Focus Question: What is stereotyping in literature and how do you recognize it? [IS.7 - ELL Students]
Begin the lesson by having students read “Gustavo From Colombia Confronts Stereotypes About His Country” by Gustavo Orozco.
Write the word stereotyping on the board/interactive whiteboard and ask students how they would define it. Record their responses. Suggested definitions include the following:
- a commonly held image or notion about a group or a person
- a judgment based on oversimplification or generalization
- an opinion based on one observed or imagined trait that is applied to an entire group
- an opinion that tends to make some people feel superior to others
Say, “These are all examples of stereotyping in society. Stereotyping in literature includes these definitions, but it also has a strictly literary meaning that we will be examining during this lesson.”
Ask students to think about stereotypes from fairy tales and nursery rhymes and then list their examples on the board/interactive whiteboard, such as wicked stepmother; big, bad wolf; brave prince; and damsel in distress. [IS.8 - ELL Students]
Say, “In literature, stereotyping means that characters are not developed as individuals; instead, the characters have only the quality or qualities of a stereotype. They are often referred to as stock characters or static characters because they do not change, and they are often minor characters. The main character usually undergoes a change of some sort, and that change is a crucial part of the plot.”
Read aloud The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by A. Wolf (as told to Jon Scieszka). Have students complete the Character Analysis worksheet (L-7-3-2_Character Analysis.doc) to identify differences they notice between Al Wolf and the stereotypical wolf in the original story. Suggested answers include the following:
- The stereotypical wolf is big and bad and wants to eat the three pigs.
- Al Wolf is kind, making a birthday cake for his “dear old granny.”
- Al is polite, knocking at first little pig’s door to borrow a cup of sugar.
- He is a victim of circumstances, sneezing and knocking down the straw house.
- He is frugal, eating the first two pigs only because they have died and the food will go to waste.
- Al is loyal or sensitive, becoming upset when the third little pig insults Al’s granny.
Summarize the character analysis of the wolf in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!
- Al is no longer a stereotype as he is in the fairy tale.
- He apparently has several positive characteristics.
- He is clever and deceitful enough to devise a humorous, plausible story to explain his actions.
- He is now a distinct character with a personality of his own.
- Readers are offered a view of his relationships and possible motives for his actions.
Say, “One problem caused by characters who are stereotypes is that they are very predictable; therefore, they can make a story boring. We are going to examine a short story for the use of character stereotypes.” [IS.9 - ELL Students]
Read aloud the first four paragraphs of O. Henry’s short story “The Ransom of Red Chief.” Ask students if they recognize any possible stereotypes. Have them record their ideas on the Character Analysis worksheet (L-7-3-2_Character Analysis.doc) and then share them with the rest of the class. Suggested answers include the following:
- Kidnappers of young children are usually portrayed as heartless and greedy.
- The young child is portrayed as an innocent victim who is to be pitied.
- The father of the child is heartbroken by the loss of his child. In this case, the father is also portrayed as a prominent, responsible citizen.
Say, “Our knowledge of stereotypes affects our expectations as readers. Once we believe that we have identified certain types of characters, we think we can predict some of the things that they will do and thus the way the plot might develop.” Ask students to work in pairs to record a brief prediction of how they think the story might develop. Also, ask students to record where their sympathies lie at this point in the story—and why. Have students share their ideas with the rest of the class.
Read aloud the next 10 paragraphs. (The final one begins “Yes, sir, that boy seemed to be having the time of his life.”) Ask students if the stereotypes they identified earlier are still valid, or if they have changed their minds about any of them. Have students record their responses on the Character Analysis worksheet. Suggested answers include the following:
- The “innocent child” stereotype has disappeared, to be replaced with the mischievous boy stereotype.
- One of the kidnappers, Bill, has broken the heartless kidnapper stereotype because he is playing games with Red Chief.
Read aloud the rest of the story and then ask students whether the story makes use of stereotypes. Have students discuss their answers in groups, then as a class. Be sure that students realize that the story makes use of stereotypes, but not in the expected way. Much of the humor of the story arises from the reversal of stereotypes, such as the kidnappers become relatively innocent, helpless victims, while Red Chief is the aggressor, and his father is portrayed as a ruthless, greedy man.
You may wish to write the following statement on the board/interactive whiteboard for students’ reference:
Recognizing stereotypes increases the reader’s appreciation of the story.
Discuss whether students agree or disagree with the statement and ask them to provide reasons for their conclusions.
In groups, have students read O. Henry’s short story “A Retrieved Reformation.” Ask them to read the first 20 paragraphs (the final paragraph begins “Ben Price knew Jimmy’s habits.”) and then to discuss and record any ideas they have about the use of stereotypes in the story thus far. Have students record their answers on the Character Analysis worksheet (L-7-3-2_Character Analysis.doc). Tell students these worksheets will be collected. Suggested answers include the following:
- Jimmy Valentine is a master thief who cannot be turned from his career, even by prison.
- Ben Price is an observant investigator, dedicated to arresting Jimmy.
Ask students to include a sentence that predicts the plot of the story, based on what they have observed thus far. Have the groups share their thoughts with the rest of the class, and then have students finish reading the story independently.
When students have finished reading, ask them to complete the Character Analysis worksheet (L-7-3-2_Character Analysis.doc) by writing about the use of stereotypes in the story. Have students discuss their responses in groups and then share their thoughts with the rest of the class. Suggested answers include the following:
- Jimmy Valentine sheds his old ways when he sees Annabel Adams, changes his name to Ralph Spencer, opens a shoe store, and becomes a model citizen. Although it appears he switches one stereotype for another, readers see that he makes a genuine sacrifice when he saves Agatha because he expects to be arrested and for Annabel to renounce him.
- Ben Price also steps out of his stereotype because he changes when he acts as though he doesn’t know Jimmy and allows him to keep his new life.
- Annabel is a stock figure––a pretty, pleasant, young woman who adores her fiancé––who does not change during the course of the story and is simply the reason for Jimmy’s sudden change. [IS.10 - ELL Students]
The other minor characters are also stereotypes. (Minor characters are frequently given a single characteristic.) Mr. Adams is a dependable banker and concerned grandfather, focused on his granddaughter locked in the vault. May and Agatha, his granddaughters, are thoughtless and playful, which leads to May locking her sister Agatha in the vault. Agatha’s mother is hysterical after her daughter is closed in the vault.
Collect students’ responses for the Unit Assessment.
- Students who need additional opportunities for learning may benefit from the following activities:
o Read some of the classic myths and identify personality types that have become stereotypes. (Examples: Narcissus: the self-centered person; Aphrodite: the irresistible, beautiful woman; Icarus: the young, thoughtless adventurer who risks everything; Midas: the person overcome with greed who loses everything dear to him as a result)
o Read the poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes and identify the romantic stereotype that is used (the daring, reckless highwayman who dies for his love).
- Students who are ready to go beyond the standard may explore social stereotyping in children’s books. Suggested sources are listed in Related Resources. [IS.11 - ELL Students]