Last night was the last class discussion on Chopin’s The Awakening. Next week, I’ll receive their essays on the novel, and I’m so very curious to see what I get. The class has 25 men, and 17 women students. Who tends to speak in class? It’s equally divided between men and women, but for the most part, with this novel particularly, the older students (older than 30) tended to speak more, with men (note: there were three very articulate exceptions) more vocal in their condemnation of Edna than the women.
More next week on that, after I read their essays: after all, not everyone spoke during the full class discussion (but small group discussions were wonderfully animated).
I simply love this class–not just the subject matter but the students: it’s as diverse a group of students one could hope for in a generally un-diverse community (in terms of age, economic class, life experiences, literary background, etc). As a result, the discussions often go in directions I don’t anticipate, even though I’ve been teaching these works for 20 years. For example, during the 10 minute in class writing I ask them to do each class, several students asked if I could play the Chopin Impromptu and the Wagner pieces I had played during the last class discussion. So many more students responded to the musical elements of the novel than in the past. (Note to self: get a music prof to guest lecture next time.) And, students in this class were more open to a discussion of economic and social class issues than in the past (i.e. If Edna were working class, would she be more sympathetic?). The same thing happened during our Huck Finn discussions: there are several students with strong biblical backgrounds, so they were much more conscious of Twain’s biblical allusions and, even better, very willing to discuss the various interpretations of those allusions. And during every class someone returns to my opening lecture about “literature”: what is it? who decides what it is? why do we read it? why is the literature we read in a “literature class” often so disturbing? How exciting to see that framework I set up return so regularly during discussions.
On a related note, I injured my knee. Don’t know how, no doubt it’s running related, but it’s bruised, swollen, and by the end of the day quite painful. Thus I taught my night class with what I assumed was my best theatrical face and demeaner, trying desperately to hide the pain.
It so didn’t work. One student came up to me after class (a man in his 30s, very engaged in the readings and discussions, and an excellent writer) and asked if I was ok, if there was anything I wanted to talk to him about.
First, I was just a bit discombobulated: I thought I had hid my pain so WELL! But I thanked him for his concern, said all was well, just a little knee pain. Then I naturally spent most of last night overanalyzing the entire class (and yes, I’m tired now).
The class discussion about the novel was the kind that English profs dream of: multiple interpretations, polite and reasoned disagreements, quoting from the text and the critical reviews as evidence: It was a dream class, but for the many, many students who have not taken a lit class in college, it may have been emotionally draining, or intellectually exhausting, or, if they were seriously angry at Edna, it may have made them feel on edge. Perhaps the student who asked me about my pain was reacting to the discussion by seeing pain on my face instead of his own? Or was I really unable to hide my pain, even though I felt engaged and caught up in the class discussion?
Then I remembered, those damned psychologyand/or interpersonal communication professors. They often ask students to conduct “experiments” like close talking to someone, to get their reaction. I wonder if this was one of those assignments?
More random thoughts in a few weeks, post essay grading. We move on the modern poets next week and then Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. What music goes with that novel, do you think?