Friday, November 27, 2009

The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg

(In which I learn by asking.)
***
One of my telephone students is using a book from the new program under the category SENIOR. However, my class with him makes me think as to whether he lacks confidence or he’s just plain lazy which brings in ineffectiveness since he doesn’t respond like a senior in our class. Now we’re on another story by Chris Van Allsburg. We have taken up The Garden of Abdul Gazasi in the previous book (which is another post worthy story) and now we’re on The Stranger.

The moment I saw the cover page I noticed that mystery is the dominant flavor of this story. Not only because the book says so but because of the natural dark aura that its totality brings. However, the darkness that emanates from it is not something you’ll be scared of but rather something that will make you think.

I asked my student, “What’s the season described in this story?”

“Uhmm…”

“Yes? What season is it?”

“Fall?”

“Oh. Is it already fall?”

“No. but it will be.”

So I went on asking what fall looks like and how he finds it, which resulted to more hmm’s and ahmm’s than sensible sentences. Then I asked what Farmer Bailey felt and what happened next.

“He felt a cool breeze?”

“Good. And then?”

“He heard a thump.”

“What does he think it was?”

“A deer.”

“So there was an accident and he thought he hit a deer. Let’s move on.”

“What did Mr. Bailey found on the road?”

“A man.”

“What do you think was his reaction?”

“He must be surprised?”

“What did he do next?”

“He went closer to the man.”

When I asked him what Farmer Bailey feared the most and after being subdued in dead air, I said, “He was afraid that he might have killed him, don’t you think so?”

He agreed like he has always done.

“Okay. What did the man do afterwards?”

He answered by reading the text and I asked him to answer in his own way. He refused so I have to provide a “scaffold” for him.

“He opened his eyes and got terrified. Then he got up.”

As I saw that the text was longer, I had to make sure he really understood it and asked literal questions.

“Where did the farmer take him?”

“What do they think of the stranger?”

“What is the doctor’s diagnosis?” In this point I had to define diagnosis. Then I asked about the thermometer.

“What is the use of a thermometer?”

“To get the temperature? If it’s hot or cold?”

“How do you know if it’s hot or cold?”

“The mercury. If it’s low, it’s cold. If it’s high, it’s hot?”

“Okay. Why did the doctor tell them to throw the thermometer away?”

“Because it’s broken.”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“The mercury was stuck at the bottom.”

After asking the obvious literal questions, I then asked about the strange things that he noticed in this part.

“The stranger is strange.”

“Why?”

“Maybe he doesn’t know the soup?”

“He seemed to be ignorant about the soup. But then he lost his memory according to the doctor, right? What about the temperature?”

Silence.

“Mrs. Bailey shivered, right? It must be cold then.”

“Aaahhh.”

Then we talked about the rabbits. He seemed to understand that part so we moved on.

This time I asked him what kind of person the stranger was, aside from him being strange.

“He’s a good worker.”

“Why do you think so?”

“He can use the pitchfork well.”

“Okay. What else?”

“He works hard and well.”

I was supposed to hiss or sigh at these exhausting moments of bringing out his interest to talk more.

“Good. Is there anything strange in this part?”

Silence.

“Do you think he gets tired?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t even sweat.”

Again, he used the text in verbatim but I didn’t care.

“What in this scene is he fascinated about?”

“The geese?”

“What about these geese?”

“They are in V formation.”

So I went on asking when geese do the fascinating V formation and after some encouragement, we arrived at the answer that it happens in autumn.

So now we have talked about how long the stranger had been there as well as the changes that took place, or were supposed to take place but didn’t.

“The trees in their farm were still green.”

“How about the other trees?”

“They were red and orange.”

“What does the stranger prefer?”

“Red and orange.”


So it was obvious something was wrong. And of course we have to understand it.

“How does the stranger feel as each day pass?”

“He feels sad?”

I grew tired of this exchange of interrogations when he’s supposed to answer with a declarative sentence. “Are you asking me?”

He gave out his little laugh with the light touch of the k sound and said “No. he feels sad.”

“Why does he feel sad?”

“There is something wrong, he thinks. Maybe.”

“What did he do as he becomes more upset?”

“He pulled a leaf and blew on it.”

“Did he intend to do it?”

Silence.

“He did it without thinking. It was as if it was second nature to him.”

“Aaahh..”

As we took a look at the picture, I asked, “What happened to the leaf?”

“It becomes red.”

We talked about the departure and what happened after it.

“The trees were not green anymore.”


“Did the strange things stop happening when the stranger left?”

“No.”

Right. In fact, it becomes nothing less than strange. I asked him why and we talked about the trees in the farm and the words etched in frost.

What makes this story worth reading is that you have to activate your senses to understand it. It could be like any other story since descriptive images were created by writers to make the scenes vivid. But since this is a mystery, there is at least one core question to answer at the end of the story and you have to cite reasons to give justice to your deductions. As I ask questions, I try to look even for the simplest clue that is there and link it with the other ones I’ve found and see if they make sense. It makes our class exciting since you try to help the student forebode and to increase his interest and excitement. I just hope I was able to do that with the kind of student as cold and unfeeling as this one.

Now the question is, who’s the stranger?