Full disclosure: My writing assignments heavily emphasize argumentation, which is partly, I think, what made this assignment successful.
The response to this semester’s lesson plan for “Interpreter of Maladies” was unexpectedly positive. I decided to focus most of the discussion on the story’s title. First, I drew parallels between the story title and the title of our class, The Interpretation of Literature. After a review of what we mean by interpretation as a frame and skill for the class, we discussed what Lahiri seemed to mean by interpretation—especially as it compares to her uses of the word translation. After the large group discussion about interpretation, it was time for small group work.
My goal for the small group activity was to use our writing model (I rely on a modified version of the Toulmin model) to analyze moments of interpretation in the story. So, each group was asked 1) to find a moment in the text when the “interpreter” of the title, Mr. Kapasi, is performing an act of interpretation, 2) to explain what he is interpreting, 3) to determine his interpretation. As each group reported back, I followed up with questions about evidence: What is Kapasi’s evidence? Is it good evidence or bad evidence? What are his hidden assumptions? What impact does his interpretation have on his behavior and judgments throughout the rest of the story? (Again, these are meant to replicate the Toulmin model, which I continued to foreground throughout the discussion.) The whole class responded to these follow up questions.
I base the success of this assignment on a couple of things. First, students seemed to have the “Oh!” moment about the Toulmin model. They all of the sudden realized why just any ol’ reading isn’t valid. They also finally seemed to get what I meant when I told them to reveal any “hidden assumptions” in the warrant section of their papers. Second, none of the groups chose the same moment in the text, which allowed us more coverage than I had expected. Third, the discussion led us into close readings instead of generalized conversation about surface details like Mrs. Das’s infidelity. Fourth, in the discussion about interpretation v. translation as it appears in the story, some students seemed to finally accept that interpretation is more than “tearing a story apart” or a skill that only applies to literary texts.