American Literature Discussion Questions

Read “Richard Cory,” “Miniver Cheevy,” “Eros Turranos,” and “Mr. Flood’s Party.”

1.What are some of Richard Cory’s most distinguishing characteristics?Would you view him as more a positive or a negative character?

2.Does the ending of the poem shock you?Why or why not?How do you explain it?

3.What really makes Miniver Cheevy so unhappy?

4.How do we respond to Miniver Cheevy’s thoughts about Camelot, Thebes, and the Medici?

5.Why does the woman in “Eros Turannos” stay with her husband?

6.What is the significance of the “we” in the final stanza of “Eros Turannos”?

7.In “Mr. Flood’s Party,” why is Eben Flood alone?

8.Line 47 of “Mr. Flood’s Party” refers to “two moons.”How are we to understand this image?

Read “Mending Wall,” “Home Burial,” “The Road Not Taken,” “‘Out, Out–,'”, “Fire and Ice,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Departmental,” and “Desert Places.”

1.Why is the narrator in “Mending Wall” rebuilding the wall if “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (ln. 1)?

2.The neighbor says “‘Good fences make good neighbors.'”Do you agree or disagree?Why?

3.How do the husband and wife’s grief differ in “Home Burial?”

4.The husband says, “A man must partly give up being a man/ With womenfolk” (ll. 52 – 53).Is this statement true?If so, is it also true of women?

5.In “The Road Not Taken,” how do you explain the repetition of “I” at the end of line 18 and the beginning of line 19?

6.Why write a poem about a road NOT taken?

7.Read the soliloquy in Macbeth that includes the words “out, out.”How is it relevant to the poem?

8.Do you think the surviving characters are cruel at the end of the poem?Why or why not?

9.Notice that “Fire and Ice” was first published in 1923, more than a decade before the nuclear age and modern Weapons of Mass Destruction.How does the advent of WMD affect the way you read the poem?

10.Why does the narrator in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” pause?

11.Does the description of the woods as “lovely, dark, and deep” (ln. 13) inspire desire, fright, or both?Why?

12.What do you think ants represent in “Departmental?”Is the any community a sort of microcosm?

13.Comment on the tone in the last two lines of “Departmental.”

14.”Desert Places,” like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” presents snow images.What do you think snow represents here?

15.Is being scared of desert places common throughout human experience?Why or why not?

Read “Chicago,” “Child of the Romans,” “Fog,” and “Grass.”

1.How does “Chicago” reflect the influence of Walt Whitman?

2.In what ways does Sandburg make the city of Chicago seem particularly alive?

3.How does comparison/contrast make “Child of the Romans” more poignant?

4.Is there anything ironic about the “roses and jonquils” (ln. 10) “[s]tanding slender on the tables in the dining room cars” (ln. 12)?

5.How does “Fog” reflect Imagist influences?

6.How is the city affected by the fog?

7.Why do you think “Grass” refers to so many battles?

8.What is the real work of the grass?

Read “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” and “The Gilded Six-Bits.”

1. “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” is a non-fiction essay. What attitude does Hurston express about her own blackness?

2. How does Hurston claim to be freer than her white contemporaries? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

3. In “The Gilded Six-Bits,” give your own characterization of the relationship between Missie May and Joe. Now describe it as Joe sees it at the beginning of the story.

4. What does the ice cream parlor represent to Joe? to Missie May?

5. Slemmons is able to deceive Joe and Missie May in multiple ways. Explain.

6. How is “The Gilded Six-Bits” affected by seeing set in Eatonville, an all black town?

Read all the selections from Toomer in the book.

1.In “Georgia Dusk,” what does the setting sun seem to represent for the characters?

2.How is the image of the juju man related to that of Christ (ln. 28)?

3.What does the narrator mean about “Fern” when he says that “[s]he became a virgin?”

4.What is the “vision” repeated in “Fern,” and how does it relate to the recurring image of the Jewish cantor?

5.What does it mean that “Portrait in Georgia” contains images of the lyncher’s rope, the fagot, and the blister?

6.What is the overall mood on “Seventh Street?”

7.Toomer was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance who sometimes chose to pass for white.What signs of internal racial dissonance and harmony do you find in the selections from Cane?

Read As I Lay Dying.

1.Influenced by Marcel Proust and James Joyce, Faulkner wrote in the stream of consciousness technique.Do you find that it actually enhances your understanding, at times, of the novel?

2.Which of the speakers do you find most reliable?Why?

3.Do you consider Cash’s decision to make the coffin even before Addie dies and where she can see him cruel?Why or why not?

4.Which of Addie’s children receives more of your sympathy?Explain.

5.Why is Dewey Dell so anxious to go to Jefferson?

6.One section consists entirely of Vardaman saying, “My mother is a fish.”What does he mean?

7.Why does Anse refuse to abandon the journey to town, despite the flood and the injury to Cash?

8.Explain the last line of the novel: “‘Meet Mrs Bundren,’ he says.”

Read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

1.What ails Harry physically?What might this illness symbolize?

2.When does Harry first acknowledge that he expects to die?How does the acknowledgement affect the way you read the rest of the story?

3.Why are certain passages italicized?

4.How do you react when Harry calls the woman a “bitch?”

5.What does Paris seem to represent to Harry?

6.What do you make of the fact that Harry is a writer?

7.How is the hyena in the last paragraph foreshadowed earlier?

8.Discuss the ways “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” illustrates what Hemingway called the “iceberg principle.”

Read “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “I, Too,” “Mulatto,” “Song for a Dark Girl,” “Silhouette,” and “Democracy.”

1.How are the particular rivers listed in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” significant?

2.What does it mean to say one’s “soul has grown deep like the rivers?”

3.What is the version of America sung in “I, Too?”

4.Given the origin of the term “Mulatto,” why would Hughes use it as a title?

5.How does “Mulatto” seem to explain the white man’s lust for the black woman’s body yet his refusal to accept their offspring?

6.In “Song for a Dark Girl,” do the images go too far or not far enough in portraying a response to a lynching.

7.What does the speaker see of the woman in “Silhouette?”What might she be seeing at the same time?

8.What objection does the narrator seem to be answering in “Democracy?”

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