… And how powerless were they?
Multicultural is a very broad term, especially in reference to literature. How would that be defined? Well, asking ol’ Merriam-Webster dictionary online multicultural can be defined as “of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures.” What does that look like in literature though? Well, without delving too far into this, I suppose it would just be dealing with people (characters in a story) from around the world… maybe even incorporating different time periods and themes that reflect those cultures values and/or beliefs. Those values or beliefs can definitely cause decision-making to be quite a bit more difficult. You may even feel… powerless in whatever situation you are in. There is a way to understand this feeling and teach multicultural literature and use the theme to teach this topic to high school students.
If you have ever felt powerless in a situation or read a story where you recognize a character was powerless you will understand what it’s like to make tough decisions like the characters being mentioned from the stories below. In the first story Metamorphosis it definitely starts off interestingly enough with the character Gregor turning into what sounds to me like a cockroach. I was not sure of why this was entirely, but now I think I understand. I guess it could be a test for Gregor and perhaps that of his family as well to see how they would handle this sudden change (or metamorphosis). Perhaps this was a test from God, who knows? Since Gregor in the story is always working hard at his job and is the one to take care of the family, it seems that all of that is worth nothing once the transition from human to cockroach causes his family to turn their backs on him. In fact, it seems that they practically abandon Gregor. They won’t look at him, go into the room to see him, nothing. No matter what Gregor tries to do it really shows how powerless he was to change what happened to him. The story starts off with this particular theme with him being unable to get out of bed because of the metamorphosis. At one point his mother faints and Gregor panics, scurrying over to revive her, but because he is a giant cockroach, his father attacks him injuring him. The injuries I believe could result in his death. Gregor in the story struggled to work everyday since he seemingly has a far distance to travel, always working day in and day out, eating boring food, having no enjoyment in human intercourse. “Devil take it all!” He says. From this moment on it was where his life changed and thus the powerlessness continued.
This particular story The Guest contains the same theme of choices that cause powerlessness. Daru, the main character is a a male teacher. In the end it seems that there are a vast number of choices within the story, the first being the Arab prisoners choice to kill his cousin (for reasons that not even the characters can place). Second, Daru’s choice to not turn in the Arab prisoner and let him go free, and finally the choice of the Arab to decide whether he wants to go to prison or run away. It seems like Daru is powerless in this story because he is ordered to take this Arab prisoner to jail. Aaccording to Barducci his friend from a different town “those are the orders” that were given specifically to Barducci to deliver the Arab prisoner to Daru. In the end it seems like Daru makes the decision to allow the Arab to decide for himself whether he goes to jail or goes free. The next day in the story, Daru gives directions to the Arab prisoner as to where the jail was. In the end the Arab chose jail.
In the final story Faust the character named Faust was being tested by both God and a character named Mephistopheles. It started off with God and Mephistopheles making a wager with one another that he (as in Mephistopheles) could interfere with Faust and tempt him into evil. Faust in the story is a doctor and someone who God believes is good and cannot be tempted by evil. There was no question to his faith in this one man. It seems to me that God had the choice to either agree to the bet that Mephistopheles proposed or deny the bet. Either way, Mephistopheles knew that Faust hungered for knowledge even though Faust was very knowledgeable already. He just wasn’t happy with the knowledge that he possessed. He wanted more. So much more. I feel like this particular story also exhibits the theme of powerlessness as God has to stand by and just have faith that Faust would make the right choice. It was God that had told Mephistopheles that even if Faust could be persuaded that good always finds it’s way back. Though with that in mind, it still shows how powerless God was in his beliefs and faith in just one man. It even seems that Faust knew his decisions and his want for more knowledge would have consequences. Which made him powerless as well. If he wanted to obtain more knowledge beyond what he already has he would have to live with the consequences of his decision. In the end Faust proves God wrong. He chooses the temptation of greater knowledge and that he could be tempted over the path of good that God believed he would walk.
As someone who wants to become a teacher I find that there are a great many ways to use this theme to teach high school students. Having them read stories such as these, allow them the opportunity to free write. Free writing is a great method for understanding. Even blogs are a great way to free write. With the theme in mind of powerlessness and decisions, ask your students: have they felt powerless in a situation that they were thrust into? Do they recall a time where they read about a character in a book who underwent some difficulties making a choice or decision of some kind and felt powerless to do the right thing? The questions that are asked and the way they are answered is the best way for a student to learn on their own. Give examples of situations where a person may feel their choices could lead them to this feeling of powerlessness. The purpose is to engage students and teach them. One way to do that is by use of elements from popular culture such as song lyrics, music videos, use of graphic novels that are oftentimes fun and educational, maybe even doing a fun skit with characters from story favorites can also be one great way to highlight the feeling of powerlessness that their favorite characters experience. The possibilities and the themes are endless!!!
Readings mentioned in the blog: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, The Guest by Albert Camus, and Faust by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
© Donovan G. Ward
I am attending college online with Grand Canyon University (GCU) for an English Teaching degree for Secondary Education. The first question I was asked when I made the decision to embark on this journey to be a teacher was, "Why do you want to be a teacher?" My response: "It is not for the money." Regardless, I am looking forward to being a teacher and am on this blog as part of a college course. I have written (never published) books and poetry of all kinds and have a love for writing in general. I have never done a blog before so we will see how this goes. Let's do this!