Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cold Mountain - Discussion #1 - up to "like any other thing, a gift"

**my students in this discussion are referred to as M, H, R, Ch, and Sh* 

My students and I had our first full blown discussion about Cold Mountain last Wednesday.  
Since this assignment is a new one, I had absolutely no idea about where it would go, how it would happen, whether or not it would flop or I'd get fired...just kidding on that last one...I think ;)

My Hybrid Comp II class only meets on Wednesdays, so last week we divided the book up over the next 4 chapter titles since there are no numbers.   I also divided the 12 members of the class up over the next 4 weeks to lead those discussions...I didn't want to be the only one talking...and I didn't want my perspective as the TEACHER to lead any of the students into discussions they thought I wanted to hear rather than what they wanted to discuss.

In this first section of the book we met Inman, then Ada and then Ruby, amongst a host of other minor characters.  We learn of their precarious situations and what they decide to do to "make things right."  

The discussion leaders talked about themes today that they pulled from the first few chapters of Cold Mountain...class, the motherless child, rain, the blind man, and the window. Much of the discussion focused on Ada rather than Inman or Ruby...some saw her as weak and others saw her as a survivor. 

When they asked how Ada's father could move her away from everything she knew and then not taught her how to take care of herself, we ended up talking about Transcendentalism...while it's never discussed in this section outright, the clues we found were Monroe leaving his Charleston church under pressure from members who didn't like his "progressive" preaching, preaching from other resources besides just the bible, quoting Emerson and Wordsworth, raising Ada to be independent rather than focused on finding a husband, etc.  I got a little more involved here than I planned and finally had to reign myself back in.

My students also talked about the rich description...and how it helped them feel as if they were there with the characters, experiencing the various they could taste the water Inman spit from his mouth in the river (Sh), they could see the amputated leg stub in the war hospital (H), and how they actually felt dark, cold and wet throughout this entire first section.   Ch talked about how she identified with Ada when she was hungry - Ch had been there when it's the end of the month and you have no money for you curl up and eat the only thing you can find in the pantry, even if it is a jar of jelly...
She also blushed and said she'd also experienced getting a little tipsy at the party and finding herself on a fella's lap ;)

At times they point blank asked me for clarification...and I obliged them some background information when I felt it necessary.
For example, H asked how the army could locate deserters when they didn't have the technology that we have now?  So, we had a discussion of today's military vs Civil War military...all men of age were literally gone...communities were communities of old or handicapped men, women and children...anyone of war age would be questioned and even "tattled" on.  
My students' generation doesn't get the whole idea of honor and/or why it was so bad to speak out against the war or choose not to participate.

M and R are the only two males in the group...R is very talkative, but M only participated in the class discussion once...he surprised me by having the answer to a question we were all asking...
M has the book on his laptop.  My only criteria for the version the students use is that it has to have text...traditional or electronic doesn't matter to me at all, as long as we can all find the section the speaker is referring to.  (With this smaller class, that has not been too much trouble...but it is something I'll have to think more about with a larger class.)  The ladies in the group were vigorously discussing how Ruby knew the Swangers...when they couldn't come to a consensus, M finally spoke up and reminded them of little Ruby toddling over to the Swanger's for food.  He even guided them to the appropriate pages. 

The only real disagreement of the discussion occurred when T mentioned that she thought Ada felt guilty about her father's death...others disagreed and reminded her that Ada and Monroe moved to Cold Mountain partly because he was sick...they probably even knew he would die soon.  What excited me though was that as they were arguing, Ch asked, with book in hand, "Where did you get that idea?"
I spend a lot of my time in class prodding them to show me where in the text they came up with their interpretations.  Ch just naturally asked that question as well.
AHHHHHHHH, success :)

The first time I looked down at my watch during the discussion, it was time to go...the conversation just happened...I appreciated the way they were able to talk without too much "time hogging"...
I will have to keep my thumb on H...I'm not sure she's reading.  She's definitely seen the movie though because she keeps bringing it up :/
I will also make more space for M to participate bc I couldn't help but wonder what else he might say if he's given the chance.

I'm so pleased with the way things are going so far :)


  1. It sounds like this struck a chord with your students so you had a wonderful discussion. It makes me think this would be a wonderful book club pick.

  2. I love this book and am glad to see it's use for a discussion for college-age students. What a wonderful conversation it prompted!

    I'm not a re-reader but your post makes me want to pick this one back up off my shelf.

  3. This is so great- I miss discussing books with a class full of people, and this makes me really nostalgic! I also love that your class got so into Cold Mountain because I loved it when I read it!

  4. How neat that they had such a lively discussion about the book!