English 370: Final Exam Study Help

So, the Final Exam for the course is on December 15th at 8:30am in our normal classroom. PLEASE BRING A BLUEBOOK!

The final will include two passages and ask you to give your best stylistic reading of one of them. That will involve doing what we've done for the past three weeks: extend and apply to specific written texts some of the knowledge you've been developing over the course of the quarter.

To help you prepare for this, you have several resources, beginning with your own notes from class. But you also have the fairly full explanation given in The Speaker in the Text on the Blackboard.

Moreover, here I will supplement those resources with my own Review Notes on four of the passages we looked at over the past three weeks. These notes don't cover everything we talked about in class, but they make a start—and I think of each as a full credit answer. I first post a passage, then follow that passage with my paragraphs summarizing my own view of these particular speakers.

Following these notes I give you six more passages to read, analyze and write about. On your final I will reproduce two of them for you, and you will actually write on just one of those two. You may ask questions about these passages at the study session, but for obvious reasons I won't give you my own stylistic readings at that time. Instead I'll invite you to discuss them yourselves—something all of you can do between now and Thursday.


J. D. Salinger, from The Catcher in the Rye

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all—I’m not saying that—but they’re also touchy as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything.

Charles Dickens, from David Copperfield

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

In consideration of the day and hour of my birth, it was declared by the nurse, and by some sage women in the neighborhood, who had taken a lively interest in me several months before there was any possibility of our becoming personally acquainted, first, that I was destined to be unlucky in life; and secondly, that I was privileged to see ghosts and spirits—both these gifts inevitably attaching, as they believed, to all unlucky infants, of either gender, born towards the small hours on a Friday night.

Comments on Salinger: The voice in Salinger’s paragraph is impulsive, youthful, random and free-flowing. It is sarcastic and borderline transgressive, but also unsure of itself, reluctant to share, but full in what he says. Syntax is loose, sometimes simple, sometimes compound sentences, semi-periodic at best—almost stream of consciousness, thought tumbling out as if not fully thought through and therefore in need of instant revision: “They’re nice and all—I’m not saying that—but they’re also touchy as hell.” The speaker is ill at ease, half apologizing for speaking at all (“if you really want to hear about it”). He’s not polished, not all that sure of himself, not reflective so much as babbling—a kind of hemorrhage of discourse (!). Diction is largely Anglo Saxon—the only Latinate words are very common words, like “probably” and “autobiography”; “occupied” may be the most “formal” word in the passage, except for “hemorrhage,” which is there as a kind of hyperbolic metaphor—exaggeration as teenage style register—he only means they’d be very upset. The speaker’s teenager register includes slang and the sort of informal diction characteristic of speech (“touchy as hell,” “have about two hemorrhages apiece,” “goddam autobiography,” “nice and all,” “pretty personal”). He is also speaking as if in conversation with someone—it is a conversational voice, availing itself of what conversations allow, revision, efforts to have rhetorical effect, to portray a certain kind of coolness (i.e., I can swear, I can use vaguely transgressive expressions like “have about two hemorrhages apiece” in regard to one’s parents). Interestingly, the novel ahead will be taken up with telling all of what he here denies that he wishes to relate.

Comments on Dickens: Syntax in Dickens’s passage is periodic, not loose—in fact the whole selection is in periodic sentences. That helps give it a formal air, even as it strives for a level of ironic comment and self-deprecation. A certain amount of Latinate diction, and in places that could have been filled by AS: “In consideration of the hour”; “it was declared,” “any possibility of our becoming personally acquainted,” “I was privileged,” “inevitably attaching.” He also uses passive constructions (“it was declared,” “I was privileged.” All of these syntactic and diction choices elevate the level of formality and connote an educated, practiced and reflective writer. He is in control of his life and his prose, his style seems to say, and at least as far as his having some humor and some ironic distance on his birth, he is a success in his life, even if he grants that he may not exactly be its hero. Where Salinger’s speaker just pours out his state of mind, revealing his discomfort and fears, Dickens’ speaker is measured, in control, able to create balanced parallel constructions and to gently mock all those present at his birth for their superstitious—and vaguely ridiculous—ways of thinking about his arrival in the world. At the same time, he does open a range of possibilities about his life, and implies that at his birth there were certain mysteries about how successful he’d actually be—opening up the terrain for the narrative to follow.


Ecclesiastes, from the Bible, King James Version

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ernest Hemingway, from “Big Two-Hearted River”

Nick looked at the burned-over stretch of hillside, where he had expected to find the scattered houses of the town and then walked down the railroad track to the bridge over the river. The river was there. It swirled against the log piles of the bridge. Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed their positions by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again. Nick watched them a long time.

He watched them holding themselves with their noses into the current, many trout in deep, fast moving water, slightly distorted as he watched far down through the glassy convex surface of the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log-driven piles of the bridge. At the bottom of the pool were the big trout. Nick did not see them at first. Then he saw them at the bottom of the pool, big trout looking to hold themselves on the gravel bottom in a varying mist of gravel and sand, raised in spurts by the current.

Comments on Ecclesiastes

“Ecclesiastes” means “preacher,” or “minister.” This is thus the speaking of a preacher—as such a sermon—and it has what could be called a “vatic” air [vates is Latin for “prophet”] —a knowingness, a kind of indirect assertion of wisdom about the heavens and the earth and human life that transcends that held by ordinary mortals like you and me. It gets that through a series of stylistic choices. First its diction is actually pretty much Anglo-Saxon (AS)—which normally connotes a common person, a down to earth, no nonsense sort. Here though that very ordinariness (“sun” “rivers” “wind”) grows mystical as the loose sentences set simple truths out along with simple but not fully explained semi-contradictions of them. “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” Well, but the sea is already full, even if in real life we don’t actually ever imagine the sea as full or not full—whatever it is, it is! And we can understand the water cycle, but it doesn’t feel as though that’s what he’s talking about with the rivers returning from "whence they come." Because what he says in some sentences is too simple to need saying, we are made to wonder (by the Gricean principle of conversational economy) what his real purpose is in saying them. As for the syntax, it is loose, not periodic, and the sentences, though not complicated, have lots of parallel construction. That gives it a formal feel even as the language itself is what one could call elemental, or drawn for the most part from nature: wind, sea, rivers, sun, moon. The diction is archaic, reflecting the Bible’s early 17th century translators, and the parallel constructions which seem almost confusingly repetitious connote fullness of thought even though the meaning of the phrases each by themselves seems almost too simple to be uttered.

All of this is pushed to a stylistic extreme in the last sentence which is like the others in repeating bits, in being loose and compound, but replaces even the common specific words like “sun” and “rivers” with pronouns and the very general word “thing”: “The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Overall, the passage offers a sense of paradox, of a speaker who is in touch with wisdoms beyond the ordinary, who sees in ordinary natural things meanings of a more complex and life-informing nature than the rest of us do. Like, in short, at least some sorts of preachers!


Comments on Hemingway

The Hemingway passage bears strong stylistic parallels to Ecclesiastes, though without the sense of “preacher” about it. The repetitions, the parallel constructions, the generally loose syntax, the common and elemental vocabulary—these all suggest some sense of the Biblical antecedent.

The syntax here is again loose and (mainly) not periodic; it has some long sentences, but they built of compounds, not subordination—just as is Ecclesiastes. Some sentences seem bizarrely redundant: “The river was there.” As in Ecclesiastes, the vocabulary focuses on the natural: river, water, fish. Diction is primarily Anglo-Saxon, with some Latinates. A good deal of repetition of phrases, and as in Ecc, it isn’t obvious why he needs to repeat, so we are likely to read it either as a silly way of writing (some readers can't stand Hemingway for precisely this reason--to them his style seems "precious," or overly manipulated), or it holds meaning we don’t immediately see—just as Nick looks down into the brown water, which is completely ordinary, and can't immediately see anything in it. The verbs used to describe Nick are mostly either looking, watching, or seeing. Indeed, the only other verb used for him is "walked." But those verbs are all observational--nothing about thinking, reflecting, intending, or planning. He is just an observer so far, just as we are as well: as we see Nick seeing, we are observing Nick who is himself observing his natural surrounding. And as I say, in paragraph two we see him first unable to "see" but after a bit then finally able to see the big trout, the goal of his journey, “holding themselves steady in the current,” a point of constancy amidst movement of sand eddying up around them. So lots of movement, lots of motion of fins, yet the fish, like nature itself, one might think, are unchanging, their fins holding them steady even as the current rushes past them.

So, a kind of restrained, elemental narrative voice, very even-toned, reportorial, sparse (by which I mean it leaves out detail that another writer [Dickens, Salinger] might include), and using loose, predominantly AS diction, almost circling around the facts of the scene, slowly circling and moving deeper until it reports Nick seeing what he could not see upon his arrival in sentence one. The meaning of “The river was there” is obscure to begin with, no matter how simple the syntax and diction, because it is (like some of the phrases in Ecclesiastes) TOO easy to understand. That invites a reader to look again. It is not itself a metaphor literally, but to a figurative eye the whole passage is something of a metaphor—the river with the man looking into it, the gradual refinement of his vision as he sees deeper, the almost mystical calm along with the implicit sense that this should need no further explanation—all this suggests human kind in general looking to nature for insight and understanding. Here Nick is looking for something constant and reliable after his experience in the Great War of 1914-1918, and the style matches nature itself in being restrained, ordered, and calm.

Possible Final Passages

(Thank you for your nominations. Three of these are from your nominations, and three from my own files)


1. From the opening of Peter Elbow's Writing without Teachers

     The most effective way I know to improve your writing is to do freewriting exercises regularly.  At least three times a week.  They are sometimes called “automatic writing,” “babbling,” or “jabbering” exercises.  The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty).  Don’t stop for anything.  Go quickly without rushing.  Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing.  If you can’t think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write, “I can’t think of it.”  Just put down something.  The easiest thing is just to put down whatever is in your mind.  If you get stuck it’s fine to write “I can’t think what to say, I can’t think what to say” as many times as you want or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else.  The only requirement is that you never stop.


2. From the opening of the UW Faculty Career Planning Manual

     The change from a period of rapid growth to a period of stability may create serious problems in faculty career planning both for the individual faculty member and for colleges and universities.  Administrators must be aware of the implications for faculty and for the institutional units for which they hold responsibility.  Every effort should be exerted to develop guidelines for faculty career planning which will optimize the well-being of individual faculty members in a manner consistent with the institutional well-being of the university and its several sub-units.

     From the institutional point of view, the planning objective should be to maintain maximum structural flexibility to accommodate shifts of enrollments among disciplines.  Although it is by no means possible to predict specific shifts with a high degree of precision, a review of past enrollment patterns suggests that shifts do occur on a more of less continuing basis.      


3. From the opening of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile was now at the thought of his immolation.


4. From early in Jack London's "To Build a Fire"

As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but the spittle had cracked in the air. Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below—how much colder he did not know. But the temperature did not matter. He was bound for the old claim on the left fork of Henderson creek, where the boys were already. They had come over across the divide from the Indian Creek country, while he had come the roundabout way to take a look at the possibilities of getting out logs in the spring from the islands in the Yukon. He would be in to camp by six o'clock; a bit after dark, it was true, but the boys would be there, a fire would be going, and a hot supper would be ready. As for lunch, he pressed his hand against the protruding bundle under his jacket. It was also under his shirt, wrapped up in a handkerchief and lying against the naked skin. It was the only way to keep the biscuits from freezing. He smiled agreeably to himself as he thought of those biscuits, each cut open and sopped in bacon grease, and each enclosing a generous slice of fried bacon.


5. From Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 34

Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment; yet she tried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said:

"You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner."

She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued: "You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it."

Again his astonishment was obvious; and he looked at her with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification. She went on:

"From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."


6. From Gwendolyn Brooks, "kitchenette building"

     We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
     Grayed in, and gray.  “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
     Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

     But could a dream send up through onion fumes
     Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
     And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
     Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

     Even if we were willing to let it in,
     Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
     Anticipate a message, let it begin?

     We wonder.  But not well!  not for a minute!
     Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
     We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.