Instructors’ Teaching Experience

Housekeeping is a challenging text to teach, but it’s also really rewarding. Because the text is so dense, and doesn’t meet students’ expectations of a novel (which they are used to reading for plot), I found it beneficial to teach it after poetry, so that students could use the tools they learned there to unpack Robinson’s language and images. [Joanne Janssen,]

On the Road Again for the First Time: I teach Housekeeping as a very transgressive feminist road novel, although the majority of the novel deals with getting Ruth to the point of going on the road.  American literature is filled with examples of men going on the road, but relatively few works–such as Flaming Iguanas–explore the implications of women going on the road. [Brooks Landon,]

Classroom Strategies

To open the unit, I asked the students to hold a significant moment from their childhood in their minds like a snapshot, and then freewrite about it. Afterward we talked about the challenges we faced in remembering and capturing the moment in a way that would make sense for other people to understand. That activity helped them to think about how the novel is chronicling memories that are difficult to fully understand, and to be sympathetic to the process instead of merely frustrated by it.

I encouraged my students to very consciously track themes, motifs, and symbols through our entire reading of the novel. This gave them some direction as they read, and it also allowed them to consider the deeper significances of the things they encountered in the text. Some topics we focused on: vanishing/ abandonment, transience/permanence, history/family, housekeeping, memories, isolation, identity.

Because each word and sentence is so carefully chosen, and because it can be easy to read the book too swiftly (and therefore miss important details), reading some longer passages (1-2 pages) aloud in class and then discussing them seems to work really well for this text. [Joanne Janssen,]