Just posted some of my thoughts on In the Basement of the Ivory Tower over at Good Reports. Throughout most of recorded history, individual cultures have had special, if not always sacred, texts. The Greeks had Homer. Chinese civilization had the Five Classics. Christianity had the Bible. English literature had Shakespeare. What unites us today? Professor X was curious to find out:
One of the things I try to do in English 102 is relate the literary techniques we will study to novels the students have already read. I try to find books familiar to everyone. This has thus far proven impossible to do. Many of my students don’t read much, and though I tend to think of them monolithically, they don’t really share a culture. To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope. (And I thought everyone had read that!) Animal Farm? No. If they have read it, they don’t remember it. The Outsiders? The Chocolate War? No and no. Charlotte’s Web? You’d think so, but no. So then I expand the exercise to general works of narrative art, meaning movies, but that doesn’t work much better. That really surprised me — that there are no movies they have all seen, except one: they’ve all seen The Wizard of Oz. Some have seen it multiple times. So, when the time comes to talk about quest narratives, we’re in business. The farmhands’ early conversation illustrates foreshadowing. The witch melts at the climax. Theme? Hands fly up. (The students can rattle off that one without thinking. Dorothy learns that she can do anything she puts her mind to and that all the tools she needs to succeed are already within her.) Protagonist and antagonist? Whose point of view is the movie told from? Can anyone tell me the cowardly lion’s epiphany? Are the ruby slippers a mere deus ex machina? What would you say is the symbolic purpose of the winged monkeys?
The movie comes in handy. Discussions are pretty lively.