I read Twelve Angry Men at some point during my middle or high school years, but I don’t remember exactly when. I also recall watching the original moI read Twelve Angry Men at some point during my middle or high school years, but I don’t remember exactly when. I also recall watching the original motion picture, and more recently, I’ve seen the updated movie. I was always really intrigued by the premise: a man is on trial for murder, all the evidence confirms his guilt, one lone juror stands up for him and converts everyone else to a plea of not guilty – it’s very “Hollywood.” It’s been a while though, since I’ve read the actual play.
When I first started reading the play, I was shocked at how lost I was initially. Since there are no names, I had to remember juror numbers – this was a fact I had forgotten since reading it originally. This fact adds a level of complexity to the film (or live performance) because there is a certain unique anonymity in keeping names a mystery. Everyone becomes either a “token” character or a “stereotype” in this situation. We start to refer to people as “the good guy” or “the angry guy” or “the inner city guy who knows how to fight with a knife.” This is both a benefit and a detriment to reading a play without character names. While I appreciated the anonymity of the characters from a stylistic perspective, sometimes it confused the hell out of me.
Throughout my reading of the play, I kept reverting to my adolescent years when I read or saw the work performed. I was amazed at how incredibly intelligent juror number eight must have been in order to conceive of all the little flaws in the prosecution’s story. My current reading had me asking different questions, like “why is a consensus of twelve men in a little room a more objective determinant in how fast a crippled man can walk than actual testimony from that crippled man?” I also began to wonder what exactly we consider “reasonable doubt.” How far can you stretch a hypothetical situation before it becomes implausible? I originally cheered for juror number twelve in his brilliant deconstruction of the evidence; now I really wonder whether or not I submitted to his rhetoric like everyone else. Is the whole play just about the potential for converting people’s opinions through charismatic propaganda? Isn’t that what the antichrist is supposed to do or something? Maybe juror number twelve is the antichrist. Either way, he reminds me of Squealer from Animal Farm. But I’m rambling.
One thing Rose did well was differentiate the language of individual characters. Even though I was initially confused, after a while, I could generally tell who was speaking just by the words they used and what they said. It wasn’t perfect, but I still had a good idea when juror number three was speaking, or juror number eight. This might be an interesting lesson for high school students. Take a juror from the play, map out his character traits, discuss his motivations, and then create hypothetical statements or situations and infer how he would react. This could easily turn into a writing prompt. For example, “Five years after being found not guilty, the boy who was tried in the play has confessed to his father’s murder. How does juror number three react to this news? How does juror number eight react?”
There is a lot you could do with this play in the classroom. The one major flaw in teaching it, however, is that I don’t think it’s effective at all if it isn’t performed in entirety. This play must be read in conjunction with a movie or live performance to have any real substance for students – at least that’s my opinion. The themes in the work are much more powerful when we can see how the characters react to one another. The culminating argument at the end of Act I – “now you didn’t really mean that you were going to kill me, did you?” – followed by the dramatic curtain drop, is wasted on paper.
I read an excerpt of _Call of the Wild_ in middle school. I vaguely remember that the excerpt was a portion of the novel right after Buck is saved byI read an excerpt of _Call of the Wild_ in middle school. I vaguely remember that the excerpt was a portion of the novel right after Buck is saved by John Thronton. I distinctly remember the names of the two other dogs: Skeet and Nig. I wanted a dog, and I wanted to name him Skeet. I did not, however, want to read _Call of the Wild_. So, twelve years later, I decided to give the novel another shot. I hadn’t actually read anything by Jack London before and I was sure that I was going to hate it. Jack London was an American author, and I have a firm distaste for American literature.
I didn’t want to actually purchase a copy of the book, so I downloaded a version onto my iPod. It was through Amazon’s Kindle, so I knew it was a legitimate copy, and it cost exactly one cent to purchase, so I knew I’d at least get my money’s worth.
When I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the plot advanced, and how simple it was to read. The vocabulary wasn’t simplistic, but the sentence structures were straightforward enough that I could quickly skim through without missing any details or having to reread. I quickly found that I was very invested in the novel, and I laughed when I realized that I’d been reading for two solid hours without noticing the time. The action in the novel was very engaging, and it was impressive how fluidly London was able to communicate the thoughts and emotions of the sled dogs without the convention of dialog.
Buck’s character development was steady and well thought out. His journey from domesticated California farm dog to wild wolf pack alpha male was slow and almost undetectable, except where London noted his physical and mental changes. My worry was that the story would jump suddenly from civilization to wilderness, but London had the transformation well planned out and executed the change almost flawlessly. Buck’s owners’ characters were developed in such a way that the reader, like Buck, was able to view, understand, and critique these characters without growing attached to them. The literary symbols in the work were fairly obvious and referenced often (the club, the man in the red sweater, the harness) which made them stand out for analysis whenever they were mentioned.
Overall, I was really surprised to find how involved I became in the novel. I found myself rooting for Buck as the underdog, even though I knew the outcome would be in Buck’s favor. I appreciated how the novel moved seamlessly from one action-packed scene to the next without dwelling on useless descriptions where they did not add to the story (write in verbs, not adjectives).
If I had to criticize the story, I would say that the dog characters changed too often and weren’t referenced enough late in the novel for me to keep everything straight. I had to stop a couple of times to remind myself what Dave’s characteristics were, and how they differed from Billee and Sol-leks, and which dog was missing an eye, which one had the scar on his shoulder – these details were randomly referenced at different times and confused me as I raced to finish the novel. Overall however, I have very little criticism for the book.
As for the educational value of the book, I think it’s a good contrast to most of the classic literature taught in schools right now. Because _Call of the Wild_ is written from the perspective of a dog among dogs, there are few personal biases the reader can bring into the story. Similarly, because dog sledding is such a foreign sport to most American high school students, it puts everyone (students and characters) on equal footing when reading the novel. It really puts the reader in Buck’s position. When Buck is wandering around camp freezing the first night on the trail, the reader can only watch, with no idea of what should be done, until Buck discovers a means of survival. We watch the other dogs as Buck watches, learning the tricks of survival from them. When Buck is broken by the “law of club and fang,” we are broken too. When Buck’s owners change, we learn, as Buck learns, whether or not his owners are experienced sledders.
The themes in the novel are also engaging to students. The story focuses on the allure of power, the responsibility of leadership, the give and take of obedience vs. servitude, and the moral and ethical questions of survival. Class discussions could focus on whether or not Buck really is in a leadership role – after all, he is still subjected by his human masters, still tied to the sled every day, still under the law of man’s club. What makes someone truly powerful? Is Buck’s life really better as a wild animal in the harsh Northland than it was as a house pet in the warm Southland? Is Buck right to incite unrest in the rest of the team in order to lure Spitz, the previous leader, into a fight to the death? What are the moral ramifications when Buck steals the men’s bacon in order to survive? Is breaking the rules morally wrong if it’s done for survival?
I believe that if the novel is presented in the right way, and if the themes are discussed prior to reading the novel, students will be engaged in the text. The work is also simple enough that a lot of it could easily be read and discussed in class. As I said earlier, the symbols that appear in the work are frequent and easily understood, so this text may be a good choice to begin the year and introduce students to thinking critically about symbolism in a work. Any way you look at it, this novel is a nice departure from the routine classics that are normally discussed in class, and would provide a springboard for critical thought about theme, symbolism, and characterization.
Little Brother was recommended to me in reference to a discussion I had about anonymity and privacy on the internet. I had never heard of the novel, bLittle Brother was recommended to me in reference to a discussion I had about anonymity and privacy on the internet. I had never heard of the novel, but I was a little familiar with the author, Cory Doctorow, as part of a blog/publishing entity called “Boing Boing.” For obvious reasons, the title brought up images of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. I assumed from the picture on the cover and from the excerpts of reviews (Scott Westerfeld of the Uglies trilogy) that this was strictly a YA cyberpunk novel that might be interesting to read, but wouldn’t have a lot of additional literary merit.
When I first started reading the novel, I was struck at how effectively the author integrated colloquial speech into the text. Little Brother is a young adult novel, but it is written in adult language. By this, I mean that the sentences are complex and rich in imagery and language. Doctorow isn’t trying to speak to kids on a kid’s level. Instead, he is speaking to young adults on an adult level – which is something many YA authors refuse to do.
I was also very impressed at how quickly the plot moved from the start. The reader is thrown into a far-off future society in which students are monitored by gait-sensing cameras and play advanced role playing games that incorporate puzzle solving via the internet and real world scavenger hunts. Wait – that actually doesn’t sound too far off, does it? That’s another impressive feat by Doctorow. Everything seems truly believable. Rather than just saying “this is how it is,” Doctorow wants to tell us “this is how it happened.” He really gets into the legal aspects of what is allowed and why, which is something that I believe teens really relate to. Teens always want to know the more intricate and basic questions, the “how” and “why” of a novel, and Little Brother delivers.
Another important aspect for teen readers of the novel is that the cyber rebellion described is not carried out with malicious or superfluous intent. Throughout the novel, the reader is constantly reminded what the resistance is for, and of the basic tenets of the American constitution and the rights guaranteed to citizens; however, this does not imply that the protagonist does not weigh the repercussions of a lack of security in the country. The internal debate the main character carries throughout the novel is real – the questions are pertinent regardless of the time period in which they are asked. In addition, the protagonist is brutally aware of the unpredictable nature of humanity and the destructive potential of anonymity. All of this shines through clearly in the text and forces the reader to ask some tough personal questions, like “what should be sacrificed to ensure safety?” and “how do people change under the influence of perceived anonymity?” Underneath all of these questions, the novel also chronicles the development of personal, emotional, mental, and sexual identity during the teen years. It’s a dense, but very readable book.
If there is one drawback to the text, it is the length. Most of the book contains vital information concerning the plot or character development, but there is a strange dry spell in the middle in which minor, insignificant events occur. Some of these situations do prompt the author to analyze a theme or present a new idea, but my overall impression was that some of it just didn’t add to the story. This, however, is certainly not a ‘deal breaker’ for me, and I would most likely read the novel again.
In terms of teaching this novel, I have already completed a project in which I set up a sort of “viral website” through Glogster. I think this text presents a lot of opportunities for lessons on censorship, anonymity, the internet, national security, sociology, and morality. I also think there are some opportunities to teach multiple perspectives with this text. For example, the prevalent bias in the book favors the protagonist and his Xnet, but the events in the novel could easily be analyzed from the perspective of the Department of Homeland Security or from the view of an outside party (a teacher, police officer, or parent, for example).
I really enjoyed the style and genre of this novel – I’m partial to dystopian/authoritarian fiction – and I appreciated how Doctorow dealt with the issues he presented. The book is well written and deep, engaging on multiple levels, and offers a number of opportunities for lessons in the classroom. My initial impression of the novel was as “just another YA book,” but I was pleasantly surprised to discover just how interesting and pertinent it is in today’s world.
I remember reading excerpts from Flowers for Algernon in middle school, and I recall really enjoying the text. I think the primary reason I initiallyI remember reading excerpts from Flowers for Algernon in middle school, and I recall really enjoying the text. I think the primary reason I initially liked the work was because the writing style was very distinct, and it immediately engaged me as a reader. Until that point, I had never really read anything in a journal format, and the fact that the author was writing from the perspective of a mentally disabled adult exposed me to a certain creative freedom in writing that I had never seen before.
Since I was already a little familiar with the novel, I expected to enjoy it as much now as I had in middle school. My memory was a little vague on the details, but the overall plot was still very clear in my mind. There were, however, certain aspects of the work that I noticed only as a mature reader. For one thing, I did not initially appreciate the precision and difficulty that must have been necessary for the author to convincingly portray the writing style of someone with an intellectual disability. The style, grammar, spelling, and usage are believable, but they do not distract from the story or make it difficult to understand. Similarly, I paid a lot of attention to Charlie’s thoughts as his intelligence peaked. If it is difficult to devolve writing to the level of a man with an IQ of 80, it must be even more difficult to convincingly write from the perspective of a man with an IQ of 180. We can all feign ignorance to some degree, but how many people can pretend to be super intelligent? Also, I was able to really delve into the more complex aspects of the themes. The struggle Charlie has in dealing with his dual identities was more important as I read the novel this time, as were the complexities in the relationships Charlie had with Alice, Fay, Professor Nemur, and his coworkers. Algernon’s role became more central to my reading as well, since I was able to see Algernon more as an extension of Charlie’s character, rather than just a foreshadowing device.
The journal entry style also moves the story along quickly – especially in the beginning chapters. I think this is one major motivator for me. Since the first chapters are from Charlie’s simple point of view, there are few irrelevant facts. Almost everything either develops a character or advances the plot; nothing extraneous is present to distract from the basis of the story. Because of this, it was easy for me to quickly become interested in the action of the novel, and it made me want more complexity as I read and became emotionally invested in the characters. This development of complexity reminded me a lot of Dear Mr. Henshaw, an epistolary YA book written by Beverly Cleary, in which a young boy writes letters to his favorite author over a period of years. As the boy matures, his letters show deeper emotional and literary complexity – much like Charlie as his intelligence increases.
Flowers for Algernon is one of those rare books (for me) that has few faults stylistically or thematically. Many people have issues with the depressing plot, overt sexual imagery, and moral/spiritual questions contained in the text, but I feel that teachers have a certain necessity to teach these issues – in context, of course. The moral, ethical, and ideological questions raised in the text are very real, and I believe that these issues can be handled and intelligently discussed, even on a middle school level. In addition to the themes in the work, the novel also provides a number of opportunities to discuss creative writing, style, point of view, personal narrative, and epistolary novels as a genre.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this book. The pictures on the cover vaguely reminded me of _The Indian in the Cupboard_, but the style of thI didn’t really know what to expect from this book. The pictures on the cover vaguely reminded me of _The Indian in the Cupboard_, but the style of the title font made me imagine that this novel wouldn’t be as rigid or conventional in its writing. The title was long, too…like, ridiculously long, unnecessarily long: _The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian_. I started to analyze each word. The phrase ‘absolutely true’ immediately gave me the impression of an unreliable narrator (in my mind, no one but Robert Ripley uses the phrase ‘absolutely true’ and means it). Knowing that this was a young adult novel, I also guessed that this unreliable narrator would be a teenager, or at least would be writing from a teen’s perspective. I assumed that the book would be written in a diary format, and ‘Part-Time Indian’ suggested some sort of personal identity crisis would take place over the course of the novel. For the most part, my initial inferences were correct, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book exceeded my initial expectations.
In the first two pages of the novel, I discovered that _The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian_ wasn’t a traditional novel. The writing style was simple, conversational, and didn’t necessarily conform to the rules of conventional English grammar and usage. But the most surprising aspect of the novel was the actual content. Sherman Alexie has a writing style that incorporates off-the-wall similes, politically incorrect euphemisms, scatological humor, and foul language. It’s what I imagine Chuck Palahniuk or Kurt Vonnegut would write if they were YA authors. The interesting thing, however, is that Alexie does not use objectionable content gratuitously or without provocation. The writing of the novel absorbs the reader in such a way that the off color language and adult content flows naturally and makes perfect sense within the context of the work. In fact, if the book’s racy content was censored, I don’t believe the story would have the same impact or purpose.
The protagonist is Arnold (Junior) Spirit, a Native American teen living on a reservation in Spokane. In the first few pages, the reader learns about the list of physical and mental abnormalities that plague this poor kid: he was born with hydrocephalus, he has seizures and migraine headaches, he wears glasses, he has abnormally large feet, he has a stutter and a lisp, and he’s extremely skinny. The picture Arnold paints of himself (the novel is written in first person) is one of a pathetic, awkward, and socially doomed teenage boy. Arnold goes out of the way to insult himself, and his detailed descriptions of the daily physical and emotional abuses he endures on the reservation seem almost a bragging right. Even worse for Arnold is that he is a member of a socially repressed group, which means that he is targeted for abuse both within his culture and from society outside the reservation. The one thing Arnold does have in his favor is his intelligence, and this is what leads him to leave the reservation and seek an education at Reardon, a predominantly white school located an hour away from his home.
As the plot unfolds, the reader watches as Arnold deals with difficult issues like racism, alcoholism, and poverty. The novel also analyzes issues like sexual identity, body image, self esteem, revenge, death, and love. What impressed me most about the novel is that Alexie does not preach about these subjects. There is no “after-school special” feel to any of the serious topics discussed. There are no cheesy interventions or slogans, no “and then I saw the light” moments. Instead, Arnold is left to deal – on a personal and individual level – with what he sees in the world. He acts like a teen, and this fact is what makes the novel so powerful and engaging. Even though Alexie is careful to remain grounded in reality, I do take issue with the fact that there are a lot of “Hollywood” moments in the book. Arnold quickly gains respect at his new school, gets the hot, popular girl, wins the crucial basketball game, etc. In a YA novel, I suppose these moments are necessary because without them, the book would read a bit like Tolstoy.
From an educational perspective, I really like this book. It discusses a lot of the same issues that students will encounter in “classic literature” but it is approachable from a modern teen’s perspective. Language is usually one of the major barriers students experience when reading a novel. Fortunately, the colloquial language and familiar tone feel natural, and allow the student to focus on the issues at hand, rather than wrestling with the words on the page.
In terms of instruction, I’d like to analyze this novel as a sort of “gateway novel” into other classic lit. Because of the different themes and situations in the text, it would be easy to relate this book to other works we may read over the course of the year. Arnold’s plight could be analyzed through the perspectives of Boo Radley or Frankenstein’s monster, bringing a modern literary figure into a discussion about a classic. This provides a reference point for critically discussing the themes in both texts, and gives students a way of incorporating familiar information to connect analytically with a new text.