November 02


“Reading the Archetype(s)”: Another Look at Levels by Paul W. Hankins

“People don’t want their lives fixed. Nobody wants their problems solved. Their dramas. Their distractions. Their stories resolved. Their messes cleaned up. Because what would they have left? Just the big scary unknown.”  from Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

And that’s it really.

That’s all I really wanted to share on this Sunday morning.

Have a good week.

Okay. Maybe this is a little dark. This will read as out-of-character for me and it will leave many feeling unsettled. Let’s try another quote from the same title, shall we?

“The truth is you can be orphaned again and again and again. The truth is you will be. And the secret is, this will hurt less and less each time until you can’t feel a thing.”

I know what you are thinking:

Survivor doesn’t have a best-selling picture book companion piece with minimalist illustrations or at least a rendering in compelling collage?

Because we ran it by marketing and they said that it just couldn’t be bound with the number of pages for which we were pitching.

No, these kinds of sentiments are somehow drafted into our DNA. And they are bound to us—heart and soul—until the eyes track for difficult paths, the ears listen for judgment. . .and the feet cross the street to take an alternate sidewalk. And the hands cover the ears so as not to hear.

So. . .here. . .in case you’ve not read Palahniuk’s book are some quotes from some “orphans” I know this year:

“I gave up on reading in third grade when we started reading in front of class. I think what made me stop reading was my peers laughed when I didn’t know a word.”

“I barely passed reading requirements in past years.”

“Since the sixth grade, I haven’t had much say in what I could read.”

Non-readers. Reluctant reader. The alliterate. They cover their ears so as not to hear what we are saying about them. Their first question upon entering Room 407: “How many of these books have you read?”

I think—underneath that question—is hope that I have read none. That I only keep them in a room as a cruel reminder of something they have difficulty doing or cannot do at all.

I always answer their question. It’s called candor. Full-disclosure. Honesty.

“All of them,” I say.

Now a conversation begins.

This conversation begins on our first day together. We talk about books. Beginning with a read-aloud. Beginning with the 40 Book Challenge. Beginning with new readers—even readers with a new appreciation of reading—looking at and selecting books on that first day.

Like Warbucks’s staff showing Annie the mansion with all of their introductions and instructions, our refrain is “we know you’re going to like it here.” I believe this because I know something about orphans.

Later in the school year, as our English 11 students begin to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, we will talk about Carol S. Pearson’s archetypes from Awakening the Heroes Within. While there are many schools of thought—each with its own identification schema—Pearson’s text does the reader a favor by presenting twelve salient archetypes our students can follow while reading the play. One of the first archetypal pairings we consider is The Innocent and The Orphan. Here is Pearson’s explanation of The Orphan archetype as expressed in its “shadow form”:  Cynicism, callousness, using the victim role to manipulate the system.”

It doesn’t paint orphans in a very positive light. We should consider the call of the Orphan archetype: “Abandonment, betrayal and self-betrayal, disillusionment, discrimination, victimization.”

As Ms. Hannigan says in Annie, “Why any kid would want to be an orphan is more than I’ll ever know.”

There is hope. Pearson writes as an orphan develops through progressions—or levels—set for this archetype that the presentation of the archetype becomes one in which the person drives the archetype vs. the archetype driving the person (PSYCH 101—I didn’t think that this needed much qualification).

“Level One: Learning to accept one’s plight; feel pain, abandonment, powerlessness, and loss in faith in people and institutions in authority.” “Level Two: Accepting the need for help; being willing to be rescued/aided.”

“When we read aloud, I can hear another person say it. I can hear the sound of the story the way the author may have wanted me to hear it instead of the way it sounds when I try to read it.”

“The Nerdy Book Club has helped me to find new books to read. I’m glad that we do Nerdy Mondays in our class.”

“Level Three: Replacing dependence on authorities with interdependence with others who help each other and band together; developing realistic expectations.”

“Based upon the reading that I have done in the first marking period, I feel like I could really read 40 books this year. Wow!”

Can we still be orphans? Yes. Will we continued to be orphaned in our experiences? Yes. Again. And again. And again.

But. . .we are adopted by books. The sound we hear when opening a book is a whisper that says, “Come along with us.”

We are nurtured in—and by—narrative until we close the book. And we are. . .orphaned. . .once again.

But. . .fiction guides us in the many ways to fix a life. . .sometimes our very own.

Any story—by its very nature—is a problem solved.

If drama is a distraction, let us pull the curtain cord, and we will stay behind to sweep the stage after the curtain call.

When we feel left behind, it is the power of story that calls us inside.

We can feel it. And sometimes it is scary. But it can be known.

Let the cry of the orphan reader sound like this:

“I even read over Fall Break. This is like a record for me!”

And listen for another orphan to respond with, “Me too.”

What else is left?

Paul W. Hankins teaches English 11 and AP English Language and Composition at Silver Creek High School in southern Indiana. Paul participates in numerous online forums regarding reading and writing. In addition to membership within many professional organizations, Paul is a Wonder Lead with the National Center for Family Literacy and the non-fiction site, Wonderopolis. Paul is the creator of RAW INK Online, a site which brings young adult readers and young adult authors together. At home, Paul is married to his wife of fifteen years, is the father of Noah and Maddie. Mia, Pepper, KitKat, and Butterfinger remain loyal fans of Paul’s poems and posts and most of his attempts to write something.