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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

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Activities: Author Activities

Katherine Anne Porter - Teaching Tips

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  • "Flowering Judas" can be somewhat difficult for students to get into at first because of the lack of explication for its foreign setting. In preparation for reading the story, ask your students to look into the history of Mexico in the early twentieth century, focusing on the abundance of revolutionary activity during the period. (The decade of 1910-20 was an especially turbulent time in Mexico, as different leaders in different regions of the country mounted military campaigns against each other as well as the Mexican government. Many Mexicans found themselves caught between military leaders at local and regional levels, and power shifted from one faction to another repeatedly during the period.) After your students have read the story, ask them to use their research to discuss what Porter means when she says that Laura "wears the uniform of an idea, and has renounced vanities." What does this suggest about Laura and the role she plays in the revolution?

  • In an interview in The Paris Review, Porter said that she had "no patience with this dreadful idea that whatever you have in you has to come out, that you can't suppress true talent. People can be destroyed; they can be bent, distorted, and completely crippled. To say that you can't destroy yourself is just as foolish as to say of a young man killed in war at twenty-one or twenty-two that that was his fate, that he wasn't going to have anything anyhow." Introduce your students to Porter's statements; then ask them to discuss them in small groups. Does Laura, the protagonist of "Flowering Judas," seem "bent" or "distorted" in any way? Does Porter's statement, above, give us a way of understanding these characters? What do Porter's thoughts suggest about authorship in general?

  • Good fictional characters commonly face a major problem or decision which develops from a misunderstanding, a value conflict with other characters, misinformation, or some other challenging situation. However, like many of the writers included in this unit, Porter often creates characters who seem challenged by some failing of their own--as a result of either some inner conflict or some past event that we as readers cannot directly access. Ask your students to analyze the characters in Porter's stories: What are these characters challenged by? Do these characters seem to be healthy human beings facing unusual obstacles, or do the characters themselves seem deficient in some way? For example, does Laura, the protagonist of "Flowering Judas," seem "bent" or "distorted" in any way? For purposes of comparison, invite your students to catalog the "deficiencies" of other protagonists, such as those created by Faulkner, O'Connor, or Williams. Why might southern authors create characters who seem to be, in some way, "damaged"?

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