Friday, October 19, 2012

Will It Teach?: Stephen King's Under the Dome (Part 2)

As you may remember from this first post, I'm listening to Stephen King's Under the Dome as I commute to work these days.  I'm really enjoying it--in particular, I love the way that King builds suspense.  When two characters are discussing the need for a plan, and then one of them says, "I have a plan that will change everything," King doesn't reveal that plan right away.  Instead, he says, "And then he told her."  You know that information was exchanged, but you don't know what that was--as a result, the plot can still move forward and the characters can keep making decisions, but the reader still gets left in the dark.  It's a neat trick, and one that keeps me on the edge of my seat, even though the novel is over 30 hours long when read aloud.

(And yes, I agree with one of my students that listening to a highly suspenseful book while driving in traffic might not be the most relaxing thing to do, but it sure makes time go by faster!)

Anyways, I made a few predictions last time about what I thought was going on.  I was right about one thing, and wrong about who would die next, but the question of what's causing the dome is still up in the air.  But what I'm mostly interested in talking about today is whether or not this is a book that would teach well.

Next semester, I get to teach an introductory literature class called "Literature of the Public Life," and I have very free reign with what I do with the syllabus.  I think I'm going to do something with autobiography/memoir, something with public response to public tragedy (9/11 novels and films, I think), and something with how the Internet is changing how we read literature.  I'll also have a unit about government, where we read Common Sense with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

But the unit that I'm most excited about is the one that I'm thinking about doing on cities.  D.J. Waldie has written this fantastic memoir called Holy Land, that is written as the memoir of an entire suburb.  The structure of the memoir is these short chapters, which mirror the structure of the grid that shapes the suburb.  I'm fascinated by the idea of a memoir about an entire city--the pairing of the memoir with the city negotiates the tension between public and private that is at the heart of the class.

I see Under the Dome exploring a lot of similar ideas, because as much as it's a novel about what happened to create the dome, it's also a novel that is about how people act when they are cut off from the rest of society.  King uses third-person limited narration to explore multiple private perspectives, but he also occasionally uses third-person omniscient narration to take a look at the town as a whole.  In that sense, King's very narrative choices negotiate the tensions between public and private that are at the heart of living as part of society.

I also think that teaching Under the Dome in an intro lit class could offer a number of other benefits as well.  It could open up some really fascinating discussions about the role of popular literature in society; it could raise questions about how appropriate violence and representations of misogyny and racism are in literature; it raises a wide variety of themes that students could then connect to other texts (movies, TV shows, books) that they are familiar with.  I could even scatter some related short stories or TV episodes into the mix--we could, for example, watch an episode of Gilmore Girls and Lost to compare how these two shows treat small-town life and being cut of from the rest of the world, respectively.  Also, at over 1000 pages, Under the Dome would be a real accomplishment for students to have read--and especially for students in an intro lit class, making them feel good about reading is often a key part of the class.

So, what do you think?  Obviously, I will finish the book before making any final decisions, but I think this idea is quite appealing.  For those of you who have read the book, would it teach well?  (Please let me know about this in a general way without spoiling the ending of the novel!)  And for those of you who are students, would you be excited to see a Stephen King novel on the syllabus for your English class?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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