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Common Errors in English Usage and More The Web Site of Professor Paul Brians

Study Guides to Various Works and Other Course Materials

Grouped here are study guides prepared by Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University for the use of students in his classes. Nonprofit users are welcome to use and reproduce them for educational purposes so long as full credit is given to the author and the URL of the original is included, though online “mirrors” are not allowed. Please link to these pages rather than cloning them on your own site. Feel free to make corrections and/or additions by writing Prof. Brians at

Science Fiction Film
Science Fiction
18th and 19th Century European Classics (Humanities 303)
Love in the Arts
World Literature in English of India, Africa, and the Caribbean
World Civilizations
Helpful Hints for Writing Class Papers
Science Fiction Film
Science Fiction
18th and 19th Century European Classics (Humanities 303)
Love in the Arts
World Literature in English of India, Africa, and the Caribbean
The Bible as Literature

The Magic of Christmas

Commonly Misinterpreted Passages from the Bible
Part 1:

Commonly Misinterpreted Passages from the Bible
Part 2:

Commonly Misinterpreted Passages from the Bible
Part 3:




World Civilizations
Helpful Hints for Writing Class Papers

About these Study Guides

I created these study guides to help my students prepare for literature classes. They are meant to serve several functions.

  1. Some of them provide background to help readers understand what they are reading and why they are reading it (the historical status of the works).
  2. They provide useful information, explaining allusions, obscure terms, etc. in the texts and provide translations of passages written in languages other than English.
  3. They try to focus students’ attention on issues that we will discuss in class.


One of the most common student complaints in literature classes is that they can’t figure out what the teacher expects them to get out of the assignments. Homework turns into a massive guessing game, failing which, students wait for the teacher to clarify things in class. This makes for sluggish or nonexistent discussions. Students using these guides can read with more purpose. They know what issues I am going to want to them to deal with in class and can prepare much better.

I require my students to prepare written answers to the questions in these guides and come to class prepared to answer any one of them. At the beginning of class I collect the notes along with the quizzes. Not every question must be answered in the notes but they must show a diligent effort at preparation. Since I began using these guides, few students come to class without having both read and thought about the assignment, and discussions have improved enormously. Plagiarism of someone else’s notes is grounds for failure in the class, like any other kind of plagiarism.

Questions & Answers about Using the Study Guides

Isn’t this a lot of work?
For the more serious students, the guides simplify homework because they know what to concentrate on. Many things which would have to be puzzled out or looked up and simply explained. However, one of my goals is to encourage students to work harder and more productively.
But it’ll take forever to answer all these questions!
But you don’t have to write answers to all the questions. Many are simply ways of drawing your attention to features of the text I want you to notice. Others have simple answers you can easily recall if you have done the reading. Yet others are opinion-based or open-ended: you can easily answer them without notes. I expect substantial notes, at least a page or so of detail, for each assignment, to document that you are indeed preparing for class. Notes which cover only the first part of the assigned reading will be considered unsatisfactory.
But I have a great memory! Isn’t this note-taking a waste of time?
Writing something down makes you think about it in a different sort of way. It makes you focus and define your thoughts. These notes can also provide a great basis for papers you write later. I don’t require very many or very long papers in my classes. Instead, these notes and quizzes make up the bulk of the writing you will do. Think of them as a massive take-home final exam that you’re writing a bit at a time: all open book!
Won’t these guides inhibit discussion? They seem to foreclose some interpretations and privilege others.
To some degree this is true. While I hope fewer off-the-wall misreadings will occur, original readings are not required in the same way as in traditional classes. However, original thinkers seem to find it possible to offer their own readings, especially when they have mine to bounce them off of.
But what if I think some of what the guides say is just wrong?
No problem. Disagree. I change the contents of the guides in response to student comments all the time. These are not meant to be authoritative. They’re just one professor’s take based on his experience teaching these texts over the years. I not only welcome correction; I encourage it. Send corrections or suggestions to
But won’t students be inhibited about disagreeing with you if they know your opinion ahead of time?
Not in my experience. In fact, students are able to ponder my opinions ahead of time, plot out their disagreements, and prepare to disagree. We have cut way down on the incidence of students being surprised and embarrassed in class when I disagree with them. By exposing my views first, I lower the risk for students rather than raising it. Discussions are far more lively now than before I started using the guides, and I’ve changed my own readings several times on the basis of student insights.
Aren’t these a kind of amateur Cliff’s Notes or Masterplots that students can use as substitutes for really reading the texts?
Judge for yourself. I don’t think so. I try to provide information that isn’t obvious; but to do well on the quizzes, you have to do your own reading.
I’m not one of your students. How can I use these guides?
Actually, it’s people like you who I hope will become the main users for this Web version of my study guides. Use them as a set of notes to help you understand what you are reading. Ignore any parts you find uninteresting or unhelpful. But non-WSU students need to be aware that if you copy these notes and turn them in it will be quite easy for any teacher to track down the source of your plagiarism, thanks to the excellent searching tools of the Web.
I’m a teacher. Can I reproduce these for my students?
Sure, so long as you aren’t printing them in a published book. Edit them, excerpt them, so long as you cite me as the source on your copies. Permission is granted for such use to nonprofit users only. If you have handouts of your own that you think are useful or interesting, send me a copy, or put them on the Web and send me the URL. I’d like to see a clearing house of classroom handouts where we could all share the fruits of each others’ labors. Why do we all have to reinvent the wheel?

Paul Brians’ Study Guides FAQs

I originally created these study guides for the use of my students at Washington State University, but I am happy that they have become popular with thousands of others. However, because they have become so popular, I cannot deal with all of the e-mail that comes my way concerning them. If you are about to write me about a study guide, please read through the following first.

May I have permission to reprint one of your study guides?
I routinely grant permission for such reproduction if it is done for a nonprofit educational purpose, but I like to be notified. Drop me an e-mail if you do this, please. Reproductions should include the URL of the original (omitting the outdated “:8080” string that many people are still using, please) and cite me as author. Commercial publishers should write me to negotiate reprint rights.
May I create a mirror of one of your study guides?
I rarely grant permission for mirrors. A Chinese group in Taiwan created a Chinese-language version of one of my guides with my permission, and a federal agency mirrored another of my resources for the exclusive use of employees on its intranet, behind a firewall which made the original inaccessible to them. More ordinary requests to mirror my pages are usually denied, for several reasons. 1) I like to retain control over my work, updating it whenever I need to. 2) I like people to be able to browse from one of my pages to another, exploring my site at will. 3) The only recompense I get for this work comes from “hits” showing on my counters–and visitors to mirrors don’t trip my counters.

Feel free to link to my pages, but I do like to know about it when you do.

Can you send me the answers to the questions in your study guide?
The study guides are designed to prompt careful, thoughtful readers to work out their own answers as they read through the texts discussed. I do not have a file of answers to send out. I’m occasionally willing to give advice to a student or teacher who has made an honest effort to work out an answer and wants to check with me to see whether they’ve hit on what I was thinking of; but I don’t run an answering service for the study guides.
Where can I find more study guides?
You’ll find a list of all my study guides on this page in the above right list, as well as in the site navigation on the left. For serious research in the humanities, see The Voice of the Shuttle and the eServer. But often you’ll turn up more useful material about literary and philosophical topics in a quick visit to a moderate-sized library. A librarian can often show you valuable resources in a few minutes that you could search for in vain for hours on the Internet.
I was just wondering, what do you think the principal motivations of each of the characters is and how does the conclusion relate to the introduction? (Or other obviously teacher-assigned questions).
Your teacher wants you to do these assignments yourself. I am not in the business of undermining the work of my colleagues at other schools.
an u help me write my paper its due tommorow im desperate!!!!
Please spare me this sort of thing. In the first place, you’re writing an English professor–this is not the time to use sloppy Internet-speak. I won’t nit-pick your prose, but at least take the trouble to hit the shift key to create proper capitals, and punctuate your sentences. In the second place, I’m a teacher, and I frown on my own students getting someone else to do their work. If you were my student I’d report you to the authorities and try to have you kicked out of school, so I’m not likely to do the homework of a total stranger. “Desperate” almost always means the writer didn’t care enough about the assignment to get started early–another of my pet peeves.
I don’t have time to read the book. Can you give me a plot summary?
My goal in creating these guides to encourage readers to engage closely with texts than I care about. The last thing I want to do is help somebody avoid reading them. The only study guide which contains a plot summary is the one on Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, for reasons which are explained there. Good assignments should not be doable by merely reading my guides and ignoring the assigned texts. If you’re able to get a passing grade out of your teacher by using my work alone you’re not only cheating the teacher, you’re cheating yourself of some wonderful experiences.
Why do you write about so many different topics?
Although my title is “Professor of English,” my degrees are in Comparative Literature; and I have always been interested in comparative arts and humanities topics. Most of my courses include some music, art, or philosophy, along with traditional literary texts. I consider my field to be the history of ideas. You’ll find very few traditional English and American literary works discussed here–my colleagues at WSU take care of that sort of thing.
I want more information about using these study guides.
Try reading the above section, About These Study Guides.
Can I take a course from you online?
Sorry, I’m retired now, and no longer offering online courses.
What’s your e-mail address?
Keep it clear, short, polite, and observe the above warnings, and I may well write back to you. But be aware that I sometimes travel and am not answering my e-mail.