Literature as a Window and a Mirror

Way back in 2007, I wrote my first post on this blog, with a type of mission statement that has grounded my career as an English educator from the start–I talked about the idea that Universe as Text embodies: the idea that we need to read and interpret the world around us in order to understand our lives. This idea still lies at the very heart of why I believe in my work so intensely. Teaching English is a way of encouraging new realizations about the human experience in the next generation through stories that are consumed and created.

I’ve been working alongside my teaching partners Mrs. L, Mrs. J, and Mr. B all year to refine the curriculum for our junior level communications class, which we’ve been trying to make more and more about seeing the relationship between rhetoric and society, exploring how authors use narrative as a vehicle for social commentary. We’ve also taken a more individualistic look at literary works, through a psychoanalytic lens, to show what fiction can reveal about a character, about an author, and–in turn–about us.

Somewhere during these professional conversations, I suddenly remembered something that one of my mentor professors, Dr. Tom Scott, used to say in lecture at UWM. He used to reference the idea that literature works both as a window and a mirror. We look out, and see things we wouldn’t otherwise see. We look in, and see ourselves. It’s a simple, but very effective metaphor. As I prepared to transition my class from two units that focused heavily on author purpose and social commentary to a more personal exploration and study of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, I created a stick-figure comic to share with my students to demonstrate the difference in the ways of thinking that we’d be applying. It turned out to be a highly effective way to explain the different ways that we can use to study stories, and the disparate yields (both of great value) that we can gain from that study.

I formalized my comic a bit on the iPad and decided to share it here. [P.s. Procreate is an amazing drawing and painting app, despite its unfortunate name.] It is my hope that this image will also be of use in your class, especially in framing the varied approaches that you and your students take when exploring texts of all kinds.


Untitled artwork

8 thoughts on “Literature as a Window and a Mirror

  1. summer says:

    This was really helpful for my son who is a junior. Thank you!

  2. Sarah says:

    Fantastic creation – thanks so much for sharing!

  3. jurenae says:

    super helpful thank you

  4. Ms. C says:

    You’re so welcome! 🙂

  5. Mrs. Van B. says:

    This is awesome. Thank you.

  6. Kashif Ansari says:

    A very beautiful analogy and metaphor regarding man’s understanding of the universe, other people and himself. I fully agree with the writer that it is ourselves we find in literature. Literature is life and it enhances and builds up our empathy not to mention sympathy with all the living beings around us. Literature requires a very fine sensibility and we must really go into the depths of the human experience to reach the heights of experience itself. Further than that, there is of course the extra-experiental which very few have delved into. The sixth sense and beyond are other worlds which still have not been fully explored. Where literature ends is precisely where mysticism starts. Words can only take us so far. It is love which bridges the gap and it is human beings which make us human in the ultimate sense of the word. Yet come to think of it, even human beings can let you down in the end, but God will never let you down. What is impossible with human beings is possible with God.

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