It’s been fun to teach so far. My students and I are taking things slowly at the beginning to make sure everyone’s comfortable with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing. The language, of course, is undeniably crazy. It’s not your normal book, after all, that combines “physiognomy” and “ignominious” and “countenance” in the same sentence. I’ve even had to pass out dictionaries, which elicited bewilderment and wisecracks. One student pretended he was an archaeologist. “This is a very rare find,” he said, “We haven’t seen one of these in years.”
Despite the ornate prose and the long, complex sentences, my students like the book so far. I mean, who doesn’t like a good telenovela? Today we got to the part where Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s cheated-on husband, promises revenge: “He will be known!–he will be known!–he will be known!” (Yes, he says it three times.) I made my students repeat this proclamation in appropriately melodramatic fashion.
So everything’s going great. But there’s only one problem — which is an ongoing issue for me. How do you teach a great but challenging book? When the words and sentences themselves are so tough — and when you can spend an hour on just 10 pages — what’s the best way to proceed?
In high school, when I first read The Scarlet Letter, I remember my teacher expertly leading us in close reading and line-by-line analysis. (I also remember feeling proud after finishing the book because I’d understood it.) So how did we finish in just three weeks? It seems impossible. I’m devoting four weeks — a long time in an AP class — because I want to make sure my students are successful, but I worry that even a month isn’t enough.