We’re using Stockett’s The Help for the first time this quarter with our juniors. We needed something new, more modern that might hold more reader appeal than…unfortunately…A Farewell to Arms. I know Hemingway would bitch slap the hell out of Stockett or, more likely, marry then divorce her if he read her book about Southern social “rules” and sassy maids.
In fact, he would probably shoot himself again.
However it took me years of teaching A Farewell to Arms to actually enjoy Catherine and Henry. My students only hang out with those two and their nutty WWI misadventures for part of a quarter and there is no love lost there. I’m sorry Papa. I love you now, but I hated your guts in high school.
My particular torture was The Sun Also Rises. Couldn’t you have just said that Jake got his balls blown off in the war and THAT’S why he couldn’t get it up? Either that or his excessive alcohol intake. How many bullfights and fly fishing episodes can one person write about? Similarly my students are mystified by the amount that officers on a war front get to drink, they think Rinaldi is gay because he calls Henry “Baby” and gives him big Italian kisses and they totally miss the dirty joke about the priest in chapter two even when I do the hand gestures. And I always do the hand gestures. Plus they copied their character analysis papers from Sparknotes and Shmoop.
So forgive me, Papa, but we needed something different.
This week begins the new adventure. They were to have read through Abileene’s first two chapters for class today. I have an activity I like to do to get discussion started. No one wants to be the first to ask a question or make a comment so I’m enabling them I guess. I hand everyone a small piece of scrap paper and ask them to write, for example, one comment about the assigned reading or one question. I then read the comments and questions aloud. This is usually pretty effective to clear up crucial plot details, get small discussions going and get a reaction out of my clientele. Today there were a lot of fussy comments about the dialect. I plan on handing them a sample of Jim’s dialect from Huck Finn next week so they can see how good they’ve got it. Additionally, I wonder if there would have been quite so much commentary on dialect, if last week we hadn’t read some articles critiquing Stockett’s use of dialect for the maids.
Aside from the dialect, the responses to the actual story were pretty positive. Many students, although they liked the reading, instantly were frustrated with the way the characters treated each other. Score! Only like 400 more pages to go. So we’re having a nice little chat about characterization, clarifying who is who etc… and then I pull the last piece of scrap paper. Barely a minute left in class. The paper said:
“Why are they showing the two different views of the dog?”
I stared at the kids, they stared at me. My teaching partner stared at all of us. It was a completely silent conversation that only said, “What the fuck?!” And then they all pissed themselves laughing.
I managed to stutter, “Is someone reading The Art of Racing in the Rain or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time?”
They were lost to me.
There is no dog mentioned in the story. I can’t figure out if it’s some idea of a joke or a racist comment that I’m just not getting. The first two chapters only have one point of view: Abileene’s. Basically it makes no sense. So I either have a bizarre smart ass in attendance or an incredibly confused individual who I really think read the first two chapters of the wrong book. It must be Uncle Ernest’s revenge.