Laurianul nu e un liceu, e o familie!

Din pasiune pentru lectură: prof. Nicoleta Saramet

În acest semestru 4 dintre colegele noastre au susținut lucrări de gr. I. D-na prof. Ionela Iacob, d-na prof. Cerasela Cardaș, d-na prof. Nicoleta Șaramet și d-na prof. Mihaela Tunea. Inspecțiile au fost o reușită și lucrările au impresionat. Le felicităm!!!

Lucrarea doamnei Nicoleta Șaramet, extrem de atractivă (ca toate celelalte!) prezintă o metodologie de apropiere de aspirațiile elevilor prin lectură. Idee la care subscriu întrutotul. Am rugat-o pe autoare să-mi trimită rezumatul și cuprinsul, cu speranța că cei care vor citi, vor înțelege cât de important este să reflectezi asupra lecturilor și cât de săraci am fi și ar fi și elevii noștri dacă s-ar cantona numai pe o disciplină.

LUCRARE METODICO-ŞTIINŢIFICĂ PENTRU OBŢINEREA GRADULUI I  ÎN ÎNVĂŢĂMÂNT

THE TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT AS CAPTURED IN SAUL BELLOW’S SEIZE THE DAY – A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO USING LITERATURE IN THE ENGLISH CLASS

COORDONATOR ŞTIINŢIFIC: LECTOR UNIV. DR. : LAURA  CARMEN CUŢITARU

CANDIDAT: PROF. NICOLETA AMALIA ŞARAMET

24 noiembrie 2009, Botosani

“Triumful spiritului uman (aşa cum este acesta) surprins în romanul “Trăieşte-ţi clipa” de Saul Bellow.” – o abordare practica a întrebuinţării unui text literar la ora de lb. engleză.

Lucrarea constă în:

1)         Introducere ( motivarea alegerii )

2)         Contextul cultural şi social al vieţii şi operei lui Saul Bellow

3)         Romanul “Trăieşte-ţi clipa” (tehnica narativă; personaje; teme, motive, simboluri; stil )

4)         Mesajul ultim al romanului (“adevarul este celalalt /semenul”), o posibila  abordare, structurare a romanului

CINE                          o piesa din Marele Puzzle

CAND/UNDE                       un joc al circumstantelor

CE                              un moment disperat (devine), un moment inspirat

CUM                          de la ratiune, prin suflet, spre spirit

DE CE                                   traieste-ti momentul de gratie/moment binecuvantat

Şi anume, „Un Om, o piesă din Marele Puzzle, prins într-un Joc al Circumstanţelor trecând printr-un Moment Disperat care devine un Moment Inspirat, făcând tranziţia de la Raţiune prin Suflet spre Spirit pentru a-şi trăi Momentul de Graţie, Moment Binecuvântat.”

5)         Partea aplicativa (de ce literatura la ora de lb. engleza si modalitati de intrebuintare ale romanului (activitati, extrase, fragmente)

Concluzii

Bibliografie

Anexe

Scopul lucrării ar fi să atragă atenţia asupra faptului că atât forma (lb. engleză, stil), cât şi conţinutul (idei, mesaj) unui text literar pot şi ar trebui să devină un mijloc indispensabil de a familiariza elevii  cu lb. engleză ca mijloc de comunicare şi de a sensibiliza elevii astfel încât aceştia să înveţe să privească dincolo de suprafaţa lucrurilor, dincolo de aparenţe şi să devină conştienţi de valori profund umane.

Pe de altă parte, scopul ultim/prim al procesului didactic propriu-zis, la ora de lb. engleză, este din punctul meu de vedere, nu neaparat doar lb./lit. engleză în sine cât şi însuşirea de abilităţi, competenţe, atitudini, valori (culturale, morale, spirituale), pe de o parte  si o articulare esenţială a sufletului, o racordare la …esenţe/ial, pe de altă parte, aşadar o oarecare formare care însoţeşte subtil procesul de informare.

Autorul american, Saul Bellow, laureat al premiului Nobel pentru literatură în

1976 ( “pentru înţelegerea umană şi analiza subtilă a culturii contemporane care sunt îmbinate în opera sa”) şi romanul său scurt “Trăieşte-ti clipa” par a fi în ton cu preocupările mele şi scopul avut în vedere, ţinând cont de faptul că această operă literară oferă o sursă bogată de material care face referinţe importante la probleme fundamental umane într-o manieră destul de accesibilă şi atractivă.

Lucrarea se concentrează în capitolele II şi III asupra autorului şi asupra contextului social si cultural al vieţii si operei sale, principalele influenţe şi trăsăturile definitorii, apoi asupra romanului „Trăieste-ţi clipa”, şi anume tehnica narativă, personaje, teme, motive, simboluri şi stil.

Chiar dacă recurgerea la extrase literare la ora de limba engleză (ora propriu-zisă sau curs opţional) se dovedeşte a fi în cele din urmă extrem de plăcut şi recompensator, întregul proces de abordare si  descifrare a unui text literar poate fi destul de solicitant. Din acest motiv, există anumite condiţii care trebuie îndeplinite în vederea asigurării unor experienţe reuşite în această direcţie.

Rolul capitolului IV este acela de a ilustra o posibilă structurare, a romanului propriu-zis, o analiză ce se vrea în ton cu problemele lumii actuale (indiferenţa, egoismul, lăcomia, cinismul). O astfel de abordare poate încuraja cititorii să-şi canalizeze eforturile de creştere personală interioară concentrându-se pe o detaşare de valorile materiale şi o mai atenta orientare spre cele spirituale, sau, de ce nu, o combinaţie fericită şi ideală a celor două.

Astfel protagonistul (cine?) poate fi perceput ca fiind întruchiparea oricărei fiinţe umane, oricare dintre noi, datorând umanităţii relevarea propriului sine, care urmează să fie obţinută printr-un proces complex şi anevoios, dar inevitabil, de autodescoperire.

Oamenii, locurile, întâmplările (când, unde?),  şi anume rătăcirile eroului, relaţia sa cu tatăl său, oraşul New York, sunt de fapt indicii semnificative, pretexte cu rol de catalizatori, care determină/forţează eroul să descifreze sensul existenţei şi care sunt menite să reveleze o ordine mai înaltă a lucrurilor, dincolo de ordinea curentă, familiară nouă în această viaţă, aparent lipsită de scop, pe planeta pământ.

Aşadar, fiecare obstacol întâmpinat pe parcurs (ce?) poate fi transformat într-o ocazie de a învăţa, de a afla ceva nou despre sine, astfel având loc transcenderea suferinţei şi atingerea unei stări de înaltă inocenţă printr-un proces alchimic de devenire interioară, de ardere internă (cum?) (moartea omului vechi-naşterea omului nou, agonia şi extazul, pasărea Phoenix, simboluri arhicunoscute tuturor.)

Acest întreg proces de transformare interioară este de fapt un mecanism de auto reinventare, de reinvestire interioară, de centrare. „Trăirea clipei”/momentului de graţie, în cazul protagonistului, ar trebui deci percepută ca fiind o eliberare de regretele care leagă de trecut şi de temerile şi anxietatea care proiectează în viitor. Drept urmare, viaţa însăşi în curgerea ei clipă de clipă îi va capta atenţia complet şi cu desăvârşire, libertatea adevărată fiind o stare de spirit mai mult decât o oarecare configuraţie a condiţiilor exterioare. (de ce?)

Epifania eroului, lacrimile sale din final, sugereaza aşadar reînnoire interioară şi triumf spiritual, suferinţa aducând cu sine şi salvare, deoarece umanizează, permiţându-i astfel eroului nostru să încheie pelerinajul spre cel mai sfânt loc dintre toate: propria sa inimă. De aici titlul lucrării şi de aici o ultimă justificare a alegerii autorului Saul Bellow şi a romanului său, toate menite să contribuie la  un proces de conştientizare cu privire la credinţa în valori profund şi esenţial umane cum sunt compasiunea, sentimentul de solidaritate şi de apartenenţă la un tot unitar din facem parte cu toţii.

Capitolul V al lucrarii, aşadar se concentrează asupra unor posibile modalităti practice de abordare a unui text literar (motivarea şi implicarea elevilor şi a experienţei lor, crearea contextului şi a unei atmosfere propice lucrului cu un text literar, selectarea textelor şi a fragmentelor) toate având ca scop integrarea întrebuinţării limbii engleze si a parcurgerii şi interpretării  unui text literar într-un tot unitar. Toate acestea sunt în general însoţite din umbră de o îmbogăţire a culturii generale şi în cele din urmă, dar nicidecum în ultimul rând, de o descoperire la nivel pur personal, fiecare persoană în funcţie de propriile tendinţe si afinităţi.

„Trăieşte-ţi clipa”,  romanul scurt al scriitorului american postmodern Saul Bellow, poate fi folosit cu succes la clasă deoarece stilul acestui autor este direct, dinamic şi totuşi poetic şi meditativ, oferind cititorului o senzaţie de suspans şi de „imediat”, de familiar. Acest lucru se datorează stilului narativ folosit, omniscienţa limitată, care oferă o perspectivă echilibrată asupra acţiunii în paralel cu sondarea cadrului mental şi sufletesc al protagonistului, Wilhelm Adler, reflectând astfel neliniştea sa interioară. Pe de altă parte, confuzia şi căutările eroului nostru îl fac să pară într-o prima instanţa vulnerabil, expus fluctuaţiilor de orice fel (sociale, economice, de natura relaţională), dar, în cele din urmă toate acestea capătă în mod dramatic şi paradoxal  dimensiunile unor  lupte (interioare) purtate în mod demn şi nobil şi câştigate eroic.

Temele redate, sentimentul de izolare şi singurătate (atât în familie cât şi societate), înstrăinarea simţită de protagonistul acestui roman, pot părea familiare multor cititori, din moment ce de multe ori se întâmplă să fim confruntaţi cu momente critice, contradictorii, iar în special adolescenţii  deseori simt, în mod acut, consecintele diferenţei dintre generaţii. În  consecinţă, la o analiză mai atentă se poate observa că acest roman scurt este o sursă excelentă de posibile fragmente pe care se poate insista la clasă, discursul narativ fiind presărat cu descrieri relevante şi sugestive, dialoguri interioare semnificative, profund umane, culminând chiar cu climax-ul emoţional din final.

Toate acestea pot constitui tot atâtea ocazii de a invita elevii să lucreze şi să analizeze un text literar, oferind ocazii bune de interpretare şi personalizare deoarece elevii se pot regăsi într-o oarecare măsura în ţesătura romanului sau chiar pot auzi ecoul propriilor întrebări, căutari sau  ezitări pur umane, dar care de prea puţine ori sunt recunoscute în mod făţiş. Scopul, chiar dacă secundar, ar fi deci şi acela de a aduce la suprafaţă acele frământări, acele dialoguri interioare rareori exprimate, dar care, dacă sunt conştientizate, fie şi măcar parţial, pot deschide calea spre o mai bună cunoaştere de sine. Aşadar, elevii pot descoperi pe parcursul lucrului cu textul (poate pentru prima dată articulate într-o formă mai clară, deşi artistică, literară) propriile sentimente, emoţii, idei, temeri şi aspiraţii, toate într-un context de viaţa relevant.    Deasemenea, în ciuda tonului analitic şi a dispoziţiei oarecum solemne din roman, transpare totuşi o atitudine optimistă care poate fi destul de utilă în vederea „echipării” adolescentului român cu o perspectivă optimistă, pozitivă asupra lumii, a realitaţii şi a vieţii.

Mai mult, limbajul figurat, metaforic care se cere descifrat, poate determina recurgerea la şi însuşirea de abilităţi şi competenţe pe care elevii nu le-au folosit anterior, astfel proiectând noi dimensiuni procesului educativ şi punând într-o lumină nouă gânduri, idei, percepţii deja familiare, toate într-un mod captivant sau chiar surprinzător. Scopul propriu-zis al acestui întreg proces ar fi deci şi acela de a îndemna elevii să realizeze faptul că exista întotdeauna noi perspective şi diferite unghiuri de percepţie ale realităţii, ale vieţii şi oamenilor şi noi ar trebui să ne păstrăm mintea şi sufletul deschise, să fim flexibili, adaptabili şi să fim intotdeauna gata „să fim uimiţi.”

Totodată folosirea imaginaţiei, atât de necesară pătrunderii unui text literar, îi poate ajuta pe elevi/adolescenţi să se apropie, şi chiar să se identifice parţial cu personajele, să rezoneze la nivelul emoţional respectiv, astfel declanşând un proces empatic de angajare şi implicare, o mobilizare interioară, atât de necesară unei vieţi sufleteşti bine articulate. Tot acest „produs” ne poate ajuta în ultimă instanţă să devenim mai buni, mai atenţi, în momentul în care sentimentul cald de comuniune sufletească (chiar daca declanşat doar la nivel imaginar) ne însoţeşte la ieşirea din sala de clasă.

Astfel, elevii pot deveni conştienţi de faptul că orice text literar, orice operă literară, arta în general, poate fi abordată în mod similar, chiar şi pe cont propriu, coordonatele esenţiale (cine?, când? şi unde?, ce?, cum?, de ce?) fiind general valabile şi alcătuind un bun tipar de structurare a ideilor cel puţin într-o primă faza de lucru cu textul.

Daca se reuşeşte crearea unui precedent de o asemenea natură, parcurgerea oricărui text literar poate fi transformată într-un proces familiar şi facil, nemaifiind percepută ca un obiectiv intangibil, ci cel mult extrem de provocator. Posibile sugestii  pentru alte abordări şi aplicări (aplicaţii) similare ar putea fi  Tennessee Williams, “ The Night of the Iguana” (liceu) şi Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz” (gimnaziu).

Poate, o prima intrebare care se iveste in minte este “De ce un asemenea titlu? De ce triumful spiritului uman?” pentru lucrarea metodico-stiintifica de grad.  Presupun ca nu exista un simplu raspuns la aceasta intrebare, sau cel putin nu doar un singur raspuns, dupa cum se va putea vedea si intelege.

Ideea unei astfel de subiect s-a strecurat, treptat in mintea mea (subconstient presupun) o data cu trecerea anilor de inceput  ai perioadei in care lucram ca profesoara in acest liceu (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, …), s-a conturat in momentul in care am inceput sa parcurg lista bibliografica pt. pregatirea examenului de grad II (2006) si s-a definitivat si  a capatat forma aproape imediat dupa sustinerea examenului de grad II (2007, 2008,) – perioada in care am pus la punct, fara prea multe ezitari, planul lucrarii de fata (febr. 2008, sustinerea colocviului). Presupun asadar ca totul a urmat un proces natural si a decurs logic, desi nu fara mici dificultati, inerente unei astfel de demers, intampinate pe parcurs. Pur si simplu ceea ce prezint acum este rezultatul nu doar al unei munci de 2-3 ani,  ci al unei munci + experiente + de viata/profesorat de 12 ani.

“Ce s-a intamplat, ce a putut avea loc, pe parcursul acestei perioade?” va puteti intreba.Daca ar fi sa raspund la aceasta intrebare, raspunsul ar fi urmatorul: “Am invatat.”

Poate va veti intreba ce anume am invatat.

Raspunsul ar fi dupa cum urmeaza: “Am invatat ca ori de cate ori voi deschide usa scolii, …usa unei clase, …voi avea de invatat.” Si asta pentru ca ori de cate ori intru la ora , indiferent de an, nivel de studiu, profil, manual, voi descoperi ceva nou, voi afla ceva ce nu stiam pana atunci. (Bineinteles, asta daca imi pastrez mintea destul de deschisa ca sa observ.) Ceva d. viata, d. oameni, d. mine insami.

Mai mult decat atat , am descoperit totodata ca, aici la scoala, nu se poate spune  f. exact cine pe/de la cine invata pt. ca de fapt are loc un schimb. Si in momentul in care am realizat acest lucru, gata, totul a devenit f. clar: trebuie sa fiu pregatita pt. tot/orice  mi se poate oferi si mai mult trebuie sa vad ce pot si ce trebuie sa ofer eu.

In acelasi timp, in acel moment s-a pus intrebarea ce atitudine, ce abordare, ce stil ar trebui sa adopt pt. ca acest schimb sa poata avea loc in conditii optime. Stand, gandind, meditand, am ajuns la concluzia ca lucrand cu oameni, …mai mult, cu copii, …chiar mai mult, cu suflete, tot timpul voi avea in fata nu doar elevi si mintile lor pe care trebuie sa le informez, ci si fiinte umane complexe, imprevizibile, contradictorii uneori, pe care, fara sa vreau, le influentez, le modelez, le formez

Deci, am tras concluzia ca responsabilitatea mea probabil ca ar fi sa contribui si la o anumita formare, mai mult decat doar la o oarecare informare (care oricum are loc in paralel din atatea alte surse usor disponibile si accesibile).

Nu de putine ori materia, manualul, materialul didactic propriu-zis contineau

subiecte de interes general si personal care invariabil duceau spre dialog ( fragmente de texte literare, proverbe, citate), dialog m.m. decat doar didactic, intr-un fel depasind granitele procesului de predare-invatare-evaluare.

Nu de putine ori am fost pusa in situatia de a suspenda temporar procesul didactic pt. a discuta pur si simplu cu elevii-copii pe diverse teme care-i priveau  (dat fiind faptul ca stilul meu este si de o asemenea natura incat invita la o libertate – poate uneori prea mare – de  exprimare.)

Aceste divagari m-au convins de faptul ca elevul roman actual are nevoie de un partener de dialog, deschis, franc, natural, in cadrul unui proces uman natural de evolutie, crestere, schimbare, afirmare. Mult mai mult decat atat, elevul roman actual are nevoie sa fie ascultat. Si aici nu ma refer la ascultat = verificat, ci la ascultat = auzit. Si asta pt. ca are multe de spus, nu neaparat toate bune, stiintifice, literare sau …academice, dar sigur, toate umane.

Relationarea in sine   este importanta, as spune chiar in proportie de 50%, este un catalizator, dar poate fi si dificila pt. ca presupune mobilizare, initiativa, implicare.

Bineinteles, tot acest process de tatonare si definire a unui stil de lucru diferit cu elevii nu a fost, nu este si nici nu va fi lipsit de asperitati, riscuri si ratari. Dar, atunci cand acest schimb mentionat anterior are totusi loc, rezulta ceva viu si proaspat, iar cei implicati se simt imbogatiti si …diferiti. Poate reusim de fapt si de drept sa facem acel pas (mic… , dar mare…):

de la exterior spre interior,

de la forma la continut,

de la aparenta la esenta

avand in vedere ca adevaratul  (si poate singurul) sens al vietii cel mai probabil ca este  autoperfectionarea interioara si daruirea fara nici un fel de rezerve in folosul semenilor.

Poate o alta intrebare la care ar trebui sa raspund este “De ce eu, ca profesor, de ce la orele de lb. engleza, de ce la scoala?”   De ce nu doar familia, viata? Un posibil raspuns ar fi urmatorul “Pentru  ca (cel putin la o categorie de elevi) se simte nevoia, se cere. Pentru ca oamenii-elevi petrec 6 din 12 ore (uneori chiar mai mult) la scoala, pentru ca ma intalnesc cu unii dintre ei zilnic, pentru ca …atmosfera la clasa, procesul de comunicare didactica, trebuie uneori aerate, primenite….” Bineinteles, fragmente de text literar, discutii, interpretari, dar nu mult, nu tot timpul, ci …”pe ici, pe colo, prin punctele esentiale.” (aruncam seminte)

Scopul lucrarii mele, asadar, ar fi sa atraga atentia asupra faptului ca atat forma (lb. engleza, stil ) cat si continutul (idei, mesaj) unui text literar pot si ar trebui sa devina un mijloc indispensabil de a familiariza elevii  cu lb. engleza ca mijloc de comunicare si

de a sensibiliza elevii a.i. acestia sa invete sa priveasca dincolo de suprafata lucrurilor si sa devina constienti de valori profund umane scopul ultim/prim fiind         nu neaparat lb./lit. engl. in sine, ci abilitati, competente, atitudine, valori (culturale, morale, spirituale), o articulare esentiala a sufletului, o racordare la …esente/ial.

Autorul american, Saul Bellow, laureat al premiului Nobel pt. literatura in 1976

( “ pentru intelegerea umana si analiza subtila a culturii contemporane care sunt imbinate in opera sa”) si romanul sau scurt “Traieste-ti clipa” par a fi in ton cu preocuparile mele si scopul avut in vedere, tinand cont de faptul ca aceasta opera literara ofera o sursa bogata de material care face referinte importante la probleme fundamental umane intr-o maniera destul de accesibila si atractiva.

De fapt aceasta lucrare se vrea a fi si un asa-zis mesaj, o punctare, o sugestie in legatura cu faptul ca literatura, o opera literara in sine, parcursa si inteleasa, poate pava drumul, uneori destul de anevoios, spre autocunoastere, si deci spre o mai buna comunicare intre oameni; ii poate invata pe copii nostri atentia, rabdarea, toleranta, compasiunea, respectul (oferit, nu primit), … si la urma urmelor iubirea de aproape, oricat de indepartat pare sa fie acesta.

Le multumesc si pe aceasta cale doamnei lector dr. Laura Carmen Cutitaru si doamnei prof. dr. Calina Gogalniceanu de la Universitatea “Al. I. Cuza” Iasi, pentru sustinerea oferita pe tot parcursul.  Deasemenea, as vrea sa adresez multumiri colegilor mei de la catedra de limba engleza din liceul Laurian, ca de altfel tuturor colegilor si domnilor directori, dat fiind faptul ca facem toti parte dintr-o  “mare famile” si fara ajutorul  dumnealor toate acestea nu ar fi posibile. In cele din urma dar nu in ultimul rand, as vrea sa le multumesc elevilor mei (si in special elevii claselor a 11-a G, a 9-a C, a 12-a D, a 6-a A) pentru ajutorul oferit, si pentru rabdarea si intelegerea de care au dat dovada nu de putine ori.

THE TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT AS CAPTURED IN SAUL BELLOW’S SEIZE THE DAY

– A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO USING LITERATURE

IN THE ENGLISH CLASS

CONTENTS

  1. Introduction
  1. Social and cultural context of Saul Bellow’s life and works

2.1 The tradition of American and European novel

2.2 Modernism and Saul Bellow’s view of art and  literature

  1. Seize the Day – Saul Bellow’s “finest work of fiction”

3.1 Narrative technique

3.2 Character profiles

3.3 Themes, motifs and symbols

3.4 Tone and style

  1. Truth as the other (fellow human being) – Saul Bellow’s ultimate message

4.1 One piece of the puzzle (who)

4.2 Play of circumstances (when and where)

4.3 Turning desperation into inspiration (what)

4.4 Reason, soul, spirit (how)

4.5 Seize the bliss/grace (why)

5.  Literature in the English classroom

5.1      General Considerations

5.1.a        Why use literature?

5.1.b        How to use literature?

5.1.c        Why and how we read?

5.2      Practical Activities

5.2.a      To begin with

5.2.b      To continue with

5.2.c      To end with

6.  Conclusions

7.  Bibliography

Bellow as depicted in his Nobel diploma.

„[There is] an immense, painful longing for a broader, more flexible, fuller, more coherent, more comprehensive account of what we human beings are, who we are and what this life is for.”

1. INTRODUCTION

The main aim of this paper is to draw attention to the fact that both the form and the content of a fine work of literature can and ought to become an indispensable means of getting learners of a foreign language acquainted with the target language as a means of communication in a more meaningful and maybe more enjoyable way, on the one hand, and of sensitising students to look beyond the surface of things and to become aware of essentially humanistic values, on the other hand. Providing not only authentic samples of language, but also “emotionally coloured” material, literature speaks to the heart as much as to the mind, allowing learners to come into contact with their own inner life, exploring their own responses, thus counterbalancing the fragmented effect of discreet texts used in the classroom.

Even if resorting to literary excerpts for class work can eventually prove extremely  rewarding,  the difficulty of grappling with complex texts may become more than demanding a task. That is the reason why there are conditions to be met concerning the manner in which such tasks are to be introduced, approached and managed.

In  the  fifth chapter of this paper I intend to focus on practical ways of tackling important issues such as selecting the texts, motivating and involving the students and their personal resources and experience, devising meaningful and enjoyable activities, creating the appropriate working atmosphere, aiming at integrating language and  literature accompanied by cultural enrichment and personal discovery.

Certainly, there is a wide range of  possible sources  for teachers  to draw upon. Choosing one may not be an easy task as it all depends on a number of  factors, especially the students’ level of language proficiency. However, in most cases, once the students’ interest is raised, almost any literary text, be it  prose, poetry or even drama, will be  more or less easily “deciphered” and  worked on in an efficient and  challenging manner, provided the activities are successfully adapted to the necessary level and context.

The questions that arise now are why choose Saul Bellow and why select his novel “Seize the Day” to justify such a thesis. One of the main reasons might be that this piece of literature offers a rich source of written material that is “important” in the sense that it says something about fundamental human issues in a fairly accessible manner.

Saul Bellow’s short novel can be wonderfully put to good use in the classroom as the style of Saul Bellow’s writing is straightforward, dynamic, but nonetheless poetic and meditative, giving one a sense of immediacy and suspense. This is also made possible by the use of the omniscient third person narrator fluctuating in and out of the mind of the main character thus offering the readers a close encounter with the hero’s  inner life. On the other hand, the main hero’s inner unrest and confusion makes him seem vulnerable and pathetic, but eventually, all this is paradoxically and dramatically turned into a nobly fought  and heroically won battle.

The hero’s sense of isolation and loneliness (in the middle of both family and society), his alienation may  seem familiar to many students as teenagers may sometimes acutely feel the generation gap and the contradictions and critical moments of their age.  As a consequence, Tommy Wilhelm’s flashbacks, insights and visions interspersed along the narrative discourse, including his final emotional climax, constitute as many opportunities to invite students to work on, interpret and analyse  extremely rich excerpts in  both linguistic and literary terms as they may directly appeal to their actual immediate interests. What is more, many of them may  be delighted at encountering  their own inner dialogues and  mental turmoil which are not normally easily acknowledged, if ever, and in this way, bringing to a conscious level the workings and the potentialities of their own soul.

Also, in spite of the analytical tone and the dark almost solemn mood in the novel, there is the  ultimate optimism to be found in the hope of redemption, which may be quite relevant to the life experience, emotions or thoughts of the learners. The latter may thus happen to discover their feelings, ideas,  fears, aspirations in a lifelike context in which characters from various social backgrounds are depicted.  Moreover,  the figurative language and the clever metaphors  to be met and unlocked, may involve skills and abilities that the students may not have been aware of up to this point, thus opening new dimensions for the readers or casting new light on familiar sensations and perceptions in ways that can be thrilling but also startling and even unsettling.

The actual purpose of this whole process is to help students realize that there are always new and varied perspectives and angles to perceive reality from and we should always keep an open mind, be flexible,  adaptable and  “prepared to be amazed”.  Engaging imaginatively with literature and mentally “inhabiting” the literary text enables the learners to feel close to the characters and also share their emotional responses, thus triggering an empathetic process of commitment which hopefully may accompany them out of the classroom as well.

All of the above mentioned elements are to be insisted upon and enlarged in the third chapter of this paper with a view to presenting a more detailed analysis of Saul Bellow’s short novel in terms of defining elements such as character, point of view, tone, theme, motif, symbol and style. Significant details concerning  the social and cultural background of Saul Bellow’s life and works as well as the main influences and important features in his writing and are to be discussed in the second chapter.

The role of the fourth chapter in its turn is to illustrate a possible approach and analysis of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day, one that may be in tone with nowadays’ issues (such as cynicism, greed, selfishness, indifference) and  may encourage the readers’ personal growth away from predominantly material values and towards spiritual ones or, why not, an ideal combination of the two.

Thus the protagonist can be viewed as standing for any individual owing humanity his true self to be gained through an intricate, still inevitable, process of individuation.

The people, places and happenings around are significant clues leading the hero to decipher the meaning of his existence, pretexts, catalysts meant to disclose and reveal the higher order underneath the lower order of things in this apparently meaningless life on planet Earth.

Therefore, each hardship can be turned into an occasion to learn something new about oneself, thus transcending suffering into reaching a state of higher innocence through an alchemical process of becoming (death and rebirth, the agony and the ecstasy, the Phoenix bird, all of which most students are already aware of from other subjects matters in the school curriculum).

It is, in fact, a process of reinventing oneself, of “getting real”, getting a grip of oneself and ultimately becoming centred. “Seizing the day” of reckoning, in the protagonist’s case, should be viewed as seeing (becoming aware of and understanding) grace, namely freeing oneself from regrets for the past or fears and hopes for the future. As a consequence, life itself will have his undivided attention, freedom being a state of mind rather than a situation of external conditions.

The protagonist’s epiphany at the end of the novel suggests psychic renewal and spiritual triumph, suffering bringing salvation as it humanizes, allowing him to complete the pilgrimage to the most sacred of places: his own heart. Hence the title of this paper and hence the ultimate justification for the choice of Saul Bellow’s work meant to raise students’ awareness regarding   the belief in essential values such as compassion, brotherhood and a sense of universal love and of the whole we all belong to.

5.         LITERATURE IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM

5.2       Practical Activities

Keeping in mind the fact that Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is

a short novel, the teacher’s approach to it in class may be varied. Thus, the teacher may either resort to excerpts  taken from the novel to illustrate some theme, character portrayal or narrative technique at some point in the English class, with more advanced (bilingual) groups of students, or use the whole novel as good,  partially guided, reading practice at home, and further discussion in class, in order to exploit theme and plot, point of view, character, symbolism, etc.

In the latter case, it is essential, as a first step, to try and draw the students quickly and smoothly into the text, so that they find it interesting and wish to continue reading it on their own. Next, students need to be convinced that the task ahead is not an impossible one, even if there may be difficult passages to deal with. It can all be done successfully and with tangible rewards. Many learners fail to persevere with a book only because they find the initial encounter too daunting. They have either encountered difficult words as they were reading the first page or the territory and atmosphere they have entered seems extremely different and unfamiliar that they did not succeed in identifying with it. So, most of them, even those endowed with the necessary language and intellectual abilities to eventually work out the text, give up before they even really start.

That is the reason why, it seems to be worth spending extra time on introductory and warm-up sessions, either before the book is begun or along with the first reading period, even in parallel with the other textbook activities in class. It may also prove useful to explore main themes and ideas with students, even independently of the way they are treated in the novel to be dealt with, as a regular topic for conversation in class, in order to elicit students; own thoughts and feelings on the respective issues. When they later turn to the text of the book itself, the preceding discussion or activity will act as a familiar landmark in the new surroundings, as it is extremely important for students to feel that their knowledge and life experience can provide valuable guidance and there is something in the text that they can genuinely relate to.

On the other hand, warm-up activities can be designed to set the mood (“to begin with,…” ), create interest, maintain momentum ( “to go on with,…” once the students have begun reading the novel, chapter by chapter) or exploit highlights ( “to end with,…” focusing on important aspects in the novel, related to either its form or content). Sometimes such activities can lead students to the first significant, more dramatic passage, to spark curiosity, or even to more important, suggestive fragments from certain chapters, to build up tension and even suspense.

5.2.a  To Begin with

Using the title and cover design

The teacher sets the scene and tries to kindle students’ curiosity by showing them the cover design and asking them to speculate about the book, its story, its mood, its message. The title can be withheld or covered up in this very first stage and encounter with the book proper.

Working with the whole class, the teacher asks them to share their

opinions. All suggestions are accepted and written up on the board. (see Appendix)

  • What is it that they see?
  • Do they like the image? Why?
  • How does the image make them feel?
  • What can be seen in the foreground / background?
  • What may the connection between the elements in the picture be?  Is there any kind of contrast or parallelism created? They may be asked to brainstorm key words (city/country, trap/escape, to take off, freedom, to breathe fresh air, to leave, to never go back, to forget, to choose)
  • Why do they think the fact that the background part is so distant and blurred may suggest?
  • What may  be the connection between the image and the title?

In a second stage, the teacher can uncover the title and initiate a discussion on that. The teacher may ask the students  to translate the title into their own language and see what is different, to explain what “seize the day” actually means to them or even think whether they themselves ever used those words, or heard somebody use them, and in what contexts exactly. Students may be asked to brainstorm and come up with whatever words or phrases they can think of on the spot:

  • related to the words in the title (“time”, “take”, “life”, “enjoy”, etc.)
  • synonyms for the words in the title (“live (to the full)”, “grasp”, “grab”, “get a grip”, “capture”, “moment”, “instant”, “the present”) or
  • even antonyms and related words for the sake of contrast and clarification (“let go”, “drop”, “free”, “yesterday”, “tomorrow”, “the past”, “the future”).

Also, the teacher may come up with further questions regarding the title, such as:

  • “Do you think these words in the title sound more like a conclusion, a piece of advice or a guiding principle according to which somebody chooses to live his or her life?”  or
  • “What could be an alternative version, the opposite, so to say, of “seizing the day”? If one does not choose to “seize the day”, what is he or she doing?”

(possible answers: “…living in and thinking of the past or the future…”, “ …being torn between regrets regarding the past and hopes for the future…”, “ …forgetting to enjoy whatever life offers moment by moment,  being unable to be fully present, to attend to the present moment as such, which has just been the future and will  eventually become the past,  proving unable to live life like a child, full of innocent trust and joy, etc. …”).

The teacher may even draw up schemes on the blackboard, play with the students’ ideas and the words they suggest, etc., making them feel confident that whatever they come up with is welcomed and can become fruitful.

It is extremely useful to keep a record of the initial speculations made about the title as these later help exemplify the  conclusions drawn regarding the novel as a whole.

Using the theme

The teacher may take one of the major themes from the novel and explore it with the group. Themes, or subject matter, are more or less familiar to all of us, either from personal experience or from what is spoken or read about in daily life. “Conflict,” for instance, of one type or another,  is often the theme of major literary works. There are few people who have not experienced, first-hand, conflict in some form.

Still, the teacher does not  necessarily have to state the theme or subject-matter straightforwardly. Instead, the students may be asked to deduce the theme in the novel by means of a very attractive activity. For instance, in Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day”, the main character, Tommy Wilhelm is separated from his family, his wife and his two boys, has quit his job and currently has no income and is temporarily staying at the same hotel as his father who does not seem very sympathetic to him. As the book opens he is descending  in the hotel elevator,  thinking about his troubles and working up the courage to meet his father for breakfast.

Thus, students are invited to imagine that one morning they suddenly realize that their life is a total mess, especially financially, they have nobody and nowhere to go to and they not only feel alone and  completely cut off  from their family members but also somehow isolated from everyone around.

“What would they think?”, “How would they feel?”

“What would they try to do?”, “Where would they go?”

“Would they try to talk to anyone?”, “What would they say?”

The teacher asks each student to write down a note containing at least three adjectives describing their state of mind, their feelings and thoughts, and one idea regarding their intentions for the immediate future. The two sentences in the note should  begin with the words “I feel…” and “I intend to…” …”. When this is done, the teacher collects all the notes and asks each students to pick a list (not their own), suggesting the words they are about to read are from a family member. They are to try to identify how they feel about what they are reading and jot down their thoughts and feelings immediately. The teacher also fully participates by writing a note and choosing one to read.

This is, of course, followed by general discussion about how each and every one thought and felt when they were writing, and reading, the notes, respectively. Certainly, this activity requires a certain level of maturity on the part of each student, but once the initial step is taken, the personalization follows its course naturally, hopefully leading to an empathic perception of  the protagonist’s situation (even though the students are not completely aware of this just yet). Also, one of the main theme of the novel begins to “rear its ugly head,” as it becomes obvious that (students’ possible and probable suppositions) “there must be something related to conflict between generations, father-and-son, isolation and alienation, life crisis or a critical moment in life when “desperate times ask for desperate measures” and you have to overcome some obstacle, to confront your fears, to learn something new about yourself, to change,  etc.”

Finally, students may be given the first chapter of the book to start reading at home.

Key words / sentences

The teacher selects a certain number of key words or short sentences from the first part of the first chapter of the book. In groups, students are asked to brainstorm for possible narrative links between the words or sentences. When each group has decided on a preferred final pattern of connection, a story is built up orally or in writing (for instance, “concealing his troubles”, “ once been an actor”, “is smoking a cigar, wearing a hat”, “ harder to find out how he feels”, “looked for his father”, “ on the way to breakfast”, “worried about his appearance”, “for his old father’s sake”, “the elevator sank and sank”).

The teacher can ask those students who cannot express themselves fluently enough and cannot make up a whole story to make up some kind of  script instead. The list should contain all the necessary data they can deduce from the given clues, such as who the story is about, what kind of person that is, time and place of the action, how that person feels and why he or she feels that way.

This should also be followed by discussion with the whole class in order to agree on a more plausible final version as a group, and again to try and maybe deduce a motif which is quite obvious from the very beginning of the novel (that of keeping up appearances, that is).

Character portrayal

Instead of being used to create a story or a script, the key extracts can provide the basis upon which students attempt to build up a first image of a central character, his personality, way of being and of thinking, of reacting, etc. this can be used in class or to accompany home reading ( at the end of each chapter). This activity can be therefore used and repeated all the way through the reading of the book, and after the entire book has been read. The teacher keeps a record of the earlier versions in order to demonstrate the evolution of the students’ awareness of characterisation, as the book unfolds.

These extracts may be used in such a way as to spark students’ interest in Tommy, before actually beginning to read the first chapter of the  novel at home.

Worksheet 1

Study the following extracts from Chapter I in  Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. What do they reveal about Tommy Wilhelm, the central character in the book?

“If he worried about his appearance it was mainly for his old father’s sake.”

“But he had realized that he could not keep this up much longer, and today he was afraid. He was aware that his routine was about to break and he sensed that a huge trouble long presaged but till now formless was due. Before evening, he’d know.”

“Even when his spirits were low, Wilhelm could still wrinkle his forehead in a pleasing way.”

“I don’t need that sort of money.” Wilhelm had said. “But oh! If I could only work out a little steady income from this. Not much. I don’t ask much/ But how badly I need – ! I’d be so grateful if you’d show me how  to work it.”

“It made Wilhelm profoundly bitter that his father should speak to him with such detachment about his welfare. Dr. Adler liked to appear affable. Affable! His own son, his one and only son, could not speak his mind or ease his heart to him. I wouldn’t turn to Tamkin, he thought, if I could turn to him. At least Tamkin sympathizes with me and tries to give me a hand, whereas Dad doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“But what of the truth? Ah, the truth was that there were problems, and of these problems his father wanted no part. His father was ashamed of him. The truth, Wilhelm thought, was very awkward. He pressed his lips together, and his tongue went soft; it pained him far at the back, in the cords and throat, and a knot of ill formed in his chest. Dad never was a pal to me when I was young, he reflected. He was at the office or the hospital, or lecturing. He expected me to look out for myself and never gave me much thought. Now he looks down on me. And maybe in some respects he’s right.”

“He had cast off his father’s name, and with it his father’s opinion of him. It was, he knew it was, his bid for liberty. Adler being in his mind the title of the species, Tommy the freedom of the person. But Wilky was his inescapable self.”

“Oh, God,” Wilhelm prayed. “let me out of my trouble. Let me out of my thoughts, and let me do something better with myself. For all the time I have wasted I am very sorry. Let me out of this clutch and into a different life. For I am all balled up. Have mercy.”

Biographical montage

Some teachers prefer to talk about the author before starting to work with the text, using the background knowledge as a way into the work. This can be done in various ways, either by starting with the teachers contribution to class (photos, place names, etc.) for the students to speculate and build on or by creating a sketch of the author and his life.

Also, the teacher may give the students some biographical information but omits certain important aspects of the author’s life. The students have to speculate about the missing parts (for example, education, married life,…). In groups, they can fill in the missing information, then compare their guesses with the other groups. Supposedly, this activity will stir their curiosity, making them want to know more and maybe remember more.

Worksheet 2

Make guesses to fill in the details about Saul Bellow:

Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellows on June 10, 1915, In Lachine, Canada to recent Russian immigrants. His father was a persistent and unevenly successful entrepeneur and during Bellow’s early years the family lived on St. Dominique Street, a raw but vital slum where the boy learned English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and French, as well as ………(the tough lessons of the street).

When Bellow was nine, his familv moved to Humboldt Park in ……..(Chicago) where he lived a physically and intellectually vigorous youth despite financial difficulties at home and the death of his …….(mother) when he was fifteen. He attended the University of Chicago but transferred to Northwestern from which he graduated in 1937 with a degree in ……….(anthropology and sociology). Later that same year, he abandoned his graduate studies, married Anita Goshkin, and decided to become a ………(writer). He supported himself by writing biographical sketches for the Work Projects Administration and teaching at Pestalozzi-Froebel Teacher’s College.

During ………(World War II), Bellow, exempted from military service for medical reasons, briefly served in the merchant marine and then worked for Encyclopedia Britannica. After the war, he settled in ………(New York) and worked in publishing until a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to spend two years travelling in ………….(Europe). On his return, he accepted a series of teaching appointments at New York University, Princeton University, Bard College, and the University of Minnesota. In 1955 he was divorced and married Alexandra Tschacbasov.

Bellow continued to ………(teach), accepting positions at the University of Minnesota and the University of Puerto Rico. He also edited the periodical Noble Savage. In 1963, after marrying his third wife , Susan Glassman, he accepted a permanent appointment to the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. After his third marriage ended in a protracted court battle and divorce, he married Alexandra Tulcea, a mathematics professor.

Star diagrams

This activity and the ones that follow are to be used after students have begun to read the work (the first chapter, for instance), in class or as homework, and may accompany the reading of each chapter or more significant sections.

The teacher asks students to extract important words from a certain section of the text. The students work and isolate words or phrases to be listed under a number of headings: colour words,  perception words (see, hear, smell, taste), words that indicate mood, words that express feelings, words that are metaphorically used, etc. Each pair or group is given an empty star shape and then groups the descriptive words into five appropriate  categories. The aim of the exercise is partly linguistic, to expand vocabulary and partly literary, to sensitise students and to foster their understanding and appreciation of words and phrases, of the way the author uses description of place and atmosphere, of character, and to make them aware of the lexical patterning that structures a work of literature, in our case Saul Bellow’s  style. (see Appendix)

5.2.b To Continue with

What happens next

Prediction is a normal reading strategy, the readers being constantly invited to stop and predict, “what happens next” being withhold, either to create suspense, or to give a deeper insight into the action and process the information a little bit more. Exercises in prediction are easy to build and use, and are generally enjoyable. There  can be short-term or long-term prediction. In the former case, students are invited to predict what answer is given by a certain character  or what reaction may a certain character have at some point. Long-term prediction is used to project into the future, the ensuing action after a certain turn of events.

In our case, having read the first chapter(s) of the book, students can be asked to imagine possible continuations for the story line. Students work in pairs or groups, discuss and conclude. Then, the variants are reported to the rest in the group are compared and justified, and can finally be arranged in a certain order or hierarchy. This activity can be used after each chapter in turn.

For instance, in the first chapter of Seize the Day, after descending in the hotel lobby, Tommy Wilhelm reminisces about his life, the whole of this first section being a long flashback. He finally goes to have breakfast only towards the middle of the second chapter. Then, his father introduces him to an elderly man named Mr. Perls and the three of them have a quarrelsome breakfast. When chapter three begins, Mr. Perls leaves and Tommy and his father continue to argue.

Due to this strong interrelatedness between chapters, students may or may not find it difficult to predict. What is obviously left for them to notice and follow is what turn  Tommy’s confrontation with his father, and, later on in the novel (chapters IV, V, VI), Tommy’ s involvement with Tamkin, may possibly have. The mounting tension in the novel – due  both to its turn of events, in spite of the fact that they are few,on  the span of just one day, and also to its protagonist’s inner turmoil – is  one important element that may be attractive to students’ gradual immersion in the texture of the novel.  Students can be asked to even write ensuing dialogues, either as homework or as pairwork, taking the roles of Tommy and Dr. Adler or even Tamkin, respectively.  Before dialogues are created, the teacher should speculate with the class about the appropriate form, register, level of formality, etc.

The aim is to make students to read the continuation on their own and to check their predictions, and also to form the habit of continually asking themselves questions as the reading takes place.

Signpost questions ( What have we found out?)

The teacher should devise comprehension questions which signpost aspects that are important to the work as a whole: setting (New York), character( Tommy Wilhelm), themes, motifs, symbols. The aim is to encourage students to attend to these aspects as the reading progresses and to involve them with the developing process of the text. The most prominent of these processes is that of plot and there are several ways to be used in order to draw the students’ attention to the meanings inherent in the twists and turns of a narrative. Crucial here is often the presentation of the character by the author and the resulting point of view from which the narrative is related.

The opening paragraph(s) are usually the important context for establishing

character and viewpoint.

The major aim of such a while-reading activity is to help the

students develop the habit of asking themselves clarifying  questions as they read and  make them get used to the fact that the reading process entails a constant activity of inferring, guessing and predicting. Also they should be prepared to give evidence for what they think or predict and that is the purpose of the supporting questions on the worksheet helping students to work with and continuously referring to the very language and words in the literary text. For instance,

Worksheet 3

Read the paragraphs below and as you read decide who you think is going to be the main character in the story:

o Tommy Wilhelm o Rubin o Dr. Tamkin o Dr. Adler

“When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow. So at least he thought, and there was a certain amount of evidence to back him up. He had once been an actor – no, not quite, an extra –  and he knew what acting should be. Also, he was smoking a cigar, and when a man is smoking a cigar, wearing a hat, he has an advantage; it is harder to find out how he feels.”

“Rubin, the man at the newsstand, had poor eyes. They may not have been actually weak but they were poor in expression, with lacy lids that furled down at the corners. He dressed well. It didn’t seem necessary – he was behind the counter most of the time – but he dressed well. He had a rich brown suit; the cuffs embarrassed the hairs on his small hands. He wore a Countess Mara painted necktie. As Wilhelm approached, Rubin did not see him; he was looking out dreamily at the Hotel Ansonia, …”

“No, it wasn’t good. Wilhelm held three orders of lard in the commodities market. He and Dr. Tamkin had bought this lard together four days ago at 12. 96, and the price at once began to fall and was still falling. […] The psychologist, Dr. Tamkin, had got him into this. Tamkin lived at the Gloriana and attended the card game. He had explained to Wilhelm that you could speculate at one of the uptown branches of a good Wall Street  house without making the full deposit of margin legally required.”

“Wilhelm’s father, old Dr. Adler, lived in an entirely different world from his son’s, but he had warned him once against Dr. Tamkin. […] Old Dr. Adler had retired from practice; he had a considerable fortune and could easily have helped his son.”

A         Tick one of the boxes and give two reasons why you think so.

B         Are there any particular words or phrases in the text that make you think this? If so, which?

C         Do you like all four characters equally so far? Why (not)?

D         You may not know some of the words in theses paragraphs. Try to guess what the following words mean by looking closely at them and their context.

concealing…………………………………….

lacy lids……………………………………….

furled …………………………………………

cuffs…………………………………………..

commodities market…………………………..

practice………………………………………..

Diagrammatic presentation (grids and charts) can also assist students in the perception of key components in the story. It can also help to organise and store in the students’ minds information about characters and their actions which may have otherwise passed unnoticed and which may subsequently be useful in making inferences or judgments about the characters’ actions and behaviour within the developing narrative.

1          A chart can be made in which students list the facts that they find out about the main characters.

Tommy Dr.Adler Dr Tamkin

2          Another possible chart, at a certain point in the reading, is to list the way the main character, Tommy Wilhelm, interacts with the other characters in each chapter in turn.

Chapter I Tommy – alone, Rubin; flashback: Dr. Tamkin, Dr.Adler,  others
Chapter II Tommy – Dr. Adler, Mr Perls
Chapter III Tommy – Dr. Adler
Chapter IV Tommy – Dr. Tamkin
Chapter V Tommy – Dr. Tamkin, Mr. Rappaport
Chapter VI Tommy – (Dr. Tamkin, Mr. Rappaport)
Chapter VII Tommy – …Dr. Adler, …Margaret, …Dr. Tamkin, …alone

3          A related exercise is to list features of characters and of events in the story which can be marked as true or false.

Tommy Wilhelm is successful

is happy with his wife and children

is dissatisfied financially

gets along well with his father

behaves in a confident manner

is cold and indifferent

is emotionally vulnerable

………………

True False Don’t know
Dr. Adler is pleased with his children

 

is successful

does not understand his son

offers financial support to his son

offers moral support to his son

is patient with his son

sounds selfish and unsympathetic

towards his son

……………………

4          a simple graph, built as a continuum can be used to illustrate the students’ perception of the main characters in their evolution. They are supposed to choose a point on a continuous line drawn between two opposing views, or two extreme characteristics. Students place the name of the characters on a point along the lines, as follows:

vulnerable    ___________________________________“strong”

hesitant         ________________________________________confident

kind-hearted ________________________________________ cold-hearted

idealist          ________________________________________pragmatic

callous          ________________________________________ kind

5          Similar charts can be drawn up in which words  from the text are

listed to illustrate:

  • certain points of view (Tommy’s point of view on certain matters versus his father’s or Tamkin’s);
  • the discrepancy  between appearance and reality (what a certain character says versus what the same character really thinks) as the author gives clues in the novel;
  • the parallelism between the events happening in real time in the novel (as “the day of reckoning” unfolds) and Tommy’s flashbacks (his memories) and thoughts (wishes, desires);
  • Tommy’s roles that he seems to play in the novel.

Such diagrams can be drawn at the beginning, immediately after

the first or at least the second chapter, according to some essential issues, predominant elements or significant guidelines (key elements) in the novel, and used all along whenever a new relevant item can be successfully added. In this way, the students will have a sense of being rewarded for their patience and work with the text, no matter how tedious it may all seem at some point. They will feel that it “pays off” to go on reading and discover new elements that can be added on such diagrams or charts, to round off the illustration of character or theme as depicted by the author, Saul Bellow in our case.

More than that, students can be invited to think of designing their own graphs or schemes to be used as they “decipher” the text and its components, along with the teacher’s worksheets and additional handouts. At the end, those students who managed to create such grids or schemes, will definitely be invited to present and share them with the whole class.

More sophisticated charts can be also thought of and conceived by

the teacher in order to draw attention to themes and motifs in the text or to the moral or message of the novel as a whole, once it has been fully and thoroughly read.

Dealing with long texts means that students will be expected to read quite substantial sections of the book on their own. In order to make this task easier for them, the teacher may also think of devising various worksheets to accompany home-reading (for example, the star-diagram mentioned above). These are designed to help the students with comprehension of certain passages (language, ideas, characterisation).

Worksheets may or may not generate class follow-up, depending on the respective group of students in particular. The teacher may think of drawing up handouts such as:

  • question-and-answer worksheets;
  • open-ended question worksheets leading to pair work in class;
  • complete the sentence worksheets;
  • true or false worksheets;
  • summaries with gaps;
  • summaries with incomplete sentences;
  • key points for summaries;
  • jumbled events worksheet;
  • value judgment/choosing a moral worksheet;
  • language worksheets ( matching, extracting and classifying vocabulary, words or expressions to characterise a text, literal and metaphorical meaning, simple grammar or structure work).

Summary with incomplete sentences

The students is required to fill in the missing parts in the summary of a certain chapter in the book (or each chapter in turn , after the students have completed reading them at home).

Worksheet 4

Read Chapter V of Seize the Day and then complete the gapped sentences so that they form a summary of this part of the novel:

The chapter opens with a descriptions of the ……….. (carnival-like Broadway street) scene that them jumps to ………. ( the stock-market floor ) in flux. Tamkin and Tommy are in the market observing  the ………(commodities they have invested in). Lard ………. (had gone down a lot), which worried Tommy. However, he is relieved by the fact that ………….. (Tamkin had invested in Rye also, which was on the rise). There are other men in the market that day, among them, ……….. (an old man named Mr. Rappaport, who is constantly  ……….. (asking for help to see the numbers before him.) Tommy wonders about ……… (Tamkin and his personal life). Tommy has an interior monologue about ………….. (isolation and language and communication). He then jumps into a memory of …….. (Times Square and how he felt close to humanity in the subway station.) Tommy has another discussion with  …….. (Tamkin) about ……… (Rye, the here-and –now, taking risks). Tommy jumps into a memory of ……….. (Margaret while she was nursing him). Tommy asks himself if …………. (he is being conned by Tamkin).The section ends with ……… (Mr. Rappaport not being able to see the numbers of his wheat.)

Key points for summary

From a certain chapter read at home, students are asked to list the five key points which would form the basis for a continuously written summary.

Also the teacher may provide the class with an already done list of key points for the next chapter they are about to read at home, and asks them to tick each one off as they read and once they have finished reading to write the summary.

Worksheet 6

Read Chapter VI in Seize the Day and, as you go on reading, list 5 key points to form the basis of your summary for this chapter:

•          Tommy and Tamkin go to lunch

•          Tommy thinks about his sons, Margaret, Olive

•          Tamkin tells Tommy about his own wife and Mr Rappaport’s story and gives Tommy endless advice

•          They go back to the brokerage office and Mr Rappaport asks Tommy to help him cross the road

•          Tommy discovers that lard has dropped since noon and begins looking for Tamkin

5.2.c To End with

Coming to the end of a literary work is really only another stage, a

temporary distancing from a continuing process of appreciation and understanding. Once a literary text has been completely read and somehow thoroughly discussed all along, the teacher may wish to keep each student’s sense of the literary work alive and may aim at involving students to proceed to more in-depth analysis, sharing views, interpreting and putting things in perspective.

Also, some of the activities previously mentioned can be successfully used at this stage, as they reinforce the students’ understanding of the text and may reveal one important factor to them. Namely, when you reread a literary piece you may be surprised to notice or discover elements of which you were not completely aware at first, thus enriching your own perception of the text as a whole, hidden aspects, deep meanings and obscure connections underlying the narrative.

Jumbled events

In order to make sure that the students have a good grasp of the plot in the novel, the teacher may design an activity meant to overview the main sequence of events. Thus, students may be given a worksheet containing a list of jumbled events and be asked to rearrange them in the right order that they occurred.

This assessment can be also done using a quiz, which students particularly enjoy and which can draw their attention to important details in the novel.

Point of no return and What if…?

The teacher may ask students to work in pairs or in groups and to decide upon the “point of no return” in the unfolding of the novel. This usually generates lively discussion and a thorough revision of the book. It also helps students realize what the major conflict in the novel is, followed by the rising action, the climax and the falling action of the novel (which tends to have an anti-climactic value). This can also be done in the form of a montage, a visual  display of  key elements in the book.

A useful, and more imaginative activity, which can be a follow-up to “Point of no return,” is “What if…?” Students are asked to imagine the moment before the point of no return and ask themselves:

  • What if the circumstances had been different?
  • What other decisions could have Tommy made?
  • What alternative choices would Tommy have had?
  • What other effects upon the reader could have been attained by the writer? (By contrast, what special effects derive from the book’s special configuration as such, and what seem to be the reasons why the author arranged things the way he did?)

Choosing a moral or value judgment

There are times when a teacher wants the students to go beyond basic comprehension and consider some of the moral issues raised by the literary text or symbolism  A worksheet to accompany home re-reading can do much to pave the way to fruitful class discussion, being a means to draw attention to the special areas the teacher might wish to highlight. Also, this is a necessary step in order to draw out the ideas or values, the message, which is implicit within the literary work.

Worksheet 7

If you were asked to choose a moral or some value judgments for this short novel, what would it/they be? Here are some possible thoughts. If none seems appropriate, make up your own. Be prepared to justify your choice:

1.         “What does not kill you, makes you stronger.”

2.         “You have to survive, even if it kills you.”

3.         “Power corrupts.”

4.         “Position and personality are entirely different  things.”

5.         “Whatever you do, life goes on relentlessly.”

6.         “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

7.         “In order to overcome your fears, you have to confront them.”

8.         “Healing must be sought in the blood of the wound itself.”

9.         “Inside everyone there is another personality trying to come out.”

10.       “Know thyself.”

11.       “What does one do when “doing one’s best” is not good enough?”

12.       “Oscillating between two worlds: one dead, the other yet to be born.”

13.       “Home is where your heart is.”

14.       “The beautiful flower had to go through a lot of dirt to get there.”

15.       Your own: “…………………………………………………”

The teacher may even consider asking students to write an 300-word essay on some of the topics on the worksheet, taking Saul Bellow’s novel as an illustration, in order to justify their choice(s).

Quote discussion

Isolating significant passages from the novel and quoting them in class for further discussion is another thing students generally enjoy. They may even be asked to bring their favourite “quotes” from the novel and to justify their choice. This may also be a good opportunity to clarify vocabulary more discretely, with more attention to contextual detail.

Examples:

When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow. So at least he thought and there was a certain amount of evidence to back him up. He had once been an actor—no, not quite, an extra—and he knew what acting should be.

Uch! How they love money, thought Wilhelm. They adore money! Holy money! Beautiful money! It was getting so that people were feeble-minded about everything except money.

Wilhelm sat, mountainous. He was not really so slovenly as his father found him to be. In some aspects he even had a certain delicacy.

Don’t you realize…you can’t march in a straight line to victory? You fluctuate toward it. From Euclid to Newton there was straight lines. The modern age analyzes the wavers.

If love is love, it’s free.

Writing a “blurb” for the back cover

Sometimes students feel more confident about themselves if they are given tasks that make them feel important and that show them that their opinion counts. The teacher may thus explain to the students what a “blurb” is by reading out the cover blurb for two or three novels which the students may or may not know in order to point out the features of such a short piece of writing,

Individually or in pairs, students are then asked to write the blurb for Seize the Day, including at least one quote from the book, which they feel will definitely convince someone browsing in a bookshop.

Short writing tasks

LETTERS

Students are asked to write the letter that Tommy may possibly send after the end of the book to explain what happened, and how it came to happen as it did, what he experienced, how he felt, what he intends to do.

LAST PAGE PLUS ONE

Students may also be asked to write the next few paragraphs after the end of the book as it is. Taking into consideration the fact that Saul Bellow’s novel seems to rather “stop” than “end”, students may feel the need to imagine and talk or write about what might have happened next.

THE BOOK ON A POSTCARD

The challenge here is to try and fit an appreciation of the novel into a very limited compass, say exactly 50 words. The compression quite often produces interesting pieces of writing as the students are required to both make a short summary of the main events and refer to the character, message and style, all in one unusually long and sophisticated sentence, reflecting the student’s personal style.

Writing essays

Almost all of the activities listed above used during the reading of the novel for the purpose of facilitating understanding of plot and character  may and should be used eventually as material on which to base essay writing. Some essay topics could be:

What kind of hero is Wilhelm? Is he an anti-hero?

Are there „villains” and „victims” in the novel? If so who are they and why or why not?

Discuss the novel in terms of oppositions and doubles. How does Bellow structure his novel? How and why does he discuss opposing forces at work within Tommy and in the world around him?

What is the role of „the city” in the novel? What kind of character, in other words, is the urban landscape?

What is the role of psychology in the novel?

Text Comprehension and Analysis

Last but not least, there is the more comprehensive text  analysis and discussion which can take place in class or can be given as homework, for further study.

The teacher selects  relevant fragments from the novel for the students to more thoroughly think about and analyse in terms of structure and content (point of view, themes, motifs, symbols, style).

Tommy’s language:

Text 1  (feeling)

After the meeting with his father, Tommy is glad their confrontation is over, but he is raging, blaming both himself and his father..In the hotel lobby he encounters Dr. Tamkin. It is in this chapter that Dr. Tamkin, Tommy’s surrogate father and so-called financial, spiritual and psychological guide, comes to life

Chapter IV

He could not get out of the sharply brilliant dining room fast enough. He was horribly worked up; his neck and shoulders, his entire chest ached as though they had been tightly tied with ropes. He smelled the salt odor of tears in his nose.

But at the same time, since there were depths in Wilhelm not unsuspected by himself, he received a suggestion from some remote element in his thoughts that the business of life, the real business – to carry his peculiar burden, to feel shame and impotence, to taste these quelled tears – the only important business, the highest business was being done. Maybe the making of mistakes expressed the very purpose of his life and the essence of his being here. Maybe he was supposed to make them and suffer from them on this earth. And though he had raised himself above Mr. Perls and his father because they adored money, still they were called to act energetically and this was better than to yell and cry, pray and beg, poke and blunder and go by fits and starts and fall upon the thorns of life. And finally sink beneath the watery floor – would that be tough luck, or would it be good riddance?

But he raged once more against his father. Other people with money, while they’re still alive, want to see it do some good. Granted, he shouldn’t support me. But have I ever asked him to do that? Have I ever asked for dough at all, either for Margaret or for the kids or for myself? It isn’t the money, but only the assistance; not even assistance, but just the feeling. But he may be trying to teach me that a grown man should be cured of such feeling. Feeling got me in dutch at Rojax. I had the feeling that I belonged to the firm, and my feelings were hurt when they put Gerber in over me. Dad thinks I’m too simple. But I’m not so simple as he thinks. What about his feelings? He doesn’t forget death for one single second, and that’s what makes him like this. And not only is death on his mind but through money he forces me to think about it, too. It gives him power over me, he forces me that way, he himself, and then he’s sore. If he were poor, I could care for him and show it. The way I could care, too, if I only had a chance. He’d see how much love and respect I had in me. It would make him a different man, too. He’s put his hands on me and give me his blessing.

Comprehension questions  and analysis

  1. How does Tommy feel? Underline words which show his state of mind? What is the reason he feels that way?
  2. What does Tommy seem to become aware of at this very point?
  3. Is there any reason why this realisation occurs after Tommy’s confrontation with Dr. Adler and before his encounter with Dr. Tamkin?
  4. Tommy seems to be fluctuating between two opposites, but paradoxically interdependent, stances? Which are these?
  5. What do you think the words “the real business”, “the only important business”, “the highest business” and “…was being done”  refer to? (“meaning, sense”, “purpose”, “fate”, etc.)
  6. What contrast is being created in order to underline two totally opposing, but possibly completely justifiable, approaches to life?
  7. What images are used to suggest the protagonist’s vulnerability, his insecurity and his sense of being trapped?
  8. Do you think that Tommy’s thoughts at this point might reflect the fact that he is about to experience a major change, equalling a certain type of “spiritual rebirth” later on in the novel?
  9. Can you see any connection between Tommy’s intuitions in this fragment and   Tamkin’s telling Tommy “Don’t you realise you can’t march in a straight line to the victory?  You fluctuate toward it.” a little later in the same chapter?
  10. What is his ultimate desire, after all? Is it financial or moral support? Or is it just acceptance and compassion? Why?
  11. What is the role of the word “feeling” in the  second part of the text? Why is it emphasised?
  12. What  do you personally  think about Tommy’s thoughts? Are they reasonable and legitimate? How do you view  his wavering?

Text 2  (love)

Dr. Tamkin and Tommy are in the stock market, observing the commodities they have invested in and Tommy wonders about Tamkin and the things he keeps telling him. He has an interior monologue about isolation and then jumps into a memory of Times Square.

Chapter V

A queer look came over Wilhelm’s face with its eyes turned up and his silent mouth with its high upper lip. He went several degrees further – when you are like this, dreaming that everybody is outcast, you realize that this must be one of the small matters. There is a larger body, and from this you cannot be separated. The glass of water fades out. […] and a glass of water is only an ornament; it makes a hoop of brightness on the cloth; it is an angel’s mouth. There truth for everybody may be found, and confusion is only – only temporary, thought Wilhelm.

The idea of this larger body had been planted in him a few days ago beneath Times Square, when he had gone downtown to pick up tickets for the baseball game on Saturday. He was going through an underground corridor, a place he had always hated and hated more than ever now. On the walls between the advertisements were words in chalk: “Sin No More,” and “Do Not Eat the Pig,” he had particularly noticed. And  in the dark tunnel, in the haste, heat, and darkness which disfigure and make freaks and fragments of nose and eyes and teeth, all of a sudden, unsought, a general love for all these imperfect and lurid-looking people burst in Wilhelm’s breast. He loved them. One and all, he passionately loved them. They were his brothers and sisters. He was imperfect and disfigured himself, but what difference did that make if he was united with them by this blaze of love? And as he walked he began to say, “oh my brothers – my brothers and my sisters,” blessing them all as well as himself.

So what did it matter how many languages there were, or how hard it was to describe a glass of water? Or matter that a few minutes later he didn’t feel anything like a brother toward the man who sold him the tickets?[…]

But today, his day of reckoning, he consulted his memory again and thought, I must go back to that. That’s the right clue and may do me the most good. Something very big.  Truth, like.

Comprehension questions and analysis

  1. What does the protagonist mean by “everybody is outcast,” and  “a larger body”?
  2. 2. What did the hero experience in the underground tunnel beneath Times Square?
  3. 3. Does the fact that this special moment occurs in memory (in a flashback which is part of an interior monologue) bear any significance as far as the  hero’s evolution is concerned?
  4. 4. What do you think “the haste, heat and darkness” may possibly suggest?
  5. 5. Consider how the idea of solidarity with other fellow human beings is conveyed in the passage. What words, in particular, are used to describe the feeling of deep communion experienced by Tommy Wilhelm? What aspects are thus highlighted?
  6. 6. Does Tommy interpret this fleeting moment he goes through as something to be desired, something positive or not? 
  7. 7. Does Tommy come to a sort of understanding by remembering this moment of deep communion with the other people? Is he beginning to learn how to “let go” and to realize what really matters after all?
  8. 8. Which of the following words would you choose to describe Tommy’s state of mind and soul. Justify your choices.

indifference               sympathy

sensitive                     attention

coldness                     love

compassion                loneliness

certainty                     other ………….

Text 3  (tears)

Feeling burdened by his financial problems, after being rejected by his father once again and also after quarrelling with his wife on the phone, not being able to find Tamkin, Tommy goes down into the street, into the afternoon sunlight. Coming upon a funeral procession on Broadway, he is carried away by the crowd  and finds himself in a chapel, before the body of a dead stranger, and, unable to leave, begins to cry and cannot stop.

Chapter VII

Standing a little apart, Wilhelm began to cry. He cried at first softly and from sentiment, but soon from deeper feeling. He sobbed loudly and his face grew distorted and hot, and the tears stung his skin. A man – another human creature, was what first went through his thoughts, but other and different things were torn from him. “What’ll I do? I’m stripped and kicked out… Oh, Father, what do I ask of you? What’ll I do about the kids – Tommy, Paul? My children. And Olive? My dear! Why, why, why – you must protect me against that devil who wants my life. If you want it, then kill me. Take it, take it, take it from me.”

Soon he was past words, past reason, coherence. He could not stop. The source of all tears had suddenly sprung open within him, black, deep, and hot, and they were pouring out and convulsed his body, bending his stubborn head, bowing his shoulders, twisting his face, crippling the very hands with which he held the handkerchief. His efforts to collect himself were useless. The great knot of ill and grief in his throat swelled upward and he gave in utterly and held his face and wept. He cried with all his heart.

He, alone of all the people in the chapel, was sobbing. No one knew who he was. One woman said: “Is that perhaps the cousin from New Orleans they were expecting?”

“It must be somebody real close to carry on so.”

“Oh my, oh my! To be mourned like that,” said one man and looked at Wilhelm’s heavy shaken shoulders, his clutched face and whitened fair hair, with wide, glinting, jealous eyes.

“The man’s brother, maybe?”

“Oh, I doubt that very much,” said another bystander. “They’re not alike at all. Night and day.”

The flowers and lights fused ecstatically in Wilhelm’s blind wet eyes; the heavy sea-like music came up to his ears. It poured into him where he had hidden himself in the center of a crowd by the great and happy oblivion of tears. He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow, through torn sobs and cries toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate need.

Comprehension questions and analysis

  1. Is there any reason why Tommy experiences such a tense moment of relief, paradoxically, in the middle of a group of people he does not know, a group of “strangers”? (taking into account the fact that, at the beginning of this last chapter, he finds himself totally separated, isolated and estranged  from his  father, his wife and children, and even his so-called advisor, Dr. Tamkin)

What do you think the words “standing a little apart” might suggest?

  1. Until this point Tommy has continually gone “against the crowds”

(bustling, flowing). Now Tommy seems to have gone “with the flow”. What does this stand for? (stream of people leading him to that “heavenly place he had longed for, peace, and quiet and serenity and oblivion).

  1. What do the words “a man –  another human creature” reflect about Tommy’s  state of mind? What do you think he feels as he is looking at the dead stranger? (sense of universal love, of brotherhood, a sense of the whole we all belong to)
  2. Do you perceive Tommy as pathetic or heroic at this climactic moment? Is  the fact that he cries “from the bottom of his heart” to be seen as a sign of weakness?
  3. Do you think having a feeling of vulnerability and allowing oneself to feel vulnerable/exposed is a thing to be desired or avoided?
  4. Does Tommy experience an essential change? What kind of change would that be? Has he reached any kind of deep(er) understanding? A kind of rebirth? Is he saved or freed in any way?

Once he leaves the chapel, is he ever going to be/think/behave  as he did before?

  1. What do you think the “tears” he weeps, his crying suggest in this last part?

“The source of all tears” is described be the author as “black, deep and hot”? Why? (  resembles “a volcano” waiting to erupt from unknown depths, deep, dark and hot, as in the previous fragment, “haste, heat and darkness,” may suggest the imminence of a force, a tension, that has been kept “underground”, hidden for too long and eventually has to come to surface, has to be unleashed and freed).

  1. As Tommy weeps over the corpse, a bystander remarks that he may be the dead man’s brother. Although this is not literally true, does it, nevertheless, have any symbolic significance?
  2. Another bystander remarks that the two cannot be brothers because “They’re not alike at all. Night and day.” Is that completely true? What do you think Tommy feels at this very moment? Does he feel in any way connected to the dead man although he does not know exactly who he was?

From what perspective are the two “night and day”? ( just physically, apparently)

From what perspective are the two very much alike? ( they are alike in a way that is deeper than family connections)

  1. Do you think there is any connection between Tommy’s moment of realization and the famous passage from John Donne’s “devotions upon Emergent Occasions” (1623): “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
  2. Death and despair are counterpointed with a sense of psychic renewal and spiritual rebirth? How exactly is this achieved in this fragment?
  3. Does Tommy experience pain (at an emotional level)? is he exposed or does he expose himself to sufferance? Can pain and sufferance ultimately bring joy, happiness or a sense of confidence and freedom? In what case? (effort, pains, creation, birth, deep concentration; the artist, the creator, the mother, growing up, maturing, life as it is).

Can joy and pain be simultaneously experienced, being in fact deeply interconnected?

Is there anything beyond bitterness? ( a feeling of entrusting oneself to life and to the ultimate purpose)

  1. Choose one or more of the phrases or value judgments below that you think are, one way or another, connected to the fragment. Comment.

You make a mess while cleaning up

The Agony and the Ecstasy: the creation of a new version of the self

Suffering can be educational as it humanizes

The dark side of the light seekers

One has to learn responsibility for one’s own heart

It is never too late to do the right thing

Things have to get worse before they can get better

The darkest hour is just before dawn

Language-based Approaches

If we were to see literature as a resource, the ultimate goal being to improve

the students’ knowledge of, and proficiency in, English, then certain well-chosen fragments are to be used for language practice also, thus providing stimulating language activities, also given the fact that students are already familiarised with the literary text as such,  theme,  style, register, message, etc.

Asking students to deal with certain fragments taken from the novel from a linguistic, even stylistic, ( lexical and grammatical) point of view, by using specially designed activities with the purpose of smoothly drawing their attention to the  important role that language plays in the rendering of a certain message, may teach them to look more closely at the language of a text while also stimulating interaction and meaningful exchange of possible interpretations and ideas. On the other hand, the fact that students may be acquainted with the theme and style of the novel in general, having already read it as a whole, will surely prove useful and provide a useful background when dealing with and focusing on a certain fragment  in more detail, helping them to decipher the underlying pattern and subtleties more easily and accurately.

Some fairly typical language-based activities making use of a literary text are:

1) Matching and Jigsaw reading

Students are invited to work together and re-order a text or even only a longer sentence  which has been scrambled. While  doing this, the students’ attention will be automatically drawn to the subtleties of  style, the specific way in which the author chose to express a certain idea.

Worksheet 8

Rearrange the following fragments in the order they appear in the original text:

A         Forgetfully, Wilhelm travelled for miles in second gear; he was seldom in the right lane and he neither gave signals nor watched for lights.

B         He dreamed at the wheel or argued and gestured, and therefore the old doctor would not ride with him.

C         The upholstery of his Pontiac was filthy with grease and ashes. One cigarette burned in the ashtray, another in his hand, a third on the floor with maps and other waste paper and Coca-Cola bottles.

D         Dr. Adler had refused to go along. He couldn’t bear his son’s driving.

(the underlined parts may be used as clues when trying to decide on the right order)

Worksheet 9

The following sentence taken from the novel has been jumbled. Arrange it in the right order:

A         at breakfast / That sick Mr. Perls / to tell the sane / had said /  from the mad, / that there was no easy way / and he was right about that / and especially in New York / with its complexity and machinery, / holes and heights. / bricks and tubes, / in any big city / – the end of the world, / wires and stones, /.

B         about a glass of water, / God creating the heavens and earth; / If you wanted to talk / Abraham; /  Rome; / the apple; / You had to start back with / the Middle Ages; / Moses and Jesus; / gunpowder; / the Revolution; / up to Einstein; / then war and Lenin and Hitler. / back to Newton; /.

C         explain and explain, /  and it was the punishment of hell itself / You had to / back and forth, / translate and translate, / not to understand / not to know the crazy / the young from / or be understood, /  from the sane, / the old or the sick / the wise from /  from the well. / from the fools /.

2) Gap-filling exercises

Another way of drawing the students’ attention to the language and form of a text and of exploring their relation to the text’s meanings is by means of a targeted cloze procedure, strategy also known, more informally as “gap-filling”.

In the case of cloze with literary texts it is important that by removing words, the students’ attention is drawn to items which are performing an important literary role. Prior to reading , words which have (in the judgement of the teacher) a key structural or functional role in signification are deleted and a list of alternatives may be presented to the students for substitution (or not).

This type of activity is well-suited tp pair and group work, it is therefore student-centred, leading to involvement with the text due to, on the one hand, the desire to succeed in predicting correctly based on, on the other hand,  reading the whole text carefully and on checking how one word fits and connects with the other words. It also contributes to raising awareness of the linguistic patterns in a literary text, form and content, artistic choice.

Students may be given a descriptive fragment from which all adverbs and adjectives have been removed and they are supposed to supply the missing words and compare their version with the original. Alsop, they can be given extracts from which tenses are removed and they, having been provided with the actual verbs, are supposed to complete the task and then compare their text with the original.

Worksheet 10

Supply the missing adjectives and adverbs from the following fragment:

But there was no stop on the fourteenth, and the elevator sank and sank. Then the 1)…….. door opened and the 2)……..  3) ……….  4) ……… carpet that covered the lobby billowed toward Wilhelm’s feet. In the foreground the lobby was 5)  ….., 6)……… . 7) …… drapes like sails kept out the sun, but three 8)……, 9)………. windows were open, and in the 10) …….. air Wilhelm saw a pigeon about to light on the 11) ……… chain that supported the marquee of the movie house 12)…………. underneath the lobby. For one moment he heard the wings beating 13)……… .

(answers: smooth, great, dark-red, uneven, dark, sleepy, French, high, narrow, blue, great, directly, strongly )

Worksheet 11

Supply the correct tense of the verbs in the following extract:

Well, and what else 1) ……… Margaret ……. (to send) him? He 2) ……… (to tear) the envelope open with his thumb, swearing that he 3) ……….. (to send) any other bill back to her. There 4)  ……(to be), luckily, nothing more. He 5) ………..(to put) the hole-punched cards in his pocket. 6)…………. Margaret……… (tp know) that he 7) ………. (to be) nearly at the end of his rope? Of course. Her instinct 8) ……… (to tell) her that this  9) ……….. (to be) her opportunity, and she 10) ……. (to give) him the works.

(answers: had Margaret sent, tore, would send, was, put, didn’t she know, was, told, was, was giving)

Rephrasing and Paraphrasing

One of the advantages of gap-filling as a language-based strategy is that students come to compare alternative versions of texts, explore different lexical choices, evaluating the different effects of one word over another by considering the grammatical, semantic and even sound patterns into which they fit and reflect back and forth upon one another. Therefore, an extension to such gap-filling activities may very well be an exploration of the possibilities of rephrasing. This means finding alternative ways of expressing the same idea or effect, thinking of synonyms or antonyms, related phrases and expressions. This, in turn, may  contribute, in the long run, to the students’ acquiring of important interpretative and creative abilities, by continually juxtaposing different possible variants and learning to always ask themselves questions and to leave no stone unturned.

6.         CONCLUSIONS

Bellow’s short novel “Seize the Day”, like all his work in general,   seems to be an appropriate means to the end of acquainting students with important humane attitudes and values, fine literary subtleties and stylistic features, while offering solid language practice if  activities and materials are designed and processed appropriately.

This paper does not attempt at  boldly introducing an original insight into Saul Bellow’s short but impressive piece of writing, which is “Seize the Day”. Still, it certainly endeavours to humbly suggest that it really is worth considering the novel a helpful tool, better said a wonderfully appropriate medium, in order to take students’ minds and souls off their sometimes “too real” lives and into the realm of  “potentially heroic” gestures and attitudes. That is to say,  as students nowadays are in acute need of meaningful role models and veritable life lessons, such a literary piece may offer an idea of a clue in terms of what the real purpose of human life might be or what the  adequate approach to life and the right attitude towards our fellow human beings ought to be. And, wonderfully enough, this novel may help to achieve the above while still providing plenty of  opportunities for language work in class, the very place where this shift of focus should smoothly and gradually take place.

As Bellow’s hero is conceived in such a special way as to strike a chord with almost anyone, embodying a sum of sometimes mutually contradictory tendencies and characteristics (being the prototype of the modern anti-hero while simultaneously transcending the well-known pattern), it is not at all difficult for the 21st century Romanian students to find echoes of their own thoughts and feelings or even,  make their acquaintance for the very first time by means of encountering them in more articulate form while working at deciphering both the content and the form of this short novel. Thus, the ultimate goal of sensitising students, making them more aware of both the fine subtleties of language and the literary medium and those of the human soul, theirs included,   can and will be reached by means of personalisation while students are exposed to such a rich and powerful  vehicle which is Bellow’s novel.

In turn, students may also become aware of the fact that, in fact, any literary piece of writing can be approached similarly, on an individual basis, having already created this precedent. The act of reading literature may thus be appropriated, no longer being perceived as an unattainable target, having been made more “user friendly” by this very first successful experience with a   literary work.

Atlaurian©Copyright

Anunțuri

3 responses

  1. TOMA

    FELICITARI

    Noiembrie 29, 2009 la 20:44

  2. Permiteti-mi, stimata prof. Nicoleta Saramet, sa va felicit pentru abnegatia si pasiunea pentru scoala romaneasca. M-am uitat la poza dv. si am citit ”Din pasiune pentru lectură”-Am convingerea ca am onoarea de a lua contact prin cele scrise cu un OM. Sunt convins ca prin fenomenul de contagiune veti raspandi in mod benefic pasiune pentru lectura buna si veti reusi sa coagulati un nucleu de inalta spiritualitate aici in aceasta lume,care devine din ce in ce mai materialista.
    cu stima, Csilik Petru

    Noiembrie 29, 2009 la 20:46

  3. Ceau 😉
    Pentru ca vrem o iarna plina de zambete, ne-am gandit sa lansam campania „Un zambet pentru tine” la nivel national. Planul e sa impartim zambete prin oras si vrem sa fim cat mai multi, pentru cat mai multe clipe de bucurie!

    Mai multe detalii despre campanie gasesti aici: http://zambesc.lumebuna.ro/2009/11/campania-nationala-un-zambet-pentru-tine/. Tot aici sunt si niste bannere pe care le-ai putea adauga pe blog-ul tau pentru a le spune si prietenilor tai despre aceasta initiativa. Te asteptam pe 5 decembrie, la ora 14, sa imparti voie buna alaturi de noi.

    Decembrie 2, 2009 la 21:13

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