Adolescents in Literature

One semester course
Open to 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty 2-4

1. Rationale

The figure of the adolescent has become a central one in twentieth century fiction, offering recurrent experiences of isolation, displacement, shattered memory and hope, and the consequent search for identity, trust, and generativity. This course asks students to see adolescent crises not as a passing show but as a vital part of an integrated life. The questions raised by our readings’ protagonists are not temporary but lasting concerns.

We focus on character analysis in our readings–how often motive is multiple and so how often personality retains its mystery. Students explore issues drawn from the human life cycle, emphasizing Erik Erikson’s healthy stages of trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity. They will write from personal experience on these concerns: we are seeking applied knowledge.

2. Topics and Themes Emphasized

The diversity of adolescent experience in many cultures.

The role of pain in creating identity.

The evidence for change, growth, expanding vision across adolescence.

The strategies against isolation and for intimacy.


3. Methods and Sample Assignments

Thinking and questioning.

All must use analytical skills. We try to find what questions and choices are presented to the protagonists. Final papers or test questions often ask students to relate these parts, distinguish patterns, and explore how each section speaks to other moments in a work or art.

Students are often asked to consider which human crises are at work at a given moment in their life and in the art they study.

In addition, students free-write, are asked to take ideas from freewriting and pursue them to their logical conclusion. Often these freewritings are used to generate writing from experience. Two sample assignments are attached below.


4. Expectations for Students

Students are expected to read several poems, a play, short stories and several novels during the course. In addition, they will view and discuss two or three films.

Listening skills are crucial to encourage class discussions of reading and experience. Notetaking skills are needed from which to write intelligently on essays and/or tests in class. Finally, a willingness to write honestly of experience is needed to complete many of the creative assignments successfully.

5. Reading List and Other Materials

Works are drawn from among:

Poems of Nikki Giovanni, Theodore Roethke, Gary Synder, Karl Shapiro
Equus, Peter Schaffer
Master Harold and the Boys, Fugard
Harold and Maude, Colin Higgins
From Rockaway, Eisenstadt
Behind the Door, Giorgio Bassani
Letter to his Father, Kafka
“I Stand Here Ironing,” Tillie Olsen
“The Lame Shall Enter First,” Flannery O’Connor
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Sillitoe
The Swell Season, Joseph Skvorecky
Floating in My Mother’s Palm, Ursula Hegi
Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid
Stories from the Rest of the World, Graywolf Anthology
Somehow Tenderness Survives (South African short stories)
Kite Runner, Husseini
God’s Mountain, De Luca
Rain, Gunn
Kitchen, Yoshimoto
Margherita Dolce Vita, Benni
Bonjour Tristesse, Sagan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky
Meely Labauve, Wells
Stargirl, Spinelli

Films include:

Hey, Babu Riba
Closely Watched Trains
Mon Oncle Antoine
Almos’ a Man
400 Blows

Almost Famous
Breakfast Club
Breaking Away
The Adolscence of Utena or Akira
The Butterfly

6. Sample Assignments

Compose a letter to your father modeled on Franz Kafka’s Letter to his Father. You need not come to the same answers he does but you might ask some similar questions. Be sure to summon several particular moments of experience with your father that reveal the nature of your relationship. Kafka’s letter is over thirty pages long and was never delivered. Yours must be five. (Delivery is optional.)

Compose a story in your mother’s voice delineating her vision of your life from pregnancy to now. Use Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” as your model.

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