Okay, today we mixed things up a little. Instead of talking about literary crap first and then reading a story, today I blew everyone’s mind by reading a story first and then talking about literary crap.
The story we read was “To Build a Fire,” by Jack London. As we read, I instructed students to make a short list of possible themes in the story.
A little refresher on the term “theme”: This word simply refers to the fact that most stories, in addition to informing the reader about various real or imaginary events, are told for a reason. An author chooses to tell a story because they are trying to communicate a particular idea–or set of ideas–to the reader. The word “theme” refers to the ideas the author is dealing with in the story, as opposed to the actual characters and events in the story. One helpful question we can ask ourselves to focus on theme is, “What does this story say about human nature or behavior?” Sometimes I ask the class to imagine that they are space aliens trying to learn about human culture and behavior based solely upon the story we are reading, and I ask them, “What would space aliens learn about humans from reading this story?”
Anyway, we read the story and discussed various thematic aspects of the story. These general ideas about theme can generally be summed up in one-word descriptions. In this story, these thematic words include: survival, hubris (pride, over-reaching), instinct, fear (or mortality?), frailty, and futility, to name a few. As you can see from the list, this story was cheery as hell and left us all in a happy-go-lucky mood. (I’m being sarcastic, a popular form of verbal irony among today’s youths.)
Anyway, if you missed today, there’s a pdf of the story you can download at the end of this post. Read it and bring me a list of ideas about theme.
Download: “To Build a Fire” by Jack London