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

16. The Search For Identity

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Toni Cade Bambara
- Sandra Cisneros
- Judith Ortiz Cofer
- Leslie Feinberg
- Diane Glancy
- Maxine Hong Kingston
- David Mamet
- Toni Morrison
- Thomas Pynchon
- Alice Walker
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

Sandra Cisneros and Toni Cade Bambara
Ask students to compare the children's ideas about womanhood in Cisneros's short stories, especially "Barbie-Q," to Sweet Pea's adult perspective in Bambara's "Medley." While the stories do not have a one-to-one correspondence, they can help you shape a discussion about the development of two authors' feminist thinking in America. The children seem to believe that women are defined by their clothing and that any man--even a nonexistent "idea" of a man, like the absent Ken doll--are worth fighting over. But Sweet Pea resists such ideas and scoffs at the men who attempt to fight over her. Sweet Pea probably would not identify herself as a feminist, but her instinct is to take care of herself and her child before the man in her life (though you might want to discuss her lingering worries about Larry's ability to survive alone). These characters could help you define feminism for many students who are still wary of the label "feminist." Ask students to identify and discuss Sweet Pea's statements of independence and self-determination.

Thomas Pynchon, Maxine Hong Kingston, and David Mamet
While the texts by these writers are quite dissimilar in many ways, you could teach students how to make connections by focusing on the importance of conversation in each of them. Begin by reading Pynchon's "Entropy," and discuss Saul's ideas about "communication theory" (including "noise" and "leakage"). Then, ask your students to use Saul's theory to analyze the conversation between Nanci Lee and Wittman Ah Sing in Tripmaster Monkey and virtually any snatch of dialogue in Glengarry Glen Ross. Your students may want to discuss why they agree or disagree with the theory. This would also be a good opportunity to address genre questions: they can compare how dialogue functions in prose as opposed to drama, and compare actual "snatches" of conversation from the texts. How do different characters speak? Are they recognizable by their speech patterns: the words they choose, the examples they use, the length of their sentences?

Judith Ortiz Cofer, Diane Glancy, and Alice Walker
With "The Witch's Husband," "Polar Breath," and "Everyday Use," you can discuss how similar characters function in different texts. Ask your students to compare Cofer's Abuela, Glancy's old woman, and Walker's mother. How are they similar and different? You could discuss their feminist sensibilities, including their relative awareness, or lack thereof, about feminism. Ask the question: does a woman have to call herself a feminist to be one? What does it mean to be a feminist? These stories also offer a good opportunity to discuss how the characters address aging and marriage. Why do the older women seem more confident about themselves? Think about how Abuela and Walker's mother deal with their young female relatives. In addition, for genre discussions, it would be useful to address the importance of storytelling in each culture. How do these authors (particularly Cofer and Glancy) mimic the oral tradition in their written stories? How do their uses of oral tradition differ?

Sandra Cisneros and Maxine Hong Kingston
Use "Mericans" and Tripmaster Monkey to discuss how these texts addresses urban life for minorities. Compare Cisneros's and Kingston's depictions of whites as seen by the Chicano children and Wittman Ah Sing. What tensions are apparent within the "city within a city" in each text? You might discuss the child's rejection of the "awful grandmother" and Wittman's derogatory comments about "F.O.B." Chinese immigrants. Also, closely consider the authors' descriptions of physical places. Ask students if they can picture these communities based only on the writers' word-paintings. Ask students to use phrases from the texts to describe the smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures of these communities.

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