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3.

RATIONALE FOR TEACHING THE TEXT IN A
CHRISTIAN INSTITUTION

        Besides being anti-Christian, WAITING FOR GODOT is undoubtedly one of the most complex texts in world literature. Thus the basis on which Andrew Kennedy says that the play has "become a set book in secondary schools" (1) is questionable. From my experience of teaching the text to college freshmen and sophomores, the teaching of it in high schools would only serve to confuse students.

        However, notwithstanding the text's complexity and anti-Christian stance, it is an important piece of literature in that it expresses a "zeitgeist" a spirit of an age which is a pervasive skepticism of all traditional values in short, a loss of faith. And as one Christian critic has pointed out in regard to the play, "many of us lately have found ourselves returning again and again to meditate upon its profound testimony about the condition of man in our time" (Nathan S. Scott, Jr. 84).

        Teaching WAITING FOR GODOT from a Christian perspective in higher institutions of learning is therefore not only desirable but also indispensable for two main reasons. First, it will make students understand that in contemporary literature, the importance of a large body of texts is not based on their intrinsic value (their form and moral content), but on the ideologies and world views that are current and that inform those texts. Second, as future professionals and parents who would soon be charged with the responsibility to nurture young minds, the teaching of GODOT from a Christian perspective would warn them to be reasonably suspicious of the concept of "greatness" of works which, since the institutionalization of literature (mainly academic criticism) is becoming more and more an ideological construct. Indeed, a close and analytical reading of GODOT would reinforce the students critical sense in discerning ideologies, philosophies and world views in literature that are signs of the times and that are counter to their Christian faith


OUTLINE OF STRATEGIES FOR
A CHRISTIAN TEACHING OF "GODOT"

        In teaching an anti-Christian text, it is important that one guard himself/herself against being didactic, that is, telling students before they have even read the text that it is anti-Christian. The teacher's role, rather, should be to make students arrive at that conclusion through some strategies.

        Being an abstract play, one that violates almost all the conventions of playwriting and perhaps the first of the kind students would be reading, it would be helpful to first assign the reading of the first act and to ask students to come to the next class meeting prepared to discuss their emotional responses to the text. Using this strategy would enable the teacher to introduce a relatively recent theory of reading literature, reader-response criticism, which has brought much vitality to Christian poetics. The approach, which is avowedly subjective, places the reader's (student's) identity at the center of the reading; in other words, the student as a moral being (and not just a passive recipient of the author's values, especially if they are counter to his/her own), is empowered to assert his/her values and beliefs during the process of the reading. As Patricia Ward observes, "the ethics of reading involves... an awareness of values of standards for action; as we read, our values are brought in contact with those of the implied author and of the fictional world of the text" (187). Also borrowing the concept of "interpretive community" from Stanely Fish, one of the first theorists of reader-response criticism in the United States, Leland Ryken redefines the term and shows how it can be applied in Christian criticism (and by implication in Christian teaching). "An interpretive community," he writes,

is simply a group of scholars who share a common set of interests, beliefs, and who read and discuss literature in terms of that agenda. Every literary critic belongs to one or more interpretive communities. Christian literary critics are such an interpretive community."(23)

        Reader-response criticism, therefore, allows the teacher to encourage students to react emotionally in their reading and to note how their values and sensibilities are being confronted by the totality of the text. By reading aloud some excerpts from one or two books that address the question of the identity of the reader (his/her background, values and beliefs), the teacher would reassure the students that indeed the activity is a legitimate one. The discussion, however, must not be done in an unorganized way. Acting as a moderator (but certainly one with an agenda), the teacher can ask questions that lead to establish that the students belong to a reading community whose unifying force is the Christian world view.

        Having thus defined the world view from which to approach GODOT, the teacher may proceed to ask students to comment on the text with regards to the conventional categories of literary analysis, namely setting, plot, characters, language and themes. Since GODOT is a kind of allegory whose meaning the reader has to dig deep to bring to the surface, the above categories' characters should receive the most attention since they are the author's device of expressing his philosophy or ideology. Finally, the discussion of the text can end with the teacher telling the students about the little that is known of Beckett's life and the philosophy that informs the text.

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