American Literature
Final Exam 2006
Spragins

Part One: Usage/Vocabulary (20%)

Part Two: Essay on Jitney (40%)

Do middle class values serve the jitney drivers in Pittsburgh in 1978?

Beckerís faith in hard work, his strategy of accommodation with racism, and his resolution to follow the rules have been shaken to the core. How have the people in his neighborhood really survived to this point, and what will happen now that the city is moving them out? Has the role of middle class values changed over the years between 1776 and 1978? Has the time come for Becker to re-consider his judgment of Boosterís militancy?

Part Three: OneĖAct Play: The American Dream (40%)

Gather together in an interesting locale some characters from the works which we have studied this year and have them debate whether the American Dream is alive and well today. (There may even be a thunderstorm predicted!)

Have your characters consider the following definition of the American Dream:

Americans believe our society is just, despite its problems, because our freedoms enable any citizen, regardless of race, color or creed, to pursue and achieve success. American society is free from the tyranny of arbitrary government. We compete on a level playing field where winners are determined by the quality of a personís character, not by the advantages of hereditary class and privilege.

Ben Franklin pointed to his own life as evidence that poor people can accomplish anything in a free society as long as they modify their behavior and develop the virtues essential to success. This task is not easy, but success beckons anyone willing to make the necessary sacrifices:

Can you earn a good education?
Can you avoid the pitfalls of youth?
Are you willing to work long and hard hours?
Can you learn from your mistakes and revise your behavior?
Can you develop the ability to judge the character of others?
Can you develop the discipline to avoid debt?

And, most importantly,

Can you project confidence and humility at the same time and so learn to assert your ideas without antagonizing others?


If you become competent at these skills, then people will trust you, look for opportunities to work with you, and maybe even invest their money in your projects.

Furthermore, Franklin believed that any individual who consciously exercises these virtues will develop the strength of will needed to change the circumstances of his or her birth. The result is as predictable as a scientific experiment! And thatís the beauty of America. Freedom from the arbitrary constraints of government guarantees opportunity! We can determine our own destiny through sheer force of character!

However, this vision of the American Dream has a dark side. Those who fail in America have only themselves to blame. We are morally responsible for our fate. The classical liberals of Franklinís day (and the conservatives of our own) believe we must find our own way through education and experience rather than depend upon government to show us the way. Otherwise, we would not be free.

Many of the writers we have studied this year have contested Franklinís version of the American Dream. What pitfalls in the path to success and happiness do they uncover which Franklin may not have recognized?

How can people be led astray by unrealistic dreams of success?
What can go wrong if you shape your identity to please others?
Is success the same as happiness? Is success necessarily good?

Do individuals born into poverty really have similar opportunities compared to those born into wealth? Has a new aristocracy emerged in America?
Maybe a small percentage of the poor can escape poverty using Franklinís method, but are the masses that remain bemired in the ghettos really to blame for their misery?

Do we really create our destiny?
Or is it true that we are determined by the circumstances into which we are born?

Write a play in which you dramatize the conflict of ideas between proponents and critics of Franklinís conception of the American Dream.

Characters:
 

Prospero
Caliban

Ben Franklin

Huck Finn
Jim

Maggie Johnson
Jimmy Johnson
Pete the Bartender

Jay Gatsby
Daisy Buchanan
Tom Buchanan
Nick Carroway

 

 

Lefty

John Proctor
Elizabeth Proctor
Abigail Williams

Becker
Booster
Youngblood
Rena
Turnbo
Fielding
Doub
Shealy