Hiding the truth in plain sight

Dusan Bicanski  “I don’t get it. It just about a bunch of animals, but the pigs are mean.” I still cringe when I hear students make comments like this. My own children were introduced to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, when they were twelve. Their perception of the book varied. One enjoyed the complex politics expressed in simple language; the other liked the believable humans he portrayed using animals. However, both were intrigued with the idea of stealthily writing about other people disguised as something else. How could I get my students to understand this? It was time to have them create their own allegories.

In order to write an allegory the students have to make certain decisions. The first is to choose an actual situation that they feel strongly about and series of events that demonstrates what they feel. I encourage student to use real events from their own life.  For example, a student may believe that the pressure caused by grades decreases learning, because he did a half-way job on a really creative art project in order to have enough time to complete math homework.  Often the situation concerns peers or family, and the feelings are very negative. I try not to shrink from this kind of content, for it is the source of for many authors’ writings. However, I tell them to use generic descriptions of their characters in the outline.  The final allegory will still express their feelings even if the characters are transformed and renamed.

Next, the students need to select an ordinary setting that can be used to demonstrate the relationships in their series of events. Animals work well for characters and classes of people. Sometimes we take a field trip to the one of the science classrooms to watch the birds, fish, rats, snakes, etc. Students take notes on the apparent characteristics of each if the species to help them determine what part each should play in the allegory. The harder part is creating a concrete image for an abstract idea such honesty, creativity or pressure. Encourage students to select generic people, animals, objects, or events that they connect with these ideas first before determining the setting.

The outline below is only a framework. Many students need this to start their writing so I usually provide one, but I do not restrict students to using it.

Writing an allegory

What situation (happenings, people, rules) do you feel strongly about?  Choose one that has a great effect on you – either for good or bad.

List all characters  and objects  that portray groups or ideas. (at least 3).   How will you portray each in allegory?

Describe the setting you will be using in the allegory:  the place, what it looks like, and the time.

Describe a chain the events that occurred to make you feel that way. Include at least three events. (Each one will be at least a paragraph in the allegory)  Use same  Parts of plot as described earlier:  Conflict, Event 1, Event 2, Climax, Conclusion or what happens to the main character at the end.

Photo by Dusan Bicanski

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