Monday, June 25, 2007

Types of Literature: Prose

In the past, I've taught "Human Issues in Literature," and when selecting works for the course, I focused on content, themes, and ideas. Now I'm teaching "Types of Literature," meaning the focus shifts a bit: now my goal is to explore the varieties and possibilities of each genre. I'm still teaching on ideas (and keeping a lot of the same works), but now I'm choosing also in terms of narrative, form, style, and structure.

Here are the prose works I've selected so far; I still need to add a few short stories.

A Gathering of Old Men, Ernest Gaines
For practical reasons, this spring I replaced As I Lay Dying with A Gathering of Old Men (I had to teach Gaines' novel in a class I was subbing for, so for simplicity sake I taught it in my own course, too). It has the same narrative structure as Faulkner's novel (multiple narrators), so it works out to show the possibilities of first-person narration in a novel. As it happened, it worked out so well that I'm keeping Gaines' novel in my syllabus from now on.

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
A wonderful novel to teach, exploring the internalization of racist and sexist standards of beauty. There are huge themes throughout, and the narrative form is so diverse, I'm fairly certain students haven't been exposed to anything like it.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
For form, it works wonderfully: it's a first-person narrator that sees things differently than the average narrator and that develops throughout the novel.

Short Stories
"The Metamorphosis," Franz Kafka
A great introductory work for it's thematic power and for the fantastic potentials of literature; in "Types of Literature," it also serves to discuss whether this is a short story or a novella.

"Barn Burning," William Faulkner
Third-person limited narrative, perspectives from the present and future: a good sample.

"Everyday Use," Alice Walker
I teach this with "Barn Burning" (both are about family and rejection of family), and it is also a masterwork short story. In this story, Walker is almost perfect in her descriptive techniques.

"The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I wouldn't think of not teaching this: the themes are strong, and the narrative style is just what I want students to be exposed to in this course.

"Bartleby the Scrivener," Herman Melville
Another chance to explore a first-person narrator closely--another story I wouldn't think of not teaching.

"The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," Katherine Ann Porter
A third-person narrative taking us inside the head of a single character, where past and present share no meaningful boundaries

"Circle of Prayer," Alice Munro
I feel like teaching this with the Porter story--I think we can gain insight by comparing them.

"Where are you going, where have you been?" Joyce Carol Oates
A terrifying initiation story.

"My Kinsman, Major Molineux," Nathaniel Hawthorne
I'll probably teach this with the Oates story as another initiation tale.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor
Structurally, I suspect this is the sort of story students expect a short story to be.

"The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allen Poe
A wonderful chance to explore a first-person narrator; I'll probably teach this with the O'Connor story as two different tales about murder.


  1. I'm jealous.I might steal your syllabus now that I have to realign my curriculum.

  2. Anonymous10:26 AM

    how is it that you are able to cover so much material?


  3. I probably go through works too fast.

    I've got 8 days for 12-14 short stories, 10 days for 3 novels, 12 days for 6 plays, and 9 days for all sorts of poetry.