Teaching the Novel and Short Fiction

Article excerpt

As a privileged instrument of creativity involving the relationships between our experiences and our awareness of those experiences, the novel manifests itself in a variety of psychological, historical, sociological, political, autobiographical, speculative, and sentimental ways. The novelist looks at the world through a creative screen, even through a kind of magical kaleidoscope that dismembers, deforms, and recomposes a reality rendered iridescent by his or her vision: a genuine chemistry takes place in which the substance of observed, lived, or imagined reality becomes, through a kind of poetic transubstantiation, a new substance, one which is unlike any other: the novelistic substance itself. But how do we re-capture the power and wonder of this substance for our students and for ourselves as instructors? How do we balance the author's depiction of life and the world and our interpretation of that depiction? How do we train the mind to enjoy and communicate with the various forms of this literary experience and to share the experience with others? And what about the intimately related challenges of teaching short fiction?

If we consider the novel as a narrative in prose dealing with people and their actions in a certain time and in a certain space, all of which conveys a certain vision on the part of the author; if we utilize close reading of verb tenses, adjectives, phrases in apposition, choice of nouns, point of view, and so forth to focus on even only one of the defining aspects of the genre, we can forge a host of questions enabling students to come to grips with the central issues, themes, and challenging questions that rest at the foundation of the interconnecting elements of virtually any great novelist's work. …