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English 370, Fall 2019

Example of a Final from the Past

Here is an exam from last year to give you a sense of what the final in this class will look like and ask you to do. There are three passages below from which to choose. You are to write on just ONE of these passages, and you will do with it what we have done quite a few times this quarter. Like the LSP, this is a way of showing the knowledge and control of the uses and stylistic strategies of the English language to which this class has introduced you.

On the Day of the Final I will post the exam here at 10:30am, and you will have until 12:30 to finish

Directions for the Final:

Write your essay in any word processing program you'd like, and then Block, Copy and Paste your essay into a standard email, and send it to me no later than 12:30pm. Late papers will be penalized at the rate of 1 point per minute! (I repeat: DO NOT SEND YOUR PAPER AS AN ATTACHMENT! BLOCK, COPY, AND PASTE it into a standard email addressed to!)

Below are four passages from four different authors. Choose ONE for your analysis, and then go to work.

In your answer I will be looking for pretty much exactly what we have been doing in class for the past 2 weeks:

  • a characterization as you see it of the speaking voice of the passage--e.g., is it formal, informal, chatty, serious, high, low, wise or is it any other set of adjectives?
  • an explanation developed as best you can from your understanding of the passage why you think the author makes the choices s/he does in the passage you analyze. What is the writer of this text trying to accomplish in this section of the text?
  • a careful and full description of the stylistic features of the text that you see as having led to your conclusions about the style and purpose you are claiming the passage enacts. What stylistic language choices does the author make, and how do those choices work to create the tone of voice you have identified and enable the author to pull off the effects you have described?

Length limit: 600 words.


Passage 1: From Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamont

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reasons they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out. Year after year my students are bursting with stories to tell, and they start writing projects with excitement and maybe even joy—finally their voices will be heard, and they are going to get to devote themselves to this one thing they’ve longed to do since childhood. But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. Some lose faith. Their sense of self and story shatters and crumbles to the ground. Historically they show up for the first day of the workshop looking like bright goofy ducklings who will follow me anywhere, but by the time the second class rolls around, they look at me as if the engagement is definitely off. 

Passage 2: Paul Kalanithi, from When Breath Becomes Air (2016)

[*Webster here means John Webster, the Early Modern playwright--famous for plays he wrote that pushed boundaries of ordinary life into the macabre and transgressive. These lines by poet T.S. Eliot cite one of Webster's most famous phrases: "the skull beneath the skin."]

Webster* was much possessed by death

And saw the skull beneath the skin;

And breathless creatures underground

Leaned backward with a lipless grin.

--T.S. Eliot, “Whispers of Immortality”

I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer, widely disseminated. I was a neurosurgical resident entering my final year of training. Over the last six years, I’d examined scores of such scans, on the off chance that some procedure might benefit the patient. But this scan was different: it was my own.

I wasn’t in the radiology suite, wearing my scrubs and white coat. I was dressed in a patient’s gown, tethered to an IV pole, using the computer the nurse had left in my hospital room, with my wife, Lucy, an internist, at my side….


Passage 3: Ta Nehisi Coates, from Between the World and Me (2016)

[Note: Coates’ text is conceived of as a “letter” to his son (it runs 150 pages, so more of an extended essay than a “letter”!), explaining, as it were, the facts of life that all young black men should understand. It is also an extended reflection on how the world of black lives works, and an effort to explain how it has come to be this way, how much the way things now are is often no more than a continuation of the way things used to be.]

To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear. The law did not protect us. And now, in your time, the law has become an excuse to stopping and frisking you, which is to say, for furthering the assault on your body. But a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker. However you call it, the result was our infirmity before the criminal forces of the world. It does not matter if the agent of those forces is white or black—what matters is our condition, what matters is the system that makes our body breakable.