Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Teaching Exercise for Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

I run my short story unit as a discussion class where we collaboratively come up with a close critical reading of the story at hand, which seems to be an effective, largely enjoyable approach. Nonetheless, the students really get a boost of energy when there is a bit of variation in the read-discuss pattern. For example, with Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool,” I divide the class in half, and hold a debate on whether Gimpel is a fool or not. There is plenty of evidence for both sides, and without exception the kids have gotten behind their positions, searching through the texts for passages to support their claims, and often continuing the discussion off and on throughout the semester.

With Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” I have had success dividing students into small groups (say threes), and having them come up with slogans for each of the three main characters, Francis, his wife, and Wilson, the hunting guide. In coming up with a catchy motto for each character the students have to understand their behavior and motivation, their fears and goals. I have been quite impressed with the identifying phrases the students (10th graders) have come up with, and the way they have explained them. It’s also for them a lengthy story with a narrative chronology that is somewhat hard to follow, and this exercise gives them clear entrée to the characters and their inner lives, which then allows us to look at the narrative with a fair understanding of the story already under our belts, rather than starting out by tripping over the order of the events.

Here is a sampling:

Flip-Flop Francis
The first kill is always the hardest
A boy to a man
Too little, too late
In like a lamb, out like a lion
Man up
The brave coward

Red face, black heart
Wilson: friend or foe?
Bravery gets results
What can killing do for you?
The great white hunter
Hunt, kill, sleep with someone's wife
Wilson: standing his ground no matter what.

Margaret Macomber
Beauty begets betrayal
Kiss and kill
Murder is (not) my middle name
Easy and sleazy
I shot my husband but I did not shoot the buffalo
(I’m) in it for the money
Money > Love

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