Closer Readings Commentary

Back to School: Literature and Language Resources


American Literature

Classic stories, drama and poetry and art by American authors and artists that capture the language of place and render the ethos of their time.

“A White Heron”: A Common Core Exemplar provides insights into Sarah Orne Jewett’s short story of a young girl’s passion for wildlife in rural Maine and her coming-of-age.

Character in Place: Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” for the Common Core analyzes Welty’s use of characterization and setting in order to communicate the struggle and reward of a journey taken by Phoenix Jackson—poor, black, and elderly—during the Great Depression.

Dramatic and Theatrical Aspects in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: A Common Core Exemplar requires active observation and sensitivity to the playwright’s subtle use of a number of dramatic and theatrical devices that shape his drama.

House by the Railroad: A Painting and a Poem for the Common Core invites a comparative close reading of Edward Hopper’s painting, House by the Railroad, and Edward Hirsch’s ekphrastic poem, “Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad.

Melville’s Moby-Dick: Shifts in Narrative Voice and Literary Genres delves deeply into Melville’s two complex protagonists, Ishmael and Ahab; analyzes their shifting perspectives; and investigates several literary genres (i.e., hymn, sermon, scientific writing, and drama.)

O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”: A Common Core Exemplar offers insights into O. Henry’s most popular and beloved short story and suggests several writing activities. 

Scottsboro Boys and To Kill a Mockingbird: Two Trials for the Common Core compares factual and fictional renditions of similar trial experiences: the Scottsboro Boys trials of the 1931 and 1933, and the fictional trial in Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) inspired by them.

Their Eyes Were Watching God: Folk Speech and Figurative Language examines the role that folk groups play in their own lives and in the novel. Students undertake a close reading of passages that reveal Hurston’s literary techniques.

Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life investigates life in a small town in the heartland of America at the turn of the twentieth century, focusing on Anderson’s development of character in a short story sequence to introduce the literary concept of the grotesque.

Why Expressionism? The Glass Menagerie: A Common Core Exemplar explores expressionism in order to more fully comprehend the play’s theatrical devices and themes, explicate Williams’ techniques, and analyze how they create meaning.

“The Catastrophe of Success” by Tennessee Williams: An Informational Text for the Common Core reflects on how this play’s successful run dramatically affected Williams’s life and offers insight into how to combat the fallout of such a “disaster.”

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Contemporary American Poetry

 A series of different perspectives that together help create a new idea of American community: speaking to both the unity and the differences that define us. These are American poets breaking down walls and using poetry as a means to connect us to each other. 

“Gate A-4.” Naomi Shihab Nye transforms a tense situation into a shared world where no one “seemed apprehensive about any other person.”

“From Citizen. VI [On the train the woman standing].” Claudia Rankine considers Americans’ experience of equality by looking at how community members treat one another on public transit.

“Every Day We Get More Illegal.” Juan Felipe Herrera gives voice to the feelings of those “in-between the light,” who have ambiguous immigration status and work in the United States.

“Cotton Candy.” Edward Hirsch reflects back to a moment from his boyhood in Chicago recalling his formative relationship with his grandfather—bridging the gap between generations and transcending time.

“The Great Migration.” Minnie Bruce Pratt illustrates the ebb and flow of migrations within,—and to and from—the United States that are a part of our common heritage.

“Praise Song for the Day.” Elizabeth Alexander echoes Walt Whitman’s classic poem, “I Hear America Singing," with its democratic vision of the varied occupations that make up our nation. Alexander’s inaugural poem exhorts us to walk forward together with a loving spirit.

“Peaches.” Adrienne Su tries to come to terms with the difficulties immigrant families have navigating mainstream America.

“Translation for Mamá.” Richard Blanco uses both English and Spanish language translations to honor the bridge between his mother’s new identity and the losses she faced in emigration.

“Remember.” Joy Harjo holds up all the inhabitants of the earth and sky as a model for inclusiveness, with a reminder to pay attention to how we are all connected.

World Literature

A wide variety of writers and poets who represent cultures across the globe—Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Russia, Ireland, and Britain—as well as ancient Rome.

A “New English” in Things Fall Apart: A Common Core Exemplar provides an opportunity to see how Achebe integrates elements from the oral tradition into his narrative (i.e., Igbo similes, proverbs, and folktales that both entertain and instruct.)

Courage In the Time of the Butterflies: A Common Core Exemplar analyzes main characters in Julia Alverez’s novel to understand how each Mirabal sister and her family demonstrates courage in their attempt to overthrow a dictator of the Dominican Republic in the late 1950s.

“Home”: A Short Story Exemplar for the Common Core offers Anton Chekhov’s realistic slice of Russian life that reflects universal truths about the human condition.

Magical Realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude for the Common Core uncovers how Gabriel García Márquez meshes magical elements with a reality that is, in his view, fantastical in its own right and investigates how he used these elements to create his epic.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses: A Common Core Exemplar comprises a series of mythic comparisons: the creative and destructive elements within origin stories; the Orpheus myth as told by Ovid and through H.D.’s modern poetic rendition; the interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the visual arts.

Schisms and Divisions in Crime and Punishment: A Common Core Exemplar explores the splits that abound in the novel: Dostoevsky’s view of human nature; the Man vs. Superman theory; and the divisions within 19th-century Russian society.

The Importance of Being Earnest: A Common Core Exemplar analyzes Oscar Wilde’s language, characters, and structure to uncover the play’s themes, as well as relevant aspects of Victorian society.

“The Song of Wandering Aengus”: A Common Core Exemplar offers a close reading of this early lyrical poem by William Butler Yeats and examines the influences of traditional Irish sources, including the Irish “aisling” and Celtic mythology, to shed light on it.

Using Textual Clues to Understand A Christmas Carol examines how Charles Dickens used direct and indirect characterization to create a protagonist who is more than just a stereotype and analyzes a number of themes that permeate this seasonal classic.

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies for the Common Core uncovers the central character traits, symbols, and themes in Golding’s story, focusing on the importance of a system of law and order for maintaining civilization while considering what causes individuals and groups to wage war against each other.

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