The following is one of several exercises my students did at home and in class to help them comprehend difficult texts such as Annie Dillard’s “Sight into Insight” and Toni Morrison’s “Strangers” from the Norton Reader (14th ed.). The main technique used was a common one—breaking down difficult ideas into parts, and then adding the parts together to come up with a larger meaning. The approach is one of asking students to reflect on how an author’s word choice and style can be used to convey the complexities of ordinary events such as encountering a stranger in the case of Morrison. By paraphrasing at the level of the sentence and looking up unfamiliar words, students had to think about their own word choices and means of conveying complex ideas to the reader. A survey at the end of the semester showed that a number of students had gained a heightened awareness of how to persevere with such texts.
The following instructions were preparatory to a discussion of Morrison’s essay “Strangers” in the next class. After covering the essay in class discussion, students were then asked to close-read and write about specific passages to practice summarizing skills as they moved toward a paper assignment on representations of the Other in visual art and written texts.
Read Toni Morrison’s essay “Strangers” in the Norton Reader (129-132) following the usual procedures for pre-reading, careful note-taking as you read, and rereading closely for greater understanding. Keep a list of vocabulary words you look up with appropriate definitions.
Here are some content questions on Morrison’s essay to make sure you are reading closely. Write a brief response for each question in complete sentences, pointing to specific words or phrases in the essay that support your answer as relevant.
- How does Morrison leave the stranger she meets up with? What does she imagine about their future encounters?
- Explain the following sentences. What does Morrison mean in each one? (paraphrase to show you understand her point):
- “I decide that the fisherwoman fibbed about the permission and took advantage of the neighbor’s frequent absences to poach” (130).
- “Isn’t that the kind of thing that we fear strangers will do? Disturb. Betray. Prove they are not like us. That is why it is so hard to know what to do with them.”
- “My instant embrace of an outrageously dressed fisherwoman was due in part to an image on which my representation of her was based. I immediately sentimentalized and appropriated her.” (130-131)
- “It took some time for me to understand my unreasonable claims on that fisherwoman. To understand that I was longing for and missing some aspect of myself, and that there are no strangers. There are only versions of ourselves, many of which we have not embraced, most of which we wish to protect ourselves from” (131).
After class discussion of Morrison’s essay in the next class meeting, students were asked to respond in writing on their laptops to the following prompt for approximately 25-30 minutes:
Read the last four paragraphs of the essay “Strangers” by Toni Morrison. Summarize (condense) those paragraphs in your own words. As you do so, reflect on what Morrison is saying here about strangers and the Other. You may use They Say, I Say to refresh your memory about “The Art of Summarizing” (Chapter 2 “Her Point is: The Art of Summarizing”
Submit as a word attachment only in Times New Roman, 12 pitch, double-spaced type (MLA style).