Prof. McMahand

English Composition

Essay One Fiction Analysis Prompt

Choose one of the following prompts as a focus for your essay.  In your prewriting, jot down a working thesis, prospective topic sentences, and passages from the text that you think you may use in the rough draft.  I will NOT ACCEPT or grade a final draft that does not include ALL of the elements of the prewriting work as well as your rough draft with peer edits.

Remember that your claims and minor claims come from essential questions about character development, theme, symbolism, point-of-view, conflict, flashback, irony, and so on.  You may also refer to the story’s exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action, and dénouement: “In the story’s crisis…” or “The dénouement denies a complete resolution…”  Set aside time for proofing, editing, and rewriting.  As always, your language should be clear, grammatical, and formal, though not pompous, convoluted, or wordy. 

Basic Requirements: final draft—three to four pages, one inch margins, 12 pt. Times New Roman, MLA formatting, citation, and documentation.  Include prewriting (as listed above) and rough drafts with peer edits, and place all of your work in a flat, no-ring folder.

ZZ Packer’s “Doris Is Coming”


1.      Trace the trajectory of Doris’s coming of age.  How does she transition from lacking

awareness and confidence to gaining strengths in these areas?   Who initiates Doris’s turn toward maturity?  Who or what opposes her growth and budding confidence, and who nourishes her development?  Explain how these characters impact Doris.  Examine how and why political activism advances her leap forward into personal independence.


2.      Explain how the story’s three prominent outcasts—Doris, Mr. Stutz, and Olivia/Livia—are

connected through their marginal status.  Also, look closely at what keeps these marginal figures from forming a fuller relationship with each other.  For example, what draws Doris away from Mr. Stutz, from Livia, and what attracts her to these outsiders?  How do Mr. Stutz and Olivia encourage and enable Doris?


3.      Explore Packer’s melding of the Christian Rapture and the Civil Rights Movement.  Note

key passages in the story where these two events merge, and analyze Doris’s individual conflict when this convergence happens.  How does the story’s last paragraph telegraph this twinning of the two events?  Between the Rapture and the Movement, where does Packer place her sympathy in her depiction of Doris’s search for change?


T. C. Boyle’s “Beat”

1.  How do Buzz and Ricky demonstrate hero worship, and how do Jack, Neal, Bill, and Allen embody celebrity status for their devotees?  Follow the development of this hero worship in the story as it builds to a fever pitch.  Where, if ever, does it diminish, and why?  How do Buzz and Ricky’s adolescence inform their inculcation as Beat fanatics?

2.  Explore Boyle’s use of irony in “Beat,” especially concerning Buzz’s perception of his Beat idols.  How does Jack personify his own counterculture image as captured in his literature (On the Road and Dharma Bums)?  At the same time, how does Jack contradict his public image (and performance) as a cultural rebel, and how do Catholicism and his mother impact this contradiction?

3.  Trace the varying definitions of beat in the story—as sexual, drug-addled chaos, as fast and furious fun, as counterculture, as destruction and self-destruction, as world-weariness, and as personal defeat.   How do different characters in the story embody some or all of these definitions?  Does the story privilege one meaning of beat more than another?  Which definition does Boyle’s story uphold the most?

Brad Sewell’s “If It Was You Instead of Me”

1.      Analyze Paul’s obsession with Greg Macowski—his physical prowess, his jock status as the

school’s star wrestler, and his impoverished life as a “Lake Rat.”   How (much) does Paul’s attitude about Greg morph over the years and why?  How do memories of high school and the locker room fight still haunt Paul and Greg—in different ways—and what new meanings do the men draw from their fight over the years?


2.      Explain how Sewell portrays Greg’s character through his body—as a wrestler, welder, and

cancer survivor?  Discuss the irony in Sewell’s depiction of Greg’s body.  How do Coach, Paul, the mill bosses, and Greg’s wife reduce the one-time star wrestler to nothing more than his body?  How does Greg reduce himself to his body?  What does Paul mean when he says, “Cruel that the body never forgets its past”?


3.      “The lakefront had changed.  The huge steel mills were dying and, with them, a way of life.”

Show how Sewell’s story merges fate and class in the lives of the two main characters?  To what extent does the economic downturn in the men’s hometown determine the trajectory of their lives, Greg’s shift to janitorial work and Paul’s awareness of the intersections between capital and labor?  Between Paul and Greg, who possesses the prospects of a brighter future, and why?


Barb Johnson’s “St. Luis of Palmyra”

1.      Interrogate the meaning of Luis’s aspirations—to win his school’s science fair, to leave

with his mother for California, and to secure his Confirmation.  What does each ambition mean for Luis, and how does each propose to relieve him of his painful sense of confinement?  What and who stands in the way of his achieving success in all of his ambitions?  How do they fall short in relieving Luis of all of his suffering?


2.       Examine Luis’s frustration with Catholic saints.  Why does he object to their memory, and

how does he want to alter their demonstrations of faith?   Discuss his proclamation of himself as St. Luis of Palmyra. How does this proclamation redefine his view of himself; how does his composition rearrange the balance between his feelings of power and powerlessness, and how does his self-description as a saint differ from that of other saints?  Discuss his exchange in the story with Father Ben.


3.      Johnson presents several examples of toxic masculinity in the story, none more so than

Junior and his “Krewe of Idiots.”   How do these men, especially Junior with all of his crimes and misdemeanors, exert a vile and oppressive force over Luis and his mother Deysi?  How does Luis reveal an internalization of Junior’s machismo?  In other words, how does Luis show signs—without his knowing it—of becoming like Junior?


Comparative Analysis

1.      All of the stories above contain coming of age experiences.  Choose two stories and compare

the individual ways in which the main characters transition toward awareness.  What is most similar about their development, about their character flaws, and about their instances of awareness or discovery?  What is important about how they differ?


2.      Common in each of these stories is the theme of personal revolt.  All of the protagonists

typify in varying ways a sense of adolescent rebellion.  Their opposition exists externally—with others—and internally—with themselves.  Choose two protagonists from two stories and explain how their rebellion sometimes produces unexpected and unwanted results.  Discuss how their rebellion changes their views in ways they never anticipated.


Reminders and Hints

·         Stay in third person (no use of “you”)             

·         Use present tense only (literary present tense)

·         Write in clear, active voice sentences.

·         Typical paragraph structure: *Topic/Transitional Sentence

      *Identify the point.  *Illustrate with a quote from the text.   *Interpret the text.

·         Do not spend any time relating the author’s biography, unless it specifically adds to your discussion of theme, character, or other elements of fiction.