Instructors’ Teaching Experience

Like Paley’s “A Conversation with My Father”, Atwood’s story is a story about storytelling. I have begun almost every section of Interp. of Lit. I’ve taught with this story as I like to focus my students on learning the “hows and whys” of storytelling. The students enjoy the story as well as find many aspects of the story clever and funny. For some, I also think it strikes close to home and challenges them to read for more than plot. [LeDon Sweeney,]

This is my go-to first week story.  It never fails to get students engaged and it helps them begin to think about who they are as readers in a way that many have not considered before.  It pretty much teaches itself, too, so there’s very little preparation needed in advance. [Lindsey Row-Heyveld,]

Like Lindsey and LeDon, I’ve always had great luck with this story at the beginning of the semester. It can be difficult to get the students talking during the first few weeks of class, so having reader-centered discussion activities like those listed below can help break the ice. Ultimately, I try to use the discussion to build confidence in my students, to point out to them that they’re already experts on plot. They know the conventions of narrative already. They know how story works. And I tell them that it’s on top of this foundation of plot convention that we’ll build our critical analyses in the coming semester. [Travis Johnson,]

Classroom Strategies

Round Table Reading

As this story is nice and short, I like to make my students read it aloud and ask them to comment on the variations. They have never failed to make excellent observations, which, of course, gives me an opportunity to applaud their ability to read and encourage them that they can do this with everything they read. As the story is also about storytelling, it provides a nice way of getting them to discuss what they like in a good story – not just plot, but how the story is told. [LeDon Sweeney,]

I ask students to select which of the various endings offered by Atwood is their favorite and then divide them into groups based on their choices.  I ask them to be prepared to explain and defend their choice (especially against the potential responses by the other groups) and then we go, group-by-group, and have them do so.  This allows us to discuss what the various options have to offer (some are all plot and no character, some are all character and no plot, some realistic, some are fantastical, some have a few main characters dying, some have huge groups of tertiary characters dying, etc.) and what the students want out of literature: Do they want to read about a life they want to have or a life they’ll never have?  Do they want things that are “real” or fantastical?  Do they want characters they can understand and relate to or characters that surprise and baffle them?  It’s a great way to get students thinking about the kind of readers they are and what they demand from literature before they’ve ever read it. [Lindsey Row-Heyveld,]

Discussion Questions

  1. What drew you to this version? What does it seem to have that the other ones lack? What do you think it says about you that you enjoyed this version the most?
  2. What seems to be the primary conflict(s) in this version? How does it compare to the conflict(s) in the other versions? How does the conflict get resolved?
  3. Is there any information that you as the reader have to supply that Atwood doesn’t supply? For example, how do you picture the characters in Atwood’s story? How does this shape your understanding of each character? Do you supply any other extra information?
  4. Can you think of any movies/television shows that more or less follow the plot pattern of this version? What criticisms do people tend to offer about these movies or plots? Why do you think they have that response? Do you agree/disagree?