TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum


Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Condense Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
John Bird <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 18 Feb 1996 02:00:22 +0000
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (88 lines)
Sorry to be son long in continuing my experiences with the new Graff/ Phelan
edition of _Huckleberry Finn_ in my graduate seminar on American realism.
first report was of our discussion on the controversy over gender and
sexuality.  The discussion continued the next week, on the sections on the
ending and race, with a little spillover to this past week, more on the
of race.

With seven students in the class and a lot of reading to cover, I let them
choose one section or the other.  Four chose the ending, three race.  I'm
sorry I don't have the text with me now, so my report will not be as
as I expect my students to be in class!  The ending material sparked good
discussion, and the selections in the text gave the students a good
on the issue, with what we would consider "classic" interpretations:  Eliot,
Trilling, Leo Marx, James Cox, as well as some more recent additions.  The
resulting discussion was quite good, and I felt like the text let students
informed enough to come up with their own conclusions (about the

The discussion of race was very lively and interesting, as one would hope
expect.  The text includes material from _Satire or Evasion_ (Julius Lester,
Peaches Henry), a long section from Shelley Fisher Fishkin's _Was Huck
Black?_, as well as an intriguing reader-response article in which Jim
back to Huck (with a good answer to that by Phelan).  I felt that the
understood very well the high stakes in this issue and discussion, given the
fact that they (all white) could very likely be teaching the novel in a
secondary or college setting, to a racially-mixed audience.  The selections
from the text, as well as the Kemble illustrations and an essay on Kemble,
really gave the discussion focus.  I think the students left realizing that
this was a vital issue for their own teaching, and this gave them a good
on what they would have to know before they entered a classroom.  I shared
with them some of my own experiences as a first-year high school teacher,
unprepared to face the racially-mixed classroom as I taught this, my
novel, for the first time.  This is a point I emphasize every time I teach
but the selections in the Graff/Phelan text made this much fuller and more

Overall, I was pleased with the text and its focus on teaching the
controversies.  I would have hit on these issues anyway to some extent, but
not as fully and not in so focused a way.  In emphasizing these particular
controversies, I didn't spend as much time on some themes and issues as I
would have normally--like the satirical levels of the long middle section.
But all in all, I think this was a valuable approach, and the text was quite
help in making it so.  In addition, I can see that the text set the tone for
the whole seminar.  When we moved to _Pudd'nhead Wilson_, we were able to
identify in the Norton Critical Edition selections the controversies
in the critical section.  These controversies were _there_, but obscured
somewhat by the organization; by highlighting them, a la Graff/Phelan, we
able to impose a bit  of order on our discussion.  We shall see if such a
focus continues.  I would like to use the book with an undergraduate class
the future, and I would welcome hearing of others' experiences.

BTW, I hope you think this is a good use of the Mark Twain Forum.  I had my
doubts, since we haven't really done this much before since I signed on a
ago.  I will say that one of our members wrote me privately and asked why I
hadn't continued, and offered the opinion that this is a valuable use of the
forum.  Do others agree?  In addition to the valuable queries and opinions
that make up the bulk of our forum, I for one would like to hear about the
others of us teach Mark Twain, our students' responses, our syllabi, our
favorite texts to teach, our approaches in the classroom.  In addition, I'd
really value hearing what others have to say about papers they present and
hear presented at conferences.  This forum has been a valuable asset for my
study and teaching of Mark Twain, but it seems to me that the content is
less substantive and in-depth than I would hope for.  I know I'm guilty of
lurking and reading and not posting anything for long periods, but I know
there are many excellent MT scholars and critics and readers on here who
raise the level of discourse if we would not all just lurk.  I hope I don't
offend--I'd just like to hear more from everybody!