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Series of Discussion Questions


Read “Petrified Man,” and answer the following.

1. Discuss why a circa-1940 beauty parlor is or is not an appropriate setting.

2. When Mrs. Fletcher says, “‘Remember you cooked me fourteen minutes,'” what sort of tone does she suggest?

3. Mrs. Fletcher brags, “‘Mr. Fletcher can’t do a thing with me.'” Explain.

4. Why is it ironic that a rapist tries hiding out as a petrified man?

5. Discuss the significance of Mr. Petrie’s name.

6. Billy Boy turns to the “wild-haired ladies” and demands, “‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?'” Explain.


Read A Streetcar Named Desire, and answer the following.

1) Compare and contrast Stella and Blanche.

2) At a good language translator, look up “Blanche Du bois.” What do the meanings of this name and also “Belle Reeve” suggest?

3) Why does Stella’s pregnancy affect Blanche the way it does?

4) What does Mitch represent to Blanche?

5) Who is Allan, and how is he associated with the gunshots Blanche hears in her mind?

6) How would you describe Stanley to someone who has never met him before?

7) Blanche says, in Scene 10, “Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable.” What does this statement mean, and why does it come when it does?

8) Blanche’s closing words are, “Whoever you are — I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Why is this statement appropriate here?

9) Gore Vidal has said that Williams did not view Blanche as a tragic figure, but rather Williams purportedly envisioned Blanche seducing at least one intern and gaining her freedom. Is this vision consistent with the play you have read?

10) Elia Kazan’s1951 filmed version is considered by many one of the finest films ever made. If possible, check out the director’s cut of this film and view it as you decide how you personally feel about Streetcar.

Malamud Discussion Questions

Read “The Magic Barrel,” and answer the following.

1. The custom of arranged marriages is strange to most Americans but still widely practiced throughout much of the world. Does your own familiarity or unfamiliarity with arranged marriages affect the way you read the story?

2. What first impression does Salzman make upon Finkel? upon you? Do you see Salzman as more a crook or more a mystic?

3. What do Finkel’s varying attitudes toward Salzman tell us about the young man?

4. Do you think the Lily Hirschhorn episode advances the plot? If so, how?

5. Finkel has the following realizing about himself: “perhaps it went the other way, that he did not love God so well as he might, because he had not loved man.” Discuss.

6. How might we interpret Mrs. Salzman’s comment that her husband’s office is “‘In the air'” or “‘In his socks?'”

7. Do you agree with Finkel’s suspicion that perhaps Salzman has planned the encounter with Stella all along? Why or why not?

8. What does it mean that at the very end of the story, Salzman is saying “prayers for the dead,” possibly prayers more generally known as mourner’s kaddish?

O’connor Discussion Questions

Read “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Good Country People,” and answer the following.

1. Frequently O’Connor uses names in ways that suggest character. Consider the names Tom T. Shiflett and Lucynell Crater, and see if any ideas come to mind.

2. Statements like “Name Lucynell Crater and daughter Lucynell Crater” help place O’Connor among practitioners of Southern Gothic. What other traces of Southern Gothic do you discern?

3. Shiflett says, “I wouldn’t marry the Duchesser Windsor (sic) … unless I could take her to a hotel and giver (sic) something good to eat.” Discuss.

4. How is Lucynell (the daughter) disabled differently from Shiflett?

5. Would you say Lucynell (the mother) is complicit in or ignorant of her daughter’s eventual fate? Why?

6. At the end of the story, Shiflett is driving to Mobile, Alabama, just ahead of a storm. Why is this image fitting?

7. In “Good Country People,” compare and contrast Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Hopewell.

8. What does it tell us that Joy Hopewell has changed her name to Hulga and earned a Ph.D. in philosophy?

9. When the youth tells Mrs. Hopewell, “‘I know you believe in Chrustian (sic) service,'” what do you expect is coming? Are your expectations confirmed or confounded?

10. What do we make of Hulga’s decision to smear Vapex on her collar?

11. Why does it seem so important for Manley to have Hulga say she loves him?

12. Manley Pointer (!) leaves Hulga with the comment, “‘I been belieiving in nothing every since I was born!” How is this comment appropriate? Also, does it apply to Mr. Shiflett in the previous story?

Ginsberg Discussion Questions

Read “Howl,” “A Supermarket in California,” and “On Burroughs’ Work,” and answer the following.

1. William Carlos Williams (included in Volume D) introduced “Howl” with the words “Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.” What do you think Williams meant?

2. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges because of the graphic language and depictions in “Howl.” How do you respond to these elements of the poem?

3. Do you take the speaker’s need to howl as an expression of Ginberg’s Beat stance or as something else? If so, what?

4. What artistic role do illicit drugs seem to play in “Howl?”

5. What artistic role does sex seem to play in “Howl?”

6. Why do you think Moloch is or is not an appropriate symbol in the second part of the poem?

7. What does Rockland, New Jersey, come to symbolize by the end of “Howl?”

8. In “A Supermarket in California,” why does the speaker carry a book by Walt Whitman?

9. What does the phrase “shopping for images” (ln. 2) mean to you?

10. Who seems to be asking, “Who killed the pork chops?” (ln. 5). Why?

11. What is the connection between Ginsberg and William Burroughs?

12. What does “On Burroughs’ Work” seem to make of Burroughs?

Dove Discussion Questions

Read “Banneker,” “Parsley,” “Straw Hat,” and “Rosa,” and answer the following.

1. How does Benjamin Banneker inspire Dove in “Banneker?”

2. Does the image of Banneker thinking “under a pear tree” (ll. 1 – 4) remind you of any other story about science? What connection may the speaker be making?

3. In “Parsley,” what role does the parrot play?

4. Why does Trujillo choose the Spanish for “parsley” as the Shibboleth that means the difference between life and death?

5. Do you develop empathy with Trujillo, and if so, does this fact bother you? Why or why not?

6. In “Straw Hat,” what does work mean to the man?

7. Why does the man in “Straw Hat” tip his hat to the woman every time she leaves?

8. In one word or a brief phrase, which attribute of Rosa Parks does “Rosa” best portray?

Mamet Discussion Questions

Read “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and answer the following. You may also choose to view the 1992 filmed version, which maintains the atmosphere of the play and includes performances by Academy Award winners Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, and Kevin Spacey.

1. Mamet bases the play on his own experience working in a real estate office. From your readings, observations, and personal experiences, how accurate do you consider the portrayal? Why?

2. All the characters in the play are male. Do you think this fact has an impact on the amount of vulgar language?

3. What do you make of the character Moss? What do you see him do besides plot and complain?

4. Does Williamson arouse more of your respect or more of your spite? Why?

5. How would you characterize the relationship between Roma and Levene?

6. Have you ever known a Roma? What are his distinguishing characteristics?

7. Is it ironic, appropriate, or both that after stealing the leads, Levene becomes a motivated salesman?

8. How important are characters like Jerry Graff (and others), who are discussed but never seen?

Cisneros questions

1. Paragraph 1 tells us that when Don Serafin gave permission for Juan Pedro to marry Cleofilas, the father could already “divine” the day his daughter would long to come home. Why, then, did he permit the marriage?

2. What do the telenovelas represent for the young Cleofilas?

3. At first, Cleofilas thinks La Gritona (The Shouter or Hollerer) is a strange name for a creek. How does her opinion change over the story? What is Cisneros’s implied interpretation?

4. Why doesn’t Cleofilas strike back the first time Juan Pedro hits her? Why does the hitting become habitual?

5. Do Cleofilas’s true feelings for Juan Pedro more closely equate to love or hate? Why?

6. Is Juan Pedro’s throwing of a book by Corin Tellado (Ustedes pueden leer espanol, no?) a pivotal moment in the story? Why or why not?

7. Why do you think Graciela decides to help Cleofilas?

8. What does Felice’s hollering every time she crosses La Gritona represent?

9. What future do you think lies ahead for Cleofilas and her children? Is Felice’s name a harbinger? Explain.

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