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Power, Acceptance, and Motivation in “The Snake” and “The Vigilante”

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Creative Writing and Analysis
by Julia Webb, New Haven Academy, 2009



My semester-long course focuses on character motivation and desire. In class, we will consider how our motives are affected by needs for acceptance and power. To begin the year, we will read selected stories from The Long Valley to begin to grapple with this connection between power and acceptance and our motives. The goal is to begin a conversation that will last for the semester.


I am always trying to find ways to get my students to think more critically about author’s choices and the craft of writing. In their analytical work, my students often struggle to see a text as the product of purposeful decision making with intentions to create meaningful characters and themes. For this unit, an introduction to my 11th and 12th grade course, I want students to use both their own short story writing and the analysis of Steinbeck’s stories to make clearer how authors’ choices build meaning.


From The Long Valley by John Steinbeck:

  • “The Snake”
  • “The Vigilante

From A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor:

  • “A Good Man is Hard to Find”


Previous Work

Students will have spent a week discussing characterization, description, and theme in short pieces of fiction. Students will have discussed these elements and written a few, two or three, of their own pieces of short fiction.

Day One: “The Snake” (80 minute class)

Reading: Students will read aloud “The Snake.” While reading, students will use post it notes to color code for character description. On their notes, they will write down the page number, a small piece of the quotation, and their own perspectives or questions. After reading, the whole class will share questions and students will choose a question to explore in their writing/discussion. Students will write for a few minutes and then discuss their responses to the text. This discussion will follow the dialogic approach, with focus on student questions and interpretations. After the discussion, we will debrief about what went well, what we need to work on, which ideas seemed particularly popular, or compelling, which ideas still seem unclear.

Writing: We will discuss issues of power and desire and focus on the ways characters’ desires are revealed through description. Students will write a flash fiction piece about a character who has a desire that seems hidden, but is slowly, and maybe only partially revealed. This piece will focus on internal and external description to develop characterization. Students will write for 10 minutes. This piece can be revised further for their publication. The students will then write a reflection, focusing on what they noticed about their writing. Students will share first the reflection and then the rough piece. We will listen to each piece quietly and then discuss patterns in our writing and differences.

Homework: Read “The Vigilante” and mark up, writing down ideas, questions, moments that are surprising or confusing.

Day Two: “The Vigilante” (80 minute class)

Reading: Introduce post it notes with color-coding: one color for theme/conflict; one for character; one for figurative language. Students take time to reread the vigilante and use post it notes to annotate their thinking and analysis. Students brainstorm questions and choose questions to focus on for writing and discussion. Students write to prepare for discussion, focusing on perspective and evidence. Students will largely facilitate this discussion with little interaction from teacher. Two students will observe the discussion, taking notes on the use of perspective and evidence, creating tally sheets and quoted references to the discussion. Simultaneously, the teacher will use laptop and overhead projector to take and post discussion transcript. Teacher can step in and ask questions, echo ideas to move discussion. At the end of discussion, class will debrief. This debrief will start with observers sharing their notes. Teacher will print out and distribute discussion transcript for the next class.

Writing: We will discuss desire for power and acceptance and its affects on characterization and motivation. Students will write a flash fiction piece where power or acceptance has affected a character. As with the earlier writing session, students will write for a period of time, write a reflection, and then share both reflection and flash fiction. Finally, we will debrief.

Homework: Students will choose one of the flash fiction pieces to expand into a completed first draft. They can choose pieces from this week or the previous week. First drafts are due the following class. Rubric to be distributed and discussed in class.

Drafting Process

Students will submit a first draft of their flash fiction. They will receive comments for revision and a completed rubric and work on a final draft. During this revision process, they will complete two self-analysis writing assignments. The first self-analysis will focus on the first draft and ask students to consider their creation of character using description. Students will use quoted evidence from their piece to support their assertions and will discussion spaces for change and revision. Students will complete the second self-analysis after completing their final draft for publication. This self-analysis will ask students to consider changes made in the revision process and overall conflicts and themes.

Day Three: Publication (45 minutes)

The teacher will take each student’s fiction piece and compile this work into a class publication. In class, the students will each receive a publication and spend the first 15 minutes read and making notations on the pieces. The teacher will then break the class into two groups. In each group, each author will take turns reading a selection of the second self-analysis followed by a reading of his/her piece. The audience will turn to the page of this piece and make notations for feedback. The audience will discuss what moments stood out in a piece and ask the author follow up questions. The author will take notes and consider moments for revision. This process will continue until everyone has shared and received feedback. The class will debrief about what patterns came up in our writing and reflections on sharing our work and receiving feedback.

Homework: Students will use the notes from class to add to the second self-analysis.