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I propose a session at the April conference in which I demonstrate techniques I have used for teaching the John Gardner novel October Light. I have taught the novel probably a dozen times with sophomore literature students.
I would base the presentation on the questions which I use to stimulate discussion of the novel, leading the group through a typical class.
Though I am not an expert in literary criticism, I believe I could give other literature teachers ideas on how to approach Gardner's novel with beginning literature students.
I anticipate the presentation lasting perhaps an hour, certainly no more.
What follows is the handout that Margie distributed at the conference:
LIT 202 Questions on OCTOBER LIGHT by John Gardner
I. Look up critical reaction to the book and report to the class.
1. From what point of view is the novel told? Why? The novel within the
novel uses what point of view? Why?
2. What means of characterization does Gardner use? Describe James Page and Sally Page Abbott in full detail. Are the minor characters stock, flat characters or round characters (Estelle Parks. Ruth and Ed Thomas, Ginny, Lewis)?
3. Describe the characters in 'Smugglers of Lost Souls' Rock," Peter,:.Captain Fist, Jane, Mr. Nit, Mr. Goodman, Luther Santisillia, Dr. Alkahest, Dancer, the Indian, Pearl. In what ways do these characters differ from those in the main story?
4. Discuss the languages used by Gardner. Is his use appropriate?
5. Is the setting for this novel well chosen? Explain. What about the setting(s) in the "trash" novel?
6. What is the purpose of the "trash" novel? Are there parallels between the two books?
7. Describe the plot structure of the novel.
8. What is the climax of the novel?
9. Describe Gardner's style. How does he handle description of places and people?
10. What is the significance of the title?
11. What is the purpose for the historical quotations prior to each chapter?
12. What is the purpose of the novel?
13. What is the theme of October Light?
1. There is a good deal of discussion about reality in this book. What is Gardner saying about reality? See pages 20, 37, 38, 82, 138-39. 181, 198.
2 . What comment is made about the American dream? p. 93?
3. Freedom is also a big theme here. What does Gardner say about it? See pages 104, 164, 223, 251, 308, 425.
4. Women's roles and rights also are treated in detail. What does Gardner say on this subject? See pages 92, 115, 202-203, 268.
5. Do people need each other, according to Gardner?
6. There are echoes of Thoreau and Kesey here. Did you notice? See pages 268 and 448.
7. The idea of locking and unlocking predominates in the book, Discuss.
8. How powerful is guilt, according to John Gardner?
9. One of Gardner's major beliefs is that fiction should be moral. That is, it should urge us toward the good rather than toward our lower impulses. See pages 18, 41, 346, and 414 for discussion of this idea. Is this book moral fiction?
FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPTS OF FICTION
"...one event must cause another (however the order of events may be disguised by f lashbacks or by old narrative technique) characters' motives must be shown dramatically, not just talked about; setting, character, and action must interpenetrate, each supporting and infusing the others; plot must have rhythm, so that in some way it builds in intensity toward an emotional high point; the narrative must have design, a firm structure that gives every part value but does not vulgarly call attention to itself; style, plot, and meaning must finally be all one."
On Becoming a Novelist
(New York: Harper & Row) 1983