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Sample Exam Answer for EH 220

Professor John Tatter
Fall Term 2003

You will be asked to identify six of twelve passages from your readings this term, including The Awakening and A Doll House. After indicating which passage you have chosen, your identification should consist of three parts. First, name the author and title, tell who is speaking, and indicate approximately where in the work the passage occurs [3 pts]. Second, write a paragraph that explains how the passage is important in determining the meaning of the entire text, and be sure to refer to other parts of the text in your explanation [6 pts]. Third, write a subsequent paragraph in which you discuss larger issues of gender, race, or socio-economic class in the passage by bringing in material from at least one other reading assignment [8 pts]. You may refer to this additional work only once on the exam. You must focus at least one answer on gender, at least one on race, and at least one on economic class. Some material you might choose to use in your paragraphs is stronger than other material--some answers are better than others--so give some thought to what you might say before you say it. However, by all means say something: a blank paragraph counts zero points. Use blue books and pledge the Honor Code on the covers. Budget your time: I expect you to spend 20-30 minutes on each passage. You will have three hours.

Sample Identification

S. There was a dull pang of regret because it was not the kiss of love which had inflamed her, because it was not love which had held this cup of life to her lips.


S. The work is The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. The narrator speaks in this passage, and it occurs about two-thirds of the way through the novel when Edna begins her affair with Alcée Arobin.

This passage is important in understanding the nature of Edna's awakening in the novel. One of the things that Edna discovers is her physical self as independent from her social and psychological self. Her learning to swim is one example of this discovery, and so is the scene about a third of the way through the novel when she is overcome by a feeling of oppression at church and sleeps the afternoon away in the hut of Robert's friends. The novel is also full of references to Edna as an animal of some kind--I remember at least one reference to her as a panther, and Mademoiselle Reisz talks about her as a bird who needs strong wings. But Edna is also a romantic who wants to believe in the fairytale world of love, like the world of Sleeping Beauty that she talks about with Robert on that day on the island after church. She can't seem to bring the two parts of herself together--the physical and the romantic. And that is why she feels a "pang of regret" with Arobin, because she wants both romantic love and animal passion, and she can't seem to find both at once.

A short story with a similar theme is "Miss Clairol" by Viramontes. In that story the main character, Arlene, seems to be chasing a romantic dream that is hardly possible in her circumstances. Arlene is a working-class hispanic woman who is also an unwed mother hoping to meet the man of her dreams. Her vision of romance comes from advertisements for beauty products much in the same way that Edna's vision of romance comes from fairy tales and other dramatic literature. The men Arlene dates keep disappointing her, and some of them even abuse her. In her quest for romance, Arlene also neglects her daughter, much as Edna sends her children off to their grandparents' house when she wants time to paint or get together with her lover or her friends. The larger issue that both the novel and short story raise is that of a woman being caught between her responsibilities as a mother and her own personal needs and desires. In the novel, Edna's husband thinks she is a bad mother and that she neglects her children. In class, many of us thought similar things about Arlene when we talked about the story. Both women refuse to give up their "self" for their children. Edna gives up her life rather than subject her kids to the kind of life Champ has in "Miss Clairol." Arlene keeps hoping that "the kiss of love" will "enflame" her and that the next date might turn out to be "Prince Charming." Both women are pitiful, but in different ways.

John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College,