Sample Comprehensive Exam

Literature and Language Senior Comprehensive Examination -  Fall 2010

 Honor Statement:

I pledge on my personal honor and integrity that all the answers I will provide for both Part 1 and Part 2 of this exam will be my own.

Signature_______________________________________ Date ____________

Part 1

(160 minutes)

 I. Chronology (10 minutes)

 Identify ten (10) of the following by the century in which they flourished

  1. William Shakespeare and Philip Sydney
  2. Jane Austen and William Wordsworth
  3. John Milton and Miguel de Cervantes
  4. Henry Fielding and Thomas Gray
  5. Jonathan Edwards and Voltaire
  6. Socrates and Aristophanes
  7. Horace and Virgil
  8. Jack Kerouac and Maya Angelou
  9. Frederick Douglass and Mark Twain
  10. Giovanni Boccaccio and Dante Aligheri
  11. Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson
  12. T. S. Eliot and Robert Frost

II. The Workings of Literature (70 minutes)

A. Genres and Literary Movements (35 minutes)

In a concise paragraph or two, define two (2) of the following genres or literary movements, offering examples of important works and authors, identifying the eras in which they flourished, explaining characteristic features and discussing any social or intellectual developments that may have shaped the genre or movement.

  1. Imagism
  2. Magical Realism
  3. Modernism
  4. Metaphysical Poets

B. The Features of Drama and Fiction (35 minutes)

Define two (2) of the following terms and briefly discuss how each operates to create meaning in literary works, citing specific examples of texts and authors to support your answer. In general, it will be a good idea to treat two examples for each term, in order to explore a range of functions or issues.

  1. Farce
  2. Epistolary Novel
  3. Dramatic Irony
  4. Metafiction

III. Literature, Culture, and Ideas I (Literary History) (80 minutes)

Choose one of the following questions and write a thoughtful, well-informed, well-written, and well-edited essay in response to it.

Essay Questions

  1. Often in literature the order of narration does not follow the chronological order of the action. Choose two works from two different periods to discuss the effects of such narrative dislocation, for example, effects of focus or emphasis, suspense, discovery of causation, discovery of meaning. Draw some explicit comparisons or contrasts between the two works. You may use epic poems, plays, or novels.
  2. Hamartia is a term used by Aristotle, often understood as a “tragic flaw,” but more properly translated to mean an “error” or “mistake in judgment. Aristotle applied the term to tragic heroes in classical drama whose hamartia caused the tragedy of the play to unfold. The term, though, might be more widely applied in the history of literature. Choose two different works (drama, fiction, or epic poetry) from two different eras in which the protagonist’s (male or female) hamartia triggers negative consequences for him or her, as well as, perhaps, for other characters in the piece. Consider the socio-historical milieu in which each work was written or set and how that might have affected the protagonist’s actions as well as the events which flowed from them.
  3. Discuss how the idea of evil is treated in two works from two different periods. Consider cultural contexts in your discussion and explicitly compare the two works.
  4. Discuss two-to-three works from different periods in which the protagonist’s gender significantly affects the protagonist’s actions, as well as the consequences of those actions. Consider the era in which the work was written or set.
  5. One of the things literature can do for us is to allow us to experience cultures quite different from our own. Select two works from two different centuries, each of which provides a detailed portrait of a very different culture. Describe some of the ways those cultures are portrayed as different from your own. Are there also ways in which elements of these cultures are, perhaps surprisingly, similar to yours. Consider how the purpose of the text or the authorial context may have affected the ways in which each culture is depicted.
  6. Choose two works of literature, from two different national literatures, two different periods, or two different genres, which interrogate the diverse dynamics of power within their cultures.

Part 2

(170 minutes)

I. Short Answer Terminology (20 minutes)

Choose ten (10) terms. Define each briefly, using complete sentences. Note: giving an example may clarify what you have to say, but alone it will not stand as a definition.

  1. Frame Tale
  2. Picaresque novel
  3. Chorus
  4. Neoclassicism
  5. Soliloquy
  6. Ballad
  7. Feminine rhyme
  8. Epic simile
  9. Metonymy
  10. Pathos
  11. Enlightenment Period
  12. Mimesis

 II. Formal Analysis and Close Reading of Poetry (70 minutes)

Poetry Section

A. Short Answer

  •  There are two parts to the poetry question. For the first part, read the following poem by Gwendolyn Brooks and provide short answers to the questions. After that, you’ll find instructions for writing an essay about two other poems.


the rites for Cousin Vit


Carried her unprotesting out the door.
Kicked back the casket-stand. But it can't hold her,
That stuff and satin aiming to enfold her,
The lid's contrition nor the bolts before.
Oh oh. Too much. Too much. Even now, surmise,
She rises in the sunshine. There she goes,
Back to the bars she knew and the repose
In love-rooms and the things in people's eyes.
Too vital and too squeaking. Must emerge.
Even now she does the snake-hips with a hiss,
Slops the bad wine across her shantung, talks
Of pregnancy, guitars and bridgework, walks
In parks or alleys, comes haply on the verge
Of happiness, haply hysterics. Is.
  1. Does this poem use a rhyme scheme? If so, please indicate, using the conventional method of notation, what the rhyme scheme is here.
  2. Is this poem written in meter? If so, identify the form here.
  3. If this poem is written in meter, are there any lines that use substitutions or variations on the regular metrical pattern? If so, please write down one line what uses a substitution and scan it here, using the conventional method of scanning a line of poetry.
  4. Are there any metaphors in this poem? If so, give an example of a metaphor here.
  5. Is there an example of enjambment in this poem? If so, write down the line that uses enjambment here.
  6. Is this poem written in a received, fixed form? If so, identify the form here.

 B. Essay

Following are two poems, one by Gwendolyn Brooks and the other, a poem in two parts, by contemporary African-American poet Terrance Hayes. “The Pool Players. Seven At The Golden Shovel” was published in 1960. “The Golden Shovel” was published this summer in Terrance Hayes’ most recent book, Lighthead. In a unified, tightly focused, complete essay, write about at least one aspect of the relationship between these poems by Brooks and Hayes. Your essay must make it clear that you understand both poems—showing awareness of how various elements, such as voice, tone, imagery, rhythm, rhyme, and other sonic elements, and line work in each of the poems to enact the poem’s experiences, feelings, and ideas.



We real cool. We
Left school. We


Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We


Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We


Jazz June. We
Die soon.


             Gwendolyn Brooks


The Golden Shovel

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981

When I am so small Da's sock covers my arm, we

cruise at twilight until we find the place the real


men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.

His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we


drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left

in them but approachlessness. This is a school


I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we

are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk


of smoke thinned to song. We won't be out late.

Standing in the middle of the street last night we


watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike

his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight.


Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we

used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing,


his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.

The boy's sneakers were light on the road. We


watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.

He'd been caught lying or drinking his father's gin.


He'd been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We

stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,


how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June

the boy would be locked upstate. That night we


got down on our knees in my room. If I should die

before I wake, Da said to me, it will be too soon.



II. 1991

Into the tented city we go, we-

akened by the fire's ethereal


afterglow. Born lost and cool-

er than heartache. What we


know is what we know. The left

hand severed and school-


ed by cleverness. A plate of we-

ekdays cooking. The hour lurk-


ing in the afterglow. A late-

night chant. Into the city we


go. Close your eyes and strike

a blow. Light can be straight-


ened by its shadow. What we

break is what we hold. A sing-


ular blue note. An outcry sin-

ged exiting the throat. We


push until we thin, thin-

king we won't creep back again.


While God licks his kin, we

sing until our blood is jazz,


we swing from June to June.

We sweat to keep from we-


eping. Groomed on a die-

t of hunger, we end too soon.


Terrance Hayes