FON AJ484 Regional Short Fiction: Guide Questions
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman: “A New England Nun”
1. The atmosphere, the basic emotional quality of the story, is established in the first paragraphs of A New England Nun. Discuss the effect of the outdoor descriptions in the first paragraph of the story. Comment on the qualities of peace and of quiet restraint that pervade the story.
2. Consider this story as an example of New England regionalism. Which regional elements (e.g., physical setting, character, values, dialect) are most emphasized? Which are most significant for the story?
3. Comment on the importance for the story of the New England “sense of honor” and its effects upon the characters. What effects, for example, does it have upon usual human impulses?
4. To what extent does Louisa fit or differ from the traditional satiric portrait of the New England spinster?
5. Is Louisa wholly an ascetic person? Note that she, unlike her neighbors, “used china every day.” What does the use of china and the delight she took in her meal suggest about her capacity to enjoy sensuous pleasures?
6. Contrast Lily and Louisa. Lily is described as “tall and full-figured.” How is the physical appearance of Louisa presented in the story? Is there a detailed physical description of Louisa? Which events and details create the picture of Joe as congenial, hearty, honorable, and oafish.
7. What is the significance of the title of A New England Nun? How is it a suitable description for Louisa in Protestant, Puritan New England? How? Comment on the religious allusions in the final paragraph of the story.
9. The device of the overheard conversation is a familiar convention in fiction and in the drama. Does such an improbable event in A New England Nun detract from the sense of realism conveyed by the story?
Charles W. Chessnut: “The Goophered Grapevine”
1. To what extent does Chesnutt’s Uncle Julius fit 19th-century stereotypes of African
Americans? Is he servile? Subservient? In what ways is he superior to the narrator?
2. Explain the “distance” established by the frame and its likely effect on the reader.
How does the white narrator compare with Uncle Julius? What would have been the effect if Chesnutt had used a different kind of narrator?
3. How likely is it that the shrewd Uncle Julius intentionally shapes himself to fit common stereotypes in order to manipulate the attitudes and responses of his “superior” white listeners?
4. In the battle of wits between the narrator and Uncle Julius, who wins in the end? How can the tale be viewed as, in part, a criticism of the myth of white superiority.
5. Is Uncle Julius’ dialect excessive? Compare his speech and the speech of the narrator.
6. Differing economic attitudes are exhibited in The Goophered Grapevine. How can it be read as a parable of Northern and Southern conflicts? In what ways is the narrator’s attitude toward African Americans like that of the antebellum slave owners of the South?
Charles W. Chessnut: “The Wife of His Youth”
1. What does The Wife of His Youth suggest about the life of African Americans in the United States a few decades after Emancipation?
2. What is Mr. Ryder’s attitude toward race?
3. How does Ryder’s character play against racial stereotypes of the sort represented by Uncle Julius?
4. Are Mr. Ryder’s moral struggle and its outcome convincing?
5. What is the "Blue Vein Society" to which Ryder belongs in "The Wife of His Youth"? How do the Blue Veins participate in the construction of the social "color line" which Chesnutt found so fascinating? To what extent is this handling of color different from the phenomenon of “passing”?
6. What does the very existence of such a group reveal about the complexity of African-American society? What values do the Blue Veins seem to promote among African Americans?
7. What is the relationship between the nature of slavery and Mr. Ryder’s ethical dilemma?
8. Is the timing of Liza Jane’s arrival effectively managed? Or did you find it overly coincidental?
9. To what extent does the difference in dialect between Mr. Ryder and Liza Jane help establish characterization?
10. To what extent did you find this story an effective tale of values? To what extent, if any, do you find it overly sentimental?