How Toni Morrison Helps My High School Students Understand Dickens

October 24, 2022

By Nirshan Perera, Friends of the Dickens Project Board Member 

Victorian Studies, Winter 2022 journal cover

Abstract: This article explains how Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' (1987) has become an important intertext for Charles Dickens's 'Great Expectations' (1860–61) in [my] high school teaching. It suggests that the reading practices of nonexperts, along with unconventional text pairings, may help Victorianists fruitfully rethink disciplinary boundaries and field borders.

Excerpt: "Over the past seven years, Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) has been shifting and rearranging the way that my high school seniors work with Victorian literature. In the advanced placement English class I teach at a charter school in Santa Cruz, California, we engage with an eclectic mix of texts across the course of a full year, material that we often curate together. Nineteenth-century Bildungsromane might abut comic strips by Alison Bechdel and music by MF DOOM. We use the Harkness learning methodology, which decenters our classroom and forces me to forgo professorial power in favor of the richly unsettling flows of collaborative conversation and curriculum building: my students create the agendas for our discussions and, while I offer structure and guidance, they routinely organize and facilitate our seminars when we're in Harkness mode."


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