Friday, April 18, 2008

Useful Comparisons

In teaching literature, I sometimes find it interesting to let different texts illuminate each other. I teach Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" on the same day. They are each initiation stories, showing a young, naive, inexperienced indivdual entering the world and being confronted with the bad stuff (danger, evil, the dark side, all that). Instead of looking at each short story individually, we look at them together. If there are significant similarities (Connie and Robin are rural, isolated individuals that encounter society--with all its dark parts--in town) and significant differences (Robin may grow from his recognition and be better off--Connie has no such luck), perhaps we can learn something about each text in particular.

In a wider sense, perhaps we can learn something about the subject at hand (here, initiation). I don't want my students to encounter these texts as artifacts that mean nothing to their lives. I want us to talk about initiation, how it is often good but sometimes bad, and how initiations can be either traumatic or positively transformative. Encountering literature can be itself a tranformative experience, forcing us to confront ourselves.


  1. Daniel J Smith7:44 PM

    I really enjoy this particular writing. I found this website yesterday reading about my team The Vikings even though I am a lifetime WI resident. I have my own painful initiation experience in my own life From a Fraternity that has been a Hell Week that has never really ended and has me contemplating just ending my own life at this point

  2. Daniel,
    I assure you you're not the only person who has faced a difficult initiation experience. Hopefully, you can work through it and come out a better person. Please, don't seriously consider what you wrote in that last line. That is never worth it. I don't have anything wise to add. But know that there are people and resources that can help you through whatever you are going through.

  3. I wish I had more to say. I hope you have somebody in your life to talk to. If you'd like, you can email me at