Because it’s finals week at UC Davis, I thought I’d go ahead and publicly post the final exam questions from last quarter’s novels class on nostalgia and desiderium. Here’s a taste of the questions I asked. Students could write about one of the following:
1) Compare/contrast the use of time travel in Kathleen Ann Goonan’s In War Times and Howard Waldrop’s “King of Where-I-Go.” What do these stories imply their characters’ values by presenting them with opportunities to change the past? What does time travel reveal about what a character finds truly important?
2) Compare the politics of the children in In War Times with either Mike and Laura from Bradley Denton’s Buddy Holly is Alive… or Mother’s Younger Brother in E.L.Doctorow’s Ragtime. What do these stories seem to be saying about the connection between youth and radical politics?
3) Consider how texts dealing with desiderium operate by holding out the possibility of a better world or better circumstances, then thwarting those desires. Use Waldrop’s “The Ugly Chickens” and either In War Times or Toni Morrison’s Jazz.
4) Consider the role of environment in the nostalgia of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. How does the physical location and time determine the characters’ motivations and interactions? What elements of 19th-century life seem particularly longed for?
5) Consider the portrayal of jazz music in Jazz and In War Times. What is music’s place in the scheme of the characters’ personal lives? Does it create, resist, or complicate their nostalgia?
(Postscript: I leaned heavily toward Goonan’s book because it was the last one we covered, and few students had written a paper about it. Conversely, most students chose research papers on either Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay orDenton’s Buddy Holly…, so I didn’t ask many questions about those two.)