tell to explain those actions?
9. In Part 1, Chapter 10 (125-26) of Notes from the Underground, how does the narrator himself respond to the paradoxical, strange nature of humanity as he has been characterizing it up to this point? In this regard, consider what he says about the importance of people's desires. Why can't desires simply be dismissed as unrealistic or even fantastical?
10. In Part 1, Chapter 11 (126-30) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator, engaging in a kind of running argument with his cantankerous imagined audience, explains his reasons for writing his "notes from the Underground" and, to some extent, his methodology in writing things down just the way he does. So what justifications does the narrator provide on these points? Are they convincing or "the whole story" on the matter? Why or why not?
Part 2: Apropos of the Wet Snow (130-213)
11. Early in Part 2, Chapter 1 (130-43) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator claims that "Every decent man is, and indeed has to be, a coward and a slave" (132) and gives us something of a history of his early relations as a civil officer with his colleagues. Why is it, according to him, that decent modern Europeans must be cowardly and slavish? How did at first relate to his co-workers, and what changes did his conduct and attitude towards them undergo? What other changes occurred in the pattern of his life? Why?
12. In Part 2, Chapter 1 (130-43) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator tells us how an officer insulted him in a tavern. What is the nature of this insult, how does the narrator respond to it? What drives him to respond as he does, and how does his behavior illustrate what he has been saying about his mindset or character traits throughout Notes from the Underground? What is the upshot of the narrator's failed attempt to pay the officer back for the insult?
13. In Part 2, Chapter 2 (143-47) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator explains how for a while he continued to work and took to debauchery and then to fantasizing about all sorts of heroic, romantic things, only to admit that he felt a strong need to go "plunging into social life" (146) and visiting the head of his department, Anton Antonovich Setochkin as well as looking up an old school friend named Simonov. Why did he become so intent on indulging in such activities – including the debauchery, the dreaming and the socializing? In your view, what was he searching for or trying to accomplish?
14. In Part 2, Chapter 3 (147-57) of Notes from the Underground, the narrator meets his old school friends Simonov, Ferfichkin, and Trudolyubov, who are all planning a dinner for another old school friend, the now-prestigious military man Zverkov. What is the narrator's past history with (and present opinion of) Zverkov, the man his other friends regard so highly? What do these friends seem to think of our narrator, and what does he apparently think of them? Even so, why are they still important to him?
15. In Part 2, Chapter 4 (157-67) of Notes from the Underground, the friends' dinner for Zverkov takes place, and the narrator attends in spite of his old friends' reluctance to invite him. How does dinner go? Why does the narrator talk and act in the obstinate, somewhat ridiculous way that he does in his so-called friends' company? What is he trying to prove, and to whom?
16. In Part 2, Chapters 5-7 (167-90) of Notes from the Underground, we are treated to the dinner's sequel: the narrator intends to confront Zverkov one more time, but instead meets the prostitute Liza. How does the dialogue between the narrator and Liza unfold? That is, what strategy does the narrator use to convince Liza that she is on the wrong path? What seems to motivate the narrator to speak and behave as he does in this encounter? What effect do his words have on Liza?
17. In Part 2, Chapter 8 (190-201) of Notes from the Underground, after parting company with Liza, the narrator goes home and apologizes for his conduct towards his friends and ponders his recent encounter with Liza. How are the narrator's apology and his reflections upon his motives in dealing with Liza characteristic of him?
18. In Part 2, Chapter 8 (190-201) of Notes from the Underground, how does the narrator describe the relationship between himself and his servant, Apollon? How is it that the servant seems to have the upper hand on the so-called master, or employer here?
19. In Part 2, Chapters 9-10 (201-213) of Notes from the Underground, how does the narrator explain his reaction to the reappearance of Liza at his doorstep? How does he treat Liza, and why do you think he behaves as he does? Consider, for example, his remarks near the beginning of Chapter 10 regarding "love" -- is this view partly responsible for his bad behavior? What further can plausibly be said, based on everything we have learned about the narrator up to this point, about the cause or causes of the narrator's strange conduct in these chapters?
20. Towards the end of Part 2, Chapter 10 (208-213) of Notes from the Underground, how does the narrator sum up what he has accomplished by writing his "notes from Underground"? Has he redeemed himself to any considerable degree, or was redemption in his own and our eyes not the point of the whole exercise? If not, what was the point of it all? Has Dostoevsky been setting forth the narrator as a kind of counter-model of humanity, one that opposes the ordinary, thoughtless run of mankind and that is willing to take the consequences of obstinacy, contrariness and insistent inwardness? Or do you have some other way of explaining the value of this impressive story? If so, what is it?
Fyodor Dostoevsky. "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (Modern Library 263-86).
Part I (263-68)
1. On pages 263-68, why does the narrator call himself a "ridiculous man"? (In Russian, the phrase is pronounced "smyeshnoi chelovyek," with the accent on the final syllable for both words.) That is, what is so ridiculous about him and his existence? Do you think such thoughts simply make him an eccentric, isolated figure, or is there a level of existential insight in them that should compel us to look more closely at the "Ridiculous Man"? Explain your rationale. Two more things – what determines the narrator to kill himself as soon as possible, and how does he treat the lost little girl who tries to get him to help her?
Part II (268-71)
2. On pages 268-71, how, upon the narrator's reflection, does the lost little girl that he spurned back in Part I turn out to be pivotal to his survival, and thus to the occurrence of the dream that will soon reveal to him the deepest Truth about himself and all humanity? What questions does the narrator's interaction with the little girl give rise to, and why do those questions trouble him so much?
Part III (271-76)
3. On pages 271-76, the narrator dreams of his suicide, in which he shoots himself in the heart. What existential challenge does death surprise him with, and how does he deal with that challenge? Furthermore, once the "dark and unknown being" (273) whisks him through space to an apparent double of Earth, how does the narrator's perspective on the Earth he left behind (and his former life there) begin to change?
Part IV (276-80)
4. On pages 276-80, what is the new Earth's paradisal state like? How, that is, do the inhabitants of this Earth-double think, feel, love, die and generally live their lives? What reflections does this paradise lead the narrator to make about his relationship to his former home planet and its people?
Part V (280-85)
5. On pages 280-83, what account does the narrator give us of how and why Earth's distant double fell from its happy state into one that resembles the fallenness of the Earth that the narrator left behind in his dream? What stages of corruption does he detail? From this account, what insights might be inferred about our own supposedly "fallen" Earth's institutions and ideologies (law, ethics, scientific rationality, and so forth)? In your response, consider the huge gap that opens up, post-fall, between ideas or ideals and actual experience – what makes that gap so disturbing to contemplate?
6. On pages 284-85, the narrator says that thanks to his strange dream, he beheld the "living image" (284, "zhivoi obraz" in Russian) of the Truth (istina) he has begun to preach. What Truth is it that he is trying to convey -- how, according to our narrator, can humankind ever redeem their once-felicitous ways, thereby largely or even entirely overcoming the effects of the Fall? Finally, how credible does the narrator's insight or preaching seem here, given that his dream vision was about an Edenic second Earth that he himself felt compelled to corrupt?
Flannery O'Connor. "Good Country People" (Norton 433-47).
"Good Country People"
I will correct the page numbers to suit our edition.
1. From 445-49 of "Good Country People," the text's focus is mainly on the divorced farm-owner Mrs. Hopewell. What seem to be Mrs. Hopewell's main qualities? What is her relationship with her tenant Mrs. Freeman and with her own daughter Joy? Why, for example, is Mrs. Freeman supposedly "good country people" (also explain what that term appears to mean at this point), and what accounts for the tense, frustration-laced relationship between mother and daughter Hopewell?
2. From 445-49 of "Good Country People," how does the text weave in Joy's own outlook and personality – for example, when and why did she change her name from Joy to Hulga, and what does she seem to think of her mother and the "good country people" Mrs. Hopewell is always praising?
3. From 449-54 of "Good Country People," the visit of Manley Pointer the bible salesman is recounted, along with the visit's aftermath. How does this young man become an object of contention between the elder Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Joy/Hulga? During and after this first encounter, what desires and intentions regarding the young man does Joy/Hulga reveal.
4. From 454-57 top of "Good Country People," characterize the progress of Joy/Hulga's arranged meeting with Manley Pointer. How does she imagine this meeting unfolding in advance? Then, during the actual meeting and conversation, what happens? What does she try to convince him of, and by what means? What is Manley himself interested in? Why does this interest of his both disturb and excite her?
5. From 457-58 of "Good Country People," Joy/Hulga's apparent seductive triumph turns to unpleasant shock and dismay when Manley Pointer takes away her artificial limb and refuses to give it back. He also mocks her atheist rhetoric on top of that strange accomplishment. I mentioned in class that the Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor's stories often end with a twist, one that leaves the main character in a difficult state that nonetheless seems to open up the possibility of deep insight and redemption. How does what happens to Joy/Hulga at the hands of the devious, cynical bible salesman Manley Pointer correspond to this pattern? In responding, consider what Joy/Hulga's wooden leg has meant to her, and what the taking away of it might mean. Consider, too, the connection between this artificial limb and the strong intellect in which she has prided herself as a mark of distinction amongst the country-dwellers she apparently despises.