“After the Plague” short story



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LENGTH: Approximately 2500-3000 words.

VALUE: 100 points

GRADING: SparkNotes Study Guide Rubric

  • Purpose

Knowledge: You will understand how abstract ideas and concrete compositional techniques are connected to, and reinforce, each other in a complex written text.

Skills: You will demonstrate the ability to identify, define, describe, categorize, interpret, and examine the most important elements of a complex written text. These skills are relevant, not only for discussing short stories, or even specifically for interpreting literary texts, but for analyzing and understanding nearly any piece of writing.

  • Task

For this assignment, you will be creating a 2500-3000 word SparkNotes Study Guide for one of the stories we’ve read this semester.  You can choose any story we’ve discussed.  The only restriction is that you CANNOT choose a story for which a study guide already exists on the SparkNotes web page.  I’ll send you a list of excluded stories.


Included below you will find a template for writing your SparkNotes Study Guide.  A template is just a model for how your study guide will be formatted.  So your guide should have the headers that appear below. (For example the headers “Context,” “Themes ,” etc.)  Your paper should also have subheaders, but these will be different from paper to paper.  For example if one of the themes in your story is “Revenge” that will be the subheader under the header “Themes”.  But obviously don’t include a subheader like “Marriage” if marriage is not one of the themes in your story.  (See below for a definition of a theme.)  It will help a lot if you look at the handouts I’ve distributed for each of the stories we’ve read this semester


Examples of short story study guides can be found at:http://www.sparknotes.com/short-stories/

Unlike the examples on the web, however, your study guide must cite at least 3 sources, not including the primary text, and include a Works Cited page.

Finally double-space the text of your study guide, and use a legible font (for example, Times New Roman). The font size should be 12 pt.  You do not need a Cover Page.



Your Name

Instructor Whitaker

English 240


Write a short biography of the author.

Consider, for example:  What other things has the author written?  What have critics said about the author, and about the story, if anything? Has the author spoken about the story you’ve chosen in an interview? Has s/he been interviewed or written about her/his work in general?

Plot Overview

Give a brief, but accurate description of the plot. But remember, this is one of the least important sections of the study guide for our purposes.  It should be no longer than a hundred words or so.

Character List

List all ofthe characters in the story and describe them in one or two sentences.

Analysis of Major Characters

Give an accurate and comprehensive analysis of the majorcharacters—a brief paragraph instead of a couple of sentences.


Give a detailed account of at least three themes that appear in the story.  A theme is just an important idea that the story considers.  There is always more than one theme in a story.  Sometimes the theme is stated directly.  But sometimes you have to give it a little thought.  A theme can be identified in a single word.  Some examples that we’ve discussed in class are (but of course there are many other possible themes that could be listed.  Choose themes that are relevant to the story you’ve chosen):


What is the point the story is trying to make about Revenge?  Your discussion here


What is the point the story is trying to make about Marriage?  Your discussion here


What is the point the story is trying to make about Love?  Your discussion here


What is the point the story is trying to make about Adolescence? Your discussion here


(Motifs are images, phrases, actions, or events that are repeated throughout the text—they’re like the pattern in a design.  According to SparkNotes, motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.)You only need to identify one motif in the story.  Example:

In “The Miniature Wife,” the narrator’s numerous allusions to the dollhouse are a motif.  Discuss how this motif is used.


According to SparkNotes, symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. You only need to identify one symbol in the story.  Example:

In “the Lottery” the battered black box that holds the lottery tickets is symbolic of how outmoded the lottery itself seems to have become. Discuss how this motif is used.


Analyze at least one of the most important, unusual, or typical aspects of the story.This is a little ambiguous, I realize, so you can be creative here.  Again, look at the handouts I’ve distributed for each of the stories we’ve read.  If the story is an allegory, this section will be the place to discuss it.  Is the point of view significant? Again, you’d want to mention that here.  Other examples:  Does the story belong to a recognizable genre—crime fiction, for example?  Is its structure unusual—does it depend on a deus ex machina, does the author do weird things with time—is it a non-linear narrative—are there a lot of flashbacksor is there much foreshadowing, etc.?  Does the story reference a real medical condition—postpartum depression, sociopathy, anterograde amnesia, etc.?   If so say something about these conditions in this section.  Does the story refer to a real historical event? Is the specific time in which a story occurs important?  Analysis is the place to discuss it: Even more examples that we’ve discussed in class are:

Dirty Realism

Your discussion of Dirty Realism here

Southern Gothic

Your discussion of Southern Gothic here

Unreliable Narrator

Your discussion of the Unreliable Narrator here

Important Quotations Explained

Choose 5 important quotations and explain their significance in the story.  A good idea would be, for example, to connect these quotations to the story’s themes.  Since you’ve already identified the themes in the THEMES section above, some repetition in this section is inevitable and perfectly ok.

Works Cited

Cite at least two sources you used during the research for this paper.  MLA format is preferred, but not required.


  • Criteria for Success

Please see the Rubric for the SparkNotes Study Guide and the Annotated SparkNotes Study Guide Assignment.





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