The main driving force of this unit is to give students meaningful experiences as they explore the complexities of literature and identity. Through reading, analyzing, and interpreting literary texts, students will deal with have to come to terms with the idea that these two words don’t point to concrete, stable objects. Instead they will discover that identity isn’t an ultimate thing, or something ideal and ineffable, but instead something it is active, alive, constantly being made and remade, reinforced and undermined. Identities furthermore do not exist in isolation, but instead a person’s identity is constantly interacting with forces eager to isolate it, force conformity, or challenge its existence. Students will ideally see that literature is a field where identities strive to assert themselves. This actualization does not simply take place in the story itself, but even more so in the voice with which the story is told. It’s important, then, to cultivate in students a sensitivity to how identities interact with constraining, conforming, and negating forces so they can see how this works in literature, and also in their own lives.
This sensitivity exists in the field of literary study. Students will have to analyze narratives to discover the voice of the story. They will have to question it too: goes the storyteller have an agenda? Are they reliable? How can the reader tell? Students must look through the story, focusing on the subject of the story teller instead of the aesthetic object of the story alone. Furthermore, Students must assess the implications of the storyteller’s voice on the narrative. Each person makes their truths from the way they view the world: the point of view of a person conditions what they believe and how they relate to the world around them. This raises the question: how does the narrator’s point of view influence the way the story is told? What sensitivities or blind-spots exist because of the narrator’s point of view? Then there is a natural transition to the students themselves: What are your sensitivities and what are your blind-spots because of your identity?
These reading strategies will have a secondary effect: students will be discovering value in texts that they cannot initially relate to. The shift in reading focus moves from, “Is this a good story?” or “What makes this story good?” to “Who is telling the story, and what can we discover about them. This, ironically, makes identifying with a text less important because the idea is to discover the identity instead of the aesthetic or personal value. It becomes possible to return to aesthetic value by pursuing whether this storyteller is worth listening to (even if they are not reliable enough to be trusted).
It’s important that students not only engage with ideas of identity through reading, but also through actively working to construct identities themselves. This unit prioritizes identity-creation in the final paper. By applying strategies of discerning identity in literature, they can co-opt these reading strategies for use in writing. By creating their own literary voice in the context of studying the literary voices of others, students will thoroughly see how identities work. An extension of the unit goals is that this time of study will give students a vision to take some form of control (or at least influence over) their own identities.
Upon completing the unit, students will not only see the powerfully individual nature of a personal identity and the uniquely personal way a literary story is told, but they will also recognize that even in the midst of so many different voices and stories there are common human elements that they can connect to and engage with,