Final Exam

  The exam is Saturday, May 5, from 9 a.m. to noon. It will consist of two parts, a close-reading section (about one hour), and an essay section (about two hours). Here's a preview — the instructions for each part are what you'll see on Saturday; the passage and question are just examples.

Part 1: Close Reading
  Pick any one of the passages below. Begin your answer by transcribing the passage into your exam. Then discuss the meaning of the passage by quoting and analyzing the specific details of your text: the specific words, style, images, tone, &c. I want you to connect the passage to what you see as the larger meaning of the text it's from, but you must link those ideas to specific details in the passage itself.

  1. From "The Tell-Tale Heart," by Poe —
  If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.
  I took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his — could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out — no stain of any kind — no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all — ha! ha!
A close-reading of this could be organized around the larger idea of the story as an unreliable or ironic first-person narrative, in which the person telling the tale does not understand what it means to the reader. As the first line of the passage reminds us, he claims to be writing this account of his actions to prove that he is not mad, while the tale can be read as a powerful representation of madness. To support that assertion, though, you'd want to look very closely at the specifics of this passage that indicate madness, including the compulsive repetitions (nothing, no stain, no blood-spot), the preoccupation with being observed — the way "his" eye is italicized, and how that is echoed by the sense that he's hyper-aware of a reader who is continually judging him ("if still you think me mad"), even the passage's hysterical style ("ha! ha!") and its excessively dramatic punctuation (all those dashes and exclamation points). Your point would be that although he is talking about concealing the old man's body, he's really revealing his own mind — but you'd develop that point by your own close reading of the text.


Part 2: Essays
  Pick any two of the questions below. Make sure your answer addresses the specific question. Make your answers as specific as you can — i.e. name names, cite details, give examples to support your ideas.

  1. This question asks you to think about how writers use secondary characters to help express or develop the meaning of a work's central character's story.
    The subtitle of Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is (Tom Sawyer's Comrade). The title of Flaubert's Madame Bovary points implicitly to Monsieur Bovary (Mrs. Bovary's husband). What role do Tom and Charles play in Huck's and Emma's stories? How do their characters compare to Huck's and Emma's characters? How does the presence of this other character help us appreciate each novel's main character?

You might recognize this question from the "virtual midterm" I posted halfway through the semester. As I said then, this is the kind of essay question I'll ask on the final. There's no one "right answer" to this kind of question. You can come to your own conclusions about how each novel depicts these characters — I'd probably focus on how Tom's addiction to what books say, and his longing to "see" the world through the lens of romantic fiction, contrasts with the way Huck, illiterate at the start of the story, relies more on his own experience and sensory perceptions to see reality, vs. the way Flaubert's novel reverses this: i.e. his central character (Emma) is a reader of romantic literature while her husband seems contented with the very mundane reality of his daily life. But whatever focus you take, you'd want to give specific examples to develop your essay. The best essays will work continually back and forth between the texts and ideas about the texts, using your ideas to illuminate what the texts mean and the texts to support and develop your ideas. I said often enough that a good paper in my class will have quotations in every paragraph. I don't expect quotations in a final exam (who has that reliable a memory!?), but I will be looking for concrete evidence as you make your intepretive case.


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