Critical Response Paper Prompts
- This prompt asks you to respond to the question of truth as it relates to storytelling.
In “Good Form,” Tim O’Brien makes a distinction between “happening-truth” and “story-truth” (171). How is truth conveyed in a story? Is it the same or different than the way truth is experienced “off the page”? Does “story-truth” follow rules, exhibit characteristics, or inhabit a moral universe separate from “happening-truth”?
- This prompt asks you to respond to the benefits of telling and/or hearing stories.
At the end of The Things They Carried, O’Brien realizes that “Tim [is] trying to save Timmy’s life with a story.” Write a paper that responds to the idea that stories can save. Can they save us? If so, how? If not, what is it that they do for us?
- This prompt asks you to discuss the dynamic relationship between author and reader.
Louise Rosenblatt, a literary critic and theorist, formulated an idea called “transactional reader response theory.” According to Rosenblatt, a text has both determinate and indeterminate meaning. Determinate meaning refers to events, details, physical descriptions, and other “facts” of the text. Indeterminate meaning refers to “gaps” that the author intentionally leaves in the text. These might include actions that are not fully explained, incidents or facts that are in dispute or that allow for multiple interpretations, or any other element of a text that requires a heavy degree of reader participation. Based on what we have read so far this semester, discuss the relationship between the author and the reader. How much of a responsibility does an author have to supply “meaning”? How much of this is the reader’s responsibility? [Note: You certainly do not have to refer to Rosenblatt or her theory in your paper, but if you are interested in learning more about Reader-Response theories, please ask me, and I can supply you with some reading material.]
- This prompt asks you to discuss the relationship between memory and literary form.
The topic of memory has surfaced several times during our class discussions. Mark Twain once wrote,
When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.
Storytellers, perhaps especially modern (or postmodern) storytellers, often write in a way that attempts to capture the complex and fallible way(s) that memory works, and this is particularly true in their formal choices. How can the form of a work of literature—that is, the way in which it is written as opposed to merely what it says—reflect or embody the workings of memory, and why is this important?