Instructors’ Teaching Experience

I have mixed feelings about this story. While I think it is beautifully written, I had some trouble teaching it. My students weren’t sure what to make of the story’s ending.  The issue of Grace was beyond them and I didn’t give them any hints about it before hand.  I did not assign study questions with this story, but if I were to teach it again, I would. [L. Sweeney,]

My students were also baffled by the ending, so I threw them into discussion by taking a poll to see how many of them were sad that the grandmother died. June Star? Bailey? etc. Unsurprisingly, not many of them had any deep sympathy, and when I asked them why, they exploded with hatred for the characters. We had an excellent discussion of the pleasures of schadenfreude and the question of audience complicity in the grandmother’s death. The story is phenomenal for discussing setting and place–the enclosed car, the dingy diner, the mistaken house, and even the debated vacation destinations are all good ways of getting at larger themes of nostalgia and the Southern Gothic. [E. Mann,]

This text worked well for my class; they did a pretty good job with the close readings (especially the clothing-based one that Dorothy suggested), but they really got engaged once we started  explaining and ranking the degrees to which certain characters are (un)sympathetic.  And as we talked about the satisfaction the reader feels when the family is killed (lots of “they’re so annoying, they deserved to die” comments), they were really bothered by the idea that they were applying different moral systems to the story world than they actually believed in. [B. Draxler,]

Classroom Strategies

In O’Connor’s story, the characters stop at a restaurant and, while waiting for their food, they listen to “The Tennessee Waltz” on the nickelodeon and the grandmother makes much ado about the song. While “The Tennessee Waltz” was a popular Patti Page number in 1950, it’s likely that students will not know the song. So, to help my students start close reading the text and thinking about the choices authors make, I put together the following reader response assignment:

When you arrive at “The Tennessee Waltz,” stop reading and listen to the song. Write a short response in which you offer some preliminary suggestions about how the song relates to O’Connor’s story. Then, finish the story and revisit the song and your response. How has your reading of the song’s place in the tale changed? Why did O’Connor choose to incorporate this song into her story? How does the song function here? How does it relate to the characters and/or events in the story?

During the next day’s discussion I also plan on asking the students what song they would choose as a soundtrack for O’Connor’s story and why. [T. Johnson,]