Narrative Assignment

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We also sought to provide an opportunity for peer review in the small discussion groups that had become a standard feature of our teaching together.

What evolved, then, was a series of exercises closely related to the thematic and formal issues of the course: how narratives shape reality.

Having spent a good deal of class time exploring the various cultural narratives embedded in Faulkner's novel--narratives of Southern defeat, of racism, patriarchy, the stories of Exodus and David--we asked students to construct their own fable or parable that would reveal one or more of the cultural narratives that were more or less silently shaping their own story.

This was, in fact, a more challenging assignment than it first appeared, requiring not only creativity in inventing a fable, but also perceptiveness in detecting one of the cultural narratives that lay imbedded in the original story.

Nearly everyone was appropriately impressed with the differences in the versions and the messages that were received.

Having suggested to them Faulkner's own fascination with stories and storytellers and having armed them with some techniques for tackling his daunting prose, we asked, for the following week, that they write a three-to-five page story about an event in their lives that revealed something about their relationships to whatever reality they meant when they spoke of the divine.

The process began in the first class, when as an introductory exercise, we asked students to join in pairs and tell each other a story that would in some way reveal themselves.

We assured them that the story need not be profound or violate their privacy, but that it should help the listener to understand something about their lives.

Many were quite successful at both, and the change of pace was welcomed, since some students had begun to exhaust the narratives they had chosen to tell.

We had decided not to collect or comment the stories to this point, wanting both to allow students to develop some self-confidence as critics in the peer groups and also to give individuals as much flexibility as they needed in choosing their own "'comfort level" for the self-revelation their stories demanded.

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