Friday, 2 May 2014

Of Mice and Men and symbols


I make no apologies for this, but my blog’s content is often inspired by my teaching that week or what I am planning to teach next week. This week, I am doing a bit of both. Most of us are in that awful stage that is the equivalent of holding someone’s hand over a cliff. You can see you haven’t much time as your grip on their hand is weakening. They could plunge or they might at the last minute find something else to hold on to. I mean: the last few lessons before the Year 11s sail off into the sunset.

Like most of us, we are cramming and hoping that something sticks. The lessons tick by and we panic that there is less and less time. The help sheet left on the desk becomes a symbol of a missed chance, less marks in the question or a defiant student.

Over the years, I have learnt that less is best in the revision process. It is better not to revise everything, but focus on a few key things and subtly cover a few more things along the way. This week we were preparing for the ‘Of Mice and Men’ Literature exam. We were looking at extracts and analysing them in detail. During those lessons, I came across two symbols.

 

Symbol 1: The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise danger.

 

Symbol 2: Curley’s wife is only seen in buildings in the novel which symbolises how women are trapped and locked away in society.

 

Both comments were made by the same student. But, for me, they highlight an aspect of teaching that might help my Year 11 students. The use of symbolism. Or, importantly, how to make effective comments about symbolism. Both comments warrant merit, but for me the second one is insightful, and shows original thought. The other, dare I say it, is clichéd and predictable. There’s the obvious thing to say and there is the not so obvious to say. And, I’d even go so far to say that the ‘not so obvious’ is what we aim to develop in students, but often or not we teach them the ‘not so obvious stuff’.

Then symbols then started to roll out in the lesson and I came up with one:

Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm.

Symbol 4: Curley’s hair is curly to symbolise his lack of masculinity.

Symbol 5: Curley’s curly hair symbolises his tightly wound personality. Like a tightly wound spring, he is ready to pounce.

 

But, aside from being original, what makes some symbols better than others? It is the connection with something far greater in the story. The structure. The plotting. The themes. The writer’s intent.

Take symbol 1 again:

The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise danger.

Becomes, when linked to other aspects:   

The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise a desire to be noticed and how she is so different to others in the farm. (theme)

The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise danger for the reader. This ‘red’ is a warning to the reader that she will cause trouble for the protagonists. (structure)


So, I am going to work on looking at linking symbols to the wider picture. But, what else develops an explanation of a theme? A connection. A student’s understanding of a novel is what usually shows in an explanation. Those that make links to other aspects make better explanations than those who don’t.

Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm.


Becomes:

Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm such as when Curley’s hand is crushed. Slim takes charge and resolves the conflict.

Then, there is the alternative interpretation:

Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm such as when Curley’s hand is crushed. Slim takes charge and resolves the conflict. Or, the smoothing of the hat could symbolise just how perfect he is.

Next week, we are going to look a symbols in another text and look at developing insightful explanations about symbolism.

We’ll focus on events and objects.

We’ll explore the deeper meaning.

We’ll explore the links to the structure, themes and ideas.

We’ll explore the links to other parts of the novel.

We’ll make alternative interpretations.

 

Oh, but then there are metaphors – and those are a just a little bit more complex.

 
The grass outside needs cutting. It is a symbol of my tardiness. It stands tall and unkempt. It is a symbol of my role in the household. But it is a metaphor for ….

Thanks for reading,

Xris32

1 comment:

  1. Another great post. I will apply these great ideas in my lesson on the novella tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete