Preparing for the midterm exam essay

To prepare for our midterm exam, find below a draft of the essay portion. Included are five possible topics, though you’ll only find three there on the day of the exam. For our discussion, consider ONE of these topics and answer the following questions about it by Sunday night:


  • What does responding to this topic allow you to understand about each story?
  • How does the topic allow you to further explore the stories?
  • What does the comparison bring out about both stories?
  • What’s a draft of a thesis statement for one of these essays?

Vote for your top choice! Use the poll in the sidebar (or if you’re viewing the page from a smartphone, all of the sidebar material appears at the bottom on the screen, so scroll down).


Midterm exam draft:

In a well-developed essay, consider how two of the short stories we have read this semester (excluding the one you wrote about in Project #1) compare in their approach to one of the following issues, topics, or themes. Compare two examples from each story, using quotations from your quotation sheet as evidence to support for your thesis-driven essay.

  1. the significance of setting details, including their symbolic significance
  2. the intricate relationship between freedom and death
  3. Restriction or confinement as limiting or enabling
  4. Depictions of the grotesque or unnatural
  5. The treatment of Illness as transformation

Your essay should be 500-600 words—if you’re writing 5 words per line, that’s 5-6 pages in the blue book, fewer pages if you get more words per line. There’s no need to count all of the words: check to see roughly how many words you write per line on a few lines, then multiply that by 20 (lines per page) and the number of pages you have. When you include a quotation, even though it is already on your quotation sheet, I ask that you copy it into your essay. Rather than using whiteout or making a mess, when you need to make a correction, just cross out what you want to delete.

To get started, you should use the time before the exam to plan your three possible essays. On Wednesday, take time at the start of the exam to think about what you want to write, and use the blue book to write down notes before you start writing the essay. There’s no need to skip every other line, but you might want to skip a line or two between paragraphs to give yourself space to add in any additional words or sentences when you re-read your essay.

Don’t forget–there will be short-answer questions to start the exam.

If you have questions, feel free to ask them here.

32 thoughts on “Preparing for the midterm exam essay”

  1. What is a quotation sheet? You did not explain that in class on Wednesday.
    Are we putting quotes from the stories we are doing the essay on on a piece of paper and bringing it on the day of the midterm?

    1. Currently there are five topics. I’ll narrow that down to three. That means that if you’ve prepared for three topics, you will see one, two, or all three of the topics you prepared on the exam. If there’s only one topic that you’ve prepared, then I’ve essentially chosen for you. If you have prepared for two or three of the topics that are included in the choices on the exam, then you will make the choice for yourself. I hope that clarifies rather than confuses.

  2. 5.The treatment of Illness as transformation, not only convey a message but it describe, play, focus, demonstrate, or better yet depict how a character is feeling during the change. For example in paragraph one first and second sentence , when Gregor transformed One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. At this point of the story, I thought instantly that Gregor was sick. The transformation not only bring you on a journey but also it provide a clear view of how Gregor family relation drastically takes a turn for the worst.

    1. The topic is open enough for you to address not only Gregor’s transformation but also his family’s. I hope you consider that as you develop your materials for the midterm.

  3. A comparison only shine light on the variation of ailments faced by these sadistic and unfortunate characters.
    The treatment of Illness as transformation can be deadly. Many stories utilize metaphors to share stories about life events, but uses symbols like, monsters, dark journeys, loneliness, fires, and etc. to depict a character current state or tribulation. Does transformation lead the reader to misinterpret the text or the message the writer is conveying?

    1. I think that the treatment of Illness as transformation can be deadly but it can put a twist to the story in which you be telling in your version I’m in writing your essay for the midterm being that it is a fiction class you can add on a twist to your story. it would be I think it would be a lot of fun and a lot of drama attitude towards it. I do understand where you are coming from the professor also gives us more titles to choose from so I think that is good that the professor gave us more than one to rely on for the midterm.

      1. O.Blagrove, when a character transforms because of illness, it can be a path toward death. Gregor Samsa is a great example of this. But Grete, his sister, transforms and becomes at the end of the story more alive as the result of her experiences–or maybe as the result of the end of her experience with illness.

        Tera, to clarify, you won’t be writing about your retelling for the midterm exam, only the original versions of the stories. Also, even in the retellings, you had to stick to the facts of the stories, so you couldn’t put a twist on it unless the story already included a twist. I hope this information about Project #1 and about the midterm help you understand them better.

  4. I’m having a hard time understanding questions 2&3.

    For freedom and death – do you mean how someone can be freed from someone’s death like Mrs. Mallard felt when her husband died?

    As for illness as a transformation – I think you mean how it transforms the person and those around him/her…

    1. Regarding #2, yes, that’s exactly the kind of example of the way that death (Mr. Wright’s) leads to freedom (Mrs. Wright’s). There are other instances in which one character’s death leads to another character’s freedom. You could even interpret a character’s death as freedom for that character. In which stories do you think you find that scenario?

      For #3, yes, how illness transforms characters or those around them. That should give you enough flexibility to make an interesting comparison between two of the stories we’ve read.

  5. Also, I know that you said that we couldn’t use the story that we used in project #1, but can we use it in a difference point of view than we did in our project.
    For example. I used “The Yellow Wallpaper” more in view with confinement and restriction. Can I use it with illness as transformation?

    1. I’d prefer you write about two stories you haven’t already spent so much time thinking about. I think there are other stories that depict confinement that you could still choose that topic even if you can’t write about “The Yellow Wall-Paper.”

  6. She’s a okay professor but she is making this so difficult with this open lab process. It should be banned while having’s too many tools going on here.

  7. In preparation for the midterm I would take two of the stories that we have read and compare them two together. how are they the same what effects would have on one another. how the story differs from each other. what are the elements in a story that you can compare together.what effects it has on each other. and I will also give my opinion at the end of the midterm of the two stories in comparing and contrasting the two essay questions.

    1. What specifically will you compare? The technique for the midterm exam essay is a comparison, so yes, you’ll write an essay comparing and contrasting two of the stories we read–though not two essay questions. Please write about the actual comparison you’re interested in writing about for the midterm exam essay.

  8. “Restriction or Confinement as Limiting or Enabling”

    In the short stories, The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka both protagonist experienced restrictions and were confined by their loved ones in an area of their home.
    In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Jane was confined to an upstairs room in a rented estate in the country. She complained about the awful yellow wallpaper used to decorate the walls and expressed to her husband how much she did not want to stay in that room. Despite her protest he would not move her downstairs to the rooms she thought were more beautiful and closer to outdoors. She was restricted from seeing her baby and her cousins. She was also restricted from writing. Her husband John denied her the privilege of deciding what was best for herself.
    In “The Metamorphosis,” Gregor was confined to his room when his family discovered he had transformed into a vermin. Every aspect of his life understandably changed. He was not able to communicate with his family and his sister and mother who tried to help were unsure what his needs were.
    Responding to this topic allows me to understand each story as it pertains to how people are treated in real life. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Jane’s husband thought he was doing what was best for her. However, in her depressed state the things that he was keeping her from or preventing her from doing may in fact help her overcome her problem. In “The Metamorphosis,” Gregor learned that it does not take long for love to change to hate. He was the loving son and brother and sole breadwinner of the family. They all loved him. After his transformation they did not come together as a family to decide how best to keep him comfortable. They hid him and had very little patients for him. He was confined to his room and not allowed to go to other areas of the home and could no longer work or go out in public.
    The topic further allows me to explore the stories by comparing how Jane’s husband thought he was truly doing what was best for her. Gregor’s sister and mother also tried to accommodate Gregor in his new unbelievable state. His father was not portrayed as doing anything to make the best of his sons situation.
    The comparison of both stories indicate that both Jane husband and Gregor’s mother and sister thought they were doing their best to help but at some point they were doing more harm than good.
    A theses statement for this essay could be, Although the short stories, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and “The Metamorphosis” have very different plots they are quite similar in the way the protagonist of both stories were confined in their home and restricted from doing things they were accustomed to doing.

    1. You have thought through so much of the essay–this is great. At the end you raise this really interesting idea about how the loved ones in each story think they’re doing what’s best but might be doing more harm than good. I wonder if Grete is an exception to that, since she actually adapts her treatment of her brother based on what she observes, such as when she brings him different kinds of food when she sees he’s not eating. If you’re interested, this could be part of your thesis statement. Rather than saying that they are different but have similarities, which is potentially true of any two stories, think about what is different and what is similar, and replace those words with the specifics you’ll write about.

      It’s important for all of us to remember that in writing an essay, you have to limit what you write about. There will be interesting points that you just can’t get to either because they don’t fit as well, or because of the limited time and length of the exam. Choose the best examples, find quotations that support those points, and construct your essay around that materials.

  9. A comparison can lead the reader to explore both stories and look at the meanings behind such issues such as how illness can be seen from different point of views. One can look at Gregor and how his illness transformed his view on life and the attitudes of those around him. His illness was physical and it really put a divide between him and his family. Mrs.Mallard suffered from a debilitating heart issue. Her transformation never came to pass because her condition cut her journey of freedom short. Jane in “The Yellow Wallpaper” was mentally ill and her transformation also separated her from her family and reality. All of these stories combine elements of how disease is not only a transformation for the person who is ill but also for those around he/she.

  10. A comparison can be with confinement as a limitation in “A Jury of Her Peers” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Responding to this topic allows me to understand how these two stories are related. They both involve confinement as a limitation in marriages. This topic of confinement allows further exploration of both stories. We can understand how the events of the stories are pieced together. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” John’s wife’s insanity was caused by her husband confining her in the room. In “A Jury of Her Peers,” Mrs. Wright was also confined by her husband. She was limited on how she could live, which drove her into eventually killing her husband. In both “A Jury of Her Peers” and “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the wives are confined by their husbands, limiting their freedom.

    1. You write about the similarities the comparison allows you to see. How does putting these stories side-by-side highlight the differences in the confinement each woman experienced?

  11. When I respond to the topic, restrictions or confinement as limiting or enabling, to the story of “A Jury of Her Peers” and “The Cottagette,” it shows me that both were dissimilar but had comparisons. In “A Jury of Her Peers,” I see that Mrs. Wright (Minnie Foster) was once a lively girl that love to sing in the choir and wear pretty clothes (Page 268, p.1). However, she no longer was lively. She was bound in her home because her husband, Mr. Wright, did not allow her to do the things that she loved, which was singing. The Wrights home was “not a cheerful place.” Mrs. Wright was always living in constant “nervousness” with her sewing being off-putting on the quilt she was making to the dirty pans and hand towels that were discovered in her untidy kitchen. Mr. Wright restricted his wife from doing the things she loved so much that he killed the only bird that she owned that sang music to her. Furthermore, I believe that Mrs. Wright was living in “nervousness” because of the gun that was in the house (Page 269) and he was a “hard man” (Page 274). Mr. Wright probably was threatening Mrs. Wright to use it against her if she did not comply with the orders that he gave her.
    In, “The Cottagette,” it shows me that Malda was cooking meals to show herself as a potentially good wife/homemaker to Mr. Mathews in order for him to marry her (Page 51, p.7). Eventually, Mr. Matthews did propose to Malda, however, he asked that she would stop cooking. Mr. Mathews realized that she gave up her artistic love to cook for him, however, he already loved Malda before she started to cook (Page 53-54). Mr. Matthews did not care if she was a good homemaker; he loved her because she was young, strong, wild, sweet, fragrant, and elusive like the wild flowers she loved (Page 54, p.11). He loved her because she was truly an artist in her special way, seeing beauty and giving it to others (Page 54, p.11). And, he loved her because she was rational, high-minded and capable of friendship, in spite of her cooking (Page 54, p.11). Also, I could not see Mr. Matthews really restricting Malda because she was still allowed to cook. Although, Mr. Matthews told Malda to stop cooking, she still insisted on cooking because she loved him for enabling her to do the things she loved and he cared about her desires. My thesis statement for both of these stories would be: (1) Because Mrs. Wright was bound from doing anything she loved, it caused her to be disconnected from society and allowed herself to live in a depressive state (this is for “A Jury of Her Peers”) and (2) Because Mr. Matthews enabled Malda to continue her artistic love, it caused Malda do more things to please Mr. Matthews (this is for “The Cottagette”). For “The Cottagette” thesis, I am unsure what to think of. I know it is not a strong thesis statement, so if anyone has any suggestions, I will gladly appreciate it. Thank You

    1. This is a long thesis statement. What is the intersection of the two texts. It sounds like you’re saying that Mrs. Wright’s artistic expression (singing, quilting) were stifled by her husband, whereas Malda’s artistic expression was stifled by her efforts to win Ford Matthews. Fortunately, he encouraged her artistic practices and made a space for them in their relationship, rather than expecting her to abandon them. Think of your thesis statement as one cohesive idea that addresses the two texts, rather than two separate ideas, one for each text.

  12. -the significance of setting details, including their symbolic significance: Young Goodman Brown/Yellow Wallpaper

    What does responding to this topic allow you to understand about each story? This topic brings up how setting in a story plays an important role, especially in these two stories.

    How does the topic allow you to further explore the stories?
    Examining the setting will show how it affected the protagonist of each story. (Evil, eerie woods of Young Goodman Brown/unpleasant wallpaper in Yellow Wallpaper)

    What does the comparison bring out about both stories?
    Comparing the two stories showed that the setting affected both main characters negatively and played a part of what happened to them at the conclusion of each story.

    What’s a draft of a thesis statement for one of these essays?
    Exploring the setting of these two short stories will present how it could ultimately affect the characters throughout the story.

    1. I can see how the setting is important in each. What does looking at the setting in each story in comparison to the other reveal? Why write this as a comparison, rather than writing two separate responses that each deal with setting?

  13. The significance of setting details, including their symbolic significance is evident in The Cottagette and The Yellow-Wallpaper where setting played one of the many key factors in each story. A reader can read each story and notice how the setting contributes to the mood of the story. For example, we see in the Cottagette a Utopia which in definition is the ideal image of an individual society. The fresh natural scenery filled with music along with “The Cottagette that was little and new and clean, smelling only of its fresh-planed-boards- they hadn’t even stained it.” We see that the setting in this story played a symbolic role to the utopian theme. “The Yellow-Wallpaper” was the opposite of “The Cottagette” and played around the theme of a dystopian society which is the opposite of a utopia being more negative. The setting was depressing and the layout and details of the house added to it. “The paint and paper…stripped off-the paper- in great peatches all around the head of my bed…I never saw worse paper in my life.” This quote from the story is a setting dialogue and it shows the reader the symbolism behind this dystopia.

    1. What other than the poorly maintained wallpaper indicates the dystopia? You might want to review some of our earlier discussions about the idea of utopia and dystopia in these two texts to further explore the topic.

  14. 1.The significance of setting details, including their symbolic significance.

    This Topic allows us to better understand characters based on how they’re perceiving the situation. The more details given to us, the more we can see the characters point of view and allows us to commiserate much more easily.
    Thesis draft: The setting plays an important part in any story. It sets up the scene in the readers mind, gives context, and sets the mood of the story. It helps put the reader in the characters’ shoes and better identify with their feelings and actions.

    1. What you’ve written addresses the topic, but doesn’t move into the details that a thesis statement needs to include. Remember that you need to address the texts that you’re writing about, and make the thesis statement specific to them, not to the overall body of work we’ve read, or to literature in general. What specifically can you compare about the settings in the two texts you’ve chosen to write about?

  15. 3.Restriction or confinement as limiting or enabling

    In the Yellow Wallpaper, the wife of John was trapped inside the room with the yellow wallpaper. In this story, the confinement of John’s wife was limiting. John did not listen to her when she said she wanted to leave the room. He just left her inside and let her imaginations go wild. When she sees the woman inside the yellow wallpaper behind bars on page 67 paragraph 6, “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and the worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.” This may reflect how the wife feels in the room, like being trapped behind bars. Because she was limited to the room with the yellow wallpaper, it limited her. She had no where to go but to her imaginations. It caused her to succumb to her imaginations by tearing at the wallpaper to free ‘the lady behind the bars’. John thought that keeping her indoors in a large mansion would help with her depression but it only limited her instead.

    In the Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa is trapped inside his own room physically, and perhaps inside a vermin’s body metaphorically. In the first sentence of the short story, “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke up from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.” This confinement was enabling for Gregor because his realization of being confined to the vermin body was extremely nonchalant. It allowed him to get away from the busy lifestyle he had to provide for the family. He was too upset about his mother and sister moving the furniture because it allowed him to move around like he’s never done before. Inside his room he had a freedom he didn’t have before. Whenever he left his room, he was beaten or forced to go back into the room. For Gregor, this confinement is enabling.

    Possible thesis: Although Gregor and John’s wife were both confined to a room throughout most of the story, it was enabling for Gregor whereas it was limiting for John’s wife.

    1. I like how you establish an initial similarity that then diverges in the stories, that Gregor comes to find a certain freedom in his room. Do you think that the narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” ever comes to find that kind of comfort in her isolation? Does she ever stop wanting to move to a new room?

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