I asked my students to write reflective papers (yeah, yeah, I’m branching out) about the way they see Faulkner depicting race relations in his stories. The papers were supposed to include some of their own reflections about their expectations, in what ways they found his view surprising, etc. Mostly it was supposed to get them to talk freely about things they may not have taken the time to wrestle with in their first reading.
An interesting effect: from the majority of my students I am getting the message that they are really liking the way Faulkner’s representing race relations in the South. Why? They would be (understandably) uncomfortable with a text that was overtly racist, but they are also very tired of having beaten into them that whites did very bad things to their slaves in the South. In the stories my students read, Faulkner doesn’t go for either end, but rather describes life in the South in a comical way, with members of both races making mistakes, being duped by each other, and living in ways that are intimate with each other, despite the color line. I don’t think my students are used to the idea of laughing in any story that is even remotely tied to issues of race relations. Interesting stuff you learn as a teacher.
Having managed to get through a Faulkner unit without getting myself fired for one reason or another (always difficult teaching texts containing politicized issues), I’m now moving on to teach Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Here the difficulty is different: the entire book is about French Creole society in New Orleans, and I don’t speak any French! Ah, and my (French-speaking) advisor is coming to observe me on Friday. Lovely. Thank goodness for audio recordings!