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The Wife's Story
Submitted by Jean Trounstine (profile)
Title and Author: The Wife's Story by Ursula LeGuin
Genre: Short story
Theme: A very surprising science fiction story that reverses the werewolf idea. A wolf turns into a man and scares the living daylights out of his wolf wife and wolf children. What makes this story amazing is that LeGuin tricks us, throughout much of the story, into believing that the tale is about humans. She teases us with issues of child abuse, male-female relationships, life in a small town, and sisterly devotion, but she upsets our expectations, forces us to ask questions, re-read the story, and come to see that man is just as frightening as beast.
Class type: Women
This is the way I start a CLTL program. In some ways, the particular story for this class is not as important as what I actually do with it. The first class always has this format because I have found that it is the best way for me to get my students to understand expectations and be willing to delve deeply into the material. Not until after I discuss the syllabus, go over the readings, explain what CLTL is all about (with the judge and PO), talk about what is expected of them, and how we all will participate, do I present them with a short story.
In the first class, I want them to feel successful, so I use a story that gets them excited and intrigues them. I always read the first story aloud to them, and this story works particularly well, for as they follow along, they begin to think, wonder, doubt themselves, get confused, and ultimately come out on top, loving and understanding the story. The Wife's Story also forces them to read closely, and they see how that pays off as they come to understand the story and ponder the meaning behind the wolf's transformation. After I finish reading the story aloud, they are bursting with comments.
I go around the room, before we break into discussion, and ask each person to say something about the story. As they comment, one by one - students, probation officers, the judge, all on equal footing - I take notes so I can come back to their comments. Then we begin discussing the story, and I always move into that discussion from the questions and comments they raise. This particular story gives them a chance to talk to each other and argue about what they believe early on, and it sets the scene for the kind of discussions and work we will be doing throughout the program.
Additional readings: See the text, Changing Lives Through Literature, for more reactions to the story.