Lots of requests have come in asking about Gatsby and how we do literature - from this blog, not the homeschool one! Assuming thats due to the booklinks on the right, I mean left. And many wonder why in the world are we reading The Great Gatsby in her sophomore year anyway? And do I like it? It seems many read it in their later high school or college years, but really didnt enjoy it much at all. Or didnt get it. Many have commented on how dark, dreary, depressing or dismal they thought it was. I agree! But that is exactly why we are reading it - worldview.
Let me first start by explaining how Literature is part of our family culture. When the girls were very small (under 2) I realized that the best way to teach them was through stories. Savannah was ever a wanderer when we were in public, and with infant Peyton I wasn't always able to let her wander as freely as she pleased. Ahem. So I bought "Come along Daisy" and we read it every day at least once. She giggled and laughed at a duck who wandered away from momma. But everytime we got to the part of the story where Daisy was in danger, Savannah rumpled her nose and became very concerned. I did not need to explain. She understood. When momma duck called "Come along Daisy" it was best to come along. And so I began to repeat the story when we were in public, having her say every other line of the story (you know how quickly they memorize!) when I felt she was beginning to wander. And in her little mind it clicked and she knew...she needed to stay close. The story taught her far more than any lecture might have addressed her toddler reasoning.
Today I use that same strategy but on a MUCH larger scale. I have never found it to be anything but effective. Let me explain why I believe that is true.
The bible is a storybook. Both the old and new testaments are stories which tell of real lives and real life situations, emotions and turmoil. The stories are there to teach! Jesus taught in parables. The Holy Spirit teaches me, more than any other way, through stories. He whispers and reveals Truth as I read and ponder.
The more I study the bible, the more I realize the value of stories in helping people understand who they are, and what they are Designed to be. The more I study Jesus and His way of walking with people side by side, the more I realize how love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control are best illustrated through story. Ideation of the fruits of the Spirit is a sometimes difficult task, especially when one is suffering; what does fruit look like in a practical sense? One of the things I teach the girls regularly is to think in terms of "what would it look like if I were to be brave in this situation? Or to be kind? Or to be loving? Or faithful?" I have them ask themselves these questions, not wanting to hear their answers, but for them to formulate their own thoughts. And many times I will use a character from a book or story we have read to lead them. Rare is the time that I need to go much farther. The story takes over.
You have probably read my much repeated belief (a quote by Charles Eliot) that books are the most patient and thorough of all teachers. I say it (and write it) all the time. I believe that books go deep down in places where conversations can not... and then open doors of understanding. I believe that fewer words are needed for instruction when living books are read. Our family culture is one that shares stories...biographies, historical fiction and select fantasy being our favorite genres.
We share stories constantly! What I mean by that is that we are ALWAYS in the beginning, middle or end of a book together. Due to that fact, we talk about the stories, argue different viewpoints and thus learn how each "sees". Does that make sense? If you have ever participated in a book club discussion or critiqued art with a crowd you know what I am talking about. Each participant views the content from his or her own experiences. Therefore many facets are revealed.
With this bit of background in mind, I want to give you a few examples of the why's of how I tackle worldview through literature. I will use Gatsby as my example, since that is what we are reading currently. So, if you can dust off what you remember of the story and see it through different eyes you might find it to be a much more intriguing read.
First of all I address symbolism. I ask the girls, Savannah in this case, what she thinks these things represent:
East Egg and West Egg, separated by the Long Island Sound (represents the worlds of the fashionable and "less fashionable" - and the great divide between them.)
Gatsbys Mansion (represents all the wealth that Gatsby now has to offer Daisy. One might also say that his beautiful pile of shirts and luxurious car are symbolic of this wealth)
The Valley of Ashes (the sordid side of mankinds nature and situation. If West Egg is the beautiful and desirable aspect of human life, the Valley of Ashes is the shriveled side of it, representing the emptiness and dirtiness that Modernists recognized as part of the human condition, especially in the wake of WWI.)
The Green Light (represents Gatsbys dreams and Daisy herself, in whom he has invested them)
The Mantle Clock (represents Gatsby throughout the book trying to turn back time - to be with Daisy as if she had never married Tom)
Daisy's voice (Gatsby says the Daisy's voice is "full of money" and Nick confirms it and "the charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals song of it)
Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg (represents God as understood by Modernists as a pretence of an eerie observer who might possibly be (but almost certainly is not) real and active, yet seems to watch those who pass by and those who live on earths Valley of Ashes
Then I ask her questions like:
Tell me some words that Fitzgerald himself used to describe his characters: Nick, Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Myrtle, George Wilson and finally Gatsby himself. Now, having taken time to understand how he portrays them, how would you translate what you know of them into biblical terms?
Do your attitudes toward the characters change as you translate their traits into biblical terminology?
How would you describe yourself in biblical terms?
Why does materialism fail to satisfy the human soul? If the natural world is so beautiful and if people are so capable of making delightful things - lovely clothes, boats, houses, foods, etc - what arent these enough for people?
How does Fitzgerald portray God in this novel? Is his depiction accurate from a biblical perspective?
Evaluate Fitzgeralds decision to tell this story from a first-person point of view, using Nick as a narrator. Do you think this was a good artistic choice?
And soon Savannah begins to see that The Great Gatsby is a time capsule - a moment in our countrys history. It is a picture of a people who want to forget the war, who want to have pleasureful lives without consequences and who have the means by which to do, and live, as they please. They think they are their own master, but have no fulfillment of any kind and are miserable. As I shared with a friend by email the other day, Savannah begins to see one more facet to the "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God" and why: to let go of power, riches and relinquish control when you have held it at that level is a very difficult decision. Even when you are miserable in it! It is not a money issue, it is a heart issue.
Fitzgerald never meant to teach biblical worldview with his novel, but since he lived exactly as the characters of his book (Tom and Daisy are said to be he and Zeldas portrayals), it is as if one can walk with him through days and emotions, fears and uncertainty... and thus learn.
I hope this gives you some better insight into the whys of how I teach worldview through literature. Tapestry of Grace is the curriculum I feel guides the best discussions in this regard, if you are looking for that kind of thing.
Please email me if you would like any more information on suggestions of how to teach worldview through literature. It is truly one of my favorite educational discussion topics.