Tag Archives: Short Story

Study Questions: Short Story

from, Stephen C. Behrendt; 12/12/07
Not all of these questions will be equally applicable to all of the short stories you will read — or to short stories generally that you will read outside this course. But they will help you to become better, more careful, more insightful, and more confident as a reader. In class discussions, we will emphasize various of these elements, some of them more than others, so that you can get a sense of how we can approach the same story in different ways and with different objectives for ourselves as readers. I suggest that you read through these questions each time you prepare to read an assigned story. Doing so, even though it may seem simplistic and repetitious, will help you to read in a more informed manner, and it will help you, too, to be more receptive to the artistry — the aesthetic values — of these and other stories you will read.

Questions to help you analyze the PLOT

  1. Who is the protagonist of this short story? Try to establish his/her age, family background, social class and status, and occupation.
  2. Summarize as briefly as possible the single change which occurs to the protagonist during the course of this story, taking care to specify whether this change is mainly one of fortune, moral character, or knowledge.
  3. Trace the progress of this change through these detailed stages:
    1. the original situation of the protagonist (including the initial possibilities of later disequilibrium);?
    2. the precipitating event which begins to involve the protagonist in a central tension;
    3. the alternative types of action which are available to the protagonist as his involvement intensifies;?
    4. the major steps by which the involvement is intensified (show how each step advances the involvement, and how it changes the relative strength of the alternatives);?
    5. the crisis (show what precipitates the crisis and how);?f. the resolution (show what breaks the crisis and how).
  4. At what point in this story is the tension highest? Is that point the dramatic climax? How is the tension produced, and is it appropriate? Does the story as a whole seem to be high-tension or low-tension?
  5. Does the story involve an epiphany, or moment of insight, revelation, or self-realization for the protagonist—or perhaps for the reader? If so, does it coincide with the dramatic climax, or crisis, of the story?
  6. What questions of probability arise in this story? In general, are the events of this story sufficiently probable to support its overall design?

Questions to help you analyze CHARACTERIZATION

  1. Is the protagonist a round or a flat character? On what evidence do you base your answer? What about the other characters? Why are they made the way they are?
  2. Evaluate the moral structure of the protagonist:
    1. To what degree is his/her moral stature defined by the words and actions of contrasting minor characters, or by the testimony of characters who are readily acceptable as witnesses??
    2. Discuss the protagonist’s inclinations toward specific virtues and vices, his/her powers or handicaps with relation to those virtues and vices, and one or two important instances in which his/her moral stature is apparent.
  3. Describe the psychology of the protagonist:
    1. What are her/his dominant traits or desires? How did these traits or desires apparently originate? Do they support or oppose one another? Explain.?
    2. Through what modes of awareness is the protagonist most responsive to life – rational, instinctual, sensory, emotional, intuitive? Explain and illustrate.?
    3. Discuss the way in which she/he takes hold of a situation. In what terms does she/he see her/his problems? What does she/he try to maximize or minimize, try to prove or disprove? Do her/his reactions proceed through definable phases? If so, what are they? How may one explain her/his effectiveness or inadequacy in taking hold of a situation or emergency?
  4. In view of all these matters, what does the author apparently want us to think and feel about what happens to the protagonist?
  5. Is the protagonist’s personality worked out with probability and consistency?

Questions to help you evaluate the story’s NARRATIVE MANNER

  1. What is the predominant point of view in this story, and who seems to be the focal character? Illustrate by citing a very brief passage and showing how it confirms your opinion.
  2. What kind of ordering of time predominates in this story? Explain.??
  3. At what points does the narrative significantly slow down or speed up? At what points do conspicuous jumps in time occur? Why, in each case?
  4. Select several passages from this story, each reasonably brief, and use them to illustrate a discussion of the following stylistic matters:
    1. special qualities of diction and sentence structure;?
    2. the use of style to individualize the speech, thought, and personality of particular characters;?
    3. the implied presence of the narrator or “author”; his/her level of involvement; his/her personality;?
    4. the basic vision of life which the style of the story reflects and extends.

Questions to help you assess IDEA in the story

  1. What is the theme of the story? Express it in a single declarative sentence.
  2. According to the story, what kind of behavior makes for lasting human worth or for human waste?
  3. Evaluate the relative importance in influencing the outcome of the story of the following: physical nature, biological make-up, intimate personal relationships, society. What does the author seem to regard as the chief area in which human destiny is shaped
  4. According to the story, to what extent is the individual able to manage these formative conditions?
  5. To what extent is any individual’s final outcome helped or hindered by forces outside his/her control? In the story are these influences benignant, malignant, or indifferent? Explain.

Questions that may help you understand the story’s BACKGROUND

  1. Summarize the facts of the author’s birth, family and social position, main gifts or handicaps, education, and entry into writing.
  2. Describe briefly, with dates, the more important of the author’s earlier works, giving special attention to the work immediately preceding the story under study.
  3. What specific circumstances led the author to write this story? To what extent did she/he depart from the sort of fiction she/he had written up to this point? What persons, events, or other autobiographical materials does this story reflect, and with what modifications? What account of her/his inspirations and problems with this story did the author provide through letters, prefaces, journals, and the like?
  4. By focusing upon sample details of this story, show how this biographical information (questions 1 and 3) helps to explain the design of the work.
  5. What main features of social tension or stability in his/her own times did the author treat in this story? (e. g, ideology, war, economics, technology, daily life, etc.)? Explain, using both this story and such outside sources as personal statements by the author, histories of the period, etc.
  6. By focusing upon sample details of the story, show how this historical information (question 5) helps to explain the design of the story.
  7. What authors, literary circles, or movements did the present author support, attack, imitate, join, or depart from? Why?
  8. Show how this literary background helps explain the design of the story.

Portfolio 10: Now Focus on Me

Students will listen, speak, read, write, view, and represent to:

  1. Explore thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences
  2. Comprehend literature and other texts in oral, print, visual, and multimedia forms, and respond personally, critically, and creatively.
  3. Manage ideas and information
    • determine inquiry or research requirements
    • follow a plan of inquiry
  4. Create oral, print, visual, and multimedia texts, and enhance the clarity and artistry of communication
  5. Respect, support, and collaborate with others

Specific Outcomes:

  1. Each student will write a final post as an introduction to all the portfolio pieces that directly or indirectly let the audience know what it is s/he values most about life.
  2. Students will internalize focus questions.
  3. Students will infuse ICT outcomes.
  4. Students will create a portfolio in response to course focus questions.
  5. Students will improve their “TIC” (Technique, Insight, Communication)
  6. Student writing skills will emphasize an increase in personal voice and a decrease in X=X errors

    Students will plan a portfolio that includes the following.

    1. One post about a novel’s exploration of a focus question
    2. One post about a short story’s exploration of a focus question
    3. One post about an excerpt from Shakespeare exploring a focus question
    4. One post prompted by viewing a film or TV episode with emphasis on voice and critical thinking about a focus question
    5. One post prompted by a music lyric with emphasis on voice and critical thinking about a focus question
    6. Now Focus on Me: a final post as an introduction to all the portfolio pieces that directly or indirectly let the audience know what it is s/he values most about life.


      • 1 submission but all assignments must be included/linked


      • May 30: final submission


      • rubric.png

      Short Story Unit Plan

      I have a variety of online etexts of classic short stories.
      Each story is linked to a discussion forum of the author.
      I have a Short Story Study Guide template. I figure this template will suffice for a multi-threaded response from a blog. Design a clear “map” for me to follow for assessment.
      I have a list of Critical Questions(each topic linked to a discussion forum as well). Pick and choose whatever question you like to fill out your guide.
      I have a page of Focus Questions for the entire course. Choose your overall thematic focus from this list.
      I have a bank of exams for each of the short stories (view a sample quiz, oh, you’ll need the hint for the password).

      Your Task:
      First, work alone on any one story, all your work on one story should be in your own blog(dedicate one post as a “map”). 3 days. Quiz #1: November 14.
      Second, work in pairs on another story, all your work must link collaboratively between your two blogs. 3 days. Quiz #2: November 19.
      Finally, work alone or in pairs (or larger groups) on a third story, your response can be in an acceptable collaborative format. 3 days. Quiz#3: November 23.


      Quiz 20%, Study Guide 80%.(x3)

      A novel study and a variety of poems remain as requirements in the course. Diploma Part A: January 15, 2008. The Novel should be done before Christmas break to allow for poetry study in January. Consider extra readings from the reading list.

      Trackback your 3 responses here.

      English 30-1 Tips for Personal Response to Texts

      Examples of Student Responses to English 30-1 Diploma

      The Personal Response Assignment from June 2006:
      (literature in the question is included in the exam)

      The puppet master in Keith Carter’s “Pinocchio” manipulates the marionette’s strings, giving it the illusion of free will. In the poem “Come In,” the speaker resists the allure of an appealing opportunity. In the excerpt from the short story “The Introduction,” Lily confronts the social conventions of her world and struggles to preserve her true self. What do these texts suggest to you about the individual’s ability to pursue personal well-being when responding to competing internal and external demands? Support your idea(s) with reference to one or more of the texts presented and to your previous knowledge and/or experience.

      Consider the importance of the opening paragraph and the first sentence of the first body paragraph.
      Satisfactory response from June 2006
      Proficient response from June 2006
      Excellent response from June 2006

      The Critical/Analytical Response Assignment from June 2006:
      (literature in the essay is from the course, not the exam)

      Reflect on the ideas and impressions that you discussed in the Personal Response to Texts Assignment concerning the relationship between an individual’s perspective and his or her interpretation of the world. Consider how the effect of a new perspective has been reflected and developed in a literary text or texts you have studied. Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator(s) about the effect an individual’s perspective has on personal beliefs.

      Proficient response from June 2006
      Excellent response from June 2006

      Critical Questions

      The following lists of questions should be useful in discovering arguments you might make about a short story, poem, play, or film.

      Formalist Questions

      1. How do various elements of the work-plot, character, point of view, setting, tone, diction, images, symbol, etc.-reinforce its meaning?
      2. How are the elements related to the whole?
      3. What is the works major organizing principle? How is its structure unified?
      4. What issues does the work raise? How does the works structure resolve those issues?

      Biographical Questions

      1. Are there facts about the writer’s life relevant to your understanding of the work?
      2. Are characters and incidents in the work versions of the writer’s own experiences? Are they treated factually or imaginatively?
      3. How do you think the writer’s values are reflected in the work?

      Psychological Questions

      1. How does the work reflect the author’s personal psychology?
      2. What do the characters’ emotions and behaviour reveal about their psychological states? What types of personalities are they?
      3. Are psychological matters such as repression, dreams, and desire presented consciously or unconsciously by the author?

      Historical Questions

      1. How does the work reflect the period in which it was written?
      2. How does the work reflect the period it represents?
      3. What literary or historical influences helped to shape the form and content of the work?
      4. How important is the historical context (both the work’s and your own) to interpreting the work?

      Marxist Questions

      1. How are class differences presented in the work? Are characters aware or unaware of the economic and social forces that affect their lives?
      2. How do economic conditions determine the characters’ lives?
      3. What ideological values are explicit or implicit?

      Feminist Questions

      1. How are women’s lives portrayed in the work? Do the women in the work accept or reject these roles?
      2. Is the form and content of the work influenced by the author’s gender?
      3. What are the relationships between men and women? Are these relationships sources of conflict? Do they provide resolutions to conflicts?

      Mythological Questions

      1. How does the story resemble other stories in plot, character, setting, or use of symbols?
      2. Are archetypes presented, such as quests, initiations, scapegoats, or withdrawals and returns?
      3. Does the protagonist undergo any kind of transformation such as movement from innocence to experience that seems archetypal?

      Personal Response Questions

      1. How do you respond to the work?
      2. How do your own experiences and expectations affect your reading and interpretation?
      3. What is the work’s original or intended audience? To what extent are you similar to or different from that audience?

      These questions will not apply to all texts; and they are not mutually exclusive. They can be combined to explore a text from several critical perspectives simultaneously. For example, a feminist approach to Romeo and Juliet could also use Marxist concerns about class to make observations about the oppression of women’s lives in the historical context of the Renaissance. Your use of these questions should allow you to discover significant issues from which you can develop an argumentative essay that is organized around clearly defined terms, relevant evidence, and a persuasive analysis.

      Schools of Theory from Shmoop

      Literary theory is a wonky world where monocle-sporting people say things that not even they understand. Our guides are here to bring this stuff down to earth and show you how it might actually be—gasp!—useful.