Day 24: Introduction to Oral Tradition

Today we started to work our way across the genres from memoir to epic. Our transition man is Spalding Gray, storyteller, performer, and actor.

  1. Rivet Vocabulary Warm-up using words from an introduction to Spalding Gray that students will read tonight. Words you should know from class today: narrative (a story), rational (logical, makes sense), myth (a story that tells about a culture’s values, may or may not be true), epic (a long story about a hero), monologue (a dramatic piece delivered by one speaker), and digression (when you get off topic). Students then wrote a short story or explanation using these words. You can download the worksheet instructions here (this is both the Rivet activity and the viewing guide).
  2. Discussion of Oral Tradition and its relation to The Odyssey and Spalding Gray. Oral tradition is the study of stories told orally from generation to generation. Since many languages do not have a written form (or the written form is not economically viable), oral tradition is still a large part of many societies today. Of course, oral tradition also plays a large part in our lives, though we live in a world full of texts written in English. The stories we tell at family gatherings over and over form oral tradition as well.

The Odyssey is, in fact, part of oral tradition though you can buy it at Barnes and Noble (and you can read it in our state textbooks). The Odyssey is thought to have been composed up to 200 years before most Greeks even used written language regularly. That’s 200 years before it could have even been written down in the first place. Therefore, our experience reading the text of The Odyssey is very different from the experience its original audiences had of listening to and watching a traveling storyteller (like “Homer” though there is no evidence that this man existed) perform it.

I want students to understand why certain elements of the epic are the way they are. For instance, repetition is used throughout The Odyssey for the same reasons a storyteller like Spalding Gray uses repetition: it heightens the listener’s experience and allows the storyteller to think ahead to the next part of the tale.

Spalding Gray’s bio can be found here. You can read the Introduction to S.G. on this Google Book of Swimming to Cambodia (p. ix – xiii).

3.  Watch an excerpt from Spalding Gray’s monologue Monster in a Box and complete the accompanying viewing guide. In many classes we will be finishing this tomorrow.

HW: Read the packet distributed during class and answer the 4 questions that follow. Each student received one of two Spalding Gray works. Most enrolled in regular English received an Introduction to S.G. and part of It’s a Slippery Slope. Most enrolled in Honors English received an Introduction to S.G. and all of Life Interrupted, Gray’s final monologue (which I saw in NYC).