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ERIC Number: EJ1002947
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Sep
Pages: 7
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 15
ISSN: ISSN-0013-8274
Superman Is Dead: How We Help Students Make Sense of Literary Characters
Gilmore, Barry
English Journal, v102 n1 p27-33 Sep 2012
In her book "Why Do We Care about Literary Characters?" Blakely Vermeule addresses the tendency of the academic establishment to dismiss affection for literary characters in favor of objective analysis, describing teachers with "the furrowed brow, the worried expression: responsible teachers [who] wean their students off their passion for literary characters or at least teach them how to think about them in a responsible way, leavening their passion with skepticism, dialectic, and appropriately aesthetic distance." No doubt, the study of literature offers numerous appropriate stepping stones for teaching students the structures of fiction and nonfiction, but Vermeule has a point. An overly reductive approach in which characters become no more than a list of traits and stories a catalogue of symbols and ill-phrased themes is a recipe for disaster in encouraging students to read. Sometimes, students may need to be allowed to love characters, while at other times academic distance may be appropriate. In this article, the author suggests that every English teacher should revisit with his or her students three deep questions that have no definitive answers: (1) "Why" do we care about literary characters?; (2) "How" do we care about literary characters?; and (3) How do we "express" our understanding of characters? Although the author has offered some reflections on these questions, the questions themselves are meant to guide discussion not toward right answers but toward fuller understanding of reading.
National Council of Teachers of English. 1111 West Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL 61801-1096. Tel: 877-369-6283; Tel: 217-328-3870; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A