ENGL 1B Study Questions


Discussion Questions on chapters 5 – 7 of WW

Chap 5

  1. On page 24, the Narrator asks his neighbor, “’Did you see the man in the pit?’”—but “he made no answer to that.” How might this callousness and disregard for human life be the result of Marxian alienation?
  2. On page 25, a Deputation, including Ogilvy the astronomer, tries to communicate with the Martians under a white flag, but they kill them with the heat-ray. In what ways does the behavior of the Martians parallel the behavior of the bourgeoisie? How might it relate to imperialism and the Tasmanians?
  3. On pages 25 and 6, the heat-ray is described for the first time. How might Marx describe this as an inevitable extension of capitalist ideology?
  4. On page 27, after the heat-ray sweeps the crowd, the narrator says, somewhat oddly, “…the stillness of the evening, so it seemed to me, had scarcely been broken” (on page 31, the Narrator contemplates the “immensity of the night and space and nature” in a similar vein). The narrator also says some curious things about the nature of his fear. What can you infer from these passages? What does this tell us about the role of nature in this era that is very different from the Romantic view of nature?

Chap 6

  1. On page 29, there is some description of the attempts to control and moderate the outer crowd.
  2. On page 30, the crowd around the pit flees or rather they, “bolted as blindly as a flock of sheep.” How and why in a Marxian sense does the Narrator’s point of view suddenly agree with that of the Martians? What does the novel say about human behavior in this depiction of their

Chap 7

  1. On page 31, why does the Narrator shift back so quickly to being a “decent ordinary citizen”? Specifically, how would Marx explain the psychology here?
  2. On page 32, the Narrator ponders his “sense of detachment from myself and the world.” How might this explain both why the Narrator is never named and how Marx views the ideology of individualism? On both 31 and 32, the narrator describes his perception of the world as a “dream.” How does this relate to his detachment?
  3. On page 33, the Narrator says that man failed to consider “that such mechanical intelligence as the Martian possessed was quite able to dispense with muscular exertion at a pinch.” How does this make the Martians our evolutionary future? And how does it relate to exploitation of the proletariat? Also, note how it connects back to paragraph 1 on page 7 and paragraph 2 on page 8.
  4. On page 33 and 34, the Narrator discusses his possessions and the rituals of normalcy—eating, drinking wine, smoking—that help him calm down after the trauma of the heat-ray. How does this relate to the concept of commodification and make us as humans, like “the dodo in the Mauritius,” an animal hunted to extinction.

Discussion Questions on chapters 3 and 4 of WW

Chapter 3

  1. At the beginning of chapter 3, the narrator describes boys throwing stones at the Martian ship. What can we infer from these actions and how does it connect to motifs set up in chapter 1?
  2. Even though the cylinder is from another planet and unlike anything humans have ever seen before, a number of those in the crowd leave after only a brief while. The narrator himself considers the possibilities of its contents and then grows impatient and wanders home. What does this tell us?
  3. The narrator takes care to describe all the bicycles, carriages, and other forms of transportation people have use to get to the site. Why?
  4. The men work to dig out the cylinder and some, such as Ogilvy, are concerned about building a “light rail” to hold the people back. In what way is this ironic considering what the cylinder contains?

Chapter 4

  1. What does the setting—established at the beginning of chapter 4—convey to us symbolically?
  2. How does the pit itself with the sand piled up around it and a creature rising from it function as a scientific or historical allusion? There is also a mythological allusion in the “Gorgon groups of tentacles” (22), so why might Wells have chosen that image.
  3. Carefully note the description of the Martian. What can we infer from the colors, textures, and shape of the Martian? Do any of the descriptions connect with motifs established so far? Further why do the people—including the narrator—react as they do to the Martian? Weren’t they hoping and expecting to see an alien?
  4. A young man, a shop assistant, is pushed into the pit by the shoving of the crowd. After the Martian appears, the shopman struggles to get out, visible only as “a little black object against the hot western sky” (22). Connect this image to questions 1 and 2 about setting.
  5. The narrators “fears overruled” helping the shopman. How would a Marxist read this scene?

Discussion Questions on chapters 1 and 2 of WW

We’ll going around the room and see if we can figure out answers to the following questions about how a Marxian reading of passages of WW might work. So be ready (with notes and annotations in your book) to respond to any of the questions below. We’ll start with general observations about the fiction: setting, characters, plot, motifs, and symbols. Gradually we’ll add more Marxian insights and, since Marxism is all about looking at the material-historical conditions that produce cultural objects like this novel, we’ll learn more about the Victorian era as well.

Chapter 1

  1. Most of the motifs and even more complex theme are introduced in the first paragraph of the novel on page 7. To start our discussion on this, compare and contrast it to the ideas in the first full paragraph on page 9, starting “And before we…”
  2. Mars can be thought of as a symbol of war. Explain why and note other language in the chapter that refers to war.
  3. Wells demonstrates his scientific background in this chapter. Note at least two uses of scientific knowledge and explain how Wells uses science to create social criticism.
  4. How might Marx’s ideas about ideology, false consciousness, and the function of nature (Tyson 56) relate to British attitudes described by Wells in Chapter 1?
  5. What is the role of newspapers in this chapter and how do they contribute to the feeling that everything seems “so safe and tranquil” (Wells 12)? Can you identify a motif about trivialities?

Chapter 2

  1. Looking carefully at the descriptions of the setting what foreshadowing do you see in chapter two, telling of the destruction that the Martians will bring to Earth?

Discussion Questions on “The Roads Must Roll” by Robert Heinlein

  1. How did this economic structure develop? In other words, what previous structure failed and thus required the Roads as a solution?
  2. Using classical Marxist theory, describe the relationship between the Rolling Roads and the rest of society in Heinlein’s story. What terms (from Tyson’s chapter) would a Marxian use to define the role of the Roads?
  3. Similarly, what terms would a Marxian use to define the Engineers and the Technicians? Also, what types of conditioning are used to maintain the ideology (or esprit de corps as Gaines calls it) of the Engineers, making them feel they are a special and distinct class?
  4. What is Functionalism and how does it contrast with the system of order that maintains the Roads?


  1. What are the advantages of science and technology (as represented by Engineers) in the system? Are the assumptions about science by Gaines and the Engineers correct?
  2. What examples of false consciousness can you find in the story? What are some of the repressive ideologies that such consciousness might seek to mask?
  3. How does Gaines crush the rebellion?
  4. After Gaines figures out how the rebellion happened, what changes to the system of order does he believe must be made? What ideology does he promote?
  • Democracy?
  • Marxism?
  • Something else?


Discussion Questions on “Mimsy Were the Borogroves” by Lewis Padgett

  1. What symbolism is suggested by both of the boxes sent back in time by Unthahorsten ending up by riverbanks?
  2. There is an interlude late and the story where Scotty talks to his father about eels and salmon and returning to the ocean. How does this relate to the larger narrative?
  3. What is the relationship between x-logic and Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” both in terms of plot (for Emma and Scott as well as the unnamed girl by the Thames) and thematically?
  4. What interpretation can you make of the passage of “Jabberwocky” included in the story?
    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.
  5. Are Scott and Emma human at the end of the story? What definition and/or complication of “human” does the story suggest?
  6. Can you argue that the plot structure of this story fits one of the plot formulas we have already discussed: fall, fortunate fall (felix culpa), bildungsroman, or even quest, like “Saint Aquin”?
  7. Can you think of other stories or movies that might be in the same genre as this one in which parents or adults fear young children for being in some way alien?


Discussion Questions on “Frankenstein and Radical Science” by Marilyn Butler

What was the vitalist debate about?

Where were essays and articles concerning the debate published?

Where did Abernethy stand on the debate and why? How is he typical of Enlightenment era science?

Where did Lawrence stand on the debate and why? Why does Butler think his position is radical, or, in the terms we have used in class, Romantic in his approach to science?

How did the religious leaders of England respond to the debate?

What was the relationship of France and the French Revolution to the debate?

What is Abernethy’s role in Frankenstein according to Butler?

What is the subtitle of Frankenstein and why?

How and why does Butler claim Shelley changed Frankenstein in the 1831 edition? Why does Butler find this version inferior?

What does Butler mean by the phrase “the child is father to the man”?

Discussion Questions on the Romantic Era supplemental readings:

For Blake’s poem “London,” what stands out for you about the way words are used and what is the effect? Please have a specific example ready and a full explanation of its effect. You might note how in spite of its use of rhyme and meter, it still differs considerably in effect from Wordsworth’s rhyming and metered “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

How does Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” illustrate each of the following Romantic themes from Wordsworth’s “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”?

  • The Concept of Poetry and the Poet
  • Poetic Spontaneity and Freedom
  • Romantic “Nature Poetry”
  • The Glorification of the Commonplace
  • The Supernatural and “Strangeness in Beauty”

For Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” find all the opposites and forms of opposition in the poem. Some images will be opposites (high vs. low, light vs. dark) while some concepts suggestion by the images or narrative will be in opposition (war vs peace).

Also in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” notice that the use of rhyme and meter is much more erratic than the two previous poems. Note the way sound is used (read sections aloud to discover this) and make some suggestions about how this meshes with the meaning of the poem.

Finally, what is the role of the supernatural or “strangeness in beauty” in this poem?

Study Questions on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Set 2:

We’ll begin making connections to the Tyson chapter on psychoanalysis as well, so you may want that book as a reference.

How does Prof. Krempe anger and alienate Victor? How might Krempe remind Victor of his father? Why then does Victor find Prof. Waldman more acceptable? What might he represent for Victor? 

Waldman says that natural science can help one “penetrate into the recesses of nature, and shew how she works in her hiding places.” What kind of symbolism is at work here in this discussion of nature. Why does this language appeal to Victor’s core issues and give him a way to deal with his anxieties? Look elsewhere in the selection and note Victor’s contradictory views of nature. 

Victor becomes so involved in his studies that he does not visit or write his family for two years. What motivates him to behave this way? At the two year point, when he claims to have decided to visit home, something comes up. Why does it make him change his plans. 

Why does Victor not fear dead bodies? It seems that someone scarred by death and with an early fear of abandonment might have more – not less – fear of death. What kind of symbols does the story use for knowledge and enlightenment such as the secret knowledge of life and death? Note the death scene of Caroline and the birth scene when the creature first comes to life. What similar symbolism can you find in both scenes? 

What is the relationship between the death of Caroline) and her replacement by Elizabeth) and Victor’s drive to solve the secret of life and death? 

Why, at the moment of his greatest triumph in creating life, does Victor feel defeated and abandon his creature? What is the meaning of the dream Victor has after bringing the creature to life?

Study Questions on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Set 1:

We’ll begin making connections to the Tyson chapter on psychoanalysis as well, so you may want that book as a reference.

Until he is age 4, what is Victor’s relationship like with his parents? What changes at age 4 and how does he describe his feelings about it? Why might a psychoanalyst suspect his real feelings are different from his description? What type of psychological conflict is he dealing with? 

There are several fathers described in the early pages of the selection, including Victor’s father, Alphonse. In what ways are these fathers similar? How would their examples as role models influence Victor and perhaps determine the type of father he will become? 

What does Victor find attractive about alchemists like Paracelsus and Agrippa? What does he think he can get out of the study of them? How might these ambitions relate to his dissatisfaction with the fathers discussed in question 2?

When Victor is 15, natural science “overthrow[s]” his admiration of alchemy. Alphonse is responsible for this (unlike when he tried to convince Victor to forget alchemy at age 13). What symbolism is used here (historical, mythical, or religious allusions) to describe Alphonse’s success and how might it relate to Freud’s theory of castration anxiety? 

At age 17, Victor is to head to college in Ingolstadt, but his mother dies. What is Elizabeth’s role in this episode? How does the mother Caroline worsen the confusion and trauma of her own death for Victor with her instructions to Elizabeth? And how might Victor’s core issues be changed in such a way as to lead him back to alchemy and the goal of creating a human being?

The frequent mention of eyes and vision in the novel has often been noted. How might eyes function literally and symbolically in relation to the question of the role of knowledge, science and nature?

Study Questions on “That Only a Mother” by Judith Merril, Set 2:

Unlike the last set of Study Questions, for this set write an informal response to the following questions. Length is not set but for each of the questions write two or more sentences explaining your analysis and quote one (or more) relevant passage(s) from the story.

Please submit your work online, but also print out a copy to bring to class for discussion. Since we’ll make connections to the Tyson chapter on psychoanalysis with these questions, you may want that book as a reference.

Explain what [psychoanalytic concept might be at work] might be going on in Maggie’s mind in this passage from 286: “I cannot understand,” she added, pinning a square of cloth through the nightgown, “why a child of your intelligence can’t learn to keep a diaper on the way other babies do. They’ve been used for centuries, you know, with perfectly satisfactory results.”

Note at least two passages in which Margaret engages in denial: one before the birth of her child and one after.

Note at least two passages in which Margaret engages in selective perception: one before the birth of her child and one after.

What do these passages on pages 282 and 283 say about gender relations? Specifically what do they suggest about male motivations in the world of the story?

  • 282: “Predicted and prevented.” We predicted it, didn’t we? Hank and the others, they predicted it. But we didn’t prevent it. We could have stopped it in 46 and ’47. Now…
  • 283: There are too many newspapers around here. More infanticides all the time, and they can’t seem to get a jury to convict any of them. It’s the fathers who do it. Lucky thing you’re not around, in case—

What symbolic meaning do you find in this passage from page 285: My mother sent her those nighties with drawstrings all over. I put one on, and right now she looks like a snow- white potato sack with that beautiful, beautiful flowerface blooming on top. Is that me talking? Am I a doting mother? But wait till you see her!

Psychoanalyze Hank’s behavior at the very end of the story: what motivates him to commit such a horrific act? Go beyond a simplistic answer—Henrietta is deformed—to explain what unconscious drives might lead him, and other men in the story, to do this. Why has Margaret’s response to Henrietta been different?

Study Questions on “That Only a Mother” by Judith Merril, Set 1:

You do not need to write out answers for these questions. But I recommend that you print them out and make notes for them as you review the story. Bring those notes to class. We’ll begin making connections to the Tyson chapter on psychoanalysis as well, so you may want that book as a reference.

In terms of setting, what actual historical events, places, and items appear in the story?

What makes this Science Fiction, i.e. what is the distinct new idea (the technological innovation or scientific discovery) and the conjectures about changes in society (often referred to as extrapolation) being explored?

In addition to being a Science Fiction story, how might this also be considered an alternate history (stories that are set in worlds in which one or more historical events unfolds differently than it did in the real world)?

When a story uses letters, journal entries, or other forms of communication, it is called “epistolary.” What effect does it have to switch the story to epistolary from starting on page 283, and then why stop on 286?

Much of Hank’s character must be inferred from a variety of hints: his correspondence, his description, his occupation, and the language Margaret uses with him. Using all the hints you can find prior to the final scene, describe Hank as a person.

Describe Henrietta as a person also. Why is she named Henrietta? How does she feel about Hank or about having a father? Find a passage in which Margaret describes Henrietta in a loving and proud way.

As individuals and as a family, the Marvells may have symbolic meanings. What might they represent in the world of the story and ours as well?

Study Questions on “Coming Attraction” by Fritz Leiber:

In the short story “Coming Attraction” by Fritz Leiber, what are the many possible meanings behind the title? And why is the title singular?

How does place reveal the personalities of individual characters?

What place names in the story might have extra meaning as symbols, allusions, or historical markers?

Why does the story include these particular characters? How do they act as representatives of their place and time?

As I suggest in class, move from the macro to the micro:

  • What is the international setting?
  • What is the national setting like in terms of its culture?
  • What is the immediate setting – the city – like for the two main characters?

Why is there a repeated pattern of religious images in the story?

Why is there a repeated pattern of media images in the story?

Why is there a repeated pattern of financial exchanges in the story?

In what way is the story about the pornographic?

Study Questions on Hamlet, set 2:

Hamlet seems pretty grossed out by his mother’s sexuality. Why does he dwell so obsessively on the “incestuous sheets” of her marriage bed? What other weird sex-obsessions does Hamlet have?

It seems like half the characters in Hamlet are foils for Hamlet, and the rest of them are foils for each other. How do the different foils bring out different aspects of Hamlet’s character? What other effects does all this doubling produce?

Is Hamlet’s reaction to his mother’s remarriage reasonable, or are his standards of fidelity too high? In the play-within-the-play, which Hamlet himself revised, the player Queen vows never to marry again: “Such love would need be treason in my breast” (3.2.2). Does Hamlet expect his mother to remain single for the rest of her life? If so, why?

As he’s dying, Hamlet begs Horatio to tell his story. Do you think the story Horatio will tell is the same one the readers or the audience have just experienced? Is Horatio capable of telling Hamlet’s true story?

At the close of the play, Fortinbras says, “Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage, / For he was likely, had he been put on, / To have proved most royal” (5.2.4). Fortinbras, who never met Hamlet, characterizes him as a good soldier who would have made a good king. Do you think Hamlet would have made a good king? Why or why not? 

Study Questions on Hamlet, set 1: 

You do not need to write out answers for these questions. But I recommend that you print them out and make notes for them as you read the play. Bring those notes to class. If you have a print ocpy of the play bring it to class. If not, there is no need to print out the PDF of the play, and as always, e-books are not welcome.

The big question of all of English literature: why does Hamlet drag his feet so long to avenge his father’s murder?

What is the role of theater within Hamlet? What is the purpose of the Hecuba speech, the play-within-the-play, and Hamlet’s advice to actors? What practical purposes do theatrical moments serve in the plot? What symbolic purposes do they serve? Does theater really “hold, as twere, a mirror up to nature” (3.2.2)?

Hamlet is full of madness, both real and feigned (maybe). What’s the difference between the mad and the sane characters in the play? What are the similarities and differences between Hamlet’s madness and Ophelia’s?

Hamlet’s conflicts take place in the context of a single family’s domestic problems, and also in the context of political decisions that affect an entire country. How do the familial and political levels of Hamlet interact? Where do they reinforce each other, and where, if ever, do they contradict each other?

Almost from his opening lines, Hamlet is obsessed with suicide. He never does it, but he sure thinks about it a lot. How do Hamlet’s reasons for avoiding suicide —and his attitude towards his own death —change throughout the play?

One of the more famous lines in Hamlet is, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” (1.3.1). Which of the characters in Hamlet are true to themselves? Does that prevent them from being false to one another?

Study Questions on Oedipus and Aristotle’s Critical Theories:

Write an informal response to the following prompt. Length is not set but for each of the items (1 – 6) write two or more sentences explaining your analysis and quote (paste) one (or more) relevant passage(s) from the play Oedipus the King.Prompt: In class we reviewed four major concepts discussed in Aristotle’s Poetics which may relate to the content and theme of Oedipus. Explain at least one use of each in the play. Also answer the two additional questions (5 – 6).

  1. Anagnorisis
  2. Peripeteia
  3. Katharsis
  4. Hamartia
  5. What is the actual fall of Oedipus – that is at what exact point in the play does he fall from his height of power and respect to his lowest point? And what causes that fall?
  6. Who is the chorus and how authoritative is their voice? From their speeches and comments through the play, do you think they are the voice of the author or the gods or random people or something else? And finally, are they all-knowing and wise or fallible or biased?

You may find that you disagree with Aristotle (or with his translators and interpreters) and have your own analysis of the motivations and consequences for characters in the play. No answer is absolutely “right,” but all answers need support from the play in the form of quotations to be convincing.

Please submit your work online, but also print out a copy to bring to class for discussion.





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