Southern Renaissance & Postmodernism: Williams / Baldwin / Rich / Morrison / Plath / Ginsberg

Williams – Reading and Review Questions:

  1. How is “desire” defined in the play?
  2. Compare and contrast Blanche and Stella. What is the symbolic significance of their names?
  3. Compare and contrast Blanche and Stanley; are they attracted to one another or repelled by one another? Why?
  4. Select and analyze any of the following for symbolic significance in the play: the poker game, the streetcars and their names, Blanche’s trunk, images of water, images of light, the flower seller, the newspaper boy, or Belle Reve.
  5. Contrast Blanche with her “performance” of Blanche: what are the distinguishing features between the woman and the mask she sometimes creates for others? Does she create different personas for different people in the play? Who is the “real” Blanche?
  6. What is the connection between sex and death in the play?

Baldwin – Reading and Review Questions:

  1. The story describes a Cain and Abel-type relationship between the narrator and his brother. Can you find any other biblical allusions in the story?
  2. To what does the title, “Sonny’s Blues,” refer? How is Sonny misrepresented by his brother? Why does his brother show up at the concert at the end of the story?
  3. What do you see as the central theme of this story addiction? Reconciliation? Individuality?

Rich – Reading and Review Questions:

  1. The book of myths is a metaphor for all the writings of Western civilization. Why does the poem’s narrator “first [have] to read the books of myths” before making this metaphoric dive into the wreck of Western civilization?
  2. In the final stanza, Rich contradictorily writes that the narrator finds her way “by cowardice or courage…back to this scene.” If cowardice, then what fear is she succumbing to? If courage, then what fear is she facing?
  3. Rich’s narrator worries in stanza five that “it is easy to forget / what I came for.” What does the narrator come to the wreck for? Why is it so easy to forget this goal?

Morrison – Reading and Review Questions:

  1. Look up the meaning of the word “Recitatif.” Discuss why Morrison chose this term for her story’s title.
  2. Twyla and Roberta are inseparable friends at St. Bonny’s. Why don’t Twyla and Roberta stay friends over the course of their lives?
  3. Discuss why Twyla and Roberta have different memories of and tell different stories about Maggie.

Plath – Reading and Review Questions:

  1. In Plath’s “Daddy,” analyze the imagery of Nazism associated with the “father” in the poem. What is the meaning of the imagery? Why is it so extreme?
  2. In “Daddy,” who or what is the narrator trying to break away from? Explain the nature of this break or escape the narrator is trying to make.
  3. How would you describe the narrator of “Daddy”: a victim? a survivor? a heroine?

Ginsberg – Reading and Review Questions:

  1. Making reference to the imagery in Ginsberg’s poem, describe the America Walt Whitman finds in a mid-twentieth-century American supermarket.
  2. Why does Ginsberg “feel absurd” when dreaming of his “odyssey in the supermarket” with Whitman?
  3. Whitman asks three questions while in the supermarket: “Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?” Imagine going into Publix, Kroger, or Ingles and asking these same three questions. How would the staff in the produce section or behind the meat counter respond? Could they even answer all three questions? And what do their responses tell us about the kinds of thought that are encouraged in modern consumer America and the kinds of thought that are not?


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American Literatures After 1865 Copyright © by Scott D. Peterson; Amy Berke; Robert Bleil; Jordan Cofer; and Doug Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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