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“ Reading Literature Critically” A class/race/gender approach. Lic. Mariana Ferrarelli 21 st ARTESOL Convention Resistencia, Chaco October 3-4, 2008. I. Reading critically Theoretical framework (culture-ideology-discourse-power). II. Reading from a class/race/gender perspective

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Reading Literature Critically”A class/race/gender approach

Lic. Mariana Ferrarelli

21st ARTESOL Convention

Resistencia, Chaco

October 3-4, 2008

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I. Reading critically

Theoretical framework


II. Reading from a class/race/gender perspective

Social stratification


III. Exploring literary texts

Classroom environment

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I. Reading critically

I.a. Assume every text is biased

TEXTS/ Language partial perspective of reality

culturally/historically bound

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I. Reading critically

I.b. Explore taken-for-granted ideas

Ideology as a process“which takes place behind our backs”

Naturalized ideas & perceptions

Become conscious

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I. Reading critically

I.c. Surface assumptions

Estrangement/Distance from our naturalized perceptions

Discourse + Power Dominant Interpretation

heterosexual – male – white – middle class

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I. Reading critically

I.d. Accept multiple interpretations

Difference & Diversity

One dominant interpretation Many readings

Negotiation of meaning

Plural environment

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I. Reading critically

I.e. Knock down stereotypes

Deconstruction + Critical examination

Possible questions

to surface and deconstruct class/race/gender stereotypes

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Class stereotypes

  • How are social classes depicted? Is there any hierarchy in the social order that is accepted as natural?

    Gender stereotypes

  • How are women portrayed? Are they shown as sensitive, nurturing and needing protection? Are male characters shown as their rational, strong and powerful counterpart? What happens when a woman presents some of these “tomb-boyish” qualities? Is she rejected by other characters? Is she perceived as odd? How is she treated as the plot unfolds?

    Race stereotypes

  • Are there any distinctions made on grounds of ethnicity? Are Blacks presented as musical or athletic? The Jews all smart? The Asians all industrious? Does it take people from the mainstream to solve problems of people from minority groups? Who takes leadership and makes decisions?*

    * Nodelman, P. and Reimer, M. (1992).

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  • Knowledge partial

    context / culture

  • Meaning unstable


    questioned and redistributed.

  • Dominant perspectives resisted.

  • A plural frame key to read against texts

    reinterpret them

Reading literature critically is the first step to reading the world critically.

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II. Reading from a class/race/gender perspective

II.a. Class

Marxist Theory Bourgeoisie (exploitation)

Proletariat (revolution)

In constant struggle

Functionalist Theory Different classes

Different functions in society

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II. Reading from a class/race/gender perspective

II.a. Race

Race common biological traits

Ethnic group common culture

Discrimination Racism

Racial prejudice

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II. Reading from a class/race/gender perspective

II.a. Gender

Sex Biological differences

Gender Socially expected behaviour

Men: Dominant, independent, strong, rational, aggressive, competitive

Women: Dependent, weak, affectionate, irrational, feminine, sensitive, nurturing

Gender Roles Reinforced by social institutions

(Family – School – Media – Literature)

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III. Exploring literary texts

III.a. Gender stereotypes in The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

III.a.i. Minor characters: Mrs. Beaver

Mr. Beaver

III.a.ii. Major Characters: Peter – Susan – Lucy

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III. Exploring literary texts

III.a.i. Minor characters

III.a.i.1. Mrs. Beaver - nurturing & caring

remains in the Private Sphere of the house

She performs the traditional tasks women are expected to carry out:

  • She sews: “The first thing Lucy noticed as she went in was a burring sound, and the first thing she saw was a kind-looking old she-beaver sitting in the corner with a thread in her mouth working busily at her sewing machine” p. 81. She is in charge of the kitchen: “The potatoes are boiling and the kettle’s singing” p. 81.

  • She receives the girls’ help when it is time to prepare the food: “Meanwhile the girls were helping Mrs. Beaver to fill the kettle and lay the table and cut the bread and put the plates in the oven to heat and draw a huge jug of beer for Mr. Beaver from a barrel which stood in one corner of the house” p. 82.

  • She is the one who starts packing food for the group when they are escaping from the secret police: “As soon as Mr. Beaver said, ‘there’s no time to lose,” everyone began bundling themselves into coats, except for Mrs. Beaver, who started picking up sacks and laying them on the table. (…) “What are you doing Mrs. Beaver?” exclaimed Susan. “Packing a load for each of us, dearie,” said Mrs. Beaver very coolly. “You didn’t think we’d set out on a journey with nothing to at, did you?” p110.

  • She even has a rocking chair. She regrets not having taken some pillows when they are about to have a rest in their hideout. However, she has remembered to take some sort of alcoholic drink so that everyone is warm and sleepy after taking a bit of it.

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III. Exploring literary texts

III.a.i. Minor characters

III.a.i.2. Mr. Beaver - Active

Public Sphere

He is the Man of the house. He goes outside the house to find the children, while Mrs. Beaver remains in the privacy of the home.

  • He drinks beer and smokes pipe.

  • He is literally the breadwinner, the one in charge of getting the food for this ‘transitory’ family: “… and I daresay, Mr. Beaver, you’ll get us some fish.” (…) “Just as the frying pan was hissing, Pete and Mr. Beaver came in with the fish which Mr. Beaver had already opened with his knife and cleaned out in the open air.” p. 82.

  • He protects the group at the sudden sign of danger: “Mr. Beaver was out of the cave like a flash the moment he heard it.” p.115.

  • He is the captain of the family, the leader of the herd: “But long before they had finished enjoying themselves Mr. Beaver said, ‘Time to be moving on now’.” p. 120.

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III. Exploring literary texts

III.a.ii. Major Characters

III.a.ii.1. Peter

  • He receives a shield and a sword from Father Christmas.

  • Aslan explains to him his strategy in the war and how to conduct the operations.

  • He fights against the witch and shakes hands with Aslan at the end of the battle.

    III.a.ii.2. Susan

  • She receives a bow and a quiver of arrows and an ivory horn, to ask for help: “You must use the bow only in great need,” he said, “for I do not mean you to fight in the battle. (..) And when you put this horn in your lips and blow it, then, wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you.” p. 119.

    III.a.ii.3. Lucy

  • She gets a dagger and a little bottle filled with a healing cordial which she should use when any of her friends are hut. She offers resistance to the passive role that has been imposed on her: “”Why, sir?” said Lucy. “I think I – I don’t know- but I think I could be brave enough.” p. 119.

  • But Father Christmas replies in a conclusive and solemn tone: “That is not the point,” he said. “but battles are ugly when women fight.” p. 119.

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III. Exploring literary texts

III.b. Class/Race stereotypes in Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

Social stratification:

- Upper Class – Only Purebloods

- Middle Class + Mudbloods

- Lower Class +Trolls & other creatures

- Under Class - Servants & house elves

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Final considerations

If we give our students tools

to be critical…

to explore their own assumptions…

to question class/race/gender stereotypes…

to know language –and texts- are ideological…

to see reality as a construct…

…then they will have the opportunity to become responsible citizens committed to their society and to their world.

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  • Althusser, L. (1971), Essays on ideology, New Left Books.

  • Fields, J. (2007), “Harry Potter, Benjamin Bloom, and the Sociological Imagination” in International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Volume 19, Number 2, pages 167-177.

  • Foucault, M. (2002), The Archaelogy of Knowledge, Cornwall, Routledge Classics.

  • Freire, P. (1970), Pedagogía del Oprimido, Montevideo, Tierra Nueva.

  • Fry, K. (2005), “No longer a friend of Narnia: Gender in Narnia” in The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, Bassham and Walls (ed.), Illinois, Open Court.

  • Geertz, C. (2000), Interpretation of Cultures, USA, Basic Books.

  • Hancock, S. (2005), “Fantasy, Psychology and Feminism: Jungian Readings of Classic British Fantasy Fiction” ModernChildren's Literature: An Introduction, Reynolds, K. (ed.), USA, Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Kramsch, C. (1998) Language and Culture, China, Oxford University Press.

  • Lewis, C. S. (2001), The Chronicles of Narnia, London, Harper Collins.

  • Nodelman, P. and Reimer, M. (1992), The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, Allyn & Bacon.

  • Rowling, J. K. (1999), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, USA, Scholastic.