The short story has been the subject of years of study for many students and professors. Over and over a story is presented to a class, usually with a particular “determined” objective, and the professor realizes the students may “see” the reason this particular story was presented but more than likely they could argue the point for hours.
During our seminar, many teachers and the professor, also, reflected on the fact that a point they may have once accepted and understood in a story, became somehow changed and expanded over the years since they had first read the very same story. Some liked stories they originally found uninteresting, others found hidden treasures overlooked the first time.
When short stories are studied in order to be put into pigeonholes they defy us. For example, if a group of short stories were presented as examples of humor, they abounded in paradox or tragedy, suspense or character development. Another group of short stories may have exemplified symbolism but students may have found them funnier than the group presented previously. The reason for this seems obvious—a good short story usually has a multiple of elements presented is a superior masterful way—-hence the term masterpiece.
The short story has notoriously eluded “chiseled in stone,” interpretations. Why else would short stories be read and studied year after year, generation after generation? Each, now and forever, are like a treasure hunt. Each class strives and decodes the written word. It is only when, someone finds that “unthought” of treasure that the class seems to sigh, lean back and find satisfaction. Many smiles may abound, along with frowns interspersed among others. They seem to be thinking . . . “I never thought of that.”
It is with this in mind, that the objectives for this unit were written. They are to give the student a kind of map to follow in order for them to unlock the treasures of the short story and the frame upon which to build their own creative writing. They are:
1. Students will read quality short stories by master writers.
2. Students will be able to discuss short stories in terms of its important elements, especially character development.
3. Students will learn to use the “character chart” as a vehicle for analyzing the short story and developing their own characters and elements of the short story in their own creative writing.
4. Students will be able to write their own short stories.
The first objective has been the hardest to achieve. It has been difficult to find stories that are within the understanding, interest, reading level of a middle school student and yet be written by a recognized master writer.
There have been few writers who have written quality short stories specifically for the adolescent. There are stories about adolescence, but they are usually written for the adult to read and so they can shake their heads, yes in total nostalgia. It was, therefore, an important strategy of this unit to choose short stories that would hold the interest of the student.
Elements of the short story are presented as an objective because they are necessary tools and clues in the “hunt.” To continue the analogy, they allow the student to unlock the treasures of the words before them and give them the knowledge and inspiration to release the great wealth of imagination and thought within them.
The character chart is presented as an objective because it will be used extensively as a guide to understanding of characters in the short story and a structure through which the student can develop characters in their own short story writing.
Finally, it is the goal of this unit to present students with a forum in which they can express the “meanings” a short story may hold for them. These will be insights the short stories have given them. It is the students’ ability to read, write, tell, and create a short story that permeates each of the above objectives. They are not only to “see” but be able to express their thoughts both written and orally . . . as only they can.
A work of literature is not an object we understand by conceptualizing or analyzing it; it is a voice we must hear and through ‘hearing’ (rather than seeing) understand . . . Understanding a literary work, therefore, is not a scientific kind of knowing . . . it is an historical encounter which calls forth personal experience being here in the world.