Ten years ago my husband interned as an English teacher at a public high school in Orange Park, Florida. For nine weeks he taught five standard-level eleventh-grade classes, his classroom bursting beyond capacity as the student-to-teacher ratio appeared to rise each day. Suffice to say, between the crowded
environment and the apathy among his students, many of whom were more interested in working at the mall than investing in an education that could lead to a more lucrative career, my husband had a difficult time motivating his students to write.
It was my husband’s good fortune (maybe) that he had to teach “The Scarlet Letter” during his internship. I’ll say now that I am guessing everybody reading this article had to read that book in high school, and if you were like me you really did not appreciate the story until many years later. Well, Malcolm’s
students were no different; they saw little appeal in a story set in Puritan America, and were less enthused about writing essays. It disappointed Malcolm to have to penalize these students for not doing the work.
One tactic to get them to write, however, did work, and I’ve found it to be an interesting, productive exercise — writing from the point of view of an inanimate object.
Malcolm assigned a one-page paper to his classes, charging them to write a brief monologue from the point of view of the letter ‘A’ sewn onto Hester Prynne’s chest. “You are the Scarlet Letter,”
he told them. “Tell me what you see as Hester stands on the scaffold before her accusers.”
This assignment was what sparked an excitement that infected each class for the rest of Malcolm’s internship. Students loathe to write a sentence had actually exceeded the one-page requirement and turned in some very dramatic pieces. Hester’s scarlet brand
had taken on various personas in that assignment: from a timid object cowering in the heated disapproval of early American villagers to a haughty, shamless flame unaffected by a sea of scowls. Malcolm’s success prompted me to try to same exercise
when I began my teaching internship (one day I’ll post the picture of me dressed as Hester on the Net for all to see), and I was met with similar results.
There’s no reason to think this exercise should be limited to schoolchildren – indeed, I’ve seen this tactic done in a popular piece about three trees which become involved in the life of Jesus at various times, you may have received a copy in your
e-mail. To see things from the vantage point of an inanimate object can give your writing a whole new voice as well as the opportunity to show your readers something unique.
If, for example, a stuffed animal on a child’s dresser could talk, what would it say? How many stories could a statue in a church tell, having witnessed scores of weddings, baptisms, and other events? Let any object in on your story, and the possibilities are limitless.