The Tell-Tale Heart
1. Poe claims that the writer of short fiction should strive to offer only those details and incidents that lend to a “certain unique or single effect,” an impression or emotional/psychological impact upon the reader and that if the writer’s “initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step.” Consider the first sentence of “The Tell-Tale Heart”—what does the author immediately establish?
2. What effect is the opening line designed to have on the reader?
3. Why does the narrator wish to kill the old man?
4. What is the narrator’s nightly ritual, and what do his precautions suggest about him?
5. In paragraph 10 the narrator asks, “. . . have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?” How do these “overly-acute” senses lead to the demise of the narrator and his victim?
6. What is the intended effect of the Poe’s narrative, and what details especially establish this effect?
Jack London, “To Build a Fire”
1. Why does London give so much attention to describing the setting?
2. Why is it significant that this man is a newcomer to the area, that this is his first winter here?
3. Why does the author place the man in the company of a dog, rather than describe him as entirely alone?
4. At what point does the story reach its greatest tension and suspense?
5. How might the mood of this story be described?
6. What effect is the narrative apparently designed to have on the reader?
Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery”
1. How does Jackson begin to establish the story’s mood, and at what point does the mood begin to shift?
2. What is the effect of this change in mood?
3. Consider Kennedy, question 5, p. 269: “What do you make of Old Man Warner’s saying, ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’ (paragraph 32)?”
4. Consider Kennedy, question 6, p. 269: “What do you think Shirley Jackson is driving at? Consider each of the following interpretations and, looking at the story, see if you can find any evidence for it:
Jackson takes a primitive fertility rite and playfully transfers it to a small town in North America.
Jackson, writing her story after World War II, indirectly expresses her horror at the Holocaust. She assumes that the massacre of Jews was carried out by unwitting, obedient people, like these villagers.
Jackson is satirizing our own society, in which men are selected for the army by lottery.
Jackson is just writing a memorable story that signifies nothing at all.”
The Elements of Humor
1. Name and define four comic genres.
2. “Theme” in a work of literature is the central or controlling idea, one which often deals with human nature or life itself. (You will be studying “theme” in Module 4.) Vonnegut’s theme deals with society, for example, while O’Connor writes about human nature and hypocrisy. On one level, Atwood is writing about writing, about stereotypical plots and readers’ expectations. On another level, however, her story is about life. Describe this theme in Atwood’s tale.
3. Explain the difference between verbal irony and situational irony.
4. What is Vonnegut’s primary tool for creating his satire “Harrison Bergeron”?
5. “Revelation” unfolds in four scenes. What are they?
6. What is the author’s attitude toward Mrs. Turpin?
7. In addition to verbal irony and situational irony there is dramatic irony where readers share with the author knowledge of which the character is ignorant (see pp. 701-702). Classic examples of dramatic irony are found in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, which you will be reading later. Describe how O’Connor uses dramatic irony in “Revelation.”
8. As the boy does in James Joyce’s “Araby,” Mrs. Turpin receives her own epiphany (“a sudden spiritual manifestation”). What is the meaning of Mrs. Turpin’s revelation, her epiphany?
9. Read Flannery O’Connor’s essay “The Serious Writer and the Tired Reader” (pp. 461-462). Comment on how O’Connor feels about readers who insist that good literature lifts up the heart. Do you agree or disagree?
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