Northern Essex Community College
Choose two of the following short stories to discuss in essay format using the questions as guidelines. Please be sure to read the questions posed carefully and to answer the questions posed completely in the process of writtng your response. Each of your essays should have a title, a works cited page, and otherwise conform to the rules for MLA format and citation. Each essay should be at least three pages long – the more fully you develop your ideas using quotes from the texts to support your thesis and main points, the more credit you will receive.
You must write both essays to earn a passing grade on the exam. Due dates are in the syllabus as well as in the course content for the appropriate week.
1. In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Ambrose Bierce creates a fascina6ng tale of reality combined with something like fantasy. In it, we meet Peyton Farquhar, a “well-to-do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family… and a slave owner [who was] an original secessionist…ardently devoted to the Southern cause” (23). Develop an argument and a thesis based around the following ques6ons:
• In Part I, a man, preparing to be hanged for the crime of aTemp6ng to set a Union- occupied bridge on ﬁre, observes his surroundings. Yet, as readers, we already see evidence that his percep6on of reality is not quite reliable. Where is that evidence, and what might it tell us about this man’s state of mind?
• In Part II, we learn who the man who is about to be hung is, as well as why he is about to be hanged. What has led him to this current situa6on, and what does it tell us about his judgement (or possible errors in judgement)?
• In Part III, the longest and most challenging part of the story, Peyton Farquhar’s escape from his captors and his aTempts to return home are recounted. Many ﬁrst-6me readers are shocked by the ending, but that is at least partly due to a reading of the story which fails to pay adequate aTen6on to many of the details found in this part of the story.
What evidence do we have that what we are told Farquhar is seeing, hearing, and experiencing could not actually be possible, and how do you explain it all?
2. In “Sonny’s Blues”, James Baldwin explores the rela6onship between two brothers. What is their family history like, and how is it important to their characters and their rela6onships? How is the se_ng of the story important to the development of the characters? Why do they seem to have so much diﬃculty understanding each other? What do their individual concerns and desires say about each of them? What makes them so very diﬀerent from each other considering that they come from the same background, were raised by the same parents, and grew up in the same neighborhood? How do their diﬀerences drive the ac6on of the story? How is resolu6on
achieved, and why is it important to the overall themes of love, family, community, and hope in the face of despair?
3. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, Flannery O’Connor, as part of the group of Southern Gothic writers, returns to her concerns about the faded glory of the once proud South. How does the grandmother in the story display the values of a once highly-mannered and genteel South? How do Red Sammy and his wife share the grandmother’s laments about how much 6mes have changed? How do her children and grandchildren display what Southern Gothic writers like Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner see as an erosion of those Southern values and manners? How do the Misﬁt and his crew display an even further erosion of civilized human values and respect for human life, and why do you think this story might be relevant to modern standards of human decency?
4. Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” chronicles the lives of men ﬁgh6ng in the Vietnam war.
What do the things they carry tell us about the individual men in the story and about their ability and will to collec6vely survive in the climate of war? Discuss at least two characters and the speciﬁc things they carry in your discussion which reveal the individuality of each character. Beyond these individual diﬀerences, what do all the men carry in common? What purpose do
the things they carry serve, and why would O’Brien choose to make the things they carried both the 6tle and the central mo6f of the story?