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Curriculum Materials

Edna Capehart


Main Ideas
The preceding selection and the activities should provide teachers and students with the framework for doing a more detailed study of literary works by African-American authors in Illinois. The article delves deeply into a single work by Gwendolyn Brooks and one by Ronald Fair to provide concrete experiences of what life was like for a young African-American female growing up from the 1920s to the post-Depression era and young African-American males growing up in the period of the 1960s. In each case the quest for individual identity and dignity is an overriding theme. The selection should be used as a resource to aid the teacher in preparing the lesson and the students in understanding the similarities and differences in this struggle for identity across gender and historical time periods.


Connection with the Curriculum
Though the materials in the selection draw upon literature, the lesson should involve some study of the history of African-Americans during the periods mentioned. This offers opportunities to include social studies in the lesson. Some knowledge of the two periods involved will provide students with an historical perspective from which to examine the details of the characters' lives. Therefore, some background material on the periods and the areas that provide settings for the novels would be helpful.

Teaching Level
Grades 9-12, with students who have had some experience with both reading novels and examining them through criticism and character analysis

Materials for Each Student

Maud Martha (entire book or selected chapters)

Hog Butcher (or another work by Fair)

Writing materials for each student

A copy of the narrative portion of this article

A list of questions to guide group discussions

Objectives for Each Student
Examine how language, characterization, and actions aid in development of theme

Analyze how various universal and cultural themes are developed in works by African-Americans in Illinois

Relate the experiences of African-Americans as depicted in literature to the experiences of oneself and other cultures

Develop one's own opinion and tastes in reading for understanding and pleasure

Compare and contrast themes and experiences of African-Americans during various historical periods in Chicago

Use literary criticism as a tool for understanding works of fiction



Opening the Lesson
A K-W-L format could be used as an approach to the lesson. In this strategy, the lesson follows a pattern of questioning to determine first what the students already know (K) about the subject at hand. The second inquiry determines what the students want to know (W) or find out about the subject. This might be broadened to having the students predict from prior knowledge what things the article might say about the subject. Finally, assess the material. What did students learn (L), after reading the material. Also encourage students to add an additional query: What would you like to know about the novels and characters that you did not learn from the article? This will offer an excellent opportunity to allow students to present ideas for extending the lesson and to encourage them to read the entire novel.

First, read the narrative and select words and literary references that your students may find difficult to understand. These terms should be discussed, and the students should be asked to keep a list of the terms for future reference. Then discuss the themes of the search for identity in literature, and coming of age (bildungsroman). Questions should be directed toward the students regarding other works they have read with these same themes. Information should be provided on the historical periods that surrounds the novels, especially as they might relate to African-Americans living in Illinois, especially in Chicago.

Before students begin to read the narrative portion of this article, have them make a list of questions that they would like answered in the selection. During the course of the reading, those questions that are answered should be checked off the list. You might want to provide a list of questions that you want the students to answer after they have finished reading the material. Only a small percentage of these questions should be aimed at determining facts. With this material the focus should be on making sure that the students understand the themes and that they can provide practical application of what they have learned to their lives and to other works that they may have read in the past.


Developing the Lesson
After students have read the narrative portion of this article, discuss with them the list of questions that they did not have answered in the selection. The entire class should discuss these to make sure that students have not missed some information during the reading. Finally, you may want to provide additional resources that address the remaining questions. Some helpful source material can be found in the bibliography at the end of this volume.

Students could then be placed into small groups. The following list of questions should be given to each group to guide their discussion of the selection and the themes represented. Assign students selected chapters of one of the novels to examine the development of the theme. For example, Maud Martha in chapter 1 indicates that her fondest hope is to be cherished. Students could be asked to read the novel to determine if this wish, which is tied to Maud's own idea of identity, was ever significantly fulfilled. Groups could then make presentations based on the reading to show how the events of Maud's life either brought her closer to or farther away from realization of her ideal. The same could be done in the case of one of Ronald Fair's novels.

In each case, the students would be asked to approach the work from the standpoint of the theme mentioned in the selection and determine through further reading how this theme is developed and if the character's quest is successful.

Questions To Guide the Discussion

  1. In most works of fiction that deal with the theme of bildungsroman, or coming of age, there is usually a single incident or a series of events that mark the passage from childhood to adulthood. Make a list of works that you have read, and in condensed form write down these incidents and discuss them with classmates. Be careful to note similarities in the various incidents that you list.

  2. What are some of the themes that are used by African-American authors?

  3. What are some of the similarities between themes in the works of Fair and Brooks as mentioned in the selection?

  4. After reading Maud Martha, make a list of themes that the author develops in the story. Compare your list of themes to those given in the selection. Decide whether these themes relate to Maud's African-American culture, or if these are themes that could be considered universal. If you decide that the theme is universal, discuss how it could relate to other ethnic groups as well. (You may want to use examples from other works that you have read.) a. Describe what lesson or insight Maud has gained by the end of the story. If you decide that no lesson or insight was gained, show how her goals changed from those



    expressed as a young girl to those expressed as an adult.

    b. Make a list of five to ten adjectives that describe Maud or one of the other main characters at the beginning of the story. At the end of the story show how these attributes changed or remained the same by making a second list. Be sure that you can give incidents from the text to support your lists.

    c. Discuss whether Maud seems to be controlling the things that are happening in her life, whether she is basically being controlled by outside events, or by those close to her.

  5. From what you know or have heard about life in a large city in Illinois, such as Chicago, what are some of the ways that life has changed for African-Americans since the 1930s and the 1960s? Discuss the ways in which life has not changed to a great extent. You may want to check various sources to confirm your ideas. The Chicago Historical Society and the DuSable Museum in Chicago can provide a wealth of information on Brooks's "Bronzeville."

  6. After reading Fair's Hog Butcher, compare the view of life presented of a young African-American male in the 1960s with the life of a young African American female of the Depression and post-Depression era in Chicago. Also compare the historical times.

Concluding the Lesson
Have students return to the narrative portion of this article and examine the idea of what it means to grow up as an African-American in Illinois, especially in Chicago. The idea to be examined at this point would be whether young people, especially African-Americans, growing up in Chicago today face similar problems in their quest for identity. In an essay, students might focus on a particular problem that was faced by Maud or the characters presented by Fair and determine if this is a problem or concern for young African-Americans coming of age in Chicago today. In addition, they could show how the themes mentioned extend across ethnic and racial boundaries.

City Scene

Extending the Lesson
Students could be asked to make a visual presentation of what Chicago, as a backdrop for the literature, looked like during the era of the 1920s and the Great Depression. They could then discuss environment and racial and social climate as a factor in the novels.

Students could put together discussions of the differences in African-American society as depicted in Maud Martha and Hog Butcher. For example, family life could be compared.

Students may have ideas developed from their list of unanswered questions put together earlier in the lesson.

Assessing the Lesson
In lieu of a standard exam to assess student understanding at the end of the unit, other methods for assessment could be developed with the help of students. For example, a rubric could be developed by students and teacher to determine how student participation in discussions, written papers, and classroom discussions will be graded. In addition, students should be given opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge by applying it in other areas. For example, students may write papers that apply the themes discussed to books they have read about African-Americans in Illinois, or they might want to demonstrate their understanding of Maud Martha and Hog Butcher and the themes by rewriting them as plays for exhibition emphasizing the themes discussed previously.

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