Department of English
Sample Comp Exam
English Master's Comprehensive Exam, Spring 2002
Select one exam question from each of the following three categories (for a total of three essays) and write a coherent, integrative essay of substantive analysis which carefully balances paraphrase and analysis, the general and the specific. The essay must be typed and in MLA format, with a heading for each of the three essays. In each case, delimit your subject, shape a thesis, and work to prove that thesis. All of the topics require a synthesis of multiple works and figures. Be careful not to offer an essay that in effect consists of several unrelated "mini-essays": You must work to compose an essay that is cumulative and functions clearly as a whole. As this is a take-home essay, you are required to use outside sources.
In those areas for which a target reading list was provided to you, you must demonstrate a competent familiarity with each and every one of the texts on the target reading lists. However, you are not limited to only those texts. In sum, you are required to engage each and every one of the target reading list texts in your chosen areas, and you may engage additional works. In areas for which you have received no target reading list, use your best judgment.
Important: You may select each area only once. In other words, you cannot choose an area for both section 1 and section 2. Similarly, you may use the "optional" area only once. This optional area may result from an Independent Study, a practicum, etc., and must be a recognized literary area, such as Contemporary American, etc.
Please return the exam no later than 12:00 p.m. Monday, April 22nd, to Dr. Zacharias. Proofread your work.
American to Civil War
American from Civil War to World War I
Optional--any area not listed above
Section 1: Choose A or B or C and use three areas.
Section 2: Choose A or B or C or D and use two areas.
Section 3: Choose A or B or C and use two areas
Three sections: follow existing directions.
A. Choose three areas listed above. For each area discuss how literature serves "an elegiac function." Is the elegiac function linked in any way to a cultural context? You may discuss literary representations of death and/or mourning; also how that elegiac function translates into stylistic and thematic details of the text. You need not write only about poetry.
B. Choose three areas listed above. Discuss forms and methods of authorization, including literary patronage (personal and academic) and production (publication, oral performance) in the formation of reading habits and standards of literary value.
C. In his recent work on identity politics, P.N.Furbank wrote, "However convincingly historians tell the story of the world, one is aware that something is wrong or missing. It is a story not like other stories, of the kind we are familiar with in fables or novels, since from moment to moment the occupants of roles dies off and are replaced by a new set." With attention to text and context, please discuss an aspect of Furbank's comment in regard to texts in three areas listed above and explain why literary history should or should not matter. Explain what you mean by "literary" and "history."
A. In social constructionist or "critical" writing pedagogies, the role of the classroom is not only to enable students as writers, but as "critical citizens." It is the teacher's job, then, to equip them with "critical" knowledge, so that the students might approach not only culture, but their own lives, differently. There has been much discussion in composition about whether "politics" of this sort belong in the classroom--about whether this is "really" the job of writing teacher. How would you participate in such a debate? What are the limits and possibilities of "critical" pedagogy (here you'll need to define, for yourself, what constitutes this term)? Use two areas.
B. Discuss the ways in which biographical, historical, or new historical methodology may be relevant to the analysis and interpretation of texts from two areas. In your answer, make sure to identify relevant critics, define and explain the theoretical issues, and address specific textual situations in relation to specific historical conditions.
C. Compare definitions/understandings of "the reader" (who the reader is, what the reader does) in selected works from any two of the areas listed above. In your essay, indicate the basis of your discussion in terms of relevant literary theory.
D. Discussing works from two areas, describe how these texts might be said to both reinforce as well as subvert the patriarchal paradigm. You may wish to frame your response in terms of feminist scholarship and theory.
A. John Guillory describes two ways of understanding literary canon formation. The first way he calls the "liberal critique." The liberal critique recognizes that canonicity and periodization "tend to reflect . . . [the] social position, . . . beliefs, . . . [and] ideology" of those who decide the canon and determine the usefulness of periods. The second way Guillory names as "intrinsic worth," which is determined when "over successive generations, preferably many generations, readers continue to affirm a judgment of greatness, almost as though each generation actually judged anew the quality of the work." Discuss the relative merits of Guillory's two ways of understanding canon formation in terms of how you would construct a syllabus for a literature course. Use two areas.
B. Choose two areas and discuss why they should--or should not--be required reading for developing poetry or fiction writers.
C. From the point of view of a teacher who will be called upon to teach a composition or a beginning literature class, argue for the place of "theory" in the classroom. Of course, use relevant scholarship to support your position and use texts from two areas listed above.
For additional information:
Department of English
Creighton Hall, Room 134
Omaha, NE 68178
Phone: (402) 280-2822
Fax: (402) 280-2143