I have added some student work for your enjoyment; my students have really taken their Independent Reading Projects seriously. Also, I recently finished David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, and I will be back soon to digest the reading. It is amazing how his writing is able to pull me through the text without any plot… at all. The style in which he writes captivates readers without confining himself to archetypes. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Be back soon!
The title of this blog may seem a bit dramatic, but I am referring to the three texts I am reading. Even though the point of this blog is to focus on Independent Reading, I can’t help but comment on the reading that is happening inside of my classrooms. My college students are diligently working on their research paper (or reading this and catching up on their blogs) and my high school students are working with Macbeth and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Before starting both texts, I was more worried about Macbeth. I figured the students wouldn’t want to find excitement in a play full of death, deceit, and darkness, but we are having such a fun time. Yesterday, we read Act 3, Scene 1 aloud, and each student spoke in an accent and waltzed within the Globe (our desks in a circle) like it was their job. Before getting into the act, we warmed up doing a group counting exercise (I say “1” and each student has to say a number, only once, and not say it at the same time as anyone else, or we start all over– the aim is to get up to 27, which is the amount of students in class). After the warm-up, the students reentered their groups from last class and prepared their tableaus together from Act 2. We performed the tableaus and the audience had to find the scene and lines being portrayed by each group. It was a big success and I am glad they are having such fun with Macbeth.
Now, the other classes reading Hurston’s novel is another story. Having read the book without the stress of teaching it, I enjoyed it tremendously. Trying to have my 16-year old students connect with the novel has been difficult. I framed the unit around relationships (obviously) with a strong focus on expectations from significant others. I gave them two wheels, a power and control wheel that highlights all the negative ways a person can treat a loved one, and a respect wheel, which highlights the positive, healthy components of a relationship. I have them use the wheel as a reference to put words to the way Janie interacts within her relationships. The students just don’t buy it. Forget about trying to explore her figurative language. This weekend I am going to try to figure out a way to reach my students in a way that might entice them. We are at the part in the book where Janie meets Tea Cake, any suggestions? Help.
Speaking of help, I am still reading The Help (I know, crazy) but I only read it during Independent Reading (IR) time in class. Between making sure students have their books and taking attendance, I get through about 5 pages per class. Yesterday, I had to extend IR time because I reached an interesting part in the novel where there is a naked man running outside the house and Minny goes out to keep him away from her boss, but he ends up beating her and Minny’s boss saves her, a white women. Minny is amazed that a white women was beating a white man to save a black women. I had to stop when Minny was contemplating this odd occurrence because my students wanted to start watching the beginning of the movie version of Hurtston’s novel. I figured putting faces to names and sounds to the dialect might help them as well. I need some ideas… anyone?
In class I used pictures in conjunction with poetry to illuminate the multiple perspectives of the immigrant experience. Some of the students were interested in where I found the picture I connected with Adrienne Rich’s “Prospective Immigrants Please Note.” The blog site is entitled The Kingston Lounge, and the photographer is guerrilla preservationist, Richard Nickel, Jr. I included the specific picture below, along with Rich’s poem. Enjoy, class!
Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.
As I continue reading The Help (I put it down for a while) I decided I would search for pictures online in an attempt to imagine the tension in Mississippi during the early 60s. Although I always wished I live in a time when social movements had power, and people were passionate about something (anything, other than themselves), I truly can’t begin to conceptualize the severity at which people risked their lives. While people (students) may feel as though we have moved beyond such hate, these images are less than 50 years old, and still resonate with other minority groups currently persecuted in this country (The LGBTQ community comes to mind). The recent pages I read really struck a chord, so I thought I would find these images to bring to life, and not let us forget, how absolutely appalling human beings can be. As Minny and Aibileen secretly share the stories of their lives as black maids with Skeeter, the hostility in Mississippi continues to rise due to the recent assassination of local civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. The black women know that their lives are on the line if they are caught talking against the white families for which they work. Minny proclaims:
I don’t want anyone to know how much I need those Skeeter stories. Now that I can’t come to the Shirley Coon meetings anymore, that’s pretty much all I’ve got. And I am not saying the Miss Skeeter meetings are fun. Every time we meet [to share the stories] I complain. I get mad and throw a hot potato fit. But here’s the thing: I like my stories. It feels like I am doing something about it. When I leave, the concrete in my chest has loosened, melted down so I can breathe for a few days. And I know there are plenty other ‘colored’ things I could do besides telling my stories or going to Shirley Boon’s meetings– the mass meetings in town, the marches in Birmingham, the voting rallies upstate. But truth is, I don’t care that much about voting. I don’t care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing the silver. (218)
By telling her story, Minny feels as though she is staging her own protest, and, for a moment, she feels useful. Below are images from Jackson, Mississippi from when the story takes place.
The Freedom Riders were Civil Rights activists who rode buses into the South to test the new laws banning segregation in interstate bus terminals. The first Freedom Ride left from Washington, D.C. and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans. The bus had to stop in Jackson, Mississippi because of the violence.
The above image is a sit-in at a whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi on May 28, 1963. I imagine that woman is Minny, even though she doesn’t “care about eating at a counter with white people.”
These black students are being arrested for illegally reading in a whites-only library in Jackson, Mississippi during 1961. Skeeter takes books out of the “whites-only” library for Aibileen to read.
By finding images that capture the hate, violence, and bigotry, I can’t help but reevaluate my desire to live in the 60s. Although I would have liked to live during a time of such political activism, I wonder if I would have had the guts to do what these women did. Martin Luther King Jr. maintained, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.” I deeply respect those that fought for what they deserved, and for the people who stood up for the deserving, even though they already possessed those rights.
Now that I am working at a high school, I have been spending most of my free time re-reading the canonical texts that I have to teach, which include: Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which I enjoyed the most), Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Ibsen’s The Doll House. I have yet to finish Stockett’s The Help, but I intend to do so, I really love it.
I had an interesting discussion with my honors students at the conclusion of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest about Jesus, which is not a new theory, obviously, but we tried to make connections to the Stations of the Cross. We decided that Chief was a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection, which isn’t a “traditional” reading, but it is usually included as an optional 15th station. We made other connections based on what we knew about the stations. Can you think of any connections? Using the entire book, and the stations listed below, can you argue parallels between Jesus’ final hours depicted in the Stations of the Cross and the path of McMurphy?
The Stations of the Cross
- Jesus is condemned by Pilate
- Jesus takes up his Cross
- Jesus falls the first time
- Jesus meets his Mother
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his Cross
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
- Jesus falls the second time
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Jesus falls the third time
- Jesus is stripped of his garments
- Jesus is nailed to the Cross
- Jesus dies on the Cross
- Jesus is taken down from the Cross: Pietà
- Jesus is laid in the tomb
- Jesus is risen
Can we somehow connect the two?
To Have Without Holding
Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.
It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.
It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.
I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.
… and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I am still reading The Help, but I started One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest today, and I am really enjoying it. I am only about 45 pages into the novel, but I am entranced by a number of motifs developing at once. The majority of the book, so far, focuses on control and how the authority in the mental hospital employ different methods of keeping the patients subdued and obedient. “Chief,” the narrator of the story, lives in fear and pretends to be mute. Although he is diagnosed “insane,” it seems as though he has a clear sense of what is going on around him, but perhaps is influenced by the drugs they pump into him. Kesey uses mechanical images as a metaphor for the hospitals control over the patients, and what I am assuming will develop into a commentary about society as a whole. Some of my favorite lines so far include:
“You can see by his eyes how they burned him out over there; his eyes are all smoked up and gray and deserted inside like blown fuses” (15).
This came after a patient was given a lobotomy for acting out towards someone that worked at the hospital.
“You never can tell when just that certain one might come in who’s free enough to foul things up right and left, really make a hell of a mess and constitute a threat to the whole smoothness of the outfit. And, like I explain, the Big Nurse, gets real put out if anything keeps her outfit from running smooth” (39).
He is talking about the admission of a lively character, R.P. McMurphy. McMurphy is not mentally ill, but was sent there because he was kicked out of a local prison. His character introduces laughter, as well as opposition to the controlling power of the hospital, rightfully called The Combine.
Along with the references to machines, Chief is constantly referring to the five senses, with a particular focus on sight and hearing. He mentioned being watched or watching others which adds to the overwhelming sense of paranoia and fear. There are also many references to birds, but I haven’t put much thought into that yet.
I read that Ken Kesey wrote this after working the graveyard shift at a mental institute, as well as participating in a study that required him to use copious amounts of drugs. Makes sense.
I have never seen the movie, but I enjoy picturing Jack Nicholson in the role of Randle McMurphy and I now I know where the popular reference to Nurse Ratched comes from! I never knew!
How can I say no to that face?