". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Animal Farm - Week One

A few people have expressed an interest in hearing about my homeschool literature class's study of Animal Farm. So over the next few weeks I am going to try to do weekly posts on that topic.

For this week the students were assigned the first two chapters to read. In class today, we will do the following things:

1) Briefly review the life of Eric Blair (pen name: George Orwell).

2) Define the terms fable, satire, and allegory.

3) Place the book in historical context (and prepare for the discussion of allegory) by identifying significant people & events: Karl Marx, Czar Nicholas, the Russian Revolution, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Bolsheviks, socialism, communism, fascism.

4) Note that Orwell subtitled the book "A Fairy Story." Discuss the features of the typical fairy tale and keep this subtitle in mind as you read, trying to judge why Orwell might have considered his book a fairy tale.

5) Discuss the first two chapters of the book. Here are a few topics to consider:

a. Identify the main characters and their attributes. Among the animals, who are the leaders and who are the followers? Consider why Orwell might have chosen certain animals to represent certain characters.

b. Analyze the animals' meeting. Take note of how the animals position themselves for the meeting. What might this suggest about their status in the group?

c. How does Major inspire the animals to attempt a rebellion? What techniques of persuasion does he use?

d. Analyze the song "Beasts of England." Why do the animals embrace it so? To what emotions/needs does it appeal? What kind of imagery does it use?

e. Start looking for possible allegorical interpretations: Major & the other animals, Sugarcandy Mountain, the farmhouse.

f. Discuss the overthrow of the humans. What event brings it about? How is it accomplished?

g. With whom do you find yourself sympathizing at this point in the story? The animals or the humans?

h. What do you think became of the milk?

A great site for finding material to support the teaching of literature is Web English Teacher. You can find the listing for Orwell and his works here. The resources I found most helpful were the second and the twelfth--both are multi-page teacher's guides with extensive background material, discussion questions, and suggestions for activities.

Assignment for next week: chapters 3, 4, & 5. If you decide to join us, please feel free to post questions, thoughts or reflections on the book in the comment box. Happy reading!

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