At the beginning of the month, I wrote about my students’ aversion to Alfie, the protagonist of the WWI-era novel Stay Where You Are and Then Leave. Today, we finished reading the Revolutionary War-era novel Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, which we had been reading as a read aloud. I didn’t think my class was really enjoying the book until today, when we were discussing the book. As the students started talking about the protagonist, Isabel, I got the vibe that they liked her a lot.
So, I asked the question: Since you thought Alfie was a “bad” protagonist, what do you think about Isabel? Now, Alfie lived during WWI, so he definitely had a hard life, but my students were so unsympathetic towards his hardships because he made too many “bad” choices that he wasn’t “punished” for (according to them). Isabel is a slave during the Revolutionary War, and she also made some questionable decisions. I was curious to see how my students judged her.
Well, Isabel was definitely a “good” character. Everyone in my class sang her praises, justifying her actions and insisting that she was kind and caring. I’m not saying they are wrong, but I think it is so interesting that they had such different opinions about these two characters. Both are children, both growing up during wartime, both facing difficult decisions. But one was acceptable and one unacceptable. I am so intrigued by this, and I keep thinking about these characters and how my students think and feel about them.
I love that my students make me think about things in new ways. I love that they back up their assertions with specific examples. I love that they are confident in their convictions. I love that they don’t think it’s ever OK to do the wrong thing, regardless of the circumstances. I love that they hold their characters to high standards. I hope they continue to hold people to high standards for the rest of their lives.