Reading at home is an essential part of a language arts curriculum, but it’s often a lonely and confusing experience for students at lower achievement levels. Occasionally I give my students prereading or anticipation guides to help them with particularly challenging reading, sometimes providing guides to all students, sometimes only to students I anticipate will struggle with the text. In the case of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (Plume Books), there are two chapters for which I give all of my students guiding questions. These questions help them prepare for and make their way through the challenging ideas and language of this rich novel.
Activities and Instruction
- The chapter whose heading is “Seethecatitgoesmeowmeowcome/and playcomeandplaywithjanethe/kittenwillnotplayplayplaypla” poses challenges for students both in terms of unfamiliar language and in terms of complex ideas. Rather than have the students cold read it at home and then rely on me to point out everything that is important in the chapter the next day, they grapple with some of the important ideas from the novel before they ever read the chapter.
- I preview their reading and come up with questions based on important points I think they should notice and think about. Students answer the questions on their own in class; then we go over them and share our responses as a class.
- I ask students to keep our questions and discussion in mind as they read the assigned chapter at home that night.
- Our discussion of the reading the following day is shaped by these discussion questions.
Anticipation Guide for Pages 81–93 of The Bluest Eye
- Page 81 opens a new chapter; its heading is “Seethecatitgoesmeowmeowcome /playcomeandplaywithjanethe/kittenwillnotplayplayplaypla.” Make predictions about what you think is going to happen in this chapter.
- What, if anything, do you know about the following cities: Mobile, Meridian, Aiken, and Baton Rouge? Morrison names them in the opening of this chapter. What do you think is important about them given what you’ve read so far in the book? (Why might Morrison list names of cities?)
- Why do women straighten their hair? What might it mean to “worry about the edges of [one’s] hair”?
- What do you think the following clause might mean? “[T]hey do not have lovely black necks that stretch as though against an invisible collar...”
- What does the word “funkiness” mean? What are the different connotations of “funk”?
- Why do some people like to clean and organize when they have problems in their lives? Do you do this? Does it help? If so, why?
- What do people like about cats? What qualities do they have that are good?
- What do you expect might happen to a child whose mother meets his physical needs (gives him clothes, food, shelter, etc.) but never expresses love or tenderness? How would he look? How might he act?
- “She had explained to him the difference between colored people and niggers. They were easily identifiable. Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud.” What distinction is being made here? What do you imagine is going on in the book when this line comes up? How do you feel about this statement?
- What are the possible implications of “snowflakes falling and dying on the pavement”?
Prereading for the Soaphead Church Chapter
Likewise, as we prepare to read the challenging chapter about Soaphead Church, I provide students questions and key concepts to think about page by page.
In this chapter (titled “SEETHEDOGBOWWOWGOESTHEDOG/ DOYOUWANTTOPLAYDOYOUWANT/TOPLAYWITHJANESEETHEDOGRUNR”) we meet a new character, Soaphead Church. Here are some background facts about the chapter to help you as you read. I suggest that you read these first so you know what to look for and then read them again as you encounter them on each page.
- We meet Soaphead Church, a man who loves things but can’t stand contact with people.
- A “misanthrope” is someone who hates mankind.
- “Antipathies” means things you hate.
- “Fastidious” means paying careful attention to detail; “scruples” are uneasy feelings arising from one’s conscience that hinder (prevent) action.
- Soaphead starts off as a priest for the Anglican Church.
- He later becomes a “‘Reader, Adviser, and Interpreter of Dreams.’”
- Soaphead Church is a pedophile, which means that he is an adult who is sexually attracted to children.
- Soaphead Church is a light-skinned black man who was raised in a family proud of its mixed blood.
- His family has always been academically and politically ambitious, and always corrupt.
- His family has always tried to marry other light-skinned people and, if unable to do so, they have married one another.
- Soaphead Church’s father was a cruel schoolmaster and his half-Chinese mother died soon after he was born.
- Soaphead married a woman named Velma, but she left him two months afterward.
- The reference to “Beatrice” is an allusion to a character from Dante’s Inferno; Beatrice is Dante’s great love who shows him the way to heaven.
- “Imbibed” means drank.
To Consider Overall As You Read
So far, reading this book, we’ve noticed how Morrison helps us feel sympathetic toward characters we might otherwise despise (Cholly, Mrs. Breedlove). As you read this chapter, try to notice how you feel about Soaphead Church. Why do you think this is?
Come to class tomorrow with three questions based on this section’s reading.
Teachers can use such anticipation guides and prereading questions with any book that requires a student to stretch. Not all students require them with any given book, but all students can benefit from them at one point or another. They take time to compose, but once written, such prereading guides help students get through challenging texts on their own.
Santa Monica High School
Santa Monica, California