q&a: why analyze things like there’s always a deeper meaning?

Posed by more than 50% of my class almost 100% of the time. This time, the particular unit was themed around fairytales, folktales, and myth, and on this particular day we were discussing a few versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”: Grimm, Perrault, Carter, and Gaiman (excerpted from Sandman: The Doll’s House). It was an uphill struggle to get them to see how each of the stories contained different messages about gender roles, sexuality, and the dangers of female independence, and they completely balked at discussing what the wolf could symbolize. It isn’t the first time I’ve come up against this question in a literature class, and students really do need to be convinced of why it’s important to read more deeply into things, especially since we are inundated with messages encoded into pop culture, particularly around identity construction.

Here, more or less, was my response.

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“what’s the point of literature?”

So I had my first-year writing literature classes read excerpts from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. And my students had a difficult time understanding the content as well as its arrangement. The most common initial responses to the reading were “What’s the point?” or “Why did she even write this?” I tackled this in class, but since it came up towards the end, I tried to wrap up the discussion online in the following post. This was drafted in 30 minutes on the NJ Transit train, so it’s less polished than I would have liked, though it did end up modeling the kind of writing I encourage in their Zero Drafts.

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