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Literary Analysis Topics

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1.) “The Company of Wolves” and Feminism: Present your interpretation of the final scene in “The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter. What takes place during the “savage marriage ceremony” (629)? How does Carter subvert the predator/prey dynamic found in earlier versions of the story of Little Red Riding Hood (e.g. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “Little Red Cap”)?

2.) Poe and Ambiguity: After reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” we are left with a number of unanswered questions: In “The Tell- Tale Heart,” what is the relationship between the narrator and the old man? In “The Cask of Amontillado,” why does Montresor murder Fortunato? Although Poe hints at the answers to these questions, he does not explicitly answer them. Why do you think he withholds so much information from his readers? Would “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” have been stronger if he had filled in all the blanks?

3.) The Catcher in the Rye and Movies: In the opening pages of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden states, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies” (2). Later, he refers to his brother D.B. as a “prostitute” (2) because he has moved to

Hollywood to become a screenwriter. However, as the novel progresses, we discover that Holden spends much of his spare time at movie theatres. What is more, many of his fantasies are strongly influenced by motion pictures. Explain Holden’s mixed feelings about movies. How does his attitude regarding films reflect his worldview?

4.) The Catcher in the Rye and Sexuality: Holden Caulfield is fascinated by sex and sexuality. He tells us, “In my mind, I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. Sometimes I can think of very crumby stuff I wouldn’t mind

doing if the opportunity came up” (62). Despite Holden’s assertions about his sexual depravity, he often seems very naïve when it comes to sex. He notes, “Sex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t” (63). What does Holden’s combination of lasciviousness and innocence reveal about his character? How does his sexual immaturity affect his perception of women? Pay particular attention to his relationships with Sunny, Sally Hayes, and Jane Gallagher.

5.) The Catcher in the Rye and the Adult World: For the most part, Holden Caulfield is very critical of the adults in his life. He believes that they are “phony” and corrupt. One of the few adults he respects is Mr. Antolini, his former English teacher at Elkton Hills. Describing him, Holden says, “He was about the best teacher I ever had” (174). Why does Holden like Mr. Antolini so much? Why does Mr. Antolini like Holden? How do you interpret the final scene between the two characters, in which Mr. Antolini wakes Holden in the middle of the night? Does it justify Holden’s cynical worldview, or does it  merely reveal how distorted and paranoid his thinking has become?

6.) The Catcher in the Rye and the Future: When his sister Phoebe asks him what he wants to do when he grows up, Holden describes his fantasy about being a “catcher in the rye”: “I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big rye field and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around  nobody big. I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them” (173). Interpret Holden’s fantasy. What does it reveal about his character? How does his encounter with Phoebe at the conclusion of the novel influence his perception of adulthood?

7.) Joyce and Fantasy: In order to escape the drudgery of their lives, many of the characters in James Joyce’s Dubliners fantasize about romance, adventure, and acclaim. Some of these fantasies are attainable, but most of them are wildly unrealistic. Discuss the theme of fantasy in the two of the following stories from Dubliners: “Eveline,” “Araby” and “A Little Cloud.” How are the protagonists in the respective texts similar? How are they different? Why do they end up feeling trapped and disillusioned?

8.) “A Rose for Emily” and False Idols: In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the narrator describes how when Miss Emily is sitting in a window of her dilapidated mansion, she looks like “the carven torso of an idol in a niche” (367).  Discuss the significance of this imagery. What does it reveal about the townspeople’s perspective on Miss Emily? What insight does it give us into her crime? 9.) “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and Transcendence: Consider the conclusion of O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Just before the Misfit shoots her, the grandmother says, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” (132). Why do you think she says this? What are the thematic implications of her statement? Do either of the two characters in this scene experience a moment of transcendence?

10.) “Good Country People” and the Soul: In “Good Country People,” Hulga Hopewell is extremely protective of her artificial leg. The narrator says, “No one ever touched it but her. She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away” (288). In what sense is Hulga’s prostheses like her soul? What does her attitude towards her leg suggest about her character? What is the symbolic significance of the fact that Manley Pointer steals her leg?


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