George Washington Harris was an authentic comic genius whose work influenced later writers such as Mark Twain and William Faulkner. In this lesson, students read a Sut Lovingood story by George Washington Harris and examine the story's structure.
Using primary documents, this lesson aims to introduce students to how the American revolutionaries employed religion in their arguments for independence.
Students practice strategies of "close reading" in order to understand Edith Wharton's gripping tragedy about an unhappy marriage set against the stark backdrop of rural New England.
Through reading chapters of Edith Wharton's book, Fighting France, From Dunkerque to Belfort, students will see how an American correspondent recounted World War I for American readers.
By rendering aspects of Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" into carefully considered graphical forms, students learn to appreciate elements of characterization, setting, and plot in a manner that engages them actively in the production of meaning.
To appreciate some of the extra-literary elements of a play, students pause at various intervals in their study of Thornton Wilder's Our Town to develop their own settings, characters, and conflicts.
In this lesson students examine primary documents including photographs, film, maps, and essays to learn about Chicago at the turn of the 20th century and make predictions about Carl Sandburg's famous poem. After examining the poem's use of personification and apostrophe, students write their own pieces about beloved places with Sandburg's poem as a model.
Uncover the sources of Twain’s comic genius in American traditions of dialect humor and literary satire.
"The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead for a long time" -- Addie Bundren in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner's self-proclaimed masterpiece, As I Lay Dying, originally published in 1930, is a fascinating exploration of the many voices found in a Southern family and community. The following lesson examines the novel's use of multiple voices in its narrative. Faulkner:
often told his stories using multiple narratives, each with their own interests and biases, who allow us to piece together the 'true' circumstances of the story, not as clues in a mystery, but as different melodies in a piece of music that form a crescendo. The conclusion presents a key to understanding the broad panorama surrounding the central event in a way that traditional linear narratives simply are unable to accomplish.
—Evan Goodwin on Faulkner
The novel's title—As I Lay Dying—invokes a first-person speaker, presumably the voice of the dead mother, Addie Bundren. Yet she only speaks once in the novel, and she is dead, not dying, throughout most of the novel (aside from the beginning chapters). How does Faulkner's form for the novel—a series of competing voices and perspectives presented as a multiple-voice narrative—work for or against the novel's title?
Students will also explore the context of the novel, examine background information on social and economic conditions in the rural South in the first decades of the twentieth century. This background will enable the teacher and students to "place" Faulkner's novel historically and sociologically; Faulkner wrote about his own time and a place he knew well. Faulkner's life will be presented, briefly, so that parallels can be drawn between his life and the life depicted in the text. Faulkner grew up in a small Mississippi town in a middle-class family and saw in his surroundings perfect models for characters like the Bundren family and their neighbors. In the lessons of this curriculum unit, students will
Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
The voice of the narrator helps shape the way that readers encounter the story. The voice can reveal the narrative point-of-view, the background of the speaker (such as education level, social standing, and so on), and the relationship of the narrator to others in the story. An omniscient narrator, for example, often gives the impression of authorial investment and oversight, but maintains distance from the characters. A character speaking from his own point-of-view, however, creates a sense of a limited but intimate perspective. Faulkner's ability to shift narrative voice in As I Lay Dying results in a rich tapestry of often competing perspectives, where information is doled out in small bits, left to the reader to piece together in an understanding of the larger (yet not complete) family portrait of the Bundrens.
Review with your students a basic introduction to literary terms, including "point of view," or distribute a student handout on literary terms that is available at Purdue's Online Writing Lab, via the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library.
William Faulkner on the Web, available via EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library, is the strongest representative of William Faulkner materials online. Below are a few key sections of the website that might prove helpful in teaching this lesson:
A general review of Literature in the American South is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed website Documenting the American South. While not specific to As I Lay Dying (although it does discuss other Faulkner novels), the section Civil War discusses representations of the Civil War in literature in a manner immediately relevant to the study of Faulkner's work:
But the southern writer … has been less concerned to reconstruct the actual time of the struggle than to recount the consequent loss of the antebellum southern culture and, in the response to this loss, the creation of a postbellum culture of survival.
[from Civil War, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris.]
The section Humor provides details on many aspects of the amusing and the grotesque often found in Southern literature, attributes obvious in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying:
Southern humor, like much of the best southern writing in general, has been boisterous and physical, often grotesque, and generally realistic. On the whole, it has no doubt been better received and more appreciated outside the region than in it … William Faulkner was certainly a puzzle to the people of Oxford in his time. Writing has never been a particularly admired occupation in the South, and its comic writers, as well as the most perceptive serious writers, have singled out aspects of southern culture that many southerners would sooner forget. This combination has produced what many southern readers would no doubt characterize as a literature of betrayal.
(From Humor, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris.)
In 1862, Emily Dickinson, one of the most innovative poets of the 19th century, ventured a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an editor, writer, and longtime contributor to the Atlantic Monthly who would become her long-time correspondent and mentor. She asked, "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?" Long perceived as a recluse who wrote purely in isolation, Dickinson in reality maintained many dynamic correspondences throughout her lifetime and specifically sought out dialogues on her poetry. These correspondences—both professional and private—reveal a poet keenly aware of the interdependent relationship between poet and reader.
Similarly, Dickinson's letters expose a poet fully engaged in the process of crafting a persona. In another note to Higginson in the first year of their correspondence, Dickinson wrote, "When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person." For students of writing, who often struggle to develop a distinctive voice, and then to modify that voice for different audiences, Dickinson's dialogues offer an instructive model. Ultimately, reading Emily Dickinson's letters alongside her poems helps students to better appreciate a remarkable voice in American literature, grasp how Dickinson perceived herself and her poetry, and-perhaps most relevant to their own endeavors—consider the ways in which a writer constructs a "supposed person."
In this curriculum unit, students will explore Dickinson's poetry as well as her letters to Higginson and her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. They will work individually and in groups to reflect on Dickinson's views and the process by which she writes; assume the role of a critic/correspondent and analyze Dickinson's poetry, specifically noting the effectiveness of her persona; and, finally, emulate her writing style while, at the same time, synthesizing what they've learned about poetic voice in a poetry-writing exercise on "There's a certain Slant of light."