Table of contents
2. Approaches to “The Park” by James Matthews
2.1. Topics and related topics
2.2. Appropriate Images in “The Park” for elaboration
2.3. Narrative strategy and point of view
2.4. Issues referring to (multi)cultural and religious context
2.5. Role of race
3. Plan of the teaching unit
3.1. Lessons and goals
3.2. Activities and tasks
Detailed plan of the teaching unit
Background information on the author
The seminar “Language and Literature in the New South Africa” familiarized students with a range of contemporary and antecedent short stories by South African authors in context of the highly problematic terms of apartheid and post-apartheid especially with regard to South African culture. A major aspect of the seminar was the question of identity and culture as it is recognizable in language and literature. Community should be achieved as an important role in South Africa. To implicate the usability for (short) stories in the English language classroom, the fact that they in general meet a basic human need and a plurality of methodological approaches especially for young people in order to understand the “other” are to be emphasised.
Because of a high scale of creative activities and product–oriented procedures in experiencing new perspectives and new ethnicities the short story has a great potential to fulfil this basic need. In order to reveal the potential of James Matthews’ short story for a very actual topic “living in a multicultural society” with respect to reaching the historical subtopic “Apartheid”, the following parts should provide an insight into my ideas concerning a teaching unit centring on the short story “The Park”.
2. Approaches to “The Park” by James Matthews
Since students have many possibilities of interpreting literature an experiencing new cultures with new perspectives, “Living in a multicultural society” is with respect to the development of almost all European countries becoming multicultural of multiethnic societies a topic that should gain a great emphasis especially in teaching literature on the one hand. On the other hand students also become aware of their own culture. The main idea of choosing “The Park” was to make students attentive of a different culture and the existing problems within this culture and also the cultural heritage of blacks in South Africa.
James Matthews’ short story “The Park” (1962) takes a closer look at a young black boy’s life during the South African Apartheid. His family is poor and reliant on the mother who earns money by ironing clothes. The little boy‘s only thought is “The Park” with its swings, see-saws, merry-go-rounds and chutes. He wants to play there but is not allowed to because he’s black. As he tries to play in the park an black attendant is sending him away. Even though many things happen and friends try to detract him from his aim, he can’t forget it and finally decides to go alone to the park in the dark. In the following night he makes his dreams come true. He swings, sets the merry-go-round in action, chutes and seesaws. Suddenly a light switched on and once again the black attendant appears. He asks the boy why he came back. The boy simply answers that he came back for the swings.
“The attendant catalogues the things denied them because of their colour. Even his job depended on their goodwill. ‘Blerry whites! They get everything!’ All his feelings urged him to leave the boy alone, to let him continue to enjoy himself but the fear that someone might see them hardened him. ‘Get off! Go home!’ he screamed, his voice harsh, his anger directed at the system that drove him against his own. If you don’t get off, I go for the police. You know what they do to you. The swing raced back and forth. The attendant turned and hurried towards the gate….”
When I read the story for the first time, the connection to Apartheid as the topic of the unit came to my mind. All the conflicts within the black community and a kind of hard cultural heritage blacks had to face with reference to the content. Furthermore the story also fits to an analysis of formal means of narration, language and stylistic devices that could be worked out together with the students. In order to show the main ideas, the following passages should give a kind of analysis of the story.
2.1. Topics and Related topics
“The Park” provides a long list of themes that could be discussed in the classroom. Probably the topics ‘Apartheid in South Africa’, ‘South African history and policy’ or ‘racism’ are the most obvious ones. The story is also convenient for related topics like ‘living in a multicultural (multiethnic) society’ or ‘religions and communities’. Further it could be used as introduction for topics like ‘poverty and hard work’ or ‘relations and emotions’. It is also possible to compare the story with other short stories or poems under some aspects.
2.2. Appropriate Images and characters in “The Park” for elaboration
For a better comprehension of the text, it is useful to work out some images and characters. Those images were not picked out accidentally by the author. They stand for typical networks of relations, a special system and groups of persons which interacted in a very particular way.
The little black boy is the main character and symbolizes the part of the black society that was not willing to accept the suppressed position Blacks had during the Apartheid. National heroes, pioneers, freedom fighter, people who fought and resisted. He also symbolizes the hope and aspiration that dreams come true and that nothing is for good not even the Apartheid.
The park serves as a symbol for felicity and freedom. Not only for the little boy but also for the whole black society during the Apartheid. A dream of free life that was apparently far away.
The attendant represents all ordinary black people living in South Africa during the Apartheid in an almost unbearable dilemma. If they conform to the Whites’ rules on the one hand they would save their own life but maybe endanger some lives of their compatriots and harden the situation (Apartheid) more and more. On the other hand they could defy the rules to help their compatriots but then they would endanger their own lives.
 Matthews. The Park. A Century of South African Stories. Ad. Donker. 1978. p.325f.
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- Universität Duisburg-Essen
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