Just Teach One

Theresa Lesson Plan

Nicole N. Aljoe, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of English

Northeastern University,Boston, MA

This assignment was the third formal essay the students had written in an “Introduction to Literary Studies” course. In addition to reading “Theresa” and the Foster essay, they also read three critical essays about early African American print culture. The students then used the class discussions and readings as the basis for an essay assignment that explored one of the four main questions/issues that we had dealt with in class: how the story alters our notions of literary history; how it relates to Black Atlantic culture; the details, strategies, and techniques employed by the writer; and the literariness of the text. Part of my thinking in highlighting these questions, in addition to helping the students focus their writing on making synthetic analyses as opposed to summarizing, was also intended to accommodate the different levels of comfort expressed by some of the students with some of the more speculative aspects of our discussion about the canon.


Although the assignment below is pretty standard, what was striking to me was that the eventual essays were some of the liveliest, most engagingly written essays that some of the students had produced. Certainly, this was facilitated by the obviously op-ed inspired style of the essay prompts, but even in the essays that focused on formal analysis of literary details or tropes the students seemed to have been more comfortable, producing lovely fluid writing, and frequently engaging insights.


English 1400: Introduction to Literary Studies

Fall 2014

Literary Analysis of “Theresa, A Haytien Tale”


Due date: 11.01.14 by 11:59pm on Blackboard

Page length:           3-5 pages typewritten, double-spaced, 12pt font


Choose one of the following topics:

  1. In her essay, “’How do you solve a problem like ‘Theresa’?” Francis Smith Foster discusses the benefits of finding the story for literary historians and archivists. As a student and an English major, what do you think about reading and sharing non-canonical stories like “Theresa” in college and/or high school literature classes?
  2. Discuss the ways in which the story “Theresa” either affirms or challenges the ideas suggested in the articles by Leon Jackson, Saidiya Hartman, or Lois Brown.
  3. Do a formal analysis of the plot, character, setting, point of view/narration, symbolism, or style of “Theresa.”
  4. Make an argument for the utility of reading “Theresa” through one or more of the specific literary theories we have discussed in class.




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