In this collection of short stories ZZ Packer introduces us to a range of different perspectives, from Brownie Troops out to seek retribution, to a father and son who bicker on their way to the Million Man March.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher whose work has greatly influenced Western modern philosophy. This passage discusses Nietzsche's concept of the “will to power” (German: der Wille zur Macht), the main desire and driving force in humans.
Introduce this text after students have read the short story “Brownies,” in order for them to examine the theme of power and how it exists as both a micro and macro idea amongst Laurel (Snot) and the other girls in her Brownie Troop. Pair “On the Doctrine Of The Feeling Of Power” with “Brownies” and ask students to use Nietzsche’s doctrine to identify how power functions in the relationships within Laurel’s Brownies group, and then between Laurel’s Brownies Troop and Troop 909. How does power, through the lens of race, function as a subtext within the story. What “sacrifices” do the likes of Octavia and Arnetta make in order to benefit or hurt others? What do they, to quote Nietzsche, “throw overboard” in order to stay on top within their group? How do the likes of Troop 909 prove to be easy prey at Camp Crescendo? How are the girls in Laurel’s Brownies Troop easy prey to the larger racial power structures that exist in society?
Niccoló Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, and writer based in Florence. His masterpiece, The Prince, published in 1532, advises new princes on how to get and retain power by any means necessary.
Introduce this document after students have read the short story “Brownies,” in order for students to examine the relationship between the girls in Laurel’s Troop, and the way in which Octavia and Arnetta assert their authority. Ask students to use Machiavelli’s text to analyze the relationship between Octavia, Arnetta and the rest of the girls in their troop. How do the girls use cruelty to exert their authority over the other girls? Whether you agree or disagree with their methods or motives, are Octavia and Arnetta effective leaders? What would Machiavelli think of the girls? What evidence would you use from both the novel and the text to support your answer?
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor tells the story of a family who travels on a vacation that goes horribly wrong.
Introduce this text after students have read “Every Tongue Shall Confess” in order to examine Sister Clareese’s relationships with people both within and outside of her church community, as well as discuss the theme of morality through a cross-text analysis. Contrast Clareese’s habitual and routine duty to others with the grandmother’s self-centered attitude in O’Connor’s story. Do both characters appear to be true to their own values as an individual? Which of the two seems the more likeable? Ask students to use evidence from both texts to support their answers. Students may also discuss the theme of morality as it pertains to the two texts. How can a person’s morality be determined by their standing and appearance? How do both authors, if at all, make the argument that it is not simply a case of there being good and bad men in the world? How are the men in Clareese’s church depicted? How do they compare to Cleophus? How are Bailey and The Misfit depicted in O’Connor’s story?
Linda Pastan’s “Egg” requires students to examine how a simple egg can symbolize more complex ideas in our world.
Introduce this poem after students have read “Our Lady Of Peace” in order to analyze Lynnea’s character, as well as one of the main themes within the story: the search for social stability and security. Ask students to use the imagery in Pastan’s poem to form questions, seek evidence and analyze Lynnea’s motivations. In what ways, in Lynnea’s world, does it feel like there is “no way out?” like the egg in Pastan’s poem? How is there “sea but no tide?” How can the imagery in Pastan’s poem be interpreted? Why does Lynnea turn to teaching? What are her motivations? What does she think of the role she is in? What does Sheba represent to Lynnea? Borrowing from Pastan’s poem again, ask students to analyze how things end in the short story. What are the signs of “the spoon’s ominous thunder” for Lynnea?
Sociologist Dalton Conley reflects in this essay on how growing up as a white boy in a lower-income community of color affects his identity.
Introduce this text after students have read “The Ant Of The Self,” in order to examine the relationship between Spurgeon and his father, Ray Bivens Jr., as well as discuss the issues of race and identity that exist between them. Consider Conley’s article, and the line “race and class are nothing more than a set of stories we tell ourselves to get through the world.” What set of race and class related “stories” do you imagine Spurgeon and Ray might tell themselves? Using some of the central ideas from Conley’s article, examine how Spurgeon’s and Ray’s identities rely on their differences. How do father and son look at each other in terms of class? What evidence does the text provide on how Spurgeon feels about his father? How does he demonstrate these feelings? How does Ray Bivens Jr. view his son in terms of his ideas of masculinity? How do the men at the march view Spurgeon as a black man?
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was an influential African American poet, the son of freed slaves, and friend of Frederick Douglass. In “We Wear the Mask,” Dunbar introduces the idea of hiding behind a metaphorical mask.
Introduce this text after students have read the short story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” in order to discuss its main character, Dina, alongside themes of identity, insecurity and self-reflection. Have students analyze the speaker’s thoughts in Dunbar’s poem. What does it mean to wear a mask? What do you think it means, in the context of the poem, to be a tortured soul? Have students apply their analysis to Dina’s experiences in “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.” How does Dina wear a mask? What are the issues that she is struggling with that she often attempts to hide? How does she overcome her insecurities, if at all?
"Araby" (1914) is a classic coming-of-age story written by James Joyce. It touches on themes of disillusionment and the consequences of idealism.
Introduce this text after students have read the short story “Speaking In Tongues,” in order for them, through a cross-text analysis, to identify and discuss the elements that go into creating a coming-of-age story. Have students read both stories and identify similarities between the unnamed narrator in Joyce’s story and Tia in “Speaking In Tongues.” What ideas do they have that they discover aren’t entirely true? How does life present them with complicated circumstances? How do they both learn valuable lessons and “grow up” by the end of the stories?
This informational text discusses the different forms of peaceful protests that civil rights activists employed during their struggle for equality.
Introduce this text after students have read the short story “Doris Is Coming” in order for students to analyze how the short story is grounded in a historical context and the significant role that the period plays in the characters’ motivations. Have students read “The Sit In Movement” and discuss the risks activists took, as well as the importance of their actions to the Civil Rights Movement. What do the sit-ins mean to Doris? Why does she want to get involved? What does the context of the times mean to Doris, when contrasted with the attitude and actions of Livia and Alice?