Alex E. Blazer Course Site Syllabus
Study Questions Exam  


Traversing the Real of Fiction

English 261N (07131-7): Introduction to Fiction

Summer 2001, T/R: 7:30 - 9:18 PM, Derby Hall 80

Study Questions

What does fiction mean? What does fiction do? How does fiction function? What is the relationship between fiction and reality? What themes—what truths—might fiction confront us with? First and foremost, at the heart of fiction is friction; at the heart of darkness lies intense internal conflict. However, the other elements of fiction function to not only illustrate but also develop those internal conflicts. A question about one element of fiction will overlap with another element and will always point to the core conflict that the text issues. Use these questions about characterization, fiction and film, imagery, point of view, plot and structure, setting, symbolism, theme, and tone to help you analyze any literary text. Then use these study questions regarding the function of particular elements of fiction to help you interpret the texts in this course.

  1. John Barth: "Lost in the Funhouse"

  2. Robert Coover: "The Babysitter"

  3. William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury

  4. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: "The Yellow Wall-Paper"

  5. Ernest Hemingway: "The End of Something" and "Soldier's Home"

  6. James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

  7. David Lynch: Blue Velvet

  8. Toni Morrison: Beloved

  9. Edgar Allan Poe: "The Fall of the House of Usher"

  10. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Slaughterhouse Five

  11. Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse

Exam Review

the texts

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wall-Paper"

Edgar Allan Poe: "The Fall of the House of Usher"

James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Ernest Hemingway: "The End of Something"

"Soldier's Home"

Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse

William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury


the elements of fiction




point of view





The quizzes asked for (more or less) "just the facts, ma'am." The exam compels you to build an interpretation using textual evidence. You've proven that you've read the material on the quizzes, so you don't need to litter the exam with gratuitous plot summary. Instead, showcase your analytical abilities by providing strong, thesis-driven readings of the texts. Use the text inasmuch as it fuels your ideas, your making of sense of the texts.


Be prepared to discuss each author, and be prepared to make connections among multiple texts. There will be no questions that allow you to discuss the texts in isolation; rather , you will compare and contrast texts. You will be asked to write two or three essays from a set of four to six discussion questions. Each question will require you to discuss two or three texts, and you won't be able to discuss a text more than once on the exam.


Here are the issues that will appear on the exam in some form or another.

  1. The elements of fiction: Don't just know their functions, rather be able to apply them to each story, not just the story focused on as an in-class example. Be able to compare and contrast how the elements function differently in different works of literature.
  2. The conflicts between individual and society: Why do many of these characters find it difficult to adapt to or simply exist in society? Why do many of these characters rebel or exile themselves? How does this rebellion or self-exile succeed or fail? How and why do some characters come back into the fold?
  3. The conflicts between men and women: What puts men and women in conflict? How does sexuality simultaneously unite and separate men and women? In other words, how does sexuality function, and how does it fail to function?
  4. The conflicts within families: How and why do some of the families we've read flourish? How and why do some decline? What distinguishes the (relatively) functional families from the deteriorating families? What pits children against their parents? How do these children overcome their resentments, if at all?
  5. Time and history: How does the historical time period mold the characters and their conflicts? Alternatively, how and why are certain characters obsessed with their particular eras and/or with the concept of time itself?
  6. The function of fiction: How does the reading or writing fiction, broadly defined as any work of art, help certain characters flee from the harsh realities of life? Alternatively, how does fiction engage the traumatic and help certain characters traverse the real?