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English Comprehensive Exam

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					                                       English Comprehensive Exam
                                    2010-2012 Lists and Exam Overview

Beginning in fall 2010, English majors will have the opportunity to take the department’s newly revised
comprehensive exam. In fall of 2011, only this new exam will be available to first-time examinees. This
new exam structure allows you to choose one of four different lists, all organized thematically. These
shorter lists are intended to give you the opportunity for deeper engagement with the texts and to
stress the importance of a proper theoretical grounding for this engagement. On the exam itself, the
details of which are described below, you will be asked to demonstrate your command of your list, as
well as your expertise in explication and analysis.

                                               I. Essay
                                  Recommended time: 1 hour 15 minutes

For the essay portion of the exam, you will be asked to make connections among various texts on your
chosen list and to discuss the ways in which your texts address a particular aspect of their common
theme. Whether or not the prompt directs you to discuss a specific theoretical text from your list, your
essay must demonstrate a command of the relevant theory included therein.

Below are sample questions for each list. Please note that the questions presented here represent the
kinds of questions you may be asked to answer for any of the lists; that is, the type of question
corresponding to each list is not list-specific but simply representative of a range of possibilities for all
exams (e.g. though our narrative question uses one literary text as a focal point, this merely
demonstrates a particular approach that we might employ for any of the questions).

        Race and Nation: Benedict Anderson argues that “all communities larger than primordial
        villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined.” This means that,
        because we never actually know our fellow citizens, we are left with an ideal or
        representative idea of community membership. Using Douglass’s Narrative and at least one
        other work from the list, discuss the manner in which the authors construct narratives that
        counter what might be exclusionary national narratives in an effort to forge for themselves a
        place in that “imagined community.”

        Narrative: T.S. Eliot considered titling “The Waste Land” “He do the Police in Different
        Voices,” a clear reference to the multiple narrative perspectives throughout the work. Using
        that poem and at least two other works on the list, discuss the degree to which multiple
        narrative voices are not simply techniques employed in the text, but thematically relevant.

        Gender and Sexuality: Consider the way that problems of gender are linked to and
        foregrounded by a sense of foreignness in three of the following works: Mary Shelley,
        Frankenstein; George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto V; Henry James, Daisy Miller;
        Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm; Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises; David
        Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly; Ana Castillo, “Loverboys.”

        Crime and Punishment: Elaine Scarry speaks specifically of physical pain resulting from torture
        when she claims, “Intense pain is . . . language destroying: as the content of one’s world
        disintegrates, so the content of one’s language disintegrates, so that which would express and
        project the self is robbed of its source and its subject” (35). Consider whether physical pain is
        peculiar in its capacity to destroy language and even a sense of self. Drawing on at least three
        texts from your list, craft an argument about the ways in which physical and emotional pain,
        particularly that pain which is inflicted by agents of power, affect the ability of the sufferer to
        “express or project” him or herself through language.

A successful response to this portion of the exam will demonstrate the following:
     The ability to produce an essay that is thesis-driven and supports its claims with plentiful and
        appropriate textual evidence;
     The ability to craft a single, unified discussion that puts the works in conversation with each
        other and avoids three discrete answers;
     Careful thought about and mastery of the texts you have chosen for your response;
     Familiarity with the theoretical framework of your list and an ability to ground your discussion in
        that theory;
     A command of the conventions and vocabulary of literary studies;
     A command of the conventions of academic writing in English, including grammar and
        punctuation.

                                            II. Explication
                                     Recommended time: 45 minutes

For this portion of the exam, you will be asked to write an essay in which you examine a poem’s details
and language in a close reading. Your analysis should consider how diction, imagery, figurative language,
symbolism, structure, rhyme, meter, and other poetic devices create this poem’s meaning and effect.
Your writing need not have the rigorous organization around a thesis that is expected for the essay in
Part I, but you should provide a coherent and comprehensive analysis of the elements of the poem.

The poems provided for the explication (you will choose one of two) will not appear on any of the lists.
This section of the exam is designed not to test your research abilities, but rather to give you a chance to
show that you have developed the skills that you need to explicate a new poetic text when you
encounter one.

A successful response to this portion of the exam will demonstrate the following:
     The ability to use formal literary terms fluently and appropriately to provide an insightful
        analysis of the poem;
     The ability to produce an analysis of the poem that offers an interpretative reading
        corresponding to the text’s details;
     An identification and analysis of a sufficient number of supporting details from the poem in
        order to develop the explication fully;
     A command of the conventions of academic writing in English, including grammar and
        punctuation.
Race & Nation

Beowulf
William Shakespeare, Othello
Aphra Behn, Oroonoko
Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life
W. E. B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” from The Souls of Black Folk
Langston Hughes, from Selected Poems: “Afro-American Fragment,” “The Negro Speaks of
       Rivers,” “The Weary Blues,” “Song for a Dark Girl,” “Harlem,” “I, Too”
Joseph Conrad, Almayer’s Folly
James Joyce, Dubliners
William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Salman Rushdie, East, West
Karen Tei Yamashita, The Tropic of Orange
Caryl Phillips, Crossing the River
Louise Erdrich, “The Red Convertible” and “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways”
Junot Díaz, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (short story)
Martín Espada, “Public School 190, Brooklyn 1963”
Judith Ortiz Cofer "American History"


Theoretical Texts:
Benedict Anderson, “Patriotism and Racism,” from Imagined Communities
Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark
Henry L. Gates, “A Myth of Origins: Esu-Elegbara and the Signifying Monkey, from The Signifying
       Monkey
Edward Said, “Narrative and Social Space,” from Culture and Imperialism
Crime, Punishment, and Social Order

William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
John Milton, Samson Agonistes
John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera
William Godwin, Caleb Williams
Georg Büchner, Woyzeck
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”
William Morris, “The Defence of Guenevere”
Rebecca Harding Davis, “Life in the Iron Mills”
Oscar Wilde, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
Susan Glaspell, “Trifles”
Richard Wright, “The Man Who Lived Underground”
Arthur Miller, The Crucible
Bessie Head, “The Collector of Treasures”
Etheridge Knight, “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane” and
        “The Idea of Ancestry”
Sherman Alexie, Indian Killer
Philip Roth, The Human Stain


Theoretical Texts
Michel Foucault, “Part Two: Punishment” and “Panopticism,” from Discipline and Punish
Elaine Scarry, “The Structure of Torture: The Conversion of Real Pain into Fictions of Power,”
        from The Body in Pain
Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”
Narrative

Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (General Prologue, Knight’s Tale, Miller’s Tale)
Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
Benjamin Franklin, excerpts from Autobiography
Daniel DeFoe, Moll Flanders
Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent
Samuel T. Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” *1855+
Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess”
TS Eliot, “The Waste Land”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried” and “How to Tell a True War Story”


Theoretical Texts
Mikhail Bakhtin, excerpt from “Discourse in the Novel,” from The Dialogic Imagination (259-331)
Peter Brooks, “Reading for the Plot,” Ch. 1 in Reading for the Plot
Gerard Genette, excerpt from Narrative Discourse
Terry Eagleton, “Discourse and Ideology,” from Ideology
Gender and Sexuality
Anonymous, “The Wife’s Lament” and “The Wanderer”
Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Royall Tyler, The Contrast
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
George Gordon, Lord Byron, selections from Don Juan
Herman Melville, Billy Budd
Henry James, Daisy Miller
Walt Whitman, selections from Leaves of Grass: “From Pent-up Aching Rivers,” “I Sing the Body
        Electric,” “A Woman Waits for Me,” “We Two Boys Together Clinging,” “When I Heard at
        the Close of Day”
Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm
Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler
Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Sylvia Plath, “The Applicant” and Ted Hughes, “Fever”
Toni Morrison, Sula
David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly
Ana Castillo, “Loverboys”
Richard Greenberg, Take Me Out


Theoretical Texts:
Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Introduction” and “Gender Asymmetry and Erotic Triangles,” from
        Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire
bell hooks, “Continued Devaluation of Black Womanhood,” from Ain’t I a Woman
R. W. Connell, “The Social Organization of Masculinity,” from Masculinities

				
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