1. Short-response prompt (15 points)
Read the following excerpt about the Vietnam War from “Ambush” by Tim O’Brien:
When she was nine, my daughter Kathleen asked if I had ever killed anyone. She knew about the war; she knew I’d been a soldier. “You keep writing war stories,” she said, “so I guess you must’ve killed somebody.” It was a difficult moment, but I did what seemed right, which was to say, “Of course not,” and then to take her onto my lap and hold her for a while. Someday, I hope, she’ll ask again. But here I want to pretend she’s a grown-up. I want to tell her exactly what happened, or what I remember happening, and then I want to say to her that as a little girl she was absolutely right. This is why I keep writing war stories:
He was a short, slender young man of about twenty. I was afraid of him—afraid of something—and as he passed me on the trail I threw a grenade that exploded at his feet and killed him. . . .
Even now I haven’t finished sorting it out. Sometimes I forgive myself, other times I don’t. In the ordinary hours of life I try not to dwell on it, but now and then, when I’m reading a newspaper or just sitting alone in a room, I’ll look up and see the young man coming out of the morning fog. I’ll watch him walk toward me, his shoulders slightly stooped, his head cocked to the side, and he’ll pass within a few yards of me and suddenly smile at some secret thought and then continue up the trail to where it bends back into the fog.
How does the author’s specific word choice and stylistic devices affect the excerpt’s tone? Be sure to use specific details from the text to support your answer.
2. Short-response prompt (15 points)
Read the following excerpt from Amy Tan’s short story “Fish Cheeks”:
I fell in love with the minister’s son the winter I turned fourteen. He was not Chinese, but as white as Mary in the manger. For Christmas I prayed for this blond-haired boy, Robert, and a slim new American nose. . . .
On Christmas Eve I saw that my mother had outdone herself in creating a strange menu. She was pulling black veins out of the backs of fleshy prawns. The kitchen was littered with appalling mounds of raw food: A slimy rock cod with bulging eyes that pleaded not to be thrown into a pan of hot oil. Tofu, which looked like stacked wedges of rubbery white sponges. A bowl soaking dried fungus back to life. A plate of squid, their backs crisscrossed with knife markings so they resembled bicycle tires. . . .
After everyone had gone, my mother said to me, “You want to be the same as American girls on the outside.” She handed me an early gift. It was a miniskirt in beige tweed. “But inside you must always be Chinese. You must be proud you are different. Your only shame is to have shame.”
And even though I didn’t agree with her then, I knew that she understood how much I had suffered during the evening’s dinner. It wasn’t until many years later — long after I had gotten over my crush on Robert — that I was able to fully appreciate her lesson and the true purpose behind our particular menu. For Christmas Eve that year, she had chosen all my favorite foods.
How does this excerpt illustrate the theme of cultural conflict that persists throughout the story? Be sure to use specific details from the text to support your answer.
3. Short-response prompt (15 points)
Read the following excerpt from the poem “Vapor Trail Reflected in the Frog Pond,” about the Vietnam War, by Galway Kinnell.
And I hear,
coming over the hills, America singing,
her varied carols I hear:
crack of deputies’ rifles practicing their aim on stray dogs at night,
sput of cattleprod,
TV going on about the smells of the human body,
curses of the soldier as he poisons, burns, grinds, and stabs
the rice of the world,
with open mouth, crying strong, hysterical curses.
And by paddies in Asia
wearing a few shadows
walk down a dirt road, smashed
bloodsuckers on their heel, knowing
flesh thrown down in the sunshine
dogs shall eat
and flesh flung into the air
shall be seized by birds,
shoulder blades smooth, unmarked by old feather-holes,
by blue, erratic wanderings of the blood,
eyes crinkled shut at almost seeing
the drifting sun that gives us our lives.
Describe the aesthetic impact the author intends for this excerpt to have on the reader. Be sure to use specific details from the text to support your answer.