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Voice of the Storyteller

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Voice of the Storyteller


Students develop skills in questioning, analysing, and responding to literature with a focus on voice and theme in the stories told. The culminating activities are a literary essay (analysis) and an oral presentation. As in the first unit, this unit also connects to the Independent Study Unit. Students continue to examine issues and themes, but also use these activities to provide practice and feedback for the written and oral components in Unit 4.


Assignment One:  Voice

You will be asked to read a number of short stories and reflect on the topic of voice in literature.


What is voice?

In Writing with Voice, Tom Romano defines voice as "the writer’s presence on the page. It is the sense we have while reading that someone occupies the middle of our mind, the sense we have while writing that something or someone is whispering in our ear." (50). One method that Harry Noden recommends in Image Grammar to demonstrate voice in writing is a form of imitation he calls the Van Gogh approach. This approach introduces students to similar stories, such as "Little Red Riding Hood" or "Humpty Dumpty," written in contrasting styles. The story details stay the same, but the way the story is told, or the voice of the story, changes. The benefits in having students note the contrasts and how they contribute to the overall style and voice of a piece are numerous. First, students begin to experiment with voice in their own writing. Second, they begin to look at how their favorite authors distinguish themselves and begin to compare one author's style to another. Finally, according to Noden, students "discover how grammatical choices characterize an author's craft" (79).

(source: http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/teaching-voice-with-anthony-167.html)


Part One

First, consider, and reflect, in writing, on the following questions:


  • What is voice?
  • How are our voices different? Why?
  • What does voice have to do with reading? What does voice have to do with literature?
  • Whose voice was prominent in the Master Builder?  Why? Whose voice was/is absent? Why?
  • What role does voice play in telling a story?
  • How are the following different:  the voice of the reader, the voice of the author and the voice of the character 



Part Two

Read the following short stories and the questions included here or attached to the handout:


The Egg by Sherwood Anderson (from Fiction 100) (see below)

First Born Son by Ernest Buckler (from Story and Structure) (questions 1-4, 7 on handout)

The Dentist and the Gas by Stephen Leacock (from Early September) (no questions assigned)


Questions for "The Egg"

1. Who is narrating the story?

2. How does the narrator describe himself?

3. How successful are they in raising chickens? Why?

4. Describe the moving from the chicken farm to the town. What does it tell you about these people?

5. What is very valuable to the father? What do these jars represent?

6. Toward the end, how is the father changed? How and where does he see success?

7. Is the mother changed by the end of the story? How?

8. In the last six or seven lines of the short story, we have the narrator’s comment and observation about the egg; what does he say? What does it tell us about life, people and the narrator himself?

9. Why is the story entitled “The Egg”? What is its importance? As a symbol, does the egg stand for something else? Explain?


Assignment Due:  Tuesday, March 30


Assignment Two:   Critical Analysis - Literary Criticism


1.1 read a variety of student- and teacher-selected texts from diverse cultures and historical periods, identifying specific purposes for reading (RLS)

1.3 identify the most important ideas and supporting details in texts, including complex and challenging texts  (RLS)

1.4 make and explain inferences of increasing subtlety and insight about texts, including complex and challenging texts, supporting their explanations with well-chosen stated and implied ideas from the texts (RLS)

1.5 extend understanding of texts, including complex and challenging texts, by making rich and increasingly insightful connections between the ideas in them and personal knowledge, experience, and insights; other texts; and the world around them (RLS)

2.4 write complete sentences that communicate their meaning clearly and effectively, skilfully varying sentence type, structure, and length to suit different purposes and making smooth and logical transitions between ideas (W)

3.2 build vocabulary for writing by confirming word meaning(s) and reviewing and refining word choice, using a variety of resources and strategies, as appropriate for the purpose (W)

3.4 use grammar conventions correctly and appropriately to communicate their intended meaning clearly and effectively  (W)

1.5 identify and analyse the perspectives and/or biases evident in texts, including complex and challenging texts, commenting with understanding and increasing insight on any questions they may raise about beliefs, values, identity, and power (MS)


What is "criticism"? 

In a popular sense, "criticism" means "judgment," and the assumption usually is that what is being called for in the act of criticism is to "point out the failures" of something. Judgments, of course, can be favorable as well as unfavorable. 

"Criticism," however, is much more than rendering a verdict. Many other factors must be taken into consideration when making a judgment. An affirmation or rejection really represents just the end of a much more complicated process. 


What are the components of criticism? 

The process of criticism involves the following steps: 


1) Learning the basics 

In the criticism of literature, the "basics" include knowledge of the elements of literature such as character, action, types of literature, conflict, plot, motif, symbol, language, image, rhetorical patterns in prose and poetry, narrative line, time and setting, and theme.  Without a vocabulary for discussing literature, any kind of justifiable response (other than a purely emotional reaction) is all but impossible. So the first step in literary criticism is familiarization with basic concepts. 


2) Analyzing literary elements 

The process of analysis is identifying, clarifying, defining, and isolating the distinctive parts of a subject. You should be able to identify, for example, primary and secondary characters, that is, those who control the action vs. those characters which play only subordinate or supporting roles. You should be alert to recurring image patterns and be able to classify them by types such as "nature" images or "color" images, etc.  


3) Interpreting the literature 

To interpret a literary work is to explain "what it means." Meaning in literature may be a point an author either states (maybe through a character) or implies (perhaps through images that become symbols). When Huckleberry Finn refuses to go back to St. Petersburg at the end of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we sense, as careful readers, that Huck has grown as a person and can no longer justify the racism and inhumanity that he has left behind. So we might say that the "meaning of the story" is "the necessity to live with integrity," or "the evils of racism," or perhaps "Huck growing up."  Each of these broad observations or generalizations constitute possible "themes" of the story. 

Sometimes the meaning may be a concept "demonstrated" by what happens and how it happens in a work like "realism" or "naturalism." Sometimes meaning evolves or unfolds gradually throughout a work as more an more details are revealed. You should be able to identify statements from characters which seem to sum up a point an author may be making about what's going on inside the literature or outside the literature. Sometimes stated, just as often implied, such generalizations are called "themes." 


4) Judging the literature 

While each of us tends quickly to jump to judgement--we want to say right away whether we like or dislike something, we all know that anyone can rip off an opinion or judgment without it meaning very much. To make a meaningful evaluation, however, assumes that 1) we know what we're talking about (we have learned the basics), 2) we have a thorough grasp of the details of a work and their relationships to each other (we have analyzed the elements), and 3) we have a sense of the author's stated or intended meanings developed in a literary work (we have interpreted the work from the author's perspective). Only if we have met these three conditions can we really make a significant judgment. 

(source for above:  http://www.mvc.dcccd.edu/ArtScien/Engl/INSTRUCT/grimes/2371/CriticalAppr.htm)




Standard critical thinking tools, so useful elsewhere, are readily adaptable to the study of literature. It's possible to analyze, question, interpret, synthesize, and evaluate the literary works you read in the course of pondering, analyzing and discussing them. Literary criticism is the field of study which systematizes this sort of activity, and several critical approaches to literature are possible.



  1. Literature is a form of knowledge with intrinsic elements--style, structure, imagery, tone, and genre.
  2. What gives a literary work status as art, or as a great work of art, is how all of its elements work together to create the reader's total experience (thought, feeling, gut reactions, etc.)
  3. The appreciation of literature as an art requires close reading--a careful, step-by-step analysis and explication of the text (the language of the work). An analysis may follow from questions like, how do various elements work together to shape the effect on the reader?
  4. Style and theme influence each other and can't be separated if meaning is to be retained. It's this interdependence in form and content that makes a text "literary." "Extracting" elements in isolation (theme, character, plot, setting, etc.) may destroy a reader's aesthetic experience of the whole.
  5. Formalist critics don't deny the historical, political situation of a work, they just believe works of art have the power to transcend by being "organic wholes"--akin to a being with a life of its own.
  6. Formalist criticism is evaluative in that it differentiates great works of art from poor works of art. Other kinds of criticism don't necessarily concern themselves with this distinction.
  7. Formalist criticism is decidedly a "scientific" approach to literary analysis, focusing on "facts” amenable to "verification" (evidence in the text).



  1. These critics hold the belief that great literature truthfully reflects life and is a realistic representation of human motivation and behavior.
  2. Psychological critics may choose to focus on the creative process of the artist, the artist's motivation or behavior, or analyze fictional characters' motivations and behaviors.



  1. Real life experience can help shape (either directly or indirectly) an author's work.
  2. Understanding an author's life can help us better understand the work.
  3. Facts from the author's life are used to help the reader better understand the work; the focus is always on the literary work under investigation.
  4. Historical criticism investigates the social, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it. This investigation includes the author's biography and the social milieu.
  5. Historical criticism often seeks to understand the impact of a work in its day, and it may also explore how meanings change over time.
  6. Historical criticism explores how time and place of creation affect meaning in the work.



  1. Mythological criticism studies recurrent universal patterns underlying most literary works (for example, "the hero's journey").
  2. It combines insights from a variety of academic disciplines--anthropology, psychology, history, comparative religion...it concerns itself with demonstrating how the individual imagination shares a common humanity by identifying common symbols, images, plots, etc.
  3. Mythological critics identify "archetypes" (symbols, characters, situations, or images evoking a universal response).



  1. These critics examine literature in its cultural, economic, and political context; they explore the relation between the artist and the society--how might the profession of authorship have affected what's been written?
  2. It is concerned with the social content of literary works, pursuing such questions as: What cultural, economic or political values does the text implicitly or explicitly promote? What is the role of the audience in shaping what's been written?
  3. Marxist critics assume that all art is political.
  4. Marxist critics judge a work's "ideology"--giving rise to such terms as "political correctness."



  1. This type of criticism attempts to describe the internal workings of the reader's mental processes. It recognizes reading as a creative act, a creative process.
  2. No text is self-contained, independent of a reader's interpretive design.
  3. The pluralities of readings possible are all explored. Critics study how different readers see the same text differently, and how religious, cultural, and social values affect readings.
  4. Instead of focusing only on the values embedded in the text, this type of criticism studies the values embedded in the reader. Intersections between the two are explored.



  1. Deconstructive critics believe that language doesn't accurately reflect reality because it's an unstable medium; literary texts therefore have no stable meaning.
  2. Deconstructive criticism resembles formalist criticism in its close attention to the text, its close analysis of individual words and images. There the similarity ends, because their aims are in fact opposite. Whereas formalist criticism is interested in "aesthetic wholes" or constructs, deconstructionists aim to demonstrate irreconcilable positions--they destruct (or deconstruct)--by proving the instability of language, its inability to express anything definite.

(source of the above definitions and introduction:  Stacy Tartar Esch, English Instructor, West Chester University, Pennsylvania, webpage:  http://brainstorm-services.com/wcu/critical-approaches.html)



Read "The Rocking-Horse Winner" (D.H. Lawrence) and "The Cheat's Remorse" (Morley Callaghan).


Choosing from the five stories you have read (except for "The Dentist and the Gas") write a short analysis (2-3 paragraphs) of two of the stories listed using two of the forms of criticism found below:








The rubric for the literary critique can be found here. 


Assignment Three:  Voice of the Novelist

Study of "The Great Gatsby."  Click on the icon to access the assignments.


Assignment Four:   Other Voices

Exploration of graphic short stories, audio texts, and other alternative texts. 




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