Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart"
Faulkner, "A Rose For Emily"
Hemingway, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
Chopin, "The Storm"
Alexie, "This is What it Means to Say..."
O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"
Spiegelman, Maus
Satrapi, Persepolis
Barry, Two Questions

Directions: You are required to answer only one of the main questions, which will appear in bold. This question is due no later than Friday, January 5. Following the bold questions will be other questions which you should read and think about--they may help you answer the main question. However, you are not required to answer these questions in writing.

Please answer the question as thoughtfully as possible, after reading the lecture. Then post your answer to the English 102 Message Board by the deadline.

Your responses to other students' answers are due by midnight on Saturday, January 6.

In order to get the full 20 points, you MUST respond thoughtfully to at least 3 or 4 other people's postings.

We will be using the Canvas Discussion Board for this class. Click on the link below to get to the Canvas portal, sign in, and then click on the box for this class. You will find the "Discussions" link on the left side of the screen:

Discussion Board

Remember: This discussion question is worth a possible 20 points. Late answers will receive 0 points. Points will be assigned according to the thoughtfulness of your answer, not by whether it is "right" or not, since sometimes there is no "right" answer. Just be sure your ideas are supported by the material in the story (see Lecture 1).

"The Tell-tale Heart" Link

Poe was fascinated by the idea that someone could be perfectly rational and intelligent, and still be insane--or that he could be completely evil, and still be sane. Is the narrator sane? (*See Note below)

  1. To whom is the narrator speaking?
  2. What reason does the narrator give for killing the old man?
  3. What do the narrator and the old man have in common?
  4. Why is it the old man's eye that the narrator is obsessed with? (Hint: Remember that "eye" and "I" are pronounced the same way.)
  5. The narrator hears the old man's heart twice in the story. What does the beating heart represent?
  6. What, in your opinion, are the themes of the story? What examples and/or quotes from the story can you give to support your interpretation?
*Note: By the way, a popular misconception is that Poe was insane, and that stories like this are autobiographical, or at least drawn from Poe's firsthand knowledge of insanity. This is false. Poe's original biographer, Griswold, apparently had a grudge against him, and portrayed him as a drug-addicted, alcoholic, child-molesting lunatic. Poe was none of these things, as later research proved. But it's more fun to believe sensational stories, so the myth has hung on. Poe was poor, he had a miserable life, and his death is one of the great literary mysteries.

Poe was engaged to be married. He lived in Richmond, Virginia at the time, and the wedding was to be held in Providence, Rhode Island. So Poe got on the train in Richmond--and disappeared. For the next six days, no one could find him. By chance, one of his friends came upon him lying, sick and delirious, in a gutter in Baltimore, Maryland. He had no money or possessions, and he was not wearing his own clothes. His friend took Poe to a hospital. During his periods of consciousness, he told his friend and anyone else who attended him that killers were hunting for him, and begged people to hide him, or at least help him shave his beard to disguise himself. He died a couple of days later, unable to tell anyone where he had been or what had happened to him.

The cause of his death is not known; Poe's symptoms are consistent with a brain tumor or brain injury, and a new theory claims he may have died of rabies.

"A Rose for Emily" Link

Some people think that Faulkner is writing, in this story, about social class; others think he is writing about the changes that take place as one way of life passes away and is replaced by another. Still others believe he is writing about small town social dynamics; and some think he is writing about the psychology of murder. What do you think?

  1. Briefly summarize the events of the story, putting them in chronological order.
  2. Why do you think Faulkner chose to jump around in time so much? Why not just tell the story chronologically?
  3. Do you think the people of the town knew what crime Emily had committed? Why or why not? If they did know, why wasn't she prosecuted?
  4. Why did Emily murder Homer?
  5. A theme which is common to all of Faulkner's stories and novels is time. What references to time are there in this story? What does Faulkner seem to be saying about time? About the way people experience time in their memories?
  6. What is Miss Emily's role in the town--that is, what does she represent to the people of the town?
  7. How have things changed in the town since Miss Emily was a girl? Are the changes good or bad?
  8. Who is the narrator?
  9. What, in your opinion, are the themes of the story? What examples and/or quotes from the story can you give to support your interpretation?

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" Link

(See background information just below the questions for this story)

What themes and ideas is Hemingway exploring in this story? How does he use style and symbolism to express these themes?

  1. Why are the lines of dialogue so brief? Why are the speakers so seldom identified? (For example, Hemingway very rarely uses phrases such as "he said" after a line of dialogue.)
  2. Hemingway repeats a lot of words and phrases throughout the story; identify some of these words and phrases. What is the purpose of such repetition?
  3. What do light and darkness symbolize in the story? Shadows? Why does the old waiter feel a "clean, well-lighted place" is preferable to a dirty, noisy bar?
  4. Is it insomnia that is keeping the old waiter awake? What does he have in common with the old man who tried to kill himself?
  5. The Spanish word "nada" means "nothing." What word does it replace in the Lord's Prayer (paragraph 76)? Where else do you find the words "nada" or "nothing"?

Note: This story was published in 1933, between World Wars I and II. Hemingway was living in Paris at this time and doing a lot of travelling in Europe. He saw and felt firsthand the effects of World War I and the severe economic and spiritual depression it caused. World War I was one of the bloodiest wars ever fought in Europe; the people of the countries on both sides were drawn in by patriotic propaganda, and their governments told them that the war would be over quickly and would result in huge victories and profits to them. But the war dragged on for four years, at tremendous cost. Europe was destroyed; a whole generation of young men died--nearly one third of all British young men, and nearly three fourths of all French and German young men. The suffering was horrible--and it became apparent that it was not for truth and justice, but for the prestige and profit of the leaders, who were quite willing to sacrifice the lives of their people for their own egotism. On paper, Germany and Austria lost the war, and England and France won. But the Treaty of Versailles, which set the terms for the surrender of Germany and Austria, created, not resolution, but hatred and more suffering, and set the stage for the rise of Hitler and the beginning of World War II.

One of the results of World War I was a loss of faith: people realized they could no longer trust their governments, and in the face of such pointless destruction, many could no longer trust their gods. People began to question every religious and social institution that had bound society together, and many came to the conclusion that no social or religious institution could be trusted--that, in fact, all of it was an illusion, including God.

One school of philosophy that incorporated this view was existentialism. There are different varieties of existentialism, but its basic belief is that there is no God, and therefore, life can have no inherent meaning. We are not put on earth for any purpose--our birth is an accident. There is no grand design to life--it is all chance. There is no order in the universe--it is all chaos. Our religions and our social structures are meant to help us avoid facing that terrifying truth.

But this does not mean that life must be meaningless. It simply means that we, ourselves, must determine what the purpose of our lives is. We must set our own standards and live by them. Thus, our principles and our actions are everything: if we fail to live up to our principles, then life is truly meaningless.

Hemingway subscribed, generally, to this theory. He believed that life was inherently meaningless, and that all we could do was set high standards and adhere to them with dignity--all the while knowing that this dignity is all that keeps us from falling into despair.

"The Storm" Link

Why is the setting so important in this story?

  1. What is the point of view? Why do you think Chopin chose to use this point of view? Why not, for example, tell the story in first person, from Calixta's point of view?
  2. Is Bobinot a good husband? A good father? What is Bobinot and Calixta's marriage like? Is it in any way similar to Alcee and Clarisse's?
  3. Why does Calixta sleep with Alcee? What does she experience with Alcee that she has never experienced with Bobinot?
  4. How does the storm help create this situation? How does it parallel Calixta and Alcee's lovemaking?
  5. How do you interpret Alcee's letter to his wife?
  6. How do you interpret the last line of the story? Do you think Chopin is saying, for instance, that what Calixta and Alcee did was acceptable, and will have no consequences? Or is this line meant to be sarcastic?

"This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" Link

What is Sherman Alexie saying in this story about the role of storytelling?

  1. How important is the setting in this story?
  2. What is the point of view? Why did Alexie choose this point of view?
  3. Who is the protagonist? The antagonist?
  4. Why doesn't anyone feel comfortable around Thomas Builds-the-Fire?
  5. Why can't Victor and Thomas be friends, despite all their shared experiences?
  6. Why does Thomas go to Phoenix with Victor?

"The Things They Carried" Link

In this story, what point(s) is O'Brien making about the cost of war?

  1. What is the symbolic significance of Lt. Jimmy Cross's name?
  2. Why does O'Brien give so much detail about what the men carried?
  3. Why does he tell the reader at the beginning that Ted Lavender was shot? Doesn't this ruin the suspense?
  4. How was Lavender killed? Was this Cross's fault? Why does he take responsibility for it? That is, how does taking responsibility help him to cope with Lavender's death?
  5. Why does Cross burn Martha's letters?

Spiegelman, Maus, 87
Satrapi, Persepolis, 92
Barry, Two Questions, 96

1. Choose only one of the graphic stories we read and explain how the style of its pictures contributes or detracts from the emotions or ideas of the story.

2. We already know the Holocaust was horrible, and we know that the oppression of the Iranian government is horrible. We don't really need to have that proven to us. So what is the point of reading Maus or Persepolis?

3. What is Lynda Barry saying about creativity in Two Questions?