Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: On Naipaul's A Way in the World

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the third batch, from a team who named themselves Wiggityx4 Wack and lead a great discussion on V.S. Naipaul's A Way in the World, despite their struggles with the text (and views on the author!).


Kate writes:

This project was an interesting one. The book my team presented on was Naipaul’s A Way in the World. This book, when I read it, was very confusing to me and I really had a hard time putting it together, just as the rest of the class did. The reason it was so hard for me to connect to and understand was because of how he set up each story. He introduced us to a character, got us slightly emotionally attached, and created the potential for the reader to become more attached. When this would happen he would change from the story of that author to the next story about another author, starting the pattern all over again. To try and thread these stories together, and figure out their commonalities was the most difficult part of the reading. Because of the lack of understanding it made it hard to see how he even ended the story. I wasn’t sure what his overall message was, or what journey Naipaul was supposed to be taking his reader on.

While working with my group, and discussing how this book could possibly be strung together these life stories of these men made it a little clearer as to where Naipaul may have been trying to head. While our group was discussing it I realized that maybe he was writing this story to not only point fingers at these people for everything they have done wrong, but to himself as well. He could have been trying to find his way in the world.

Another thing, more factual, that I learned while doing this presentation about his literature was that it was marketed as an autobiography in England. This helped me to see the pattern within the book and how he may have been trying to structure an individual’s life and ideals within this alleged book that appears to be built of short stories.


Danielle White writes:

In all honesty, I really hated Naipaul’s A Way in the World. It was the most difficult book for me to get through in this class, aside from Texaco which was also a tedious read. When I started the book it seemed like it would be fun to read, because I liked the stories Naipaul tells in the text. However, my joy in reading Naipaul was short-lived--it dwindled before I reached chapter 3. When he started talking about LeBrun I got really bored, and the chapter consisting only of dialogue between two people later on was probably the worst part in the book. Naipaul really doesn’t know how to keep his readers engaged in the text.

I expected Naipaul to develop on the individual stories within the text a lot more, especially the story about the man visiting the village and being led by the two boys--that was interesting. I thought Naipaul was going to go somewhere with that, and tell a story about how his homeland used to be through those people. Instead, he attempted to write about how his homeland had changed in an incredibly abstract way. He didn’t explain how any of the people in the stories were really connected--there was no connection between any of them at all, as far as I’m concerned. If I had more background knowledge on the matter, I might have found a connection, but it was Naipaul’s mistake to assume that his readers would have that much information prior to reading his book. I only read this book because I had to for my presentation; If I picked up this book to read for fun over the summer or something, I would have put it down shortly after beginning it.



My group for the presentations presented on A Way In The World by V.S Naipaul. This novel was a challenge to read as well as a challenge to present. My group and myself were all in agreement that the novel was hard to follow due to the short stories throughout the novel that did not really connect to one an other. The novel itself started out great in my opinion and my group members thought the same. Then the more I read the more I become confused at parts. Even though I was confused by parts of the novel I did however find certain parts interesting. An example is when Naipaul met Lucas and Mateo as well as when he talked about Lebrun. We had a lot of interesting information about the author and his life that I believe helped explain what type of a person and writer he is.

I am the type of reader that is kept intrigued by what’s going on when there are short story formats in the books I read. I thought that this novel was going to be interesting because the format in which the author decided to write was like short story format. However I was disappointed because all of these ”short stories” he had in this “novel” had no real ending or even ties to one another. The author chooses to write his “novel” with lots of unanswered questions. Teaching this book I believe came as a challenge. I am an education major and I feel like even reading this as an undergraduate college student I was lost and confused about certain parts of the “novel,” so how could other reader’s fully grasp what Naipaul is trying to say in this writing? This book to me seems more of a biography of what he did through out his life not really a novel.

The author uses his own format of writing which I do respect as a future educator with a minor in English. He is using a technique of writing that is maybe a little iffy. This may spark some people’s interest in the novel itself. Naipaul writing of the novel can generate interest in others because it is not written like other typical novels. Teaching this to the class was not all that easy. I knew that we were dealing with a difficult novel. This is one of the reasons we had our peers getting up out of their seats. This gave them the opportunity to see what others had written. In the classroom when this type of round-robin writing and answering questions written goes on, there is a chance for the students to learn from each other. The students can walk around and see what other groups or individuals had written; this may spark a questions or comment of their own. That is why we choose to do the posters with groups getting up and answering the questions.

Teaching to just the students can cause them to lose their interest however if you have the students teaching each other by round-robin answering of questions, new questions can be sparked and new topic on a piece of literature be formed as well as implemented in the classroom discussion.


Here's anonymous student #3:

Before I read A Way in the World by V.S. Naipaul, I really thought I would like it. I heard many good reviews of the book, so my expectations were very high. I thought it was going to flow like a typical novel would. I did not have a clear idea of what it would be about, but I did start reading the book with an open mind.

Just a couple chapters into the book I knew it was not what I anticipated it would be. I was surprised to find out how disjointed the book was. The chapters did not seem to connect. Though his writing style is very beautiful, it was very hard to follow. Even after class discussions and my group discussions the book still did not seem to come together well for me.

I thought maybe our group research on Naipaul might shed some light upon the book and his writing style. Unfortunately, I discovered many interesting things that may have tainted my outlook of the author and the book more than they already were. My group’s research revealed Naipaul to be a pompous, egotistical, self-indulgent man. We were able to uncover many of his dark secrets. He was unfaithful to his wife and quite a womanizer. He had a woman on the side for many years. He also expressed no care when his wife passed away. Worse yet, he seemed to be happy his wife was out of the picture.

Another unbecoming quality Naipaul possessed was his harsh criticism of other writers. Someone in our class discussion brought up the point that he seemed to be a hypocrite in his critiques. This is a major reason his criticism was not well received. His inflated ego was undeniable. He seemed to think he was not given the credit he deserved.

Though I hate to have Naipaul’s personal life interfere with how I read his story, I have to admit it did not help my already unfavorable view of the novel. If anything the negative “dirt” that we discovered about Naipaul seemed to give me a little more perspective on the novel and his writing.

One question I considered after reading this book was what genre I would classify it with. I believe that it should have been marketed as a collection of short stories. The chapters seemed to be very independent of each other. I think if I had anticipated a collection of short stories I would have a greater appreciation for the book.

I find it very interesting that this book was marketed as an autobiography in England. I think readers would be very disappointed reading this book if they had a preconceived notion that it was an autobiography. It would seem to be a very roundabout way to write an autobiography.

I believe that my high expectations of this book were somewhat shattered when I discovered the disjointed structure it encompassed. Though he had a beautiful way with words, his chapters drove me crazy. Its choppiness made it hard to follow and I was constantly hoping to find the missing link.


OK, on deck is Team Aoraki on Patricia Grace's Potiki.

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