Analysis Chapters 1-8
After our journaling prompt, and a quick review of the background reading from the Glencoe Guide, we dove right into character analyses of the main characters that we've met so far and talked about chapters 1-8. Please stay on track with the reading (we need to read about eight chapters per week) and check the syllabus for all homework.
Narrative and Point of View
To Kill a Mockingbird is told in the first person by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. The novel begins from the point of view of Scout as she looks back on her childhood, revisiting memories through the filter of her adult experience.
Although the narrator is an adult looking back at her childhood, the perspective is limited to what she saw and felt at that time. Scout the 6-year-old often does not understand the full meaning of what she observes, and her childlike perceptions are frequently a source of humor, as when she says of her father, “Atticus was feeble. He was nearly fifty.” Yet even in this instance, the narrator does not confine her vocabulary to that of a child. Here is another example of how the narrator recalls childhood events with an adult vocabulary: “I wasn’t sure what Jem resented most, but I took umbrage at Mrs. Dubose’s assessment of the family’s mental hygiene.”
I asked the students if our memories change as they are filtered through the lens of our later experiences. The consensus was "yes."
The Scottsboro Boys Trials
We then read through a rather unpleasant matter from history called The Scottsboro Trials. I will not repeat the story here, but it's important to be aware of these famous trials of the 1930's as they were the inspiration for the trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. You can read about the Scottsboro Trials and other related stories from the "Jim Crow Law" days at PBS.org, The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.
Race and Relationships
Clearly, racism is a major theme of the novel. The essay prompt this week is meaty. I made a step-by-step outline for students to follow and created a worksheet for them to use during the research phase. Please read chapters 9-16 before attempting the essay! As always, let me know if you have questions. Hang in there, we're almost to the end!
Intro: To Kill a Mockingbird
After a journal/free-write on courage, we learned about our next author, Harper Lee, and how her famous manuscript almost became one with the slush-ridden New York City streets (it's true!).
As always, we spent time understanding the cultural and historical context of our next novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. We reviewed some basic facts about the Great Depression, viewed an important (read: will be on the final quiz) timeline of events from the 1930's to the 1960's, and took a few minutes to understand the Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War South.
Jazz Crosses Racial Boundaries: Billie Holiday (Strange Fruit)
Our side trip this week was on the topic of American Jazz. Jazz was born in the lower Mississippi Delta and was nourished in New Orleans. In the first decades of the twentieth century its emotional rhythms moved north with the Great Migration, a mass movement of Blacks from the South to urban areas seeking better opportunities and attempting to escape from rigid Jim Crow laws that held them in a state of virtual slavery. This distinctly American music, with an emphasis on improvisation, captured the spirit of the nation. The radio and phonograph had a major impact on Jazz’s popularity as improvisation and the spontaneity that typified the music was better conveyed through sound than sheet music. Although jazz musicians helped to erode racial prejudice, they were sometimes unable to break down long established barriers.
Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She co-wrote only a few songs, but several of them have become jazz standards, notably "God Bless the Child," "Don't Explain," "Fine and Mellow," and "Lady Sings the Blues." She also became famous for singing "Easy Living," "Good Morning Heartache," and "Strange Fruit", a protest song which became one of her standards and made famous with her 1939 recording. "Strange Fruit" was a cry for civil rights—some might even say it was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. This performance was in New York City, 1939 at the popular cabaret club, Café Society (where she could sing but she couldn't sit at the tables).
This biggest take-away from this week's class, other than understanding the context of our novel, is implementing Modern Language Association Format with regard to Works Cited (bibliography) at the end of all four of our essays this session.
A handout was given to students (example of a Works Cited page and reminders/bullet points). Everything you need to complete a successful Works Cited is on this handout. Please let me know if there is any confusion; I am always happy to clarify/answer additional questions.
Remember to check the syllabus for all homework (reading, vocab, short answer) and of course, the essay prompt. This week's prompt should not cause you much trouble. Remember to pick a character you admire. Identify three ethical qualities you admire about that character (we're still working in threes here to easily construct a five-paragraph essay) and support with quotes from the book. Don't forget everything you learned last session about citing sources within your essay. Now, you're going to add a Works Cited at the end. The only works cited for this paper will be quotes from the text; our next and last paper will require outside research, therefore, your first paper will only have one Works Cited entry--easy, right? Yes! :)
See you next Thursday!
A Last Look at Ántonia
We started our last class on My Ántonia with a writing prompt that asked us to imagine that we are moving to a foreign country and we don’t speak the language. The only people we will know there are our immediate families. We don’t know where we will live or what we will do for money. We then had to describe or make a list of the things our families would need to do to survive. This experience is similar to the one our heroine had, and it was great to hear all of the sound and useful ideas the students came up with: learn the language, attempt to network with people that might help us find work, be aware of any cultural differences or barriers, make sure we have the proper clothing for the environment we're moving to, and research what materials we could use to make shelter/housing . These are all things that Ántonia and her family faced and dealt with when they left their home in Bohemia for the Nebraska prairie.
Before sharing our family tree pages and final projects, we read a wonderful letter in the original words of Annie Sadilek (aka Anna Pavelka). The so-called "Letter to France Samlund" is a letter to a high school student at Benson High School in Omaha, Nebraska from Anna Pavelka. Anna, now eighty-six years old, tells the real story of her first year in Nebraska.
Anna Pavelka, whose maiden name was Anna Sadilek, is the woman on whom the character of Ántonia is based. Willa Cather and Anna Sadilek knew each other in the late 1880s, when Willa was attending school in Red Cloud and Anna was working for the Miner family who lived down the street from the Cathers. After a failed engagement with a railroad man, Anna married John Pavelka, who is the basis for Anton Cuzak in My Ántonia.
We took several minutes to compare the original letter with events at the beginning of the novel, particularly Book One, and defined and identified uses of verbal irony. Even though English wasn't Annie's first language and her spelling and punctuation were poor, she knew how to convey irony!
Next Up: Mockingbird (not Mockingjay)
Please make sure you have a copy of our last selection, To Kill a Mockingbird, and read the short summary from bestnotes.com.
See you on April 16. Have a wonderful Easter.
Family Tree Final Projects
To wrap up our study of My Ántonia and our look at the immigrant experience in America, we went around the table and shared as much of our family tree pages as we were able to complete, and talked about some of the countries our ancestors hail from. In this discussion alone we found out we have family members "in our trees" from Germany, Italy, England, and Palestine!
Now and then it all comes together and there is a singular moment when the stars align and there is magic. We were honored that the grandmother of one of our students shared her very poignant memories of growing up in the German Province of Bohemia. Her memories have some similarities with those of our heroine, Ántonia, in terms of some of the difficulties faced in her home country and when emigrating to America. It's when these real life experiences affirm art that we start to understand that reading literature is a personal experience and so much more than an exercise in understanding story content, theme, and tone. That's when we really "own" a story and it becomes real to us on a whole new level.
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