The Printable KISS Grammar Workbooks The Theodore Dreiser Page
The Lost Phoebe, by Theodore Dreiser
Questions for Discussion and Writing

1. In terms of literary history, Dreiser is considered a "Naturalist." "Naturalists," in this sense, were writers who believed that people are formed (and often oppressed) by their environment. What in the story suggests Dreiser's Naturalism? Remember this question as you consider the following ones.
2. Characterize Henry Reifsneider. [Don't forget that in a characterization you should use an S/V/PN or S/V/PA pattern to state a characteristic (George is a liar.) and then use a variety of sentence patterns in sentences to support each characteristic by using specific examples from the story.]
3. Characterize Phoebe.
4. The characters' speech includes elements of non-standard English. Find three or four examples and use them in a short paragraph to explain how they affect your view of the characters.
5. Why did Dreiser name her "Phoebe"? Do some research on who Phoebe was in classical mythology. Could Dreiser be being ironic with the name, or does it fit her personality? [Note the references to the moon in paragraphs seventeen and eighteen.]
6. Are their children guilty of abandoning them?
7. Why is so much of the beginning of this story devoted to descriptions of their home? What is the dominant tone of that description? Quote words and phrases to support your answer.
8. Dreiser uses fairly long, often compounded sentences in that description. Do they have a stylistic purpose? 
9. In the fifth paragraph, Dreiser writes, "You perhaps know how it is with simple natures that fasten themselves like lichens on the stones of circumstance and weather their days to a crumbling conclusion." Study that paragraph. Is it a fair description? Do you know, or can you imagine, people who are like that?
10. How are paragraphs seven through nine important to the plot of the story?
11. Paragraph 52 includes the following sentence:

Although the authorities were informed the county sheriff, no less it was not deemed advisable to take him into custody; for when those who knew old Henry, and had for so long, reflected on the condition of the county insane asylum, a place which, because of the poverty of the district, was of staggering aberration and sickening environment, it was decided to let him remain at large; for, strange to relate, it was found on investigation that at night he returned peaceably enough to his lonesome domicile there to discover whether his wife had returned, and to brood in loneliness until the morning.
Does the length and complexity of the sentence reflect the complexity of the problem it describes? Before you answer, try rewriting the sentence as several separate sentences and then compare your version to the original.
12. What are some of the symbols in the story, and what do they symbolize? If you had to pick one dominant symbol in the story, what would it be? Why?
13. Ouida's A Dog of Flanders is a good example of what literary historians consider "Sentimentalism." "Sentimentalism" can be seen as pre-Romantic, or early Romantic. As the name suggests the movement focused on evoking emotions, usually sad. Although Sentamentalism is pre-Romantic and Dreiser, the Naturalist, is post-Romantic, A Dog is comparable in many ways to "The Lost Phoebe." Like Dreiser, Ouida uses numerous compounded main clauses, but the sentences of these two writers are significantly different in style. Ouida's compounds resemble spacious cumulous clouds connected to each other. Dreiser's, on the other hand, are like short strings of connected barbed wire.
     Compare Ouida's compound sentences (Click here for some of them.) to Dreiser's to see if you agree or disagree with this assessment. In addition to exploring what syntactic constructions differ between the two texts, also consider the vocabulary they use.
     Note: The ideal way to deal with the suggested comparison would be a statistical analysis of words per main clause, etc., but such an analysis is extremely time-consuming. Even without statistics, however, students should be able to note some differences in the styles of the two texts. The objective of this assignment is not to get the students to see any specific things (such as my suggestions below), but rather to get the students thinking in terms of how different constructions create different effects in a text--and how those different effects often support the writer's theme and purpose.
     In terms of syntax, my subjective sense is that Ouida uses more prepositional phrases, and her average main-clause length may be greater. The "padding" caused by prepositional phrases and other constructions "softens" the rhythm of S/V/C patterns. If I am right, and Dreiser's main clauses are shorter, the shortness may reflect the sense of being "driven"--S/V/C; S/V/C; S/V/C (Remember the "Naturalism.") In part, Dreiser also gets this effect by his more frequent use of ellipsis in S/V/C patterns. Finally, Dreiser probably gets a tighter, more "driven" style by his more frequent use of verbals, appositives, and even post-positioned adjectives. This is particularly true in the last part of the story.
      In looking at the exercises from Ouida, be sure to look at those about subordinate clauses since many of the sentences in those exercises also include compound main clauses. In addition to the KISS exercises on A Dog of Flanders, the entire text is available on several web sites.
14. Compare this story to the famous tale about "Philemon and Baucis." Among other things, consider the similarities and differences in the characters, the setting, the plot, and the symbolism. Trees, for example, are important symbols in both stories.

Recipe Rosters
[Note: Underline the required construction.]
1. In a sentence with a delayed subject, describe one of the things that happens in the story.
2. In a sentence with an appositive in it, describe Henry's neighbors.
3. In a sentence that includes a post-positioned adjective, describe Phoebe.
4. Using a noun absolute, write a sentence that explains what happens at the end of the story.