November 29, 2007

OPTIONAL: "The Dead"

  • Re-read the first paragraph. Whose voice is this? Whose point of view? Why does he open it like this? Where does the initial movement come from? What’s the hook?
  • Lily is not just herself, but also an echo of other characters from earlier stories. Remind you? Also, other characters reappear...Kathleen Kearney, for example. To what effect?
  • We sit in expectation of Gabriel, and then—-almost forgotten—-Freddy arrives. Then, instead of seeing Freddy, we move to Mr. Browne. Why? What effect?
  • Why so much description of Freddy? Why a “young man of 40?? Why don’t we hear any of Freddy’s words here in direct speech? Why is there so much and so little of Freddy Malins? To what effect? Does he counterpoint Gabriel? Or does it seem so for part of the story?
  • What’s the effect of the conversation with Miss Ivors? How is Gabriel continually thrown off his balance? Why might that be?
  • How does Gabriel’s speech function dramatically (to move the plot)? To echo themes?
  • What is the role of nostalgia? Why so much?
  • What is the function of the last part, after Gabriel understands about his wife's love for Michael Furey? How does our understanding of Gabriel grow/change? How do we feel about him at the end?
  • Does Gabriel fall under authorial criticism in the way that other characters in Dubliners seem to? If there's a change, what is it?
  • What is the function of the final image? What does it leave you with?
  • Who are "The Dead"?

November 25, 2007

Dubliners: Public Life

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

This story, in many ways, resembles a play. It is very dialogue-centric, and people's comings and goings are often indicated abruptly, with something like stage directions. How does it change the story to have so much dialogue? What are the characters "saying without saying"? Do we look beyond their words? Are there things they say on the surface, and then a more "real" content to their debate? What are the benefits and risks of having so much in dialogue?

"A Mother"

  • Why is this in the section called "public life"?
  • In the end, is there a character who is the “bad guy? and one who is the “good guy? here? What do you think of Mrs. Kearney? How is her character balanced (if it is) so she is not insufferable nor the victim?
  • The perspective shifts frequently here. How does he shift fluidly (for example, the first paragraph is about Mr. Holohan, the second about Mrs. Kearney)?
  • Does it trouble you, as a reader, that a sister is mentioned and then disappears? What do you think this achieves, if anything?
  • What are YOUR questions about it?


  • Why is it titled “Grace?? (Note that we begin the story with a "Fall,? down the stairs of the pub.)
  • Why in these three sections? The Fall, Purgatory, and ...?
  • Why does it end as it does? What is the effect? How would you describe the ending? Does the story achieve a “wholeness?? Why might you (or mightn't you) structure a story this way?
  • What is its most interesting aspect?
  • What are YOUR questions about it?

November 12, 2007

Zoe Wicomb Stories

“A Clearing in the Bush?

  • How does she create setting? Is setting important? Why/how? When do you notice it? When is it there, but you don't notice it?
  • Where does the motion come from?
  • Why do we switch perspectives to Tamieta? Why not just make it Frida’s story? Are they counterpointed or compared? Or both?
  • Why Tess of the d’Urbervilles? What does this bring to the narrative, whether or not (assuming not) you've read it?
  • Why “A Clearing in the Bush?? Why does it end with Tamieta and not Frida? (Note that the whole book is a collection of connected stories narrated, in large part, by the writer-character Frida Shenton.)

“Behind the Bougainvillea?

  • In "Behind the Bougainvillea," there is a lot of setting vs. "action"; especially in the first half of the story. What effect does this have on the story? Why might she make this choice, rather than just get into it with Henry right away?
  • How do we move between past and present? Is there a narrative mechanism, such as a line break or cue like, "Ten years ago"? If not, what effect does it have? How does she jump between times?
  • What is the function repeated images, such as various kinds of flowers, and rain?
  • Why does she end with her father, on his ridiculous, naive statement?

"Ash on My Sleeve"

    Note: This is the same Moira from "A Clearing in the Bush."
  • What is the effect of beginning with the pimple?
  • What are the advantages of having a narratror who's out of touch, unfamiliar with what's changed?
  • In the conversations between Frieda and Moira, does either one of them hold all the power, or is it balanced? What would be the effect if one of them held all the cards? What's the effect of a debate/discussion where no one wins?
  • Why end in the "chaste little bed" after all this talk about sex and virginity? What's the effect of landing on this image?

November 5, 2007

Dubliners: Mature Life

“A Little Cloud?

  • How would you describe the structure of "A Little Cloud"? How is it put together? What are the larger and smaller chunks, and how do they work? For instance, how many scenes? How many major characters? Are they similar or different (or both)?


  • What are the difficulties of creating a character who doesn’t know (or barely knows) what’s going on around her? How does Joyce try to ensure that you won’t just see the world in the rose-colored-glassees-ified way Maria does? To what extent does it work? What are the pitfalls of trying something like this?

“A Painful Case?

  • How is Duffy’s portrait constructed? In what ways do we learn about him? What is the effect of the long reaction scene at the end? Why does that have so much weight?

October 28, 2007

OPTIONAL: Grace Paley stories

  • If you were trying to describe Grace Paley’s stories, or Paley's "voice," how would you?
  • How is sense of place important in her stories? Is this a particular place? How does she create depth/setting?
  • If she puts politics into the story, how? Does it overwhelm the story?
  • In the story "Living," the narrator keeps coming back to, “I was dying.? How does that affect the story? How would you describe the distance between the narrator and the events of the story? How does that change/affect your view of things?
  • What questions would you ask about these stories, if you were presenting them?

October 23, 2007

Jeremy's Presentation - "The Scarlet Tilt"

Jeremy is presenting Richard Brautigan's "The Scarlatti Tilt."

Continue reading "Jeremy's Presentation - "The Scarlet Tilt"" »

October 11, 2007

"Douloti the Bountiful"


  • Why read something like this, something constructed so different from "Western" narratives? What might you take from it?
  • Your own general questions...


  • Why so much history about Bono and Crook before we get to Douloti? The narrator says, "So many things came up as I tried to tell you how Ganori Nagesia became Crook Nagesia. These things must be said. In the world of Seora village, Bono is just as true as Ganori." Why must these things be said? Who is this narrator? What kind of person is telling us this story? What sort of expectations are created by the opening? Why start this way and not some other way?

  • How would you describe the point of view? When/where does it shift? How?

  • What do you make of the more technical features of the text? Why does she run some dialogue together (and not use quotes)? Why does she use line breaks, like poetry, in some places, such as 49-50? Why so many short sentences? Or rather, not why, but what are the effects?

  • Why does Spivak translate the word for upper-caste men as "god"? Some translators shy away from this. Why does Spivak embrace it? What effect does it have on the story?


  • Where does the tension/movement come from?

  • "Douloti understood some and didn't understand some" (91). This happens throughout, that she understands only parts of conversations, only part of what is going on around her. Is our understanding (or lack thereof) supposed to imitate Douloti's? To what extent does our understanding mirror Douloti's? Is this an effective narrative strategy? What are the upsides and downsides?

  • Was there a way out for Douloti? Why doesn't Devi let her take it? What sort of different story would it be if she did?

  • Other things you notice, questions about what's going on, etc.?

October 8, 2007

Joyce's "Young Adult" Stories in Dubliners

  • What feels common to these stories? What do they share? Are there any narrative strategies that seem to follow from one to the next?
  • Does "After the Race" seem different? If there is a reason for Joyce to call it his weak link, what is it? Does Jimmy lack depth? If you were to revise "After the Race," how would you do it?
  • "Two Gallants" has a sort of "surprise" ending, much more common in stories pre-Joyce than post-. Do you think it's an effective end for this story or not? Why is a surprise ending more or less effective here?
  • In "The Boarding House," how does he go about shifting point of view? What cues you that we're in someone else's head? How close do we get to each of the characters? How does he move us in closer, so that we feel what a character is feeling?
  • What are your questions?

September 24, 2007

Distant Star

Please do not feel obligated to answer every question! Answer those that resonate with you, and please do ask your own.

Stylistic choices/"voice":

  • What's the effect of his (rather frequent) use of parenthesis? How does it affect the narrator's voice?
  • What's the effect of so many names--unfamiliar to many readers; in any case, Bolano doesn't care if you're familiar with them?
  • Other thoughts on sentence structure, word choice, italics, use of quotes, etc.?

Structural choices:

  • Why does he begin, in the first sentence, by reminding us that in '71 or '72 Salvador Allende was the President of Chile?
  • What is the effect of the very long paragraphs?
  • What moves you forward? What holds your attention?
  • What is he using "poetry" to do? What work is the concept of "poetry" doing in this novella?
  • If there is a point when the novella seems to "drift," or when your attention founders, when exactly is this, and why?
  • What does he gain by embroiling his first-person narrator with a detective in Chapter 8, by inserting him into the course of history/action (rather than making him simply a reporter)?


  • With so many names, how do you know who to focus on? How/when does he use opposites or "counterpointing"? Does that help you keep track of important characters?

Other questions:

  • Bolano mixes real and imagined events in a way that the reader could lose hold of what "really" happened in Chile in the 1970s. What is the effect of layering real and imagined events? Why might you choose to do this in your own work? What are possible pitfalls?
  • If Carlos Wieder was the engine of the story, why doesn't it end at the close of Chapter 7, when Chile forgets him?
  • Why does it end the way it does? Is it a "satisfying" ending? Why, why not?

September 12, 2007

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

  • Where does the motion come from? If the overarching question, as Jamie mentioned, is "why," what propels you through individual scenes/chapters? What questions are you asking yourself at different moments? How does he transition from question to question? When one is satisfied, how is another raised?

  • How would you describe the emotion of the book (the beginning, the middle, and the end)? What sorts of reactions or emotions does the text evoke in you, the reader? When--as Vladimir Nabokov would ask--does your spine tingle? How does he create this effect? Do you see where it comes from, how it's assembled?

  • How does the world of Chronicle of a Death Foretold achieve depth? That is, how does it appear to be a possible world, rather than a world of cardboard cut-outs? How does Marquez achieve verisimilitude and believability? By what mechanisms?

    Minor questions:

  • What is the effect of the repetition of "On the day they were going to kill him..."?
  • What is the effect of waiting until the very end to show the killing?
  • How would the book be different if we knew more about the narrator's life? What is the effect of knowing very little about him?

  • Please ask your own questions below!