Selected Readings from the Norton Anthology of World Literature
“The Perforated Sheet,” by Salman Rushdie, in Volume 2.
“Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid, in Volume 2.
“Wedding at the Cross,” by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, in Volume 2.
Book One of “Omeros,” by Derek Walcott, in Volume 2.
Imagine yourself being placed in a position where the lines of your entire moral and spiritual beliefs must be moved, on a daily basis. Where, to preserve your own life, required your participation in the execution of helpless thousands.
A place where you are responsible to help Nazi executioners (murderers) select their victims.
This is one way to look at this piece.
Alternatively, you have the opportunity to save thousands by selecting them for work duty, in hopes their life will be spared.
The purpose of this lesson is to ensure the help your students “walk a mile in the shoes of the author(s)”, and to identify areas in their own life, where they are faced with similar morally challenging choices.
This may seem a bit unorthodox, but you will use the adult board/card game “Cards Against Humanity” to help your students gain an understanding of the peculiar situation this particular author found himself in.
Individual Assignment (Journal Assignment)
Separate the groups once you’ve played the card game for 30 minutes, and request each student to write a 250-400 word “Journal Entry” where they briefly describe how the theme is developed in this week’s readings, and how they see the same themes play out in their current life as a student.
Spend 30 minutes having an in-class discussion about the content, themes and how these themes are evidenced in the student’s current life.
Each student will be required to prepare a 500-800 word analysis of one of this week’s readings. Remind each student to keep this assignment in their individual Literature Journal, as it will be used in the Final Project at the end of the term.
Recap and Analysis This Week’s Reading(s) – Feel free to share this with your students to help guide them.
I’ve chosen the theme of anger for this particular analysis. Borowski illustrates some horrors of life in a concentration camp. While much of Borowski’s piece seemed jovial and light-hearted as the two main characters bantered back and forth. However, a subtle undertone of misery can be detected throughout the story. In particular, when “His whip flies and falls across our backs.
I seize a corpse by the hand; the fingers close tightly around mine”… and “I lie against the cool, kind metal and dream about returning to the camp, about my bunk, on which there is no mattress about sleep among comrades who are not going to the gas tonight.” the angry frustration and misery inflicted by unjust punishment. Borowski’s character was maddened by his job of executioner’s assistant; a deadman, acting as a cog in the murderous machine of the SS.
I feel like these two stories don’t even compare in seriousness. While Borowski shares his real-life experience of life in a concentration camp, Lispector has created a character with no aim or purpose. The wife / mother of the story wanders aimlessly attempting to find some purpose, meaning and identity. I believe the anger and frustration we see evidenced is a manifestation of her yearning to have a real purpose in life, beyond serving her family. She was “obstinate, she would not have know what to reply, and she felt so touchy and aloof that she did not even know where to find a suitable reply. She suddenly lost her temper, ‘Go to hell!’…prowling round me like some old tomcat.”
While Lispector’s piece of art may serve a purpose for creating a creative emotional outlet, Borowski’s work in this particular piece seems to serve a greater humanitarian effort. One where the unfortunate masses are honored.
Lispector’s character searches for personal meaning in a big mean world, while Borowski’s character begrudgingly assists in the execution of countless innocent people; so eager to preserve his own like – he separates the workers from the ones fated with the gas chamber.
Perhaps Adorno found post-Holocaust poetry as barbaric for the perceived lack of sympathy for those who suffered and died during the Holocaust, as well as for their families.
The metaphors used by Clean, such as his reference to “black milk” and “we drink you at night” are likely symbolic of the repetition of death and murderous acts that occurred over and over and over within the death camps. New loads of prisoners / victims were hauled into these death camps on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis.
The human cargo was then separated into two groups: group one were to be slaves, group two were headed to the gas chamber to be slaughtered – unless they were lucky enough to have just been shot to death as they stepped off the train, putting an abrupt and unexpected end to the pain and misery ahead.
I believe the repetition was used to iterate the repetitive and seemingly never-ending chain of terror and murder. Perhaps Clean’s repetitive black milk reference is a contrast to the milk and honey reference in the Jewish Bible where milk is used to illustrate a blessing and an abundance. The metaphors used by Amichai seem to be more clearly pointing to the people’s relationship with “God”.