Students will be able identify theme in texts from different cultures.
Before you read this post, please read the short story by Saki called “The Interlopers,” because my post contains massive spoilers. Unless you have no intention of reading it ever, so the spoilers don’t matter. Then ignore.
Anyway, we’re dealing with theme in literature this week, and today we read a piece written by British author Saki and published in a collection of short stories in 1919. In “The Interlopers”, two men whose families have feuded for decades over a strip of forest find themselves face-to-face on the disputed territory with the option to kill one another. Before one can act, Nature intervenes and drops a tree on top of them, pinning them to the ground. While they await the arrival of a hunting party, they first trash-talk each other and then decide, as death approaches, to become friends. Together they shout to attract attention of someone nearby:
“Are they your men?” asked Georg. “Are they your men?” he repeated impatiently as Ulrich did not answer.
“No,” said Ulrich with a laugh, the idiotic chattering laugh of a man unstrung with hideous fear.
“Who are they?” asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what the other would gladly not have seen.
The students are so conditioned to expect happy endings that they don’t see any danger coming until the very last line of the text. We listened to an audio recording of the story, so I could watch the faces as one-by-one they read to that last line and their jaws dropped. One of the pleasures of being a teacher is seeing kids as they “get it.” I love sharing something special with them. Even if something special involves wolves mauling hunters.
My day was marred by two unfortunate discoveries in my materials. I have an adapted version of the workbook from which the students read the story, for my several special ed students. Unfortunately, their versions actually abridged and rewrote the short story, so as they tried to follow along they couldn’t. Typically teachers take great pains to make sure students don’t realize that some occasionally get different material, but it’s really hard when you’re reading aloud and half the class has books where the story is two pages shorter than the rest. It only makes them feel dumb when they can’t follow along, when the point of adapted and modified materials is to ensure they learn as well as everyone else.
After discovering this error, the next period I had everyone read the passage from the textbook. Unfortunately, the last page of the story has a giant picture of a wolf on it; since they all flip to know how long it is (as if it mattered, they’d still have to read it), they all saw the picture and guessed how it ended. Both incidents meant kids couldn’t get as much enjoyment from this story as I wanted them too, and that’s a bummer. I think one of the best parts of reading is being surprised by what you encounter. If I could find a way to teach that to them, I’d do more good than all the test-prep we must do every other day…