Poetry discussion questions

Read poems 409, 236, 620, 1096, and 1668, and answer the discussion questions.

1. Dickinson was virtually unknown in her lifetime, and since her discovery has been impossible to categorize among the writers of her generation. From the limited selections you have been assigned, what attitudes to you see emerging in her narrators?

2. In “The Soul selects,” Dickinson assigns gender to the soul. The Spanish term for soul, “alma,” is masculine. Which gender is more appropriately that of the soul, and why?

3. “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church” strikes many readers as a Transcendal poem. Remember, though, that the composer, Dickinson, led an almost sequestered life. Is there more liberation or confinement in the “home” of the poem?

4. What virtues does “Much Madness is divinest sense” attribute to independence? What risks?

5. “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” has a male narrator. Why, given Dickinson as composer, is that fact significant?

6. What is the “blonde Assassin” in “Apparently with no surprise”? How does the assassin’s activity separate Dickinson from the Transcendentalists?

Read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and answer the questions below.

1. Many critics see this story as an early precursor of what would become surrealism. What elements of the story seem surreal to you?

2. Does the story “feel” like a relatively recent one or a relatively old one? Why?

3. What is Peyton Farquhar’s specific crime? Does it merit hanging?

4. Do you discern any clues that much of the story takes place entirely in Farquhar’s mind? If so, what are they?

5. Bierce is also famous or infamous for “The Devil’s Dictionary.” Peruse this document, paying special attention to the definitions of optimism and optimist, patriotism and patriot. What clues do you see as to why Bierce earned the nickname “Bitter Bierce.”

6. Why is there a question mark after Bierce’s date of death in the biographical note that precedes the story?

Read “The Real Thing,” and answer the questions below.

1. James’s work frequently discusses social classes. What is the role of class in “The Real Thing”?

2. In what ways is the name Major Monarch symbolic?

3. Why do you think James makes his narrator a painter? How does this choice advance the story?

4. The narrator confides of the Monarchs, “I liked them.” Why is this information important?

5. Regarding the Major, the narrator remarks, “[N]othing I could do would keep him down, so that he became useful only for representations of brawny giants.” Why?

6. Why do you think the narrator ends up dismissing the Monarchs. Why won’t “the real thing” do for his work?

Read “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper,” and answer the questions below.

1. What is John attempting to do by shutting off the narrator from society?

2. What event has precipitated the narrator’s problems? How is this event connected with the definition of “hysteria” as particularly a female problem?

3. How would you expect a therapist to treat the narrator today? Why has the approach changed?

4. What function does writing seem to fill for the narrator?

5. What is the ultimate effect of Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure” upon the narrator?

6. Why does Gilman say she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper?” Do you agree with her conclusion?