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Sample Responses to Questions on Ralph Ellison’s 'On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz'

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AP English Language and Composition
Sample Responses to Questions on Ralph Ellison’s “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz”
1. Why do the first two sentences contain qualifiers (“oddly enough,” “however”)?
Ellison is floating some theories here, an activity he has invited the reader to join. Those qualifiers leave room for doubt and alternative interpretations. He may also be acknowledging that his quest for a definitive explanation of Parker's nickname might be a little odd and run into more than a few dead ends.
2. Why does Ellison suggest that his audience might be “fans of the animated cartoons”?
Ellison is finding common ground with his readers, people who take music and musicology seriously but who have both a sense of humor and an appreciation of pop culture.
3. Why does Ellison think a book about bird-watching might be more edifying than a biography of Parker?
He is probably being a bit ironic and playful here, suggesting that even the best bios of Parker were unable to fully explain the brilliant innovations and his difficult personal life. May as well, then, check in with the best book about bird-watching, Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds.
4. Why does Ellison say “hung the bird on Charlie” (para 2) instead of “nicknamed him”?
Here is another nod to audience. Ellison’s readers were likely well educated, even intellectual; however, they might have liked seeing themselves as hip connoisseurs of avant-garde music, a desire that Ellison taps into by using slang. It’s also, of course, a nice juxtaposition with the academic language earlier in the paragraph: “achieved identity.”
5. What is the effect of Ellison’s references to the story about the infant Jesus (para 3)?
It has a couple of functions. One is the connection between Parker and the miracle of the Virgin Birth – his music is miraculous to some. Another is the way Ellison uses it to develop his argument: the story works but the music does not (the goldfinch’s song has no soul).
6. Why does Ellison provide the mockingbird’s scientific name (Mimus polyglottos)(para 4)?
As previously, the excerpt is filled with juxtaposition of academic language and the language of pop culture. Here Ellison plays the academic again.
7. How does Ellison manage to make this description of jazz sound so jazzy: “by long-continued successions of notes and phrases, by swoops, bleats, echoes, rapidly repeated bebops – I mean rebopped bebops - …” (para 4)?
In part, he does it through his use of onomatopoeia as well as his use of pacing. The phrase begins with the parallel “by” but speeds up with the list of sounds and then stops and doubles back after the dash.
8. What is the effect of the dashes in the phraseabove?
See above

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