1. Before you begin each assigned essay, read about the author’s life (biography). In particular, note literary biography. On our Learning Web, I have a website link for each author we study. 2. Note the titles. What expectations do the titles create? Once you have finished reading each essay, reconsider each title. 3. As you read, note the author’s intertwining of some of the elements of memoir: narration, description (especially appeals to the five senses), emotion (tone), and reflective commentary. Note any use of dialog.
Langston Hughes’ “Salvation” (from The Big Sea, 1940)
1. Who is Langston Hughes (1902-1967)? Note his biography on the Learning Web. 2. In Hughes’ essay “Salvation,” do you find more narration or description? Which one of these strategies is the primary strategy that structures the essay? 3. What is the point of view of this essay? How old was Hughes when he wrote this essay? How old was he when the event occurred? What is the age of his speaking voice in the essay? How do you know? (Note exclamation marks and purposeful overuse of the word “and.”) 4. What is Hughes’ thesis?
5. Where is the setting(s)? What descriptive details does Hughes use to sketch in the setting? 6. Note allusions to religious hymns. “The Ninety-Nine and Nine” and “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” are old evangelical hymns sung in church. 7. Examine Hughes imagery (appeals to the five senses). What are some of Hughes’ specific images? 8. Note how Hughes sustains the imagery in paragraph 13.
9. Who are the minor characters? How does Hughes describe each one? 10. Note Hughes’ use of short simple sentences for effect. Note his use of sentence fragments. 11. Note Hughes’ use of the one sentence paragraph for dramatic effect. 12. Note Hughes’ use of dialog. What makes his dialog effective? 13. What conflict(s) do you find in this essay? Are Hughes’ conflicts internal or external (or both)? 14. Note the character Westley. Why is he important to the story? 15. Where is the climax of this essay? Explain your decision. 16. Account for the title “Salvation.” From what, exactly, was he saved? 17. What irony do you find in this essay?
18. Do the conflicts reach resolution by the end of the story? 19. Comment on tone. Do you find this essay humorous or serious (or both)? 20. Note Hughes’ use of the dash (—) for dramatic emphasis. 21. Did you enjoy reading this essay? Why or why not?
22. Did you look up vocabulary? Note “knickerbockers,” “rounder,” and “mourners’ bench.”
Annie Dillard’s “The Chase” (from An American Childhood, 1987)
1. Who is Annie Dillard (1945 – )? Read her biography in the Learning Web. Note
literary biography. In particular note the paragraph about her as a small child.
2. Why does the essay begin with a paragraph about being a tomboy and loving football? Dillard is using football as a metaphor for what? According to Dillard, what does football require?
3. What is her thesis? (Note paragraph #2.)
4. What is her setting? Note the descriptions of the snow. 5. Where does conflict begin? What kind of conflict do we have in this story? 6. Describe the driver. What does he do after the children hit his car with a snowball?
7. Note the chase itself. Note how the rising action intensifies in paragraph 12 and 13. Note the signal words that help you follow
her. 8. What about the man’s behavior surprises Dillard? In her mind, the driver transforms from what to what?
9. Where is the climax of the essay?
10. Dillard keeps dialog to a minimum. What dialog do we hear? 11. What is Dillard’s attitude about being captured? 12. What word would you use to describe the tone of this memoir? 13. Dillard reveals the point of her story in paragraph 19 as part of her denouement. What is that point?
14. Note that description of the man in paragraph 21. In Dillard’s imagination, he has transformed from “the driver” into what?
15. Note Dillard’s use of the semicolon and dash as part of her sentence structure. 16. Note vocabulary “crenellated,” “spherical,” “perfunctorily.”
E. B. White’s “Once More to the Lake” (Harper’s Magazine, “One Man’s Meat,” White’s monthly column, October 1941)
1. Who is E. B. White (1899-1985)? When did he write “Once More to the Lake”? Note literary biography on our Learning Web. 2. Note the exposition. Who are the characters? What is the setting? 3. Note White’s thesis.
4. Do you find the essay has more narration or description? 5. Note White’s use of imagery as he describes the lake. 6. What figurative language does White use to describe the lake? 7. What conflict do you find in this essay? When does the conflict begin? Is White’s conflict internal or external? Explain. 8. When White and his son go fishing the first morning, White mentions “the” dragonfly instead of “a” dragonfly. Account for his decision to use “the.” 9. Note places in the memoir where conflict builds.
10. What sound effect disrupts White’s reliving of his past? 11. Where is the climax of this essay? Account for your decision. Is there resolution?
12. Why does White feel a “chill of death” at the end of the essay? 13. What is the tone of this essay? Account for your answer. 14. Did you enjoy this essay? Why or why not?
Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds” (from her novel The Joy Luck Club, 1989) 1. Who is Amy Tan (1950 – )? Note her biography on the Learning Web. Note literary biography. 2. Note the exposition of the story. What is the narrative point of view? Who are the main characters in the story? What are the cultural differences between Jing Mei and her mother? Note dialog and body language as you read. 3. What is the setting of “Two Kinds”? Where and when does this story take place and how do you know? 4. Define the word “prodigy.”
5. What motivates Jing Mei’s mother to force her child to become a prodigy? 6. What are Jing Mei’s first responses to becoming a prodigy? 7. Note the rising action and conflict.
8. What does Jing Mei finally decide she will do about her mother’s constant attempts to make her into a prodigy? 9. Note Mr. Chong. Who is he? What specific details about him make him a vivid character? 10. The piano plays an important role in the story. What does it become for Jing Mei? 11. Note the various reactions of the people who experience Jing Mei’s recital. 12. What is the climax of the story?
13. What happens in the denouement of the story?
14. Is the mother-daughter conflict resolved?
15. In the denouement, what does Jing Mei learn about the song she played at the recital? 16. Note Tan’s use of metaphor and simile. Give examples of Tan’s figurative language and fine detail and imagery.
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