World Literature: Final Exam (November 2007)

Question 1  (100 points)

In our English 102 textbook at PTC, the editors, Roberts and Jacobs note that “Literature helps us grow, both personally and intellectually. It enables us to recognize human dreams and struggles in different places and times that we would never otherwise know” (p. 3).

Reflect upon the stories and novels you have studied in this course and pick three that have made a lasting impression or deeply affected you in some way. Certain characters, situations, and themes may come to mind. Perhaps some have made you think more deeply than ever about a subject, or perhaps you identify closely with a certain character.

Describe the effect these works have had on you. This does not need to be a comparison of works; instead, provide details about how each of the three works spoke to you.

Most of us spend our whole lives in the same place.  Leaving home typically only means leaving the town, or maybe the state we were born in.  Very few people – though I am an exception to this admittedly – move thousands of miles away from what they know.  The people we are surrounded with, in general, tend to have the same hopes and dreams, the same hardships and troubles, the same joys and sorrows that we have. As the English 102 text says, literature enables us to recognize human dreams and struggles in different places and times that we would never otherwise know. Through our readings throughout this semester, we have been provided with stories that do just that, allowed us to focus on familiar themes and struggles in worlds we would otherwise not have known.

Eileen Chang’s “Love in a Fallen City” is, at its core, a love story.  Boy meets girl, boy tries to get girl, girl eventually relents, disaster strikes, boy and girl are reunited.  What makes this story special to me is the setting.  The first thing that struck me was the first sentence “Shanghai was ‘saving daylight’ so all the clocks had been set forward one hour.”  Because we use ‘daylight savings time’ as well, this simple sentence provides me with a personal link to the rest of the story.  While the theme is the same, that being the love story of Liusu and Liyyuan, the setting of Hong Kong and Shanghai are distinctly foreign to me.  I have always been fascinated by the Asian cultures, and the description of the family interactions, and the social behaviors described after Liusu goes to Hong Kong were especially of interest to me.  Most of the rest of the story, from the strained family relations Liuyu endures to Liuyuan’s pursuit of her, is familiar if only because I have a crazy family too, and I have found myself the focus of men’s attentions for a decade and a half.  But as she described the culture, the land around them, it gave me a peek into a world I’ve never seen but would very much like to one day. So as I read “Love in a Fallen City” I truly was drawn in by Chang’s description of the world of early 20th-century China.

Another story read this semester that spoke to me more than the others was Anita Desai’s “The Rooftop Dwellwers”.  Moyna is a young woman in the newly modern world of New Delhi, a woman who has left the comfort of her family’s home to make a life for herself.  I can really identify with Moyna, because I left the comfort and security of my family’s home back up North to move here to the south over a decade ago, and found myself dealing with some of the same struggles. Overbearing and nosy landlords, obnoxious roommates, employment worries – all of these, like with Chang’s work, are familiar themes. What makes them special is the setting, and the culture of India, another fascination of mine, which we are given a glimpse into.  The barsatis, the rooftop apartments, are fascinating to me, especially the culture of ‘rooftop dwellers’ that has developed as families began to rent them out.  The description of the pipal tree that ‘rose up over the barsati itself, sheltering it from the sun with a canopy of silvery, rustling leaves, spreading out its branches and murmuring” speaks to me especially, as I love the image of large trees providing shade and calm in a world where nothing seems to be right.

“The Lady with the Dog”, written by Anton Chekhov deals again with very familiar themes, but provides yet another unfamiliar time and place as the setting, giving us a look into the world of late 19th-century Russia.  Telling the story of Dmitri Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna, Chekhov offers a tale of two people engaged in an adulterous affair, both trapped in loveless marriages, who find true love with each other.  All of these are common themes, but as with the stories by Chang and Desai, it’s the setting of Russia over a century ago that makes this one speak to me.  The romance between Dmitri and Anna is frankly an age old tale, but because of the cultural differences – especially the idea that arranged marriages such as both seemed to be trapped in – their love affair seemed more important to the both of them. Though the description of the setting was limited, Chekhov provides a hint as to the culture of the time.  The description of the night at the opera was especially striking, the  “typical provincial theatre, with mist collecting over the chandeliers, and the crowd in the gallery figeting noisily.”  Going to the opera, or even the theatre is no longer common, at least not in our culture, and the image of an entire town turning out for an opening night really puts me into a different world and time.

Franz Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis” needs to be mentioned as well, for it too brings to light a very ordinary theme – the struggles of a young man, slaving away in a dull and stressful job to provide for his family – but does it in an entirely fantastic world indeed. Gregor’s transformation into a monstrous cockroach is an unbelievable situation for most people, but the troubles he endures after his transformation are real enough. He cannot communicate with the people around him. His family treats him poorly, keeping him locked in his room. They don’t visit him, and barely even enter the room except to clean it occasionally. I have to say that this story strikes me most because of its strangeness. And I am including it mainly because since reading it earlier in the semester, whenever something in my life has become bizarre, it is now described as ‘going Kafka’.

While the stories we read through the semester contained themes that were not vastly different from our everyday lives, it is the worlds in which those stories were written that made them special, that made us take note of those ordinary themes.

Question 2  (100 points)

   You throw a block or theme party and invite all the characters you’ve met this semester in English 209. Five characters show up (plus you)–one each from five different selections. Write an essay describing this party. I want to know how the characters are dressed, what they say, what they do, and how they interact with each other (and you). Be creative, but remember that the purpose of this essay is (1) to show how the characters would behave in a new setting, and (2) to show similarities between characters from different works. You may use major or minor characters–for characters without names, you may wish to identify them and then give them an appropriate name. Have fun! But remember I will learn more about your analysis from this type of writing than a more traditional response.

The invitations were sent: tea-stained parchment scrolls tied with strings of a cocoa and cream hued boucle spun by my husband. A dinner party, it would be, the table set with ecru china with platinum trim, and deep cocoa napkins folded in a simple lily resting atop them.  The menu too was simple; salad of field greens with a lemony vinaigrette, a smooth roasted tomato soup with freshly baked crackers, a main course of roasted pork and root vegetables, and dessert – but that would come later. The hostess waited, soft music playing in the background, a medley of composers performed on piano and harm, her pale blue blouse and crisp earth-brown slacks with a matching brown-and blue sash tied through the belt loops a bit rumpled from her preparations – but hopefully, no one would notice that.

First to arrive was Moyna, dressed in a brightly colored sarong with a matching choli, the traditional garments flattering the young woman’s form without seeming vulgar, and as it was still warm at the hostess’ home they were ideal for the weather.  Moyna and the hostess embraced lightly, beginning a brief conversation about the quality of the cloth carefully wound around Moyna’s hips. An affectionate tortoiseshell calico cat wound around the first guest’s ankles. ‘Isis .. don’t trip her ..’ chided the hostess, but the indian woman crouched to greet the feline, speaking softly. ‘Oh, I don’t mind at all.’

Another knock came and when the hostess opened the door, in strode a woman also of Indian descent, but her style of dress was considerably flashier, a snugly-fitted gown of scarlet silk with a deeply plunging neckline, long black hair twisted into ornate braids. “Princess Saheiyini, daughter of Prince Krishna Krampua.” She purred, as though expecting to be bowed to, though the hostess only smiled prettily, and gestured for her to come in, arching a brow at the woman’s back. “Will there be men here?” asked the Princess, looking over her shoulder as if expecting a throng of them to come through the door at any moment.

As if to answer her question the door was rapped upon once more and as the hostess opened it a burly man, wearing a simple flannel shirt and faded jeans stepped into the room. He smiled smugly at the hostess, though she only chuckled. “Silva .. just in time.” She murmured, gesturing for him to join the others. The Princess’ eyes sparkled as the man drew near, reaching to touch her cheek, speaking low to the tawny-cheeked beauty. “You will sit near me.”  He turned then, looking to the hostess as though to forestall any argument, but she had none.  Moyna watched this interaction curiously, but seemed more than content to hold the purring feline in her lap, not worrying if tiny claws caught in her sarong.

Just before she could close the door the hostess heard hurried footsteps, and turned to open the door to look out, smiling as she spied a young girl of about sixteen years, her skin sun-baked, her hair drawn back simply from her face with a plain ribbon, her clothes simple: linen slacks paired with a sleeveless top of cool cotton. “Good Morning. Am I late?” she asked, to which the hostess smiled, shaking her head. Good morning, miss Jordan. No, you are not late. The others have just arrived.” She said, stepping back to let the young woman enter.

The others looked up to the young woman, watching her curiously, but all seemed to go back to their conversations, Silva and the Princess seeming to be drawn into eachother, Moyna delighting in the feline’s company.  Young Miss Jordan took to wandering the room, examining everything with wonder, though she eventually came closer to the young Indian woman and she too delighted in the kitten’s presence.

Another rapping came to the door, and when the hostess opened it an aged woman of obviously Germanic descent stood there, bits of string hanging from the pockets of her apron, her dress plain and unadorned, her graying hair drawn back in an austere bun. “Sorry I’m late. I was weaving, and time just slipped away.”  The hostess smiled kindly, stepping back to let the woman enter. “That’s alright Greta. I know how that is.” She murmured, gesturing to the loom standing in the corner of the room. The older woman’s eyes brightened and she patted the hostess’ cheek. “I knew I’d like you.”

The hostess moved between the groups, Silva and the Princess who stood admiring eachother and themselves, Moyna and young Miss Jordan who were alternately enjoying the attention-seeking feline and wandering the room, exploring, and Greta, who was eagerly examining the loom.  The conversations were at times animated, especially between the burly Indian and the Indian princess.  As everyone was seated the hostess looked over her guests, smiling as each tasted the foods lovingly prepared.

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