English 222 American Literature Questions on Chopin through London, CSU Fullerton Spring 2014



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Note: see the Journal Schedule and Instructions Page for the details on how to keep your journal. You can either work up your own material altogether, or use your choice from among the questions below to help generate your responses; you can also move back and forth between these two ways of keeping the journal.


The Awakening (Norton Vol. C 561-652).

The Awakening

1. Focus on the domestic situation constituted by the marriage of Léonce and Edna Pontellier. What kind of marriage do they have? How does Léonce Pontellier seem to regard his wife, and what were the circumstances that led to their marriage? In what sense is it at least initially typical of the era in which the novella is set, namely the late nineteenth century?

2. Places such as New Orleans, Grand Isle, and Chênière Caminada are by no means neutral settings in Chopin's novella. What do at least two of these places (and perhaps others you may think of) have to do with the process whereby Edna "awakens" to herself and her desires?

3. Describe at least a few of the stages of the transformation through which Edna goes as we move from the beginning of Chopin's novella to the end. At what points do you find the key indications of this transformation, and why do you find them the most important?

4. Edna's "awakening" is of course in part erotic in nature, and very frankly so, but at the same time, there's more to it than that. First of all, how important is sexual awakening in Edna's transformation, and where do you find at least one indication of that importance? Secondly, how would you describe or explain the other dimension of Edna's awakening, the one that has to do with her sense of "who she really is"? Again, where do you find at least one indication of this dimension of her awakening?

5. How much help or hindrance does Edna get from other characters aside from her husband Léonce? For example, Madame Aline Ratignolle and/or Mademoiselle Reisz? What role does one or more of these characters play in Edna's progress as an independent woman?

6. There is a rather strong concentration on the value of the arts to Edna in particular in Chopin's novella, and the author seems to be working from a basically romantic or "expressive" conception of art's genesis and value for individuals -- namely, art is a vehicle for self-expression, a product of (and encourager of) passion rather than a product of reason. But what more can you find to say about the arts in this story? What role do they play at key points in Edna's awakening?

7. Consider the concluding chapters of Chopin's The Awakening: why does Edna choose the final path that she does, the one that leads to her death? What is it about the nature of her last insights that conducts her towards such an ending? Could things realistically have been otherwise? What would have had to be the case for things to turn out differently?

8. On the whole, what feeling does Kate Chopin's The Awakening leave you with as a reader? Was reading the book a positive experience, or an unsettling one? Either way, why so? (Saying the book is "unsettling" wouldn't necessarily mean one dislikes the book since the primary purpose of art need not be construed as bringing us comfort, reassuring us of the rightness of prior views, and so forth. Oscar Wilde once wrote that art is a "disturbing and disintegrating force," and he meant it as a compliment.)


From "What Life Means to Me" (Norton Vol. D 917-20). From Tales of the Pacific (Penguin edition): "The House of Mapuhi" (31-53); "Mauki (64-79); "The Sheriff of Kona" (121-34); "Koolau the Leper" (135-50); "The Bones of Kehekili" (151-73).

From "What Life Means to Me" (Norton Vol. D 917-20)

1. How does Jack London describe his early life experience in his essay "What Life Means to Me" (published in Cosmopolitan in 1906)? What does he have to say about labor, workers and the capitalists who employ them? How, as he recounts it, did his experiences shape his thoughts on the course he must follow in the future?

2. How much of the revolutionary philosophy in the 1906 essay "What Life Means to Me" can you find either directly or indirectly in one or more of the Jack London short stories we are reading, which were the product of his voyages through the Pacific Ocean aboard the ship he called the Snark?

"The House of Mapuhi" (Penguin 31-53)

3. From 29-36 of "The House of Mapuhi," why does the native Mapuhi of Fakarava atoll (French Polynesia), who has found a remarkably large and high-quality pearl, want a house including various amenities built for him as payment rather than accepting cash? What kind of deal does the trader Alexandré Raoul offer him, and what terms does he end up getting from another trader, Toriki? What do his family members think of the deal, and why?

4. From 37-45 of "The House of Mapuhi," the great cyclone of 1903 (this was an actual event in which nearly four hundred people lost their lives) comes on, ravaging Hikueru atoll where the story is set. How does Jack London convey the power of this cyclone? Moreover, what inflection of his favorite theme "man vs. nature" does the extended description offer when we factor in the segment's focus on the struggles of trader Alexandré Raoul?

5. On 45-46 of "The House of Mapuhi," the narrative shifts briefly to Mapuhi's survival (as well as Raoul's), and then moves strongly on 46-51 to an account of the successful struggle of Mapuhi's mother Nauri to ride out the storm once she is torn away from Mapuhi, his wife Tefara and their daughter Ngakura. What trials does Nauri undergo before and after washing up on tiny Takokota island, and what qualities does she summon to overcome them?

6. On 51-53 of "The House of Mapuhi," the narrative cuts to the hut of Mapuhi and Tefara, who are arguing about how Mapuhi managed to get more or less robbed of his pearl by the now-deceased trader Tariki and has nothing to show for it. Into this domestic dispute comes Nauri, who is at first feared to be a ghost. But what news does she bring home with her, and how does it change things for the family as well as perhaps adding a symbolic dimension to the story?

"Mauki (Penguin 64-79)

7. On 64-67 of "Mauki," what are the Melanesian protagonist Mauki's original circumstances -- where did he live, what did he look like, what was his social status, and what happened that drastically altered his life?

8. On 67-71 of "Mauki," Mauki unwittingly signs on the dotted line, so to speak, for a three-year period of service with the powerful Moongleam Soap Company. What pattern of action and consequences promptly sets in? What does Mauki learn about the white men who oppress him during this tumultuous period in his life? How do they react to his numerous attempts to escape, and what decision are they finally driven to make with regard to this "troublesome" Solomons native?

9. On 71-76 of "Mauki," the narrator describes the career and character of Lord Howe Island's overseer and sole white inhabitant, a German man named Bunster. What is this fellow like, and how does he treat Mauki in particular? Moreover, how are the other white Moongleam traders said to have dealt with native islanders who cross them or refute their authority as a quasi-governmental body?

10. On 76-79 of "Mauki," what revenge does Mauki take on his antagonist Bunster, and what arc does his life follow after he has taken his revenge? What has he ultimately learned about how to deal with the white men who have made his life so difficult, and how does he both assert and modulate his own newfound power as a chief?

11. Use the conclusion of "Mauki" (76-79) to reflect on the comparison that Jack London has been making throughout between the so-called savagery of Mauki and his fellow Melanesians and the conduct of the white people who rule the Solomons (a British protectorate from 1893-1978) and other island chains in the Pacific. Ultimately, what, if any, differences does London's narrative posit, and to what extent does the story offer a critique of British and European practices and assumptions in connection with Melanesian and Polynesian people?

"The Sheriff of Kona" (Penguin 121-34)

12. On 121-27 of "The Sheriff of Kona," how does the narrator, or more particularly his dialogue partner Cudworth, describe Lyte Gregory, the former sheriff of Kona District on Hawaii Island? What are the man's physical attributes and personal qualities? In addition, what role does the landscape description on these pages play as a setup for the rest of the story?

13. On 127-31 of "The Sheriff of Kona," what is the significance of the particular manner in which Lyte Gregory learns of his dreadful condition? From whom does he learn this fact, and what impact does it have on him personally? Aside from the expected disfiguration that leprosy can cause, what seems to account for the denial and horror we find in the reactions of Lyte Gregory and his companions?

14. On 131-33 of "The Sheriff of Kona," why does Cudworth decide to get Lyte Gregory out of the leper colony where he resides? What is the outcome of the raid for Cudworth and Lyte, respectively?

"Koolau the Leper" (Penguin 135-50)

15. On 135-39 of "Koolau the Leper," Koolau makes a speech to his small group of fellow sufferers in the wilds of Kaua'i Island, all of whom are trying to avoid internment in a leper camp on Moloka'i Island. In this speech, how does Koolau assess the situation and prospects of himself and his band of followers?

16. On 139-43 of "Koolau the Leper," the sheriff pursuing Koolau makes his best attempt to capture the diseased fugitive. How does that attempt turn out? What kind of ethical and martial qualities does Koolau show as the white men or "haoles" (foreigners) try to hem him in and capture him?

17. On 143-50 of "Koolau the Leper," soldiers shell Koulau's refuge, his band of followers surrenders, and he is left to fend off his captors alone. Trace his emotions and reflections as he progresses from hunted fugitive to dying man: what qualities in the man persist? What has he proven by virtue of having eluded his would-be captors for so long?

18. General question about "Koolau the Leper": how would you characterize Jack London's strategy for representing the condition called leprosy? How does he make the narrator describe the disease and picture it forth for us? What do you think is the intended aim of such a representational strategy?

"The Bones of Kahekili" (Penguin 151-73)

19. Jack London often concentrates on humanity's relationship with nature, but in "The Bones of Kahekili," the emphasis lies more on the power of human institutions to shape an individual's life and perceptions. In the case of Kumuhana the Hawaiian commoner, how does social rank affect the course of this character's life? How does he take the dramatic events that come his way?

20. In "The Bones of Kahekili," what is Hardman Pool's history? How did this white man get to be chief, and how does he maintain his position? Why is he so intent on getting old Kumuhana to reveal his secret about the long-dead Chief Kahekili's bones, and by what specific means does he pursue this knowledge?

Created by admin_main. Last Modification: Tuesday 25 February, 2014 03:51:43 PM PST by admin_main.

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