Instant Download with all chapters and Answers
*you will get solution manuals in PDF in best viewable format after buy*
2 READING A STORY
John Updike, A & P, page 33
“A & P” is a relatively early story in John Updike’s enormous canon (The Early Stories: 1953–1975, covering the first two-fifths of his career, runs to more than eight
hundred pages), but it has remained a clear favorite with critics and readers alike.
Adolescents in particular have been drawn to its protagonist, the nineteen-year-old
supermarket clerk Sammy. Like T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock a half century earlier, Sammy is
eager to live deeply while feeling crushed by a world devoted to emptiness and triviality, but unlike Eliot’s hapless protagonist, in one impulsive moment Sammy
decides that he does dare to disturb the universe.
Your students may be interested in hearing Updike himself reading the story. If
so, a recording is in The John Updike Audio Collection, available as a two-CD set from
Here are some possible answers to the questions given at the end of “A & P.”
Other answers, of equal merit, may occur to you and your students.
1. Notice how artfully Updike arranges details to set the story in a perfectly
ordinary supermarket. What details stand out for you as particularly true to life?
What does this close attention to detail contribute to the story? The setting is clear
from Updike’s opening paragraph (“I’m in the third checkout slot . . . with my hand
on a box of HiHo crackers”). In addition to its many other virtues, “A & P” provides
a remarkably precise and detailed description of the supermarket that gives the story
its title, from the uniforms of the employees to the store’s wares and their arrangement in the aisles, right down to the steps involved in ringing up a sale. This attention to detail makes the setting real to us and lends credibility to what we are told
about the characters and their interactions.
2. How fully does Updike draw the character of Sammy? What traits
(admirable or otherwise) does Sammy show? Is he any less a hero for wanting
the girls to notice his heroism? Sammy is given a remarkably detailed and complex
characterization for so relatively brief a story. He is a very convincing nineteenyear-old, a true-to-life blend of idealism and insensitivity. He doesn’t want to disappoint or upset his parents, yet he sees them and their world as bourgeois and a bit
crass. Sammy isn’t sophisticated. He comes from a family of proletarian beer
drinkers and thinks martinis are garnished with mint. His language is sometimes
KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155_KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155 5/22/12 6:23 PM Page 5
pedestrian: “Really, I thought that was so cute.” But he is capable of fresh and accurate observations—his description of the way Queenie walks on her bare feet, his
comparison of the “clean bare plane” of her upper chest to “a dented sheet of metal
tilted in the light.” (Could Sammy be capable of so poetic an observation, or is this
His observations of others are dripping with scorn for the “sheep” and “bums” and
virtually everyone else who comes into the store, and his response to and defense of
the three girls, especially the one he dubs Queenie, are fueled to some degree by their
being not unattractive and half-naked young women: “remembering how he made
that pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside” (par. 30; emphasis added). Nonetheless, his rushing to take up their cause is also motivated by nobler feelings, even if it
is wasted on the girls themselves. It is very human of him to want the girls to notice
and appreciate his gesture, but it hardly seems disqualifying. One imagines that even
Gandhi must have taken pleasure in the fact that he was the idol of millions.
3. What part of the story seems to be the exposition? Of what value to the
story is the carefully detailed portrait of Queenie, the leader of the three girls?
Relatively long for so brief a story, the exposition takes up most of the story’s first
half. Portraying Queenie and the other girls in loving detail, this exposition helps
make Sammy’s later gesture of heroism understandable. She is not only presented as
attractive and potentially desirable, but for him she also radiates a kind of grace—
and vulnerability—at odds with her drab surroundings (the stuff of Sammy’s daily
existence), making clear that he feels at odds with his job, and thus foreshadowing
his impulsive protective gesture.
4. How does the setting of the story—not just the store, but the location of
the town—shape Sammy and his reactions? The town is “north of Boston” and “five
miles from a beach” (par. 10), marking it for Sammy as a kind of provincial backwater. The store itself is “right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors
you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and
three real-estate offices and about twenty-seven old freeloaders tearing up Central
Street because the sewer broke again.” To him, it’s a stifling world of dull, middleclass conformity and unquestioning acceptance of a meaningless existence. In a way,
Sammy is a powder keg just waiting for someone or something to light his fuse.
5. As the story develops, do you detect any change in Sammy’s feelings
toward the girls? Despite the conventional attitudes he expresses in the first half of
the story (his usual male reactions to girls in two-piece bathing suits, his less than
flattering descriptions of Queenie’s two companions, his put-down of all girls’ minds:
“a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar”), he comes to feel sympathy for the girls as
human beings with feelings that don’t deserve to be casually bruised by Lengel, the
6. Where in “A & P” does the dramatic conflict become apparent? What
moment in the story brings the crisis? What is the climax of the story? Dramatic
conflict arrives with the appearance of Lengel and his confrontation with the girls.
When Lengel catches Sammy smiling, we can guess the clerk is in for trouble. Crisis
and climax are practically one, but if you care to distinguish them, the crisis may be
found in paragraph 20 (“I thought and said ‘No’ but it wasn’t about that I was thinking . . . ”), in which Sammy hovers on the brink of his decision. The climax is his
announcement “I quit”; the conclusion is his facing a bleaker future.
6 Chapter 2: Reading a Story
KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155_KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155 5/22/12 6:23 PM Page 6
7. Why, exactly, does Sammy quit his job? He throws over his job to protest
against the needless humiliation of the three girls, and in so doing he asserts his criticism of supermarket society, a deadly world of “sheep” and “houseslaves” whom
dynamite couldn’t budge from their dull routines.
8. Does anything lead you to expect Sammy to make some gesture of sympathy
for the three girls? What incident earlier in the story (before Sammy quits) seems a
foreshadowing? As the girls walk away from the meat counter, Sammy reacts against
the piggishness of McMahon, the butcher, “patting his mouth and looking after them
sizing up their joints. Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn’t help it”
(par. 10). This is a particularly interesting twist, considering that Sammy has previously
done a pretty detailed job of “looking after them sizing up their joints” himself.
9. What do you understand from the conclusion of the story? What does
Sammy mean when he acknowledges “how hard the world was going to be to me
hereafter”? The last sentence implies not only that Sammy will have trouble getting
another job, but that if he continues to go through life as an uncompromising man
of principle, then life from now on is going to be rough.
Edgar Allan Poe, THE TELL-TALE HEART, page 38
In The Uses of Enchantment, the celebrated study of the psychological dimension of
fairy tales, Bruno Bettelheim maintains that people who read fairy tales to children
should not talk to them about what the stories mean. Thus, it could be argued that
a story such as Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is not meant to be picked apart and subjected to analysis. XJK remembers that once, after a class had read a Poe tale, a wonderful controversy broke out when someone complained that “this story doesn’t
really say anything.” Everyone tried to sum up the story’s theme, he reports, but failed
miserably, and at last decided that there is a place in literature for stories that don’t
say anything in particular, but supply their readers with memorable nightmares and
dreams. Many a writer of horror stories might summarize his or her intentions in the
famous words of Joe the fat boy in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers—“I wants
to make your flesh creep”—and let it go at that. On the other hand, “The Tell-Tale
Heart” must have something more than a good scare going for it to have attracted
the attention of so many critics over the years.
Terror and humor are sometimes not far apart. Students can certainly tell stories
of times they were terrified, yet their seemingly inappropriate response was laughter.
Flannery O’Connor noted that one of the great influences on her own writing was
Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. She echoed him in the creation of bizarre characters and
also in his use of the grotesque—mixing elements of humor with moments of horror.
(A stolen wooden leg, for example, is both hilarious and horrendous.) Similarly, in
Poe’s story the paranoid narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is amusing—in the way he
“thrusts” his head into the room of the sleeping victim, for example. One can imagine him caricatured in a skit on Saturday Night Live.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” was adapted for television in the PBS television series The
American Short Story, and is available on DVD. An A & E biography of Edgar Allan
Poe is also available on DVD.
Here are some possible answers to the questions given at the end of “The TellTale Heart.” Other answers, of equal merit, may occur to you and your students.
Chapter 2: Reading a Story 7
KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155_KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155 5/22/12 6:23 PM Page 7
1. From what point of view is Poe’s story told? Why is this point of view particularly effective for “The Tell-Tale Heart”? The story has a first-person narrator,
the man who lives with and murders the inoffensive old man. Edgar Allan Poe paid
very careful attention to the technical details of his stories. He knew that craft led
to effects, so he planned every detail of his stories from theme to character to point
of view. As Daniel Hoffman shows in his highly personal and deeply stimulating Poe
Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe (1973), “The Tell-Tale Heart” wouldn’t be half as effective
without the madman himself as its narrator. Indeed, its climax would not occur without that point-of-view choice. An omniscient narrator in this case might reveal the
mysteries that give the story its power (the idea that the dead man is in fact the narrator’s father, as Hoffman suggests; the paranoia of the narrator would also be moot
for an omniscient voice). Demonstrations of the narrator’s imbalance come at the
very beginning of the story, and they provide the context in which we will evaluate
everything else that he says and does.
2. Point to details in the story that identify its speaker as an unreliable narrator. The teller of Poe’s tale is a classic unreliable narrator. He is not deliberately
trying to mislead his audience; he is delusional, and the reader can easily find the
many places in the story where the narrator’s telling reveals his mistaken perceptions. His presentation is also deeply ironic: the insistence on his sanity puts his madness on display. The first paragraph alone, brief as it is, should provide fertile ground
for students sent to find evidence of his severe disturbance. This passage should
clinch the point all by itself: “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I
heard many things in hell.” From there, you can lead the class into a discussion of
the subsequent manifestations of his madness—his perception of the old man’s eye
as a thing in itself, independent of its admittedly benevolent possessor; his extreme
attention to details and matters that others could find insignificant; his fixation on
a single objective for an insanely long period of time; his need to flaunt his brilliance,
even if only to himself, by inviting the police into the house; and so on.
3. What do we know about the old man in the story? What motivates the narrator to kill him? What little we know about him is given in the second paragraph.
He is apparently kind and pleasant in nature, and he possesses some wealth. The narrator himself disavows any basis for hostility toward the old man or any desire for his
gold. What motivates him is his obsession with the old man’s dull, film-covered eye,
and the urge “to rid myself of the eye forever.” In a larger context, we might note that
father and son relationships in Poe’s stories are virtually never good. Sons want to
kill fathers and fathers want to kill sons, either explicitly or implicitly. Poe felt himself to be a victimized son, first of David Poe, who abandoned him, his mother, and
his sister; and later of John Allan, his oppressive foster father. Biographical information works well in understanding relationships among characters in Poe’s stories.
4. In spite of all his precautions, the narrator does not commit the perfect
crime. What trips him up? The narrator, “in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph,”
has placed his chair directly above the spot where he has buried the old man’s dismembered body. Distracted by what he at first calls a ringing in his ears, he then identifies it as a steady thudding sound that he interprets as the beating of the old man’s
heart, driving him into a frenzy and prompting him to shriek a confession of murder.
8 Chapter 2: Reading a Story
KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155_KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155 5/22/12 6:23 PM Page 8
5. How do you account for the police officers chatting calmly with the murderer instead of reacting to the sound that stirs the murderer into a frenzy? The
obvious explanation is that they hear nothing. The sound that torments the narrator is heard only by him, whether it be his own heart or a purely imaginary product
of his guilt and madness. (See question 7 below.)
6. What might the old man’s “Evil Eye” represent? Daniel Hoffman sees the
old man as a father-figure, perhaps even a Father-Figure, and suggests that in striking
at his eye “the young madman strikes, symbolically, at his sexual power.” Hoffman
also says that the narrator “is full of the praise of his own sagacity, a terrible parody
of the true sagacity of a Dupin or a Legrand. For what he takes to be ratiocination is
in fact the irresistible operation of the principle of his own perversity, the urge to do
secret deeds, have secret thoughts undetected by the otherwise ever-watchful eye of
the old man.”
7. Whose heart does the narrator actually hear? How would different
answers to that question change your entire reading of the story? Is it his own
heart that the narrator hears at the end, as Hoffman and others have suggested,
or is it the wholly imaginary manifestation of his own guilty conscience? No one
can say for certain, and perhaps no one should. As suggested above, the claim that
the story contains no larger meaning represents one extreme of possible responses,
but it may be an equally extreme response in the opposite direction to impose a
strict—and potentially reductive—interpretation upon every last detail. At least
some of the story’s considerable power lies in the fact that we can’t explain everything away.
8. See the student essays on this story in the chapter “Writing About a
Story” later in this book. What do they point out that enlarges your own appreciation of Poe’s art? Both essays address, with detailed analysis and a good deal of
textual substantiation, central thematic concerns of the story. In focusing on the
narrator’s elaborate preparations for his crime, “By Lantern Light” demonstrates
Poe’s shrewd understanding of the narrator’s mental imbalance and his coherent
presentation of the character’s incoherence. “The Hearer of the Tell-Tale Heart”
likewise focuses on the narrator’s madness, and in doing so also engages the issues
of Poe’s use of point of view and what it is that the narrator hears in the story’s concluding paragraphs.
Katherine Mansfield, MISS BRILL, page 42
Like many practitioners of the modern short story, Katherine Mansfield frequently
uses small details and seemingly trivial incidents to suggest a sense of a character’s
entire life. We might borrow James Joyce’s term “epiphany,” applied to the way in
which a small gesture may lead to a revelation of or insight into character, in discussing Mansfield’s “little sketch.” In the second half of the story, Miss Brill herself
undergoes two such revelations, with far different reactions and consequences. Her
own sense of oneness with her fellow concert-goers, in which her assumptions
about their pettiness and absurdity are replaced by a larger human sympathy, is
quickly undercut by her awareness of her own pettiness and absurdity in the eyes
Chapter 2: Reading a Story 9
KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155_KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155 5/22/12 6:23 PM Page 9
The narrative point of view in “Miss Brill” is interesting: third-person, selective
omniscience. The narrator is detached from the characters but can also see events
through the eyes of the protagonist. This narrative strategy allows the reader to experience the action inwardly with the emotional intensity of Miss Brill, but it does not
limit itself to only the exact words and ideas that the protagonist would use (as a firstperson narrative would). At times Mansfield’s narrative style could be called stream
of consciousness since it often portrays the title character’s interior monologue and
the momentary play of thoughts and images on her mind. But the author alternates
these stream-of-consciousness techniques with a more Flaubertian selective omniscience. A close examination of Mansfield’s opening paragraph will reveal how both
methods co-exist in the story. In classroom discussion you might explore whether students identify more strongly with “the hero and heroine,” whose cruel comments
Miss Brill overhears, or with the title character. This line of questioning could be
used to explore how the reader’s sense of identification colors his or her sense of a
work of fiction.
Here are some possible answers to the questions given at the end of “Miss Brill.”
Other answers, of equal merit, may occur to you and your students.
1. What details provide insight into Miss Brill’s character and lifestyle? Miss
Brill lives frugally, alone in a small room, eking out a meager living by teaching English and reading the newspaper aloud to an invalid gentleman four afternoons a
week. She seems happy with her lot even though her daily activities are drab by most
standards and her pleasures are small ones. Her well-worn fur delights her, and an
almond in the Sunday honey-cake is cause for rejoicing.
2. What point of view is used in “Miss Brill”? How does this method improve
the story? “Miss Brill” is written with selective omniscience: from the third-person
viewpoint of a nonparticipant, but one who sees events through the eyes of the
story’s protagonist. In paragraph 5, Miss Brill notices that there is “something funny”
about her fellow park sitters: “They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way
they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even—
even cupboards!” (That she might look the same to them never enters her head—
until she is forced to see herself as others see her.) Because we as readers experience
the day’s happenings from the perspective of Miss Brill, we come to understand and
to sympathize with the sweet old dear, even going along with her sudden view of herself as an actress in a play performed every Sunday. To an intense degree we share her
dismay and hurt when she overhears herself called a “stupid old thing” and her
furpiece ridiculed as “exactly like a fried whiting.”
3. Where and in what season does the story take place? Would the effect be
the same if the story were set, say, in a remote Alaskan village in the winter? In
the opening paragraph Mansfield makes clear that Miss Brill is in the Jardins
Publiques and, therefore, somewhere in France: in a small town, it seems, since the
Sunday band concert is a big feature of local life. In paragraph 6 we learn that the
sea is visible from the park. We also know that the season is autumn. Miss Brill has
taken her fur out of its box for the first time in a long while. The trees are covered
10 Chapter 2: Reading a Story
KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155_KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155 5/22/12 6:23 PM Page 10
with “yellow leaves down drooping” (par. 6). A chill in the air foreshadows the chill
of Miss Brill’s dashed spirits at the end of the story.
4. What draws Miss Brill to the park every Sunday? What is the nature of
the startling revelation that delights her on the day the story takes place? Because
she lives on the fringes of life in her small French town, Miss Brill regards her solitary Sundays in the park as the highlight of her week. Here, watching the people who
come and go and eavesdropping on their conversations, she feels a connection with
her fellow human beings. The smallest details about them excite her interest. She
comes to feel herself one of them, an actor in life’s drama. So caught up does she
become in the sudden revelation that all the world’s a stage and that she, like everyone else, has a part to play, that she has a mystical experience. In her mind, she
merges with the other players, and “it seemed to Miss Brill that in another moment
all of them, all the whole company, would begin singing” (par. 10).
5. Miss Brill’s sense of herself is at least partly based on her attitudes toward
others. Give instances of this tendency, showing also how it is connected with her
drastic change of mood. Early in the story (par. 5), her reaction to some of her fellow concert-goers is a bit condescending, which enables her to feel somewhat superior—which is highly ironic in light of subsequent developments. In paragraphs 9
and 10, just before her disillusionment, she feels herself to be at one with the rest of
the audience, an equal participant in what she thinks of as the significance and
beauty of the event. Then, when she discovers how she really appears to at least some
of the others present, it is this cruel epiphany that shatters her happiness and even
her sense of herself.
6. What explanations might there be for Miss Brill’s thinking, in the last line
of the story, that she “heard something crying”? Miss Brill, who loves her fur as if
it were a living pet or companion, is probably capable of thinking it was that “little
rogue” she heard crying over the cruelty of the young couple in the park. It’s possible, too, for us to believe that Miss Brill actually does hear a sound and that the
“something crying” is herself. Perhaps she has, as Eudora Welty surmises in “The
Reading and Writing of Short Stories,” suffered a defeat that “one feels sure . . . is
forever” (Atlantic Monthly, Feb.–Mar. 1949).
Chapter 2: Reading a Story 11
KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155_KENN.4432.bkbm.p001-155 5/22/12 6:23 PM Page 11