Narrative Assignment

Narrative Assignment-54
Faulkner's challenging novel gave us ample opportunity to introduce students to the basic elements of narrative theory as it functions both in literature and in religious studies.One notion we emphasized, for example, was how stories are not only "about" their contents--the quest of Sutpen for a dynasty or the ideological failure of the Southern plantation system--but also "about" the shapes they assume, offering us ways of thinking about reality, ways that both limit and reveal the assumptions of a society--so that Faulkner's complex and multiple narrative voices reflect the cultural conversations about race and gender and subjectivity and power that were central to mid-twentieth-century North America.We asked students to choose a passage from the novel that they admired or that they thought would work, and transform a part of their story imitating Faulkner's style--that is, filling his syntactical structures with their own content.

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This proved to be a dramatic experience for many students, as they imagined an important moment in their lives, often for the first time, from a perspective other than their own.

It was also a powerful lesson in narrative point of view as a shaper of meaning, a lesson wonderfully reinforced by our concurrent reading of Faulkner's novel, with its pyrotechnic uses of multiple points of view.

Our most successful effort was an extended writing assignment that could easily be adapted to other Faulkner courses--indeed, perhaps, to any course about narrative.

Several pedagogical concerns motivated the specific assignment: While we had used journals before and wanted students to have the continual writing experience that the journal offered, we also wanted their work to culminate in a more formal essay.

But for the majority of the students, for whom writing was a less familiar tool of self-expression, Faulkner's rhetorical flourishes and exotic details opened surprising doors into the emotional content of their own stories.

This writing assignment was typically a revelation to students, not only about the significance of their narratives, but about the power of imagery and detail to reveal what cannot be said.The process began in the first class, when as an introductory exercise, we asked students to join in pairs and tell each other a story that would in some way reveal themselves.We assured them that the story need not be profound or violate their privacy, but that it should help the listener to understand something about their lives.At the next class meeting, in the small groups, we asked students to help each other identify the differences in their narratives and particularly the biases and assumptions--the hidden narratives--that were shaping the new story, applying to their stories the same critical questions we were addressing to Faulkner's fictions.Our next assignment relied on the venerable technique of imitation.Order custom written sample essays, term papers, research papers, thesis papers, dissertations, book reviews, book reports, speeches and other assignments.Plagiarism-free, exclusive professional writing in more than 68 subjects.But we also believed--rightly, we still think--that any story one might choose could be probed for more meaning, and the assignment seemed to bear us out.The final installment of this exercise was to write a formal essay examining the role of narrative in shaping belief and values.Recently, I've had the pleasure of team-teaching several courses with a colleague from the discipline of Religious Studies.1 The latest and, in many ways, the most exciting of these cooperative ventures was entitled "(Looking for) God in Faulkner," a course that focused on Absalom, Absalom!as a way to explore the role of narrative and intertextuality in defining culture and values.


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