My students loved O'Brien's book even more than I hoped they would. And it makes sense: I was their age when I was first introduced to his work, and over the years he has come to be possibly my favorite author (though there's a strong case for the award going to Hemingway).
While for me and certainly those generations older than me (read: those who were alive during the Vietnam War or its immediate aftermath), the potential stickiness of the topic is obvious. But these students are too young to have any investment in Vietnam and, to a large extent, anything more than the most superficial knowedge about Vietnam. And so, while the book's stance (anti-Vietnam Wat, though decidedly not anti-American soldier) is surely contentious to me or you, none of them seemed to interpret this as a political issue and, therefore, none took umbrage with it.
Michael Cunningham's 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hours (which was the original working-title of Virginia Woolf's 1923 novel Mrs. Dalloway), however, is a littttttttle bit of a different story.
Some of you may have seen the (very gripping) movie with Meryl Streep (love her!), Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore (who I could totally do without). It came out when I was a junior in college, so, 2003 or 2004. If you have seen it, jog your memory a bit. Yep, there you go - now you know why I'm anxious to see how teaching this book will go over with a group of freshman. Two of whom are in seminary. Many of whom have probably never interacted with a person they knew to be gay.
|Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf|
Yesterday, after they finished their peer workshop on their papers, I put a few of the book's "thematic concerns" on the board for them to consider as they read. My list looked something like this:
Gender - questioning the traditional definitions and roles; questioning the relations b/t genders
Sexuality - homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality
Mental illness/"madness" - how is it represented in society? in fiction? what are the effects of its being stigmatized?
Performing "roles" - what does it mean to be a "wife," "mother," etc.
There were not a few wide eyes when I mentioned "homosexuality." I was impressed, however, that when I asked for the difference b/t sex and gender (which, interestingly, we also talked about in my theory class later in the day), someone actually had an accurate answer. That, if nothing else, seemed promising.
After a book focusing on all male characters, I'm glad to throw some female in the mix, but this experience might end up being one minefield after another. However, if I don't expose them to these issues, who will? I guess we'll see how this goes . . . .