Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tips for the Teacher

Almost every semester, when I teach my Intro to Literature course, I find myself really drawn to Ralph Ellison's short story "Battle Royal." So, I assign it for my students to read, usually connecting it to their reading about symbols (literary, conventional, etc.). The problem is that I don't ever seem to know what to say about the story when we discuss it in class. It's almost like the story is too "heavy." Like it needs time to breathe or something. I usually manage just fine by giving students the agency to take the class discussion in whatever direction they choose, and we always read more than one story, but I don't feel like I'm "doing" anything effective with "Battle Royal." I'm certainly not doing it justice. For whatever reason, I have this weird feeling like I'm missing something important about how to teach this story. And because of this, I ask you - the few readers I have - what do you do if/when you discuss this story with students?

2 comments:

M said...

One thing I emphasize right off the back is the other-worldliness of this story. The narrator is taken completely out of his comfort zone so to speak. He anticipates that he will be recognized publicly for his accomplishments, but instead he, along with the other young men, is humiliated and taunted. It is a surreal experience for him, and this is just the first of many surreal experiences that the narrator has. I also emphasize that this is part of a larger novel, and I try to get students to talk about the concept of invisibility. Students are usually able to make a connection between the young black men in the ring and the scantily clad white woman--both are their for the enjoyment of the white men, both are marginalized, etc. But I generally have to prompt them to get them to realize that the white woman is the means by which the black men are being exploited. Students really respond to this story, but it is a hard one to talk about.

LD said...

I agree- it's such a great story, but out of the context of the novel it comes from, I have a hard time getting into it with students.