Independent Literature Assignment: Step Two, The Pertinent Questions

Step Two. After you have been assigned a novel or play, the next logical step is to read said novel or play. Call me a pessimist if you wish, but my best friends named Cliff and Spark and their blasted pink monkey have material on a number of these, and even though you KNOW how displeased I would be if you used these materials, especially for this assignment, you may be tempted to use these “resources” during the assignment.


To ensure this dubious action does not take place, you will have intermittent assignments that correspond with your work. These assignments will be very similar to the ones you do for any of our in-class assignments: work dealing with character, setting, tone, style, theme, etc.

Independent Literature Assignment 1: Pertinent Questions Answered.
Answer the following questions in complete sentences as they apply to your work.

Questions dealing with Setting
1. Where does the story happen? Does it take place in more than one place? What associations can be made to the location?
2. What sorts of diction and details does the author use when describing each new place?
3. Does the author name the places? Are they already known? Do the places and/or time of the story have any associations with other significant historic events or literary works?
4. What “artifacts” (songs, books, catch-phrases, etc.) does the author use? Are they significant? How? How do these elements relate to one another and to the other elements of the work?

Questions dealing with Character
1. What is each character’s name? Do they have any nicknames?
2. Is the character called a different name by different people? What might this convey?
3. Does any character’s name have a meaning (found by looking up the name in a good dictionary) or connotation which might indicate the role or nature of the character?
4. What does the character do? Dow does he generally act? What does the character say? (about the action, about other characters, about himself)
5. How is the character described?
6. At what point in the story and where (setting) is s/he introduced?
7. How do other characters react to him?
8. What are the character’s motivations? Does s/he have multiple motivations?
9. To what extent are the other characters believable
10. Are there patterns or key words in the language used to describe this character? Does the author repeat any elements of he descriptions? What might this repetition be trying to say or emphasize about the character?

Questions dealing with Point of View
1. Who tells the story? Is this person inside or outside the story?
2. How is the narrator related to the action of the story? Principal actor? Minor character? Observer? If the character is outside the story, is he omniscient or is he limited in his knowledge?
3. Does the narrator remember the story accurately? Is s/he biased? How do you know?
4. Is the narrator lying? How do you know? Why would they lie? Is the narrator deceiving himself and/or you?
5. If the different people narrate the story what is the effect?

Questions dealing with Plot/Action of the story
1. What happens in the story? (How many events and what type?) In what order do these events happen?
2. What is the major conflict that causes these events to happen? What other events do these events cause?
3. What happens in the story that is not directly a result of the conflict? How are these secondary events relevant to the main action? To the story as a whole?
4. Do the major events reflect or repeat some older event or pattern of events?
5. What terms does the author use to present or describe the events or actions? Do these terms evoke/raise some other associations?

Questions dealing with the Author’s Style
1. Does the author’s diction/word choice call attention itself? How? Does the diction ever seem inappropriate to the situation? How? When? What is the effect of this inappropriateness?
2. Does the author repeat himself: words, phrases, situations, etc? What is the effect of this repetition?
3. How does the author use literal language?
4. How does the author use figurative language?
5. How does the author create images? Does he use a pattern—or patterns—of images to convey concepts?
6. Does the author use allusions to other literary works or historic events? How or to what extent are these allusions significant?
7. Is there a pattern to the author’s selection of details?
8. Is the author’s syntax appropriate to this diction and to the situation of the work? What is the effect when the author uses improper syntax or usage?

Questions dealing with Theme
1. What is the story really about? What does it tell? Why was it told?
2. What do you know about Humanity, human situations and conditions that you did not know before? When did this idea become obvious to you in the work?
3. If the story seems to have more than one theme, which is the strongest?
4. Which theme can be supported with the greatest amount of evidence?
5. To what extent do the other elements (style, character, etc.) work together to support the same idea of theme?