Friday, October 14, 2011

The writer, not the candy bar--and Alanis Morissette

So today in the middle of O. Henry's "A Retrieved Reformation," right when we get to the part where Jimmy gets engaged,
the kids start to talk to the story like some people talk to characters in a horror movie: "Oh no!" "She's a banker's daughter and he is a thief but she doesn't know it!" "Don't do it!" It is perfect because I am teaching them about different types of irony. Clearly they are grasping dramatic irony--when the readers know something the characters don't.

...and then they collectively gasp when little Agatha gets locked in the safe and Jimmy's fiancee asks if he can help--situational drama. (One girl makes fists and shakes her arms back and forth the same way hungry newborns do.) And after the last line is read, about five kids applaud, ten exhale audibly, and all 32 have smiles wreathing their faces.

And then they got EXCITED about their assignment: draw cartoons depicting the three types of ironies, either alone or in pairs. Oh, the buzz! They couldn't wait to get started, they couldn't wait to differentiate between the types of ironies, and they couldn't wait to show me some of their ideas: A love-struck girl is unaware of the big knife in her lover's hand; a plastic surgery seeker becomes the guest speaker at the national "Love Yourself the Way You Are" convention; a homeless man checks his homepage on Facebook, only to get an "Error 404" sign; a man calls an exterminator, unaware that the exterminator is himself a giant cockroach...

(One of my favorite moments was revealing the irony of the character's name--"Jimmy" means to pry something open--juxtapose that with "Valentine"???)

As for Alanis, CLICK HERE FOR A LINK to a post that analyzes her hit song, "Isn't it Ironic" to see if her examples are actually ironic. And CLICK HERE for a smile.


  1. One of the reasons you're such a great teacher is exactly how you can inspire enthusiasm and excitement for a subject. Part of this inspiration likely comes from your own passion and just the way you teach. I really believe that to be a good teacher you don't just need knowledge, nor just passion but both and the ability to get this passion across to others so that they too share enjoyment. It's just unfortunate when a teacher has vast knowledge on a subject but nobody wants to listen because they can't get the message across without sounding dry. Or perhaps the teaching style just isn't engaging.

  2. Also I love the surgeon guest speaker irony.

  3. Aw Joel you are sooo kind! I'll pass on the irony compliment.

    I do wonder about passionate people who can't inspire others. I suspect it has to do with unwitting egocentrism, where we assume everyone finds what we enjoy interesting, or what we say fascinating, or ourselves, absorbing. But we have to take the role of The Other, and in this case O. Henry knows that a great story has tension and doesn't unfold predictably.