Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Man in the Black Suit

Tomorrow my juniors have their Socratic seminar on the Stephen King story "The Man in the Black Suit." The story is told by an elderly man who recalls having met the devil when he was a child. The story was inspired by the Nathaniel Hawthorne story "Young Goodman Brown." The students have also read the Washington Irving short story "The Devil and Tom Walker," which is a tale of a Faustian bargain, somewhat humorous. The Stephen King story is compelling, written in a disarmingly detached voice, told at a leisurely pace. Here are some Socratic questions I have written for tomorrow's seminar:
1. Why do you think Stephen King set this story in 1914, three years before World War I?
2. Why do you think that the wilderness or the forest is so frequently associated with the devil?
3. Do you think Stephen King's personification of evil is effective? What is most frightening or convincing about his portrayal of this character?
4. Why do you think writers create characters that depict pure evil?
5. How does the "man in the black suit" compare with Roger Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter?
5. Does the devil tempt Gary in this story? How?
6. How does the death of Gary's brother figure into the story?
7. What details convince you that Gary is correct, and that he has truly encountered the devil?
8. Why does Gary wait until he is 90-years old to write this story down?
9. If the man in the black suit really is the devil, why does he choose such an isolated place to go? Is he there specifically to meet the 9-year-old Gary? If so, why?
10. Why does Gary want to bring the family Bible, bulging with family documents and pictures, back to the site where he saw the devil?
11. The devil lies to Gary and tells him that his mother is dead. Why this lie?
12. Why does the devil call Gary "fisherboy"?
13. What is the significance of the little dog, Candy Bill?
14. Why does the devil eat Gary's fish?

I could go on, but the students should only need a few instigating questions. The students will each bring three seminar questions, and once the discussion gets going I stay out of it unless things get really bogged down.

The students will be divided into two groups, with an inner circle and an outer circle. My class has thirty-one students, so if everyone is present, there will be one circle with fifteen students, and one with sixteen. Each circle will have a twenty-minute discussion. After each discussion, the students in the outer circle will comment on the discussion they observed in the inner circle. After the first discussion, students trade places, and the students on the outer circle become the inner circle. I'm looking forward to this seminar, because the story is engaging, and I think all, or close to all of the students will have read it.


A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I wish my high school English teacher was as wonderful as you are! Sounds like a great class setup here. I think I would have appreciated Hawthorne more as a teenager if my teacher had tied in his work with a contemporary author like King.

bibliophiliac said...

Believe me, I am doing my best for Hawthorne. Students are really resistant to The Scarlet Letter, but I love the novel and continue to teach it. At least a few kids are converted every year.

Anonymous said...

Hey, i'm studying the connections between Hawthorne and King through Young Goodman Brown and The man in the Black suit in my AP English class. I was wandering if you could tell me how the Devil is portrayed through both authors and how King pays Homage to Hawthorne through these texts.