English 261C (07749-8): Introduction to Fiction
Spring 2000, T/R: 3:30 - 5:18 P.M., Denney Hall 312
Fiction rests on more than just conflict, but the other elements of fiction
illustrate or even forge those internal conflicts. Use these questions about
the elements of fiction to help you analyze and interpret the text or even deepen
your understanding of the root conflicts.
What do we learn about the character from her inner thoughts?
from what she says?
from what she does?
from others' interaction with her?
from others' discussion of her?
How do we come to know Friday? What don't
we know about him? Why and how does he remain an enigma? What do we learn about
him in Part IV? What don't we learn?
What is Case running away from? What is
he looking for?
What does his relationship with Linda Lee represent
Why does he do drugs, particularly speed?
Why does he prefer cyberspace to the real world? Why
does he emulate cyberpunk cowboys?
What makes him tick?
What is Molly running away from?
Why does she work as a meat puppet?
Why does she turn herself into a cyborg?
Why does she do bodyguard and grunt work?
Why does she emulate ninjas?
What color are Molly's eyes?
Why does she wear mirrored sunglasses?
Why won't she let anyone, including Case, see her eyes?
Describe Case and Molly's relationship not only
in terms of sexual matters but also their simstim link.
What is the problem with their intimacy?
Who is Armitage? What is his story? How does Wintermute
create and control him?
Who is Peter Riviera? Why does he do what he does
with his subliminal holograms?
Characterize his interest in Molly.
Who/what is Dixie Flatline? Why does he want to
die, to be erased, deleted?
Who/what is Wintermute? What is it trying to accomplish?
Why does it appear to Case and other humans in the
form of people they know?
Who/what is Neuromancer? What is it trying to accomplish?
Who are the Tessier-Ashpool's? Why do they freeze
themselves? clone themselves? inbreed?
Kafka: "The Metamorphosis"
Based upon his initial reaction to his change and
his subsequent psychology, what kind of person do you read Gregor to be?
What are his strengths? goals? fears? anxieties?
How does Gregor regard his family? How and why do
his feeling change?
What do Gregor's different family member's reactions
to his change tell us about their previous relationships with Gregor?
Do their feelings coincide with Gregor's?
Kingston: The Woman Warrior
What do Maxine's stories and dreams tell us about
her desires and anxieties?
What do Brave Orchid's stories tell us about her
desires and anxieties?
How do Maxine and Brave Orchid's stories interact?
How do Maxine and Brave Orchid interact?
How does Maxine regard her mother?
How does she feel about her Chinese heritage?
her American present?
Perkins: "The Yellow Wall-Paper"
Compare the narrator's mental state from the beginning
and the ending of the story.
What, if anything, is inititially wrong with the narrator?
What does she become?
Describe the process of her deterioration. Who and/or
what pushes her over the edge?
Characterize the narrator and John's marriage. How
does he treat her?
How does she react to him?
How does her attitude toward him change within the course
of their stay?
Salinger: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"
What do we learn about Seymour from his wife and
What do we learn about Seymour from his interactions
Characterize the disparity between Seymour's interactions
with adults and with children,
between his inner life and his outer life.
Sartre: "The Wall"
Why does the narrator dislike the kid, Juan? Why
does he hate the doctor?
How does he interract with others in this situation
What do these angers suggest about his own anxieties
How does the narrator experience his body?
Does the narrator ever understand death? come to
terms with it?
Wright: Native Son
What is Bigger's typical day like?
Characterize his relationship with his family.
What does he take away from the movies?
Characterize his relationship with his friends in the
pool bar and with Bessie.
In what ways are is experiences with the Daltons atypical?
and how (and why) does he react to these new relationships?
Why does Bigger resent the people close to him (his
and the people who are trying to help him (Mary, Jan,
Why does Bigger trust Max?
Compare and contrast the way the Bigger reflects
upon and articulates his inner thoughts and actions
first with the way the "bad" whites (Britten, the newspapermen,
Buckley) interpret and portray him and
second with the way the "good" whites (the Daltons,
Jan, Max) do.
Though sympathetic to Bigger's plight, the "good"
whites' reading of Bigger still does not match up fully with Bigger's consciousness.
What individual opinion of each of the "good" whites—Mr. Dalton, Jan, Max—remains
out of touch with a true understanding of Bigger's experience as Wright represents
Is Bigger himself fully aware of his desires, his alienations?
point of view
Who's telling the story?
an omniscient narrator,
a limited omniscient narrator,
or a first-person narrator?
What's the narrator's tone? agenda? Is she reliable?
How does the point of view that the piece is written
in affect how we view the characters' struggles?
How does the point of view change from part
to part? How does it remain the same?
In other words, who's speaking to (telling the story
to) whom and why in each part?
How does Barton's motivation change from section
to section? Why does it change?
Who is the narrator of Part IV?
Hawthorne: ""Young Goodman Brown":
What is the narrator's attitude toward Goodman Brown?
toward the hypocritical townspeople?
toward Brown's dream?
How is it different from Brown's reaction,
and what does that imply about Brown's journey of self-realization?
Kingston: The Woman Warrior
Chart the different stories in the novel. Who's
telling each story? Who's listening?
What is the narrator's motivation for telling the
What is the effect of the story on the intended audience?
Why is this novel written in the form of a biography?
What is the biographer's attitude toward Orland
and how does that attitude help or hinder Orlando's
Wright: Native Son
Although written from Bigger's point of view, do
places exist where the author's feelings
and judgment of Bigger—given, for instance, Wright's
When are you most drawn into Bigger's mindset and
thus identify and empathize with him?
When are you most repulsed and unsympathetic? Why?
How do your sympathies and condemnations validate his
world view?critique his world view?
How does what takes place in the narrative affect, test, or change the main
character's world view?
According to Freytag's pyramid, what is the unstable
external conflicts—that sets the plot in motion?
How does the author's exposition explain the nature
of that conflict?
What are the most important events that inform, alter,
and intensify the conflict?
What is the most intense event—climax or turning
point—of the novel?
What are the less intense events—falling action—that
lead toward resolution?
What is the stable situation—denouement—at the
end of the novel?
Who is the story's protagonist? the antagonist?
Explain their conflict.
What is the deep structure of the novel?
What originally motivates Barton's journey? What finally
Where does Barton begin, where does she end, and how
did she arrive there?
Describe the nature of her quest and how each part (I-IV)
advances or hinders her stuggle.
Does she find what she's looking for originally? ultimately?
How do the events of the novel, of her life, change
the object of her quest?
What happened between Case and Linda Lee?
Why does Case accept Armitage's assignment?
Given his initial motivations involving Linda Lee
and his cyber-abilities, does Case ever truly find what he's looking for? Is he satisfied
or content at the end of the novel?
Why or why not?
Hawthorne: "Young Goodman
What is Brown's motivation for going into the forest?
Does he find what he is looking for?
How does he get out of the forest?
Salinger: "A Perfect
Day for Bananafish"
The story is divided into three sections. What happens
Who are the main characters of each?
How are the three sections tied together beyond mere
In other words, what's the deep structure of the story?
What conflict intensifies with each section and is
resolved in the final section?
Is that conflict sufficiently resolved?
What is Seymour's conflict?
What is the reader's struggle?
Besides the sex change, what is Orlando's
primary conflict, the conflict that structures her actions and the story? How does the sex change feed
into that conflict?
If Orlando is the protagonist, who is/are
her protagonist(s) and what is the nature of their conflict?
After the sex change, what is the most important
turning point for Orlando's identity? Why?
(How) Does the ending resolve Orlando's struggles
Wright: Native Son
How do the events in each section of the novel—Fear,
Flight, and Fate—affect Bigger's state of mind?
Describe the psychological transformation that Bigger
undergoes—his character arc—in each section and the novel as a whole.
Who controls the action of the plot, i.e., what
happens to Bigger?
White society as Max suggests?
Does Bigger have any agency or self-determination?
If so, in which sections or events?
Do things just happen to Bigger or does he make them
(How) Does he seal his own fate? (How) does (white)
society seal his fate?
How does the time the
work takes place in affect the character?
the social environment?
Describe Chiba City, the Sprawl, the organization
of the Tessier-Ashpool family/corporation, and the matrix.
What kind of world is this?
How has this world created men like Case or Armitage/Corto
or women like Molly and 3Jane?
Kafka: "The Metamorphosis"
Describe Gregor's room.
What is his relationship with his home and room before his change? after?
How does his room change as the story progresses? How
does he change as the room changes?
Kingston: The Woman
Discuss the differences between her parents'
China and America in the present as Maxine feels them.
How do the two generations and two cultures hyphenate
her existence and put her in conflict against herself?
Perkins: "The Yellow
In what kind of society do the narrator and John
How does it construct their roles in their relationship?
How does it determine how they treat and feel about
about one another?
How does it produce the narrator's original mental state?
How might it further affect her mental life?
Where are they spending the summer?
What kind of house is this?
What kind of room?
How does the narrator react to her room? Why?
How does Orlando experience and perceive time as
a male? as a female?
How does the biographer treat time or inform the reader
of time passing?
How does Orlando interract with society at large
as a male? as a female?
Further, how does the "spirit of the age" affect her
Wright: Native Son
Contrast the living spaces of the novel:
the Thomas apartment, the Dalton home, Bessie's apartment,
and Bigger's jail cell.
Contrast the atmosphere and buildings of Chicago's
the black South Side and the white Hyde Park.
How do these distinct spaces make Bigger feel? How
do they inform and construct his alienation?
What objects in the
story suggest a multiplicity of meanings beyond a simple referent?
Is the symbol public and conventional to a broad
or is it private and individual to a particular work
What do the names Case, Armitage, Wintermute, and
Neuromancer respectively suggest?
What theme do meat puppets symbolize?
What issue do simstim, cyborg technology, and neural
Describe Wintermute's cyberspace form.
What might it represent, given the real world setting
of the novel?
What do Molly's mirrored glasses represent?
Kafka: "The Metamorphosis"
What does an apple traditionally represent?
What might it mean for this particular story that Gregor's
father pelts Gregor with apples
and, more significantly, that one becomes lodged in
Gregor's back only to rot away for the rest of the story?
Hawthorne: "Young Goodman
What does the forest stand for?
What does his wife represent? conventionally? privately?
Kingston: The Woman
List the different ghosts.
What do the ghosts represent for Maxine's parents?
What do they represent for Maxine herself?
List the different types of woman warrior.
What do they represent?
How do they affect Maxine?
How does she internalize them and make them part of
her own identity?
Perkins: "The Yellow
What does the color yellow represent in the context
of this story?
What do the barred patterns in the wall-paper symbolize?
the woman in the wall-paper? Why does she shake the
wall-paper? Why does she creep?
What does water conventionally mean in a
What function does the phase of water play in this novel?
In other words, what correlation exists between
1) Orlando's external situation and inner state of mind
2) the prominent phase of water at the time, be it ice
and snow or dampness and fog?
Wright: Native Son
What do the recurring colors—white, black, red,
yellow—represent to Bigger in the novel?
How does Bigger experience and perceive these colors?
How do they symbolize or even perpetuate his psychological
What do the rats in the opening scene represent?
What does the furnace come to represent in Bigger's mind?
If the subject of the work is what the work is about,
then the theme of the work is what it says about the subject.
What does the story say about the nature of humanity?
of humanity's relationship with the world?
of humanity's ethics and morality?
What does the novel say about the representation
about the ability to know another person?
about the relationship between writing and fantasy?
between story-telling and insanity?
between voice and silence?
between agency and passivity?
Given the presence of cyborgs, cryogenics,
and cloning, to name a few, what does the novel say about the relationship between humanity
Given the presence of cyberspace, simstim, and constructed
personalities (human and computer), artificial intelligence, what does the
novel say about the nature of sentience, of consciousness?
Hawthorne: "Young Goodman
What message does the story convey about the nature
What does the short story suggest about an individual's
faith in community in general
or in one's partner in particular?
What about faith in the inherent goodness of people?
in God? in the Devil or evil?
Perkins: "The Yellow
What does the story say about insanity and its causes?
the treatment of women's mental health?
the relationship between the cure and the sickness?
Sartre: "The Wall"
What does the story suggest about the nature of
death? our anticipation of it?
our ability to prepare for it? our reaction to its
Given this, how does one experience life—exist and
What argument does the novel make regarding
the nature of gender difference?
Is the cause biological, social, or both?
What does the novel say about (the possibility of)
relationships among the two sexes?
Wright: Native Son
What argument does the novel make regarding the
nature of racial difference?
of racism, prejudice, and bigotry?
Why and how is race associated with politics and sexuality?
Compare and contrast Buckley and Max's arguments
in regard to these questions.
If Max's sociological argument exceeds Buckley's political
one, how does Wright's
novel—particularly Bigger's pscyhological experience—exceed
the terms of Max's argument?
Quotes and Questions
Jean-Paul Sartre: "The Wall"
But it annoyed me: I’d never thought about death because I never had any reason
to, but now the reason was here and there was nothing to do but think about
Does the narrator truly contemplate death now? Or has he simply
found another way to evade it by naming it nothing? If there’s nothing
to be done, why does it matter so much that he not give in to the interrogation?
He was undoubtedly afraid to see me as I was, grey and sweating: we were alike
and worse than mirrors of each other. He watched the Belgian, the living.
Why does the narrator have an aversion to Tom if they’re mirrors of
one another? Knowing he’s soon going to die, why does he withdraw resentfully
and not become sentimentally chummy as one would expect? Compare this
narrator’s fear and anger with Bigger Thomas: if this narrator can’t own his
own death, Bigger can’t own his own life; if this narrator’s only recourse against
the void of death is the maintenance of a cruelty in life, Bigger’s only recourse
against the void that is his life is the infliction of death upon others.
. . . he wasn’t interested in what we thought; he came to watch our bodies, bodies
dying in agony
while yet alive. (250)
Where is the line between life and death? Does it exist in the
body? What is the narrator’s relationship to his body? Why and in
what ways does he withdraw and recoil from it?
There we were, three bloodless shadows; we watched him and we sucked his life
Who is more of a vampire??the doctor or the narrator?
I felt relaxed and over-excited at the same time. I didn’t want to think
any more about what would happen at dawn, at death. It made no sense.
I only found words or emptiness. (252)
Is death that which exists beyond reason and our ability to comprehend?
How does one explain the last sentence about words or emptiness. Does
the narrator himself use words to cover over the void? If words are hollow
and meaningless, then how does one explain the final irony of the narrator’s
false confession which realizes death?
My life was in front of me, shut, closed, like a bag and yet everything inside
of it was unfinished. For an instant I tried to judge it. I wanted
to tell myself, this is a beautiful life. But I couldn’t pass judgment on
it; it was only a sketch; I had spent my time counterfeiting eternity, I had understood
nothing. I missed nothing . . . death had disenchanted everything. (253)
What does he mean by “counterfeiting eternity”? If it is life
that is eternal, then how does death exist as a concept? In order to live,
must we lie to ourselves about our mortality?
He wept: I could clearly see he was pitying himself; he wasn’t thinking about
death. For one second, one single second, I wanted to weep myself, to weep
with pity for myself. But the opposite happened: I glanced at the kid, I
saw his thin sobbing shoulders and I felt inhuman: I could pity neither the others
nor myself. I said to myself, “I want to die cleanly.” (255)
What is pity? Why does the narrator consider it messy, sentimental?
. . . I thought to hell with Spain and anarchy; nothing was important. (258)
Is death that which exceeds our understanding of politics and society,
that which negates the meanings of the lives we construct? If so, how
does one live after facing death, after recognizing the certainty of death?
Richard Wright: Native Son
He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was
powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to
feel to its fullness how they lived, the shame and misery of their lives, he
would be swept out of himself with fear and despair. So he held toward
them an attitude toward iron reserve; he lived with them, but behind a wall,
a curtain. And toward himself he was even more exacting. He knew
that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into his consciousness,
he would either kill himself or someone else. So he denied himself and
acted tough. (13-4)
Is Bigger’s conflict this simple? Following the commonplace
criticized by feminist circles, “anatomy equals destiny,” does this novel suggest
that Bigger’s aggression is fated by the color of his skin due to the times
in which he lives? Moreover, that his crime is somehow premeditated?
How might the wall that Bigger puts up in himself compare to the white wall
that whites erect? How might their defensive functions differ? Is
Wright as deeply racist as the white society at large that he portrays?
Does he adequately rebuke the accusations of black self-hatred and buying into
white stereotyping in the introduction? Does the novel imply, reductively, that
Bigger’s consciousness is merely Pavlovian? Or does Bigger have a consciousness
apart from simple reactions to external stimuli? Might Bigger have a system
of morality? Is this morality located in his self-consciousness? (Is he
self-conscious? or does the self-reflection come with Wright’s articulation?)
Finally, in Part One, what does Bigger’s life mean? How is it significant?
What does he do? Is he ever able to deny his ever present, to defend himself,
to stop internalizing his frustrating existence?
. . . it would be a trespassing into territory where the full wrath of an alien
white world would be turned loose upon them; in short, it would be a symbolic
challenge of the white world’s rule over them; a challenge which they yearned
to make, but were afraid to. Yes: if they could rob Blum’s, it would be
a real hold-up, in more senses than one. In comparison, all of their other
jobs had been play. (18)
What makes an action real in this novel? play? How does this
create Bigger’s view of himself? of his community? of the white community?
How does the rest of the novel justify Bigger’s fears? How does the murder
challenge white rule? Jumping ahead, what power does Bigger yield because
of the murder? Conversely, how does the murder reinforce white power
and take away any power Bigger might have possessed? Then again, to return
to Book One, what agential value did Bigger have before the murder anyway?
Confidence could only come again now through action so violent that it would make
him forget. These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence.
Is Bigger ever truly indifferent? Does that defensive wall every
really work? How do the feelings of anxiety, fear, hopelessess, futility
structure his existence? and come together to create rage?
And rich white people were not so hard on Negroes; it was the poor whites who
hated Negroes. They hated Negroes because they didn’t have their share of
the money. . . . Poor white people were stupid. It was the rich white people
who were smart and knew how to treat people. (36)
Is this passing of the buck of the problem from race to class convincing?
How do the Daltons’ and Jan’s treatment of Bigger validate this argument?
In what ways are the elder Daltons’ attitudes distinguishable from Mary and
Jan’s? Where does Mr. Dalton fall politically? Where do Jan and Mary align
themselves? Though Bigger misreads the situation with them because he’s
not used to being treated equally, might there still exist an inherent racism
in Mary and Jan’s attitudes? Do Jan’s arguments about capitalism (69)
adequately address the problem of race? In what ways might Mary be engaged
in adolescent rebellion and, simply put, slumming?
He moved closer to Jan. Mary pushed herself in, wedging tightly between
him and the outer door of the car. There were white people to either side
of him; he was sitting between two vast white looming walls. Never in his life
had he been so close to a white woman. He smelt the odor of her hair and
felt the soft pressure of her thigh against his own. (68)
Is Bigger’s anxiety one of shock or rather, as he says earlier when
first meeting Mr. Dalton, “organic”? If Bigger is frustrated with how
white society assumes territory where it wills and thusly draws the line of
demarcation between white and black society, why is he so uncomfortable with
being treated equally? Could he in some ways have internalized the racism
that the whites project? Is he just as territorial as white society?
Is his territoriality justified? Is white society’s? Is Bigger sexually
aroused by Mary? Or do his feelings encompass the curiosities of a new
and novel experience? Given Mary’s later (drunken) actions, might Mary
be flirting throughout the night? Or is she treating Bigger as she would
treat anyone? Given that the novel is written from Bigger’s skewed perspective,
can we ever know? Does the mere question play into the stereotyping of
race relations, specifically in regards to black men’s desire of white women,
that Buckley uses to condemn Bigger in Book Three? Does this issue implicitly
inform why Bigger goes into a frenzy when Mrs. Dalton enters Mary’s bedroom
and Bigger suffocates her. Is Mary conscious and (somewhat) in control
of herself when Bigger kisses her, or is he treating her like a puppet in order
to explore his curiosities, his desires? How innocent are his actions
prior to the murder? Is the murder itself accidental? Might it be
unconsciously intentional? A conquest of some kind? A sexual conquest?
What does it mean that in the above scene, Bigger experiences Mary as a white
looming wall, but after killing her he sees her as a white blur (85)?
What’s the difference between a blur and a wall? Is it a matter of power?
And Mrs. Dalton had not known that he was in the room with her; it would have
been the last thing she would have thought of. He was black and would
not have figured in her thoughts on such an occasion. Bigger felt that
a lot of people were like Mrs. Dalton, blind . . . . (102)
Why does Mrs. Dalton not think that Bigger is in the room?
How are blacks invisible to whites in this novel? Compare this to what
Bigger said about a "real" hold-up of a white storeowner as opposed to the "play"
hold-up of black ones. Is this white blindness what frustrates Bigger's
desire for the American dream? Could this white blindness also be what
empowers Bigger to kill and get away with it (at least until he gives himself
away)? Then again, could this white blindness cut back into Bigger and
subvert his sense of power Might Bigger purposively, at some level of his (un)conscious,
want to be caught so that he can own his crime, so that he can prove to the
world that he has agency, has taken control of his life? Might the repressed
(guilt, anger, hatred) also return because it cannot remain internalized but
must rather be externalized (see 110 regarding Bigger's reflection about projecting
his hatred of himself onto Gus, et al)? What about the black blindness?
What is Bigger's brother Buddy blindness (103)? If blindness is so despicable
to Bigger, why does he abuse Bessie's (131)? If he recognizes the deleterious
effects of blindness—he lives the racism—why does he abuse the white society's
prejudice toward Communism by shifting blame to Jan? What is the relationship
between blindness and trust? Why does Bessie trust Bigger? What
can't all of Bigger's friend and family see? From Book Three—the true
nature of capitalism, the true function of religion?
To Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of
great natural force. . . . As long as he and his black folks did not go beyond
certain limits, there was no need to fear that white force. But whether
they feared it or not, each and every day of their lives they lived with it; even
when words did not sound its name, they acknowledged it reality. As long
as they lived here in this prescribed corner of the city, they paid mute tribute
to it. (109)
Is Bigger himself blind and racist? Does the nature of segregation
necessitate that each side—each self—stand defensively in fear of the other?
What's the difference between the stereotyping and generalizing that Bigger
does here and the stereotyping and generalizing that the private detective Britten
and the newspapermen do in Book Two and that Buckley does in Book Three?
Why are we sympathetic to Bigger, a (black) man who accidentally murdered one
woman and raped and murdered another while we're angry with (white) society?
Does the white force "play" fair? Will Bigger receive a fair trial?
Will his death be for "play" or for "real"?
It was a kind of eagerness he felt, a confidence, a fulness, a freedom; his whole
life was caught up in a supreme and meaningful act. (111)
What does it say about the nature of our society that murder becomes
the only meaningful act that certain citizens can do, can feel? Might
Bigger's reasoning bear some relation with Kleibold and Harris'? How does
segregation, be it racial (Native Son) or cultural (Columbine), breed
resentment and contempt? At what point does alienation turn to wrath?
At what point does wrath turn to murder? Do Bigger's guilt and shame recede?
If so, why? Does Bigger, in current pop cultural parlance, become
desentitized to violence? Or, rather, is he hyperaware of its significance,
even existential meaningfulness as we saw with Sartre's "The Wall"?
But rape was not what one did to women. Rape was what one felt when one's
back was against a wall and one had to strike out, whether one wanted to or not,
to keep the pack from killing one. He committed rape every time he looked
into a white face. He was a long, taut piece of rubber which a thousand
white hands had stretched to the snapping point, and when he snapped it was rape.
But it was rape when he cried out in hate deep in his heart as he felt the strain
of living day by day. That, too, was, rape. (215)
An eye for an eye: you violate my soul, I aggress against yours.
What is the relationship among hate and vengeance? Is this justice?
Is this objective? Is this prejudiced? Is this another example of
Bigger's own conditioning to blindness? Or does Bigger see more clearly
into sadistic, power-focused character of relationships than the rest of us?
What about the physical, or sexual aspect of rape? Is Bigger, in focusing
on the violation of identity at the level of soul, purposively eliding a conceptualization
of physical rape? If so, why? Does he rape Bessie? Does he
call it that? Does it meet these criteria? Why violate one's own
race? Because Bigger hates himself as much as he hates whites?
She tried to turn from him, but his arm held her tightly; she lay still, whimpering.
He heard her sigh, a sigh he knew, for he had heard it many times before; but
this time he heard in it a sigh deep down beneath the familiar one, a sigh of
resignation, a giving up, a surrender of something more than her body. . . . He
was swept by a sudden gust of passion and his arms tightened about her.
Bessie was still, inert, unresisting, without response. He kissed her again
and at once she spoke, not a word, but a resigned and prolonged sound that gave
forth a meaning of horror accepted. (219)
Why does Bigger rape Bessie? Is he punishing Bessie for being
passive? Or his mother for making him ashamed? Or is he rebuffing
Gus for showing him—Bigger—his own primal cowardice? Or is he trying
to relive his crime with Mary? Mary's death was accidental, and he now
wants to take complete control? Or is he ravaging Mary for flaunting her
sexuality, a violation he could not commit because his fear of white retribution
was so great, because his conditioning to pay "mute tribute" so extendive?
Does this act constitute a violence against sexuality, soul, or both?
Bigger stared unblinkingly at the white wall before him as the preacher’s words
registered themselves in his consciousness. He knew without listening
what they meant; it was the old voice of his mother telling of suffering, of
hope, of love beyond this world. And he loathed it because it made him
feel as condemned and guilty as the voice of those who hated him. (263)
Is undeserved suffering redemptive? Is religion merely another
way that the ruling class keeps the disenfranchised's eyes off the prize?
Is religion the opium of the masses? Is Bigger's association of the Klan
with Christianity, made a bit later when he wonders why the Klan burns crosses
and connects a burning cross with the priest's crucifix, valid? If there
were no religion to assign guilt and make us feel ashamed, how would we construct
our morality? Why does the process break down and produce the opposite
of the desired reaction in Bigger? If Bigger's morality is not based on
religion, then what constitutes it? Does he have morality? Could
his morality be based on just retribution and vengence (Old Testatement wrath
rather than New Testament mercy)? If so, why does this morality seem so
unjust? And why does Bigger come to accept the religion he violently contests
(288)? Is such a request for mercy a retreat and withdrawal from ultimate
responsibility for one's actions?
. . . a particle of white rock had detached itself from that looming mountain
of white hate and had rolled down the slope, stopping still at his feet.
The word had become flesh. For the first time in his life a white man became
a human being to him; and the reality of Jan's humanity came in a stab of remorse:
he had killed what this man loved and had hurt him. (268)
Does Jan truly get through to Bigger? Does Bigger really understand
what he has done? At the very least, how does this remorse differ from
the shame inspired by his family and their religious sentiments? Is Wright
saying that morality rests more strongly on the demands of the particular, the
individual, and the here and now than on the blindly abstract sentiment of a
mythologized past and an uncertain transcendence? Does existence precede
essence? If so, how can one construct a morality before the fact of her
actions test and traumatize her identity?
"No; you're not! You're trying to indict a race of people and a political
Is Max's accusation valid? Why is Buckley successful with the
judge, et al? Is the sentence predetermined? politically motivated?
Why is Buckley not successful with the readers of the past? or with us, the
readers of today? Differentiate the types of rhetoric that Buckley and
Max utilize. What emotions does Buckley call forth? What emotions
does Max evoke? Which is more powerful, fear or pity? By what logic
does Buckley argue for Bigger's death? What reason does Max give for sparing
Bigger's life? Which is more reasonable, protection of society from the
individual or protection of the indiividual from society? Which is more
warped, society or Bigger? Does Bigger receive a fair trial? Is
it possible for Bigger to receive a fair trial? What is justice blind
to? What is it motivated by? Is the law part of the white mountain?
Every movement of his body is an unconscious protest. Every desire, every
dream, no matter how intimate or personal, is a plot or conspiracy. Every
hope is a plan for insurrection. Every glance of the eve is a threat. His very existence is a crime against the state!
Is this a just representation of Bigger's feelings? Or might
Max be politically motivated as well, using the case just as Buckley uses it?
If so, how ethical are Max's actions? On the other hand, might his words
indeed articulate feelings that Bigger is blind to but which nevertheless motivate
him? Do these words invoke sympathy for Bigger or fear, understanding
or denial? If true, what how were the dreams that Bigger felt in the beginning
of the book a challenge to white, capitalistic society? Further, what
kind of life would Bigger have to lead to exist in accordance with the demands
of white society? Such a life isn't possible for Bigger, but is it possible
for Bessie, Buddy, or Bigger's mother? How would a Mr. Dalton react to
leading such a life, or any white person for that matter?
He had lived outside of the lives of men. Their modes of communication,
their symbols and images, had been denied him. Yet Max had given him the
faith that at bottom all men lived as he lived and felt as he felt. [. . .] and
Bigger was on the verge of believing that Max knew, understood; but Max's next
words show him that the white man was still trying to comfort him in the face
of death. (386-7)
Can Max every truly understand Bigger's existence, psyche? Can
we? Might Max's communism be, ironically, just another opiate, like religion,
an escape from the social conditions, as well? Does communism convey the
lie that humanity can get along, that it can get beyond its need to destroy,
a need articulated not only by the white society that whips and executes him,
but by Bigger as well? Are aggression and violence instincts or reactions?
Are they born of hatred of the other? of the other? of the world? Which
prevails in this novel, faith or fate? Does the idea of faith seem a bit
tacked on, especially when the whole novel has marched toward Bigger's death?
Is Wright, then, being ironic? How do we interpret Bigger's wry smile?
Might it compare to the narrator's from "The Wall"?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: "The Yellow Wall-Paper"
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage. (6)
What kind of marriage do John and the narrator have? What roles
do each play? Is John content? is the narrator happy? What
does John think is wrong with his wife? Is he being intentionally dismissive,
or might his reaction constitute one of love, if not sympathy? Why does
the narrator put up with John's condescension? Does she even read it as
such? Does she ever speak up and rebel? What kind of doctor is John?
a psychologist? a general practitioner? Who or what gives him the right
to treat his wife? in this manner? How is the narrator's "rest cure" different
from her normal duties as a wife? More importantly, how is it the same?
If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives
that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervouse depression—a
slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do? (7)
Why does the narrator speak of herself in the third person?
Why does she defer to her husband (and brother and Dr. Mitchell)?
What does that say about her state of mind? Is this her normal state?
In what other ways are her voice, point of view, and agency suppressed?
What's wrong with her—initially? Is it merely a "temporary nervous depression"?
Or might something more serious be awry? What's the cause of her condition?
Lack of agency? of child? Does the narrator believe her husband's diagnosis
in the beginning? as the story progress? do we? Might his
diagnosis be motivated? If so, by what? Where's her child?
Is she kept from her baby? If so, why?
At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst
of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the
woman behind it is as plain as can be. (17)
Characterize the narrator's relationship to the wall-paper up to this
point. Why is she obsessed with it? Especially if it is so grotesque
and frightening? How real are her descriptions? Might she be projecting?
If so, what does this say about her mental condition and what is she projecting?
Why has she deteriorated? Conversely, how might she be seeing things more
clearly? What's the difference between sunlight and moonlight? What
does the moon traditionally represent? What do the bars represent?
What does the woman behind the paper represent? Why does she shake the
paper violently? What does the narrator now realize about herself, about
John and her relationship with him? How is the narrator's knowledge and
way of knowing valorized here? What's the problem with this realization?
How is her knowledge undercut? What relationship between knowledge and
insanity does this story present?
"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane.
And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and
right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!
Who is Jane? What's the narrator doing at this point? Why creeping?
What does creeping around suggest? What happened to John? Did
he really faint? Do we trust the narrator's perceptions/descriptions
at this point? Is the narrator truly free? What relationship between
agency and insanity does this story present? In terms of what the characters
have learned about the world and themselves as well as in terms of the (would-be)
resolution of conflicts and cathexes, how does this narrator's creeping compare
with Gregor's big sleep, Goodman Brown's despair, Orlando's recognition of
the present, Seymour's suicide, Pablo's laughter-turned-weeping, and Bigger's
Maxine Hong Kingston: The Woman Warrior
"No Name Woman"
Carrying the baby to the well shows loving. Otherwise abandon it.
Turn its face into the mud. Mothers who love their children take them
along. It was probably a girl; there is some hope of forgiveness for boys.
What state of mind must this young mother have been in? What
put her in this state of mind? Was it merely the raid, or the tenor of
the entire culture. We may want to call her desperately depressed, but
that denies the possibility that she's acting rationally, that she's performing
a noble act of love. How might such an atrocity constitute an act of love,
of mercy? What kind of life was to come for this child? for this mother?
Why was it probably a girl? What was the relationship between the mother
and father? Did the mother have a choice—in having sex with this man,
in bearing the child? What kind of control did this young woman, now young
mother, have over her life? Might her suicide constitute an act of empowerment?
If so, why is it self-negating? How is the No Name Woman a woman warrior?
My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect,
I alone devote pages of paper to her, though not origamied into houses and clothes.
I do not think she always means me well. I am telling on her, and she was
a spite suicide, drowning herself in the drinking water. The Chinese are
always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging
and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute. (16)
Bigger's violence gave his life meaning; does this violence give the
No Name Woman's life meaning? in the village? in her own family? How does
the story affect the storyteller, the sister-in-law? Why does she tell
it to her daughter, Maxine? What does Maxine learn from the story? regarding
her father? her mother? her parents' culture? If Maxine now gives voice
to the woman, and a more sympathetic one than her mother did, why is the ghost
trying to harm her? Might the story itself be what's really harming her?
Looking ahead in the book, what's the relationship between ghosts and talk-story?
Does Maxine believe in ghosts? Does Maxine, like her Chinese parents,
believe that this ghost is trying to pull her down? Might Maxine's recasting
of the story be an attempt to pull her aunt out of the water? How is Maxine
a woman warrior?
When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talk-story, we learned that we
failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines,
swordswomen. Even if she had to rage across all China, a swordswoman got
even with anybody who hurt her family. Perhaps women were once so dangerous
that they had to have their feet bound. (19)
Why does Maxine suddenly change her attitude toward and interpretation
of the talk-stories? Why and how can she move from the horror of the No
Name Woman's situation to the fantasy of female heroism? How does the
dream cover up the horrific situation of woman? How does the reality of
the atrocity break through? Conversely, how does Chinese culture simultaneously
teach the empowerment and enslavement of women? More specifically, how
does Maxine's mother teach both at once? Why? Given the defense
of family in this fantasy, characterize Maxine's relationship with her parents.
Mow might the dream of the woman warrior who fights for her family with a baby
in her armor be a youthful identification with her mother? How might it
critique or exceed her mother's teachings? How might it be a recasting
of the No Name Woman's story? What kind of warrior is Maxine in the context
of the dream? in the context of the narrative that frames the dream? Even
though she says that her American life had been a disappointment, what did she
fight for (and how) in college and what does she fight for now (and how)?
What's the relationship between China and America in this story? How are
they in conflict? Why do both give her anxieities?
The idioms for revenge are “report a crime” and “report to five families.”
The reporting is the vengeance—not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words.
And I have so many words—“chink” words and “gook” words too—that they do not
fit on my skin. (53)
What crimes does this book report? How does this book avenge?
Who does it avenge? How is it therapeutic? How is it an act of empowerment?
What would have happened to Kingston's mental state if she couldn't write?
The Revolution put an end to prostitution by giving women what they wanted:
a job and a room of their own.
Free from families, my mother would live for two years without
any servitude. (62)
What was life like for women before the Revolution? What was
their status? If it was not literal prostitution, then what were their
duties? Specifically, what was Maxine's mother's, Brave Orchid's,
experience? How did life change for Chinese women? for Brave Orchid?
What was Brave Orchid's relationship to her husband before and after the Revolution?
to her children and family? Characterize Brave Orchid as a person, apart
from her duties as wife and mother. What did Brave Orchid learn in school?
How do her studies encompass the conflict between and assimiliation of Chinese
culture and the West (particularly science)? What did the culture, the
women, Brave Orchid gain? What did they lose?
"I do not give in," she said. "There is no pain you can inflict that I cannot
endure. You're wrong if you think I'm afraid of you. You're no mystery
to me. I've heard of you Sitting Ghosts before. Yes, people have lived
to tell about you. You kill babies, you cowards. You have no power
over a strong woman. (70)
What are ghosts? What do they represent? Why do Maxine's
parents fear them? Specifically, what does the Sitting Ghost represent?
What is Brave Orchid afraid of? Sexual disempowerment, loss of identity.
Given the figurative and fantastic quality of these stories, could the ghost
be a rapist or the No Name Woman? If so, what does this tell us about
Brave Orchid's internalization of the culture and knowledge she imparts to her
children through talk-stories? How is she strong? What does she
believe? What does she do? What does her buying of the girl out
of slavery say about her ethics? What kind of woman warrior is Brave Orchid?
"At the Western Palace"
"We have to tell him you've arrived," said Brave Orchid.
Moon Orchid's eyes got big like a child's. "I shouldn't
be here," she said.
"Nonsense. I want you here, and your daughter wants
"But that's all."
"Your husband is going to have to see you. We'll make
him recognize you. Ha. Won't it be fun to see his face?"
"I'm scared," said Moon Orchid. "I want to go back
to Hong Kong." (124-5)
Why did Moon Orchid's husband leave? How has he been treating
her over the years? How does she feel about that treatment? How
does her daugther feel about it? Her sister? What do Brave Orchid's
children think of Moon Orchid, and vice versa? Why has Moon Orchid come
to the States? If the idea is more Brave Orchid's, then what might be
her motivation? What is she attempting to prove? Why is Moon Orchid
scared? Are these fears well -founded? If she's so scared, why does
she confront her husband? Characterize Moon Orchid's husband. Characterize
his response. How does the second wife fit in to all of this? Which
person is most sympathetic—Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid, or Moon Orchid's husband?
Which argument or motivation is most creditable and convincing—Moon's, Brave's,
or the husband's? How might their sense of morality, of the best course
of action, be grounded in their respective cultural situations? What would
you do if you were in the situation? Does a way out exist for this moral
But, surprisingly, she was happy and had made up a new story. She pranced
like a child. "Oh, Sister," I am so happy here. No one ever leaves.
Isn't that wonderful? We are all women here. Come. I want you
to meet my daughters. . . . we understand one another here. We speak the
same language, the very same. They understand them." Sure enough,
the women smiled back at her and reached out to touch her as she went by.
She had a new story, and yet she slipped entirely away, not waking up one morning.
What is the relationship between talk-story, fantasy, and sanity?
Why does Moon Orchid go mad? What does her mad dream say about her innormost
desires? her most profound conflicts? How might her insanity speak
the truth of her relationships with the other women in the asylum? If
she's in state of utter denial, why does she still slip away? Did she
really go insane? How does her experience compare with that of the No
Name Woman? Or of Jane's in "The Yellow Wall-Paper"?
How does Brave Orchid respond to her sister's decline? What does she learn
from the experience? What does Maxine learn? How might the three
women—Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid, and Maxine—comprise a continuum of subject
positions, of feminist agency? If there's a woman warrior in this section,
who might she be? If her status as warrior is in question, what flaw challenges
"A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe"
"Why won't you talk?" I started to cry. What if I couldn't stop,
and everyone would want to know what happened? "Now look what you've done,"
I scolded. "You're going to pay for this. I want to know why.
And you're going to tell me why. You don't see I'm trying to help you
out, do you? Do you want to be like this, dumb (do you know what dumb
means?), your whole life? Don't you ever want to be a cheerleader?
Or a pompon girl? What are you going to do for a living? Yeah, you're
going to have to work because you can't be a housewife. Somebody has to
marry you before you can be a housewife." (180)
Who is Maxine really angry with? What fears and conflicts is
Maxine projecting on to this girl? Describe Maxine's own experience of
voice. How have her parents (her mother in particular) denied her voice,
in Maxine's opinion? Conversely, what were their intentions? How
has the American school affected her speech? How has the Chinese school?
Is it truly their fault, or does the responsibility lie with Maxine? If
so, why wouldn't she speak? What alienating conflicts stifled her voice?
How does her loss of voice further affect her relationships with others?
When does she regain her voice? When does that voice become powerful,
agential? Does the airing of her list of grievances to her mother constitute
an act of empowerment? Why or why not? Contrast how Brave Orchid
and Maxine use their respective voices in talk-story. Will (do) they ever
find common ground? Will (do) they ever speak with one another as opposed
to at one another?
Ts'ai Yen sang about China and her family there. Her words seemed to be
Chinese, but the barbarians understood their sadness and anger. Sometimes
they thought they could catch barbarian phrases about forever wandering.
Her children did not laugh, but eventually sang along when she left her tent to
sit by the winter campfires, ringed by barbarians. (209)
Who are the barbarians? Who does Ts'ai Yen represent?
Who are the children? Describe the relationships among the barbarians,
the children and Ts'ai? Whose story is this? Whose memoir is this?
Who is the central character? Does Maxine ever move beyond feeling a ghost
to her mother? Are Maxine and her mother ever reconciled? Why or
why not? Who is the warrior of this section? What type of warrior
is she? What has she fought for? What has she lost? What has
J. M. Coetzee: Foe
So in the end I did not know what was truth, what was lies, and what was mere
What happened to Friday? What happened to his tongue?
What is Friday's story? Who is Friday? How do we come to know him?
What do we make of Cruso's contradictory explanations? Why has Cruso refrained
from teaching Friday more words? How does Barton's attitude and interest
in Friday change as she's on the island? The same kinds of questions may
be asked of Cruso as well. Who is he? Do we ever really know him?
Do we ever really know the essence of his relationship with Friday? And,
ultimately, of our narrator, Barton: Why is she there? Her story seems
fantastic—do we believe it? Why should we? Why shouldn't we?
“I will not have any lies told,” said I. The captain smiled. “There
I cannot vouch for them,” he said: “their trade is in books, not in truth.” "I
would rather be the author of my own story than have lies told about me," I persisted—"If
I cannot come forward, as author, and swear to the truth of my tale, what will
be the worth of it? I might as well have dreamed it in a snug bed in Chichester."
Why does Barton defer to Foe's talents, especially given the fact
that her story is ironically being recounted, quite artfully I might add, in
a novel? And how does the knowledge that DeFoe's story, Robinson Crusoe,
is fiction affect our reading? Might it ironize Barton's quest for veracity
and the captain's realization of the fantastic? What about the knowledge
that Barton herself is a work of fiction? What is the effect of mixing
fictional characters—Cruso, Friday, Barton—with real authors—DeFoe?
of fictionalizing real authors and realizing fictional characters? And
where is Coetzee hiding in this representational quagmire? Is this all
just a game? If not, what are the serious issues of the novel as a whole?
of Friday's identity? of Barton's identity?
When I reflect on my story I seem to exist only as the one who came, the one
who witnessed, the one who longed to be gone: a being without substance, a ghost
beside the true body of Cruso. Is that the fate of all storytellers?
Yet I was a much a body as Cruso. I ate and drank, I woke and slept, I
longed. The island was Cruso’s (yet by what right? by the law of islands?
is there such a law?), but I lived there too, I was no bird of passage, no gannet
or albatross, to circle the island once and dip a wing and then fly on over
the boundless ocean. Return to me the substance I have lost, Mr Foe: that
is my entreaty. For though my story gives the truth, it does not give
the substance of the truth (I see that clearly, we need not pretend it is otherwise).
How did Barton feel about telling her story in the last part of the
novel when she spoke to the captain, for example? How does she feel about
it now? What has changed? Why has she changed her position?
Why does she now feel alienated from her experience on the island? How
does this relate to her interest while on the island of determining the true
story behind Cruso and Friday's relationship? What does Barton mean by
distinguish the truth from the substance of the truth? What is she asking
of Foe? Is Foe able to give it? What will be the effect, on her
identity for instance, if she is made into a character in a story? In
what ways does she already consider herself a character? And what does
this say about her state of mind? Are we seeing the seeds of hysteria
and delusion? Why does she give up her sense of self and her very agency
to Foe? Why does she plead a few letters later, "Will you not bear it
in mind, however, that my life is drearily suspended till your writing is done?"
(63)? If Foe composes her, will she achieve substance, or will she—ironically—remain
a ghost? Is this the same kind of ghost we saw in The Woman Warrior?
How are they similar? How are they different? How do the operations
and psychological effects of writing and story-telling compare among this novel, The Woman Warrior, and "The Yellow Wall-Paper"?
If Friday is not mine to set free, whose is he? No man can be the slave
of a dead hand. If Cruso had a widow, I am she; if there are two widows,
I am the first. What life do I live but that of Cruso's widow? On
Cruso's island I was washed ashore; from that all else has flowed. I am
the woman washed ashore. (99)
How has Barton's relationship with Friday evolved? Has she discovered
his true story? How does that make her feel and what actions does she
take? What is her attitude toward Friday? How does she treat him?
How does she think of her relationship with Friday? How does she think
of her relationship with Cruso? What makes her say that she is his widow?
How does she think of her relationship with Foe? What makes her ask him
to write her story? What do these two relationships, one with a dead person
and the other with a man she's never met, tell us about her worldview, her self-concept,
and her mental state? What happened to her search for her daughter, the
original motivation for her journey and her primary conflict? What does
it mean that she considers herself merely the woman washed ashore? What
does this tell us about her self-identity? How might the way she feels
regarding Cruso and Foe as well as the way she feels about her (lack of) mission
in life affect how she feels about and treats Friday? Is Friday hers to
set free, whose is he? Why can she not conceive that he may be his own
The story of Friday's tongue is a story unable to be told, or unable to be
told by me. That is to say, many stories can be told of Friday's tongue,
but the true story is buried within Friday, who is mute. The true story
will not be heard till by art we have found a means of giving voice to Friday.
Why is Barton so obsessed with Friday's story? Is Barton thinking
only of Friday? Why doesn't she, as Foe soon suggests, teach Friday to
communicate? And when she does try, why do the lessons fail? Does
the responsibility lie with Friday or with Barton herself? Haven't we
heard Barton speak of using art to tell a story before? Why does she defer
to Foe? why can't she see what we readers see, i.e., that her letters
to Foe constitute a story in and of themselves? Perhaps in her letter's
she's evading something—her search for her daughter? Why has she stopped?
Why does she not believe the girl to be her daughter? Why does she believe
her to be mad? Why does she believe her to be an actress paid by Foe,
or even one of Foe's characters? What in Barton constitutes a story that
is unable to be told? What can't she give voice to? Her own sense
of lack and loss? Her own diminishment of agency by the actions of Cruso
and the hand of Foe? Do they overpower her, or does she simply defer to
them? If the latter, why? Or perhaps she detects a problem with language
itself? with the activity of story-telling itself?
. . . these are mere names, they do not touch his essence, he is a substantial
body, he is himself, Friday is Friday. But that is not so. No matter
what he is to himself (is he anything to himself? — how can he tell us), what
he is to the world is what I make of him. Therefore the silence of Friday
is a helpless silence. He is the child of his silence, a child unborn, a
child waiting to be born that cannot be born. Whereas the silence I keep
regarding Bahia and other matters is chosen and purposeful: it is my own silence.
Bahia, I assert, is a world in itself, and Brazil an even greater world.
Bahia and Brazil do not belong within an island story, they cannot be cramped
into its confines. . . . How can you ever close Bahia between the covers of a
book. It is only small and thinly people places that can be subjugated and
held down in words, such as desert islands and lonely houses. (121-3)
Why does Barton count herself better than Friday? What is the
difference between his silence and hers? Why is she silent? In what
ways do we believe her argument? What is the difference between substantial
essence and wordly story-telling? In what ways might she using this rhetoric
to hold something back? What happened in Brazil and Bahia? Might
she or her daughter have been somehow traumatized? Might words lack the
capacity to represent that trauma? Or might telling the story bring back
those memories (recall that earlier (59) she calls stories the storing-place
of memory). What might she be trying to forget? Or might the very
act of naming constitute a violation, contamination, and containment of one's
presence, identity, and soul? In other words, might language and story-telling
comprise the trauma itself? Or might the fact that, as she tells her would-be
daughter, that there are no stories of daughters searching for mothers (77),
engender her trauma? Has her daughter been lost, or has her daughter run
away from her . . . without telling her the reason why, that is, her own story?
We've seen a daughter's alienation from the inside in The Woman Warrior;
might this novel, with its obsessive questioning of Cruso, Friday, and
Foe, be constructed around that same core conflict, the feelings of inferiority
and of rebellion, of lack and of conflict with one's parent or creator, with
one's entire past?
I am not a story, Mr Foe. . . . There was a life before the water which stretched
back to my desolate searchings in Brazil, thence to the years when my daughter
was still with me, and so on back to the day I was born. All of which makes
up a story I do not choose to tell. I choose not to tell it because no one,
not even to you, do I owe proof that I am a substantial being with a substantial
history in the world. I choose rather to tell of the island, of myself and
Cruso and Friday and what we three did there: for I am a free woman who asserts
her freedom by telling her story according to her own desire. (131)
Does she believe that she is a substantial being, that she has an
essence untouched and uncreated by others? Why is she so desperate to
convince him? Does she realize she's more like Friday than she would care
to admit? Is she more than a receptacle? Is she truly free?
Is she more than Foe's story? Is she more than Coetzee's story?
Does Friday's silence cause her to stop questioning his history? Does
the withholding of her story impel Foe to give up trying to fill in the blanks?
Does it stop us from making imaginative interpretations about her character's
backstory? Might her desperate, hysterical madness, that insanity that
feels itself as lackingly non-existence and determined by others' agency, see
through the text and realize that we are not only reading her but creating her
just as her author Coetzee does? Is she ever more than a story within
the reality of her life? within our reality? Do her anxieties speak to
us? Are our identities ever constructed for us? Are we ever made
to play a (minor) role in someone else's existence, in someone else's story?
His mouth opens. From inside him comes a slow stream, without breath,
without interruption. It flows up through his body and out upon me; it
passes through the cabin, through the wreck; washing the cliffs and shores of
the island, it runs northward and southward to the ends of the earth.
Soft and cold, dark and unending, it eats against my eyelids, against the skin
of my face. (157)
Where is Cruso? Where is Barton? Where are we? Who
is speaking to whom here? Is this Cruso diving into the wreck? Did
Barton ever arrive back in England? Did Barton ever reach the island in
the first place? Were the last hundred pages real, or were they a dream,
or were they just a story? Is this Cruso's ghost? Is this the author,
Coetzee, entering the reality of his imagined world? Is this you, the
reader, entering the story and discovering Friday's essence? Does finding
this stream of Friday's consciousness put any of Barton's and our questions
to rest? What conflict does the stream resolve? What conflict does
the stream perpetuate? What does one do with this ending? How do
we feel about it? How do we feel?
William Gibson: Neuromancer
Part One: Chiba City Blues
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned
to a dead channel. (3)
Where are we? Describe the world, Chiba City, in which Case
lives. What is the Sprawl? What is Tessier-Ashpool? Now, characterize
the matrix. Differentiate the real world and cyberspace. Now, how
are they alike? Why does Case prefer cyberspace to the real world?
Why is he called a cowboy? How does he make his way in the real world?
Cold steel odor. Ice caressed his spine.
Lost, so small amid that dark, hands grown cold, body image
fading down corridors of television sky.
Then black fire found the branching tributaries of the nerves,
pain beyond anything to which the name of pain is given. . . . (31)
How is one's human body, specifically nervous system, similar to the
matrix? Why is Case's body in particular compared to cyberspace?
Where does technology leave off and humanity begin—and vice versa? So
too with Molly. Describe the comparison being made between this ice and
computer ice (intrusion countermeasures electronics, 28). What does Case
gradually lose more and more of as he journeys through cyberspace? What
does he gain? At what cost?
Part Two: The Shopping Expedition
"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions
of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical
concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of
every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines
of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of
data. Like city lights, receding. . . ." (51)
Again, what differentiates this world and, say, Chiba City?
Why is this world preferable to the real world? What constitutes this
world and why is this significant? What is an hallucination? a representation?
an abstraction? nonspace? Again, what does cyberspace offer that the real
world cannot? Does cyberspace offer a way to escape from the confusing,
chaotic, and limiting horrors of the real world and to the orderly, infinite,
and free-flowing beauty of binary code? But what might be lost in the
move? Further, what horrors, if any, might reside in cyberspace?
"Time to pack," he said, and Case tried to find the man called Corto behind the
pale blue eyes and the tanned mask. He thought of Wage, back in Chiba.
Operators above a certain level tended to submerge their personalities, he knew.
But Wage had had vices, loves. Even, it had been rumored, children.
The blankness he found in Armitage was something else. (96-7)
Why do Armitage and others in this world get plastic surgery?
To look (stay?) young? To look (be) like celebrities? Why would
one repress one's personality? If Armitage is not covering up his real
identity, Corto, where has that personality gone? And who is Armitage?
What is his story? How has Wintermute created him? Why is he coming
apart at the seams?
Part Three: Midnight in the Rue Jules Verne
When the construct laughed, it came through as something else, not laughter,
but a stab of cold down Case's spine. "Do me a favor, boy."
"What's that Dix,?"
"This scam of yours, when it's over, you erase this goddam
What does it mean (for Case, for the reader, for humanity in general)
that a human personality can be programmed into a computer? What does
it mean that that construct can know it's a construct?
What does it mean that Case searches for the Corto beneath the Armitage facade
and finds only blankness (96)? What is the nature of identity being offered
by these two characters, the insane Armitage/Corto and the computer construct
Dixie Flatline? Is Dixie's deathwish justified? How might Dixie's
laughter compare to the narrator's from "The Wall"? Compare and contrast
the themes of death presented in each story.
"I wasn't conscious. It's like cyberspace, but blank.
Silver. It smells like rain. . . . You can see yourself orgasm, it's like
a little noa right out of the rim of space. But I was starting to remember
Like dreams, you know. And they didn't tell me. They switched the
software and started renting to specialty markets."
She seemed to speak from a distance. "And I knew, but
I kept quiet about it. I needed the money. The dreams got worse and
worse, and I'd tell myself that at least some of them were
but by then I'd started to figure that the boss had a whole little clientele
going for me." (148)
What's a meat puppet? What is supposed to happen to one's consciousness?
What did happen to Molly's? What does the very presence of this occupation
say about the state of civilization? Why do people pay for meat puppets?
(Could it be the same reason why cowboys get high on cyberspace?) Why
do people offer themselves as meat puppets? Why did Molly? Why did
she stay? Did Molly lose herself, her agency, or was it taken away?
Given what occurred with the senator, is Molly a victim or a heroine?
Part Four: The Straylight Run
Nothing. Gray void.
No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace.
The deck was gone. His fingers were . . .
And on the far rim of consciousness, a scurrying, a fleeting
impression of something rushing toward him, across leagues of black mirror.
Where is Case now? Compare this world first to the real world,
then to the matrix. What makes this void qualitatively different from
the matrix? What makes the mirrors significant here? What is the
"fleeting impression" that rushes toward Case? What is the novel's view
of death? of the afterlife? of spirituality? of soul? of consciousness?
of identity? Describe the nature of artificial intelligence: is it revelation?
is it god? Why? Why not?
There was a strength that ran in her, something he'd known in Night City and held
there, been held by it, held for a while away from time and death, from the relentless
Street that hunted them all. It was a place he'd known before; not everyone
could take him there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something
he'd found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew—he remembered—as
she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a
vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone,
infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.
What is this strength? Where does it come from? How does
it function? Over what does it prevail? Why does Case mock it, deny
it, respect it? (How) does Case and Molly's relationship evolve?
How is Case sensitive to Molly's being? How is he abstracted from
her? (How) does sex or simstim bridge the gulf between Case's mind and
Molly's body? How is the mind implicated in the machinations of the body?
How is the body involved in the calculations of the mind? (How) does the
novel reconcile the mind/meat split?
Coda: Departure and Arrival
Wintermute was hive mind, decision maker, effecting change
in the world outside. Neuromancer was personality. Neuromancer was
immortality. Marie-France must have built something into Wintermute, the
compulsion that had driven the thing to free itself, to unite with Neuromancer.
Wintermute. Cold and silence, a cybernetic spider slowly
spinning webs while Ashpool slept. Spinning his death, the fall of his
version of Tessier-Ashpool. A ghost, whispering to a child who was 3Jane,
twisting her out of the rigid alignments her rank required. (269)
What is Wintermute searching for? Does Neuromancer really possess
it? Compare and contrast Wintermute's relationship with Neuromancer (and/or
Wintermute's relationship to the sleeping Tessier-Ashpool's) to Case's relationship
with Molly. In what ways is Wintermute a ghost? Is this the same
kind of ghost we saw in The Woman Warrior? Why or why not?
Given Armitage/Corto, given Ashpool, given 3Jane, given Case even, what message
does this novel thematize regarding the nature of human personality, or the
relationship between humanity and technology?
Small as they were, he could make out the boy's grin, his pink gums, the glitter
of the long gray eyes that had been Riviera's. Linda still wore his jacket;
she waved, as he passed. But the third figure, close behind her, arm across
her shoulders, was himself.
Somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn't laughter.
He never saw Molly again. (270-1)
Where is Case? Who or what is he seeing? Who or what is
laughing? Why? Given all that he has been through, what has Case
learned about himself and about the world from these experiences? What
has he gained? What has he lost? Why does Molly leave him?
Now that you've written a formal analysis of a work of literature, it's time
to learn how to use other's critical writing to support your interpretation.
To that end, in this group assignment, you'll learn and learn and practice how
to find and evaluate scholarly criticism on a particular author and topic as
determined by your group and me. You'll be responsible for composing a web page
of your findings, as well as presenting them to the rest of the class in a formal
Researching and constructing the bibliography constitutes the predominat part
of the assignment. Please include all of the following sections in your
annotated bibliography that will be attached to the course website. Here's
are two examples on Albee and Atwood, though
not composed for a computer section. Here are some examples from a previous computer section. Beyond these elements, the design of the page
is left up to you: be creative as you wish. Feel free to make me look
bad: use pictures, audio, animation. Have some serious play!
1. Research Topic
Give the broad concept or issue
that you’ll be investigating.
2. Research Question
Contextualize what you already
know, based upon class discussion, and pose a question or two that has
guided your research.
3. Search Strategy
Recapitulate where and how you
went about your search for sources. A few words to the wise about
obtaining print sources: 1) Don’t put this off until the last minute.
You should request and check out materials from libraries a full two weeks
before the assignment is due. “The books are in transit” or “The
books were checked out” does not constitute a valid excuse for a bibliography
lacking 10 sources. 2) Note that OSCAR will tell you if OSU owns
a particular journal, but it can’t search for journal articles. Consequently,
on OSU Libraries home page, before entering OSCAR, search Other Online
Research Tools a) OSU’s collection of “electronic journals” (this is very
limited, but it can’t hurt to try), b) “other databases by subject” page
(there’s a listing of numerous databases like Language and Literature,
and Psychology, which will link you to MLA Bibliography and a psychology
journal search engine. (You’ll get some of the same databases with
which Gateway interfaces, some with which Gateway doesn’t), and 3) finally
Gateway, which searches 92 databases. 4) Once you have a critical
article or book, check its works cited and reference pages for other books
that might help your research. If you come up empty handed after
trying OSCAR, the appropriate “databases by subject,” Gateway, and works
cited pages of articles/books you've already found, ask a librarian for
help! Feel free to use Columbus Metropolitan Libraries, but note
they are a public library system and your search will need to be augmented
by an academic library like OSU. A few words to the wise about web
sources: search the university and organizational websites first (Jack
Lynch's page and Internet Public Library, for example) in order to find
specialized, scholarly sites, then move on to regular search engines.
4. Summary of Findings
In 250 words, summarize the different
critical interpretations of the subject-matter, describe where critics
converge and diverge, and criticize the lines of argument. Compare
and contrast the usefulness and informativeness of web versus print sources.
5. 20 secondary sources
approximately half should be scholarly journal articles
and books (or book chapters)
approximately half should be websites
sorry—no encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, primary
sorry—no critical articles and websites used in
alphabetically arranged according to MLA standards
with annotations of 75-100 words each that evaluate
the sources by:
Identify what’s at stake or the
issue or question that the source is investigating.
Describe how the author supports
her argument, for instance with logical claims and assumptions and/or with
examples, facts, and statistics.
Define the source’s thesis, or
sub-thesis relevant to your research question, its contribution to the
critical discourse, and/or how it will help your paper; note that his can
be combined with the ‘problem’ section.
In the first part of the assignment, groups will present their findings to
the class. I suggest speaking from the summary of findings in order to
gloss what interpretations exist out there. Also, highlight and development
notes on the best of the best print sources. Feel free to guide the class
through the most pertinent web sites. Generally speaking, highlight the
best of what you found, and put your interpretation on it. Be as creative
as you wish. Keep in mind that you have use of the computer projector
and all software the computer has to offer (i.e., you may choose to compose
a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation with all of the audiovisuals it entails).