Terms and concepts usually taught when working on poetry, short stories, novels and plays will not be neglected, though the literature I have chosen for the unit will stress concepts discussed earlier: the haptic, the visual, personalization and community.
Alice in Wonderland
was chosen because of the often comical, though no less frightening, bodily changes the main character undergoes. Her confusion about who she is and where she is will seem familiar to my seventh-graders. She encounters characters who offer advice, friendship and rebuffs. She makes mistakes and yet she quite literally comes through. The description of the March Hare’s house is a good example of personalization.
“The Eagle” by Tennyson also offers a sudden and very quick body change. The eagle’s descent from the crag is comparable to Alice’s descent down the rabbit-hole.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” gives us a landscape and house as characters, not mere settings, in a story. Vacant, eye-like windows contribute to the forbidding persona of the house, as does a barely perceptible crack in the facade. The narrator notes that “House of Usher” refers to the family as well as its mansion and speculates about how the decline of the physical structure has contributed to the decline of the social structure. Would a rearrangement or alteration of physical details make the scene less ominous?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
also offers a house as a character. To the two remaining inhabitants, it offers comfort and shelter, not because that’s what a house does but because that’s what this house
to do. Very little description of the house is given; memories conjured by the likening to a castle will be important. Indeed, so much is held back that casual references to murder and poisonous elements of the landscape become all the more frightening. The kitchen is referred to as the heart of the house. After the house has been not-so-accidentally set afire by one of the main characters and ransacked by the townspeople, the kitchen is all that remains habitable The sisters’ existence is limited to the kitchen; they have erected barriers to ward off intruders; they have limited their boundaries.
In “House-Warming,” Thoreau feels that living in one room which contains only essential items is to be desired. The fireplace is perhaps the most important element in the room; not only does it give warmth but it offers companionship—the sound of logs crackling and the faces and images you can see in the fire. Inhabiting or taking possession of a house means more than using it for shelter. Professor Bloomer pointed out in seminar that this is in keeping with Edmund Burke’s thesis in
A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
that a manageable environment becomes less threatening. Thoreau feels, however, that some mysterious elements (dark, lofty ceilings, e.g.) are desirable.
offers a wealth of concepts for the unit. Structure is important: the structure of relationships, of a community, of Life itself. Not so curiously, little or nothing is done with scenery and props. Our attention is not allowed to wander from the people who are playing out their lives before us. Using descriptive passages of Grover’s Corners given by the Stage Manager, and drawing on the power of memory, students will be encouraged to draw what some of the buildings
look like. Individuals might research architectural styles of the middle and late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. We will conduct our survey of Wooster Square, our “town,” during the reading of the play.-Memory is crucial in
and in “Knoxville, Tennessee” by Nikki Giovanni. The power of memory in establishing bonds and fostering a sense of community will be examined.