A Character Out of Context

To introduce this assignment, I began class with a video clip from the television show Border Security: Australia’s Front Line. I asked students to observe the border security agents closely and then verbally reflect on the duties performed by the agents, along with their methods of handling situations. On the board, we listed character traits that the agents exhibited on screen, supported with details from the episode. Then, students listed characters from a short story we read (“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates or “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor) and evaluated whether or not they would be successful as border security agents. In the process, they identified the traits each character exhibited in the short story.

This in-class activity paved the way for students to evaluate a character from Ayn Rand’s Anthem on their own. The essay prompted students to choose a character from this novel and evaluate whether or not this person would be successful in particular occupations. As they made these decisions, students acted as the Council of Vocations: a group of five elders who determined the professional fates of each citizen, in effect creating social hierarchies. They handpick teenagers to become future politicians, educators, farmers, cooks, or custodians. Government control and the lack of personal autonomy is often an important feature of dystopian fiction, and Anthem’s initial conflict revolves around the protagonist’s curiosity, hope, and desire regarding his assigned job function. The Council’s decision to make him a Street Sweeper dashes his hopes of becoming a Scholar, but incites his rebellion against the collectivist state. In choosing citizens’ profession, the Council of Vocations had to consider their strengths and weaknesses, in addition to the personal and social effects its decision would have. Students often realize that the Council did not make an error in its decision to make the protagonist a Street Sweeper instead of a Scholar.

This assignment also leads to a discussion of the students’ ability to choose their professions and majors. In doing so, students evaluate their own traits to see if they are right for a certain job or if a certain job is right for them. The unit on Anthem culminates in two written assignments: the Character Out Of Context essay and a personal reflection journal.

Essay Prompt

Character development is definitely a powerful force that can influence readers in numerous ways. This assignment will allow you to analyze a character in order to better understand its impact.

Your assignment is to take a character from Ayn Rand’s novel Anthem and analyze this character for a particular role or profession. In doing so, you will be reflecting your knowledge of the traits necessary to succeed in a particular job, as well as your knowledge of the character from the story.

In your discussion, you must prove why this character exhibits traits that would make him or her successful in the role. You cannot simply proclaim your opinions; you must support them with details from the novel. Present what you know about the character (physically, mentally, or emotionally) and use direct, textual support from the story to prove your argument.

Roles (pick one)

  • Political campaign manager
  • Talk show host
  • Maid of honor/Best man
  • Little league sports coach
  • Funeral director
  • Motivational speaker
  • Military recruiter
  • Las Vegas wedding chapel minister
  • Historical tour guide
  • Submarine captain
  • Arctic scientist
  • Lead singer for a punk band
  • Buyer for a department store
  • Construction project manager
  • Mining expedition leader
  • Toy research and development officer

 

Josianne L. Campbell, York Technical College

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