World Literature through Short Stories

"Barn Burning" by William Faulkner (American)

Somebody burned down the barn.  The young man knew who did it and why, he only doesn't know what he's going to do about it. 
Genre: realistic historical
Setting: American South, 1920s or 30s

Writing Choice 1: Explain in detail how we are to understand Abner Snopes' motivation. Why is he so antagonistic to his landlords? What are we to understand as the principles he believes in for determining who deserves respect and who does not? Suppose someone were to try to persuade him that he should be grateful to the likes of Mr. Harris or Major de Spain for giving him a living. What do you imagine would be his reply?

Writing Choice 2: What are we to think of the legitimacy of the overall social order within which the story takes place? What, for example, is your assessment of the quality of justice administered in the two court sessions (in different small towns) that we witness in the course of the story? Are there other relevant factors to be taken into account? Explain.

Writing Choice 3: Analyze in detail the conflict within Sarty. Conclude your analysis by explaining why you believe Sarty resolves it the way he does.

"Bartleby, the Scrivener" by Herman Melville (American) 8 pgs           

A scrivener is a man that makes his living copying--a preindustrial human Xerox machine.  This Wall Street lawyer works with a particularly strange one...

Writing Choice 1: Why do you think Melville chose the unnamed Wall Street lawyer as his narrator?  How does the narrator describe himself?  What is the reader expected to think of him?  Does the narrator seem to change, become increasingly hostile toward Bartleby, of does he develop more sympathy as the story progresses?  What effect do the changes in his mood have on the reader's attitude toward Bartleby?  What reason does the narrator give for his growing revulsion?  How does he diagnose Bartleby's problem?  Why does the narrator/author end his tale, "Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!" What seems to be the final relationship between narrator and protagonist?

Writing Choice 2: Why do you think Bartleby refuses to compare the manuscripts? What seems symbolic about his action? Is there a pattern to his refusals? What is his manner in so doing, and how does it affect others? What are the stages of his passive resistance to interacting with his world? What is added by the knowledge that Bartleby lives in the office? What details indicate the pathetically limited nature of his existence? Why hadn't the lawyer realized before that Bartleby never left the office? Can you understand why Bartleby won't open the door at once?

Writing Choice 3: Can you think of any other possible solution(s) to Bartleby's problem? Were the events of the story to occur at the present time, would the outcome likely be different?  What are the Tombs? What happens to Bartleby there? What is his response to the narrator, when the latter visits him? What choices lead directly to his death?

"Bernice Bobs her Hair" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (American)

An "In" girl takes an out-of-the-loop society newcomer under her wing--and finds she may have bit off more than she could chew. 

Writing Choice 1:  Gender Issues: How do you think Fitzgerald defines womanhood and femininity in this story? Are these concepts definable at all?  How is the cruelty of the modern woman illustrated in "Bernice Bobs Her Hair?"  Can you envision any version of this story that could involve male instead of female main characters, or is the tale necessarily tied to women? Why or why not?  What is the significance of Bernice's last utterance - "Scalp the selfish thing"?

Writing Choice 2:  Youth Culture: What comment do you think Fitzgerald is making about youth culture?  Is he saying that youth culture inherently shallow?  Or is it merely an example of humanity? 

"The Blue Hotel" by Stephen Crane (American)

A man shows up in an Old West saloon--and ends up dead. 
Genre: western, realistic fiction

Writing Choice 1: In what ways do the Swede's stereotypes of the Old West account for his actions?  Analyze the character of the Swede. 

Writing Choice 2: Who was responsible for the Swede's death? Analyze the involvement of each of the character's. 

"Boys and Girls" by Alice Munro (Canadian), 8 pages, pg 53 in the green literature book

Her father raises foxes for their pelts.  He  buys old horses to make meat for fox-feed.  Everything's fine in her life until…
Genre: realistic fiction
Setting: a fox-pelt farm in Canada. 
Think: Why doesn't the father punish the girl?  Why isn't she named in the story? 

Writing Choice 1: Are girls biologically different from boys or is it just the way they are brought up?  Write an essay supporting the position that Alice Munro's "Boys and Girls" shows that gender differences are natural.  The changes seen in the girl are only those that should be expected in a maturing young woman.  The mother's attitude was right all along. 

Writing Choice 2: Are girls biologically different from boys or is it just the way they are brought up?  Write an essay supporting the position that Alice Munro's "Boys and Girls" shows that gender differences are the result of the pressures of society.  The girl's father and mother have expectations based on cultural norms for boys and girls; the girl eventually accepts those norms and  changes to conform herself to the expectations her parents have for her. 

"Flight" by John Steinbeck (American)  Theme:  being a man , being mature

On the Pacific coast of Mexico, a rural mother sends her boy to town.  He becomes a wanted fugitive, tracked across the desert by an unrelenting posse. 

Genre: realistic fiction, western
Setting: Southern California, 1920s or 1930s

Writing Choice 1: Craft an essay that addresses the theme of mature manhood in "Flight" by John Steinbeck.  think about how a boy often receives differing messages about what a "Real Man" is.  What messages has the main character here received? Which were helpful and which were harmful? 

Articles for further thinking:
What Does it Mean to be a Real Man?                     How to be a Man

Writing Choice 2:
Write an essay explaining Symbolism in John Steinbeck's "Flight"

Color symbolism
Symbolism of east (birth, good) and west (death, bad) 
Symbolism of water as life
Taking on the mantle (clothing of the mentor) 

"The Grave" by Katherine Anne Porter

The graves are empty, and the children play there, and hunt…

Genre: realistic fiction
Setting: Texas, 1902

Writing Choice 1:   Write an essay that defines what an initiation or rite-of-passage story is and then explain how "The Grave" fulfills this definition. 

Writing Choice 2:  Write an essay discussing the use of symbols in "The Grave".   What might the dove/coffin-nail stand for?  How about the golden ring?  The empty graves?  What might the corpse of the pregnant rabbit stand for?  The sugary sweets? 

"The Guest" by Albert Camus  (French)     12  1/2 pgs      Theme: Differences between Cultures

High on a mountain in occupied Algeria, a Frenchman must make a crucial decision about a native, but he doesn't understand the culture.   

Genre: realistic historical
Setting: French-Occupied Algeria, just before the Algerian uprising

Writing Choice 1:  Respond in an essay about these two beliefs of the author Albert Camus and how they are portrayed in the story:
Individuals are responsible for giving their own lives meaning and for living their lives passionately and sincerely (existentialism).
There is no meaning in the world; we merely warp what we observe to make some meaning out of it (absurdism).
What conclusions are presented in "The Guest"?  If there is no meaning, but we are still responsible for our lives?  Must we make moral decisions without ever knowing the right answers?

Writing Choice 2: Respond to one of the articles below.  Clearly agree or disagree with the author's ideas. 

Camus's "The Guest": Commentary by K. Bernardo

Camus's "The Guest": a new look at the prisoner

Camus's "The Guest": Moral Decision-Making in Hostile World

"Guests of the Nation" by Frank O'Connor (Irish)                  copy and paste this address:

The army had them taking care of prisoners of war.  They were pretty decent guys, but they were enemies.  What were they going to do with them? 
Genre: realistic historical
Setting: Ireland, during its revolt from British rule 

Writing Choice 1: Write an essay describing the bonds of friendship vs. the bonds of duty to one's country. 

Writing Choice 2: Write an essay discussing irony in Frank O'Connor's "Guests of the Nation" 

"A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka (a Jew writing in German while living in Prague, the Czech Republic) 9 1/2 pgs

A bizarre show opens up at the edge of town.  What does it mean?

Genre: magical realism
Setting: a small town

Writing Choice 1: Present  an interpretation of this highly symbolic work as it portrays the relationship between the artist and society.  What are some possible symbolic interpretations of the hunger artist? the impresario? How do you interpret the panther that replaces the dead artist at the end of "A Hunger Artist"?  Why is fasting such a powerful symbolic art form? What are some of the "hungers" that it might represent?   Shortly before he dies, the hunger artist declares that his art shouldn't be admired. Why not? What do you make of his explanation that he simply couldn't find the foot that he liked? What "food" might have satisfied him?

Writing Choice 2: Respond to Interpretations by Cumming's Study Guides 

More Choices