Study Guide

final examFinal Exam Study Guide:

[note: exam will be cumulative.  If you attended class regularly, actively engaged in blogging, reviewed the ClassWrap posts, and did the reading, you should be able to do well on the exam given, of course, some additional studying / refreshing]


The exam will be held on Wednesday, April 27 from 12:00 – 3:00–the same location as our regular class.


(1) Text IDs—15 total @ 1 points each = 15%—take 30 minutes.  Consider this section of the exam more of a celebratory collage of quotes rather than a soul-destroying inquest.

  • These will all be passages that received attention in class–I won’t go out of my way to trick you with these.  I will also provide a list of authors.

(2) Short Answer (3-5 sentences) questions—7 total @ 5 points each = 35%—take 45 minutes.  You will have some choice in the matter (9-10 options).  Here are a few sample questions:

  • To whom does Cabeza de Vaca address his narrative, and why how does such a highly specific audience constrain the way de Vaca presents his experience?
  • What distinguishes Gloria Anzaldua’s relationship with language, and how does language itself become a significant aspects of her work?
  • What is the political backdrop for James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” and what significance does that backdrop hold in relation to the more personal story related?
  • Choose two examples of Puritan spiritual autobiography, and very briefly describe how the text in question challenges the dominant cultural scripts.
  • Expanded author IDs: Identify the passage and discuss its significance in relationship to the text from which I pulled it.

(3) Long Answer (aim for 6-8 substantial paragraphs)—1 total @ 50 points = 50%—take 60 minutes.  This portion of the exam will ask you to think substantially and comparatively about a set of texts we’ve read.  The comparative aspect is especially crucial: your essay should not merely work through three texts held in isolation; rather, your essay should tell a compelling argumentative story connecting those texts in a more comparative light.

You are allowed a to use Reading Autobiography during this portion of the exam; you are also permitted to bring a single-side page of quotes to help you incorporate excerpts from the texts under consideration. I encourage you to think in advance about your response, familiarize yourself with the texts you want to address, and come up with a general organizational strategy / outline.  All I ask is that you compose the essay itself during the exam itself. I will provide paper. Here are your three prompts:

  1. We discussed the “crisis of relationality” in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Longely: An American Lyric. Choose three authors (Rankine does not have to be one of them) that we have read over the course of the semester and–using Smith and Watson’s reflections on relationality both in the toolkit and in the main text itself–describe how your chosen texts enact, engage, and respond to this crisis of relationality.  You might ask yourself questions such as: what is at stake personally and/or politically?  Does the author succeed in resolving this crisis? What is the significance of either succeeding or failing to succeed?  You are free to choose a text that helps you to frame your approach as well–one, perhaps, that seems untroubled by, or immune to, this “crisis” of relationality.
  2. David Shields, in Reality Hunger, writes that “what you respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her own limitations.”  Smith and Watson gave many names–discursive regimes, cultural scripts, governing ideological constructs–to these limitations.  In their toolkit entry on Agency, Smith and Watson ask: “Given constraints, how do people change the narratives or write back to the cultural stories that have scripted them as particular kinds of subjects?  How is this ‘writing back’… a strategy for gaining agency?”  Using Smith and Watson’s concepts of Agency and Identity, write about how three texts negotiate the the constraints and limitations that they encounter as they articulate and dramatize their autobiographical selves.
  3. Embodiment has been a key concept all semester, from feelings of physical love and desire in Shepard and Wigglesworth to post-Puritan restraint in Frankin, and from literal enslavement in Douglass to the metaphorical scarring of the body in Anzaldua and Kingston.  Choose three texts for which embodiment seems to be particularly interesting and important, and tell a compelling argumentative / critical story that relates these texts through this trope of embodiment.  The questions Smith and Watson ask in the toolkit section on embodiment will get you started, but make sure you review the earlier focus on embodiment in the Autobiographical Subjects chapter as well (49-54).

I have, of course, left out many key concepts: the 4-part autobiographical self, place and space, the tension between artifice and authenticity, and sense of autobiographical subject in their varying historical contexts.  Please feel free to weave these (and any other) concepts into your answers, using them as a way to distinguish or focus your response to any given prompt.

(4) Bonus Question(s)—there will be some bonus-points opportunity on the final exam.