Activity and In-Class Discussion
Students were asked to read the story in advance of our in-class discussion and to make note of passages of that they found notable or confusing. They were also encouraged to investigate the historical context of the story, but this was not explicitly required.
On the day of the class, students were arranged into small groups of three or four and asked to consider the following task:
Each of your groups is a newly formed nation that has fought long and hard to earn its independence. You want to write a story that describes the importance of your independence and connects your national struggle with a wider audience. As a group, come up with a list of elements or themes that your story would showcase. After you compile your list, we will share your group’s list with the rest of the class, and you will be able to explain your choices.
Each group deliberated for fifteen minutes and afterwards shared their choices, which I wrote on the board. Most groups emphasized particular themes such as a “self-sacrifice” and “individuality” as being necessary for a national story of independence. Other groups focused on other aspects of the story such as setting and the type of characters that should be featured. One group explained that “a national story should feature generals and the people who fought for it.” Another group disagreed and suggested that a story about independence should feature “everyday citizens because a country is not well-represented by a military.” Other students emphasized the need to vilify the enemy of their new nation, and the class quickly came to a strong consensus that any violent revolution needed to be firmly justified if they wanted to earn the approval of a broader audience.
After roughly fifteen minutes of sharing their group work, I shifted the discussion to “Theresa” and asked whether or not the short story matched their blueprint for their conceptualized stories. In responding, students were quick to draw connections between Theresa and her family and the “everyday citizens” mentioned during the group reports. Similarly, students pointed out that the French military was characterized by its violence and cruelty. From these connections, I asked the students to expand on the characterization of Theresa and her family. One student pointed out that the story highlighted the actions of women instead of men, which he found surprising. Another student remarked how Theresa chose her patriotic duty over the love for her family and how that helped the author establish the need for sacrifice in a revolution or act of independence.