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National Endowment for the Arts 


V.'wt Museum, library 



Sun, Stone, 
and Shadows 






Sun, Stone, 
and Shadows 



A great nation 
deserves great art. 


a, MuseurrhndLibrary 




The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting 
excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, 
and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an 
independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nations largest 
annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner 
cities, and military bases. 

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support 
for the nations 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create 
strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute 
works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain 
heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support 
professional development. 

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts 
opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based in 
Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region 
of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, 
and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts 
Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. 

Additional support for The Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg 

Published by 

National Endowment for the Arts 
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 
Washington, DC 20506-0001 
(202) 682-5400 


Gioia, Dana and R. S. Gwynn, eds. The Longman Anthology of Short Fiction: Stories and Authors 
in Context. New York: Longman, 2001. Used with permission of Dana Gioia. 

Hernandez, Jorge F. ed. Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories. Mexico: 
Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2008. 

Thiel, Diane. "Octavio Paz: My Life with the Wave" in An Introduction to Fiction. Gioia, Dana, and 
X. J. Kennedy, eds. New York: Longman, 1999. 


David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives 

Sarah Bainter Cunningham, PhD, NEA Director of Arts Education 

Writers: David Kipen, Erika Koss, Dan Brady, and Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National 
Endowment for the Arts, with a preface by Dana Gioia 

Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts 

Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/ Washington DC 

Photo Credits 

Cover Portrait: John Sherffius for The Big Read. Page iv: Book cover courtesy of Fondo de Cultura 
Economica; courtesy of Mark Segal/Getty Images. Page 1: Caricature of Dana Gioia by John Sherffius. 
Inside back cover: Courtesy of Robert Yager/Cetty Images. 


Table of Contents 

Introduction 1 

Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 

Lesson One: Reading Short Fiction 4 

Lesson Two: "Cooking Lesson" by Rosario Castellanos 

Focus: Realism 5 

Lesson Three: "Cooking Lesson" by Rosario Castellanos 

Focus: Narrative and Point of View 6 

Lesson Four: "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" by Juan Rulro 

Focus: Character Development 7 

Lesson Five: "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" by Juan Riilfb 

Focus: Plot 8 

Lesson Six: "My Life with the Wave" by Octavio Pa/ 

Focus: Surrealism 9 

Lesson Seven: "Mv Life with the Wave" bv ( Vt.ivio Pa/ 

Focus: Metaphor 10 

1 esson Fight: "Chac-Mool by Carlos Fuentes 

Focus: Epistolary Writing 1 1 

Lesson Nine: "Chac-Mool" by ( arlos Fuentes 

Focus: Symbolism \1 

Lesson Ten: What Makes a Short Story ( treat? 13 

Essay Topics 1 \ 

( apstone Projects 15 

Handout One: Short Fiction Id 

1 landoui [wo: Reader-Response ( miasm 17 

1 landoui Three: Octavio Pa A "My 1 ire with theWavi 

\n Allegory d the ( reative Process, by Diane Thid 18 

leaching Resources 1 4) 

NCTE Standards 


'Scribbled in green ink on yellowing 
sheets or set down by the nervous 
clacking that typewriters used to 
make, these are stories meant to be 
read as if you were leisurely drawing 
out an after-dinner conversation, 
or narrating mile after mile of a 
voyage while lost in a purple dusk, 
or remembering pieces of your 
life under the spell of the hypnotic 
insomnia with which subway cars 
move in Mexico City." 


from the introduction to Sun, Stone, and Shadows 


Welcome to the Big Read, a major initiative from the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading 
in American culture. The Big Read hopes to unite communities through 
great literature, as well as inspire students to become life-long readers. 

This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through 
the anthology of Mexican short fiction, Sun, Stone, and Shadows. Each 
lesson has four sections: a focus topic, discussion activities, writing 
exercises, and homework assignments. In addition, we have provided 
capstone projects and suggested essay topics, as well as handouts with 
more background information about the stories, Mexican culture and 
history, and the authors' biographies. All lessons dovetail with the state 
language arts standards required in the fiction genre. 

The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with interviews, 
commentaries, and excerpts from the book, The Big Read CD presents 
the readings of the stories and first-hand accounts of why Mexican short 
fiction is a compelling way to explore the country's culture and heritage. 
Many celebrated writers, scholars, and actors have volunteered their time 
to make Big Read CDs exciting additions to the classroom. 

Finally, The Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with 
interviews, book lists, timelines, and historical information. We hope 
this guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while 
introducing them to the work of the great Mexican authors included in 
this anthology. 

From the NEA. we wish you an exciting and productive school year 

Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 

National Endowment for ik the big read • | 



Day One 

FOCUS: Reading Short Fiction 

Activities: Read Handouts One and Two, and 
the Introduction from the Reader's Guide. 
Write a short essay considering the appeal of 
a favorite story. 

Homework: Read Castellanos's biography 
from the Reader's Guide (p. 8) and "Cooking 


Day Two 


"Cooking Lesson' 

by Rosario Castellanos 

FOCUS: Realism 

Activities: Discuss ways Castellanos uses 
language that appeals to the senses. 

Homework: Describe the story's narrator. 


Day Three 

"Cooking Lesson" 

by Rosario Castellanos 

FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View 

Activities: Discuss the narrator and how the 
story might change if told from third person. 

Homework: Read 'Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" 
by Juan Rulfo. List the story's main characters 
and write a one-sentence description of each. 

Day Four 

"Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" 
by Juan Rulfo 

FOCUS: Character Development 

Activities: List the main characters of the story. 
Conduct a mock trial of Juvencio. Write a 
description of what happens to the characters 
after the story ends. 

Homework: Re-read the story and identify its 
major turning points. 


Day Five 

"Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" 
by Juan Rulfo 

FOCUS: Plot 

Activities: Discuss the story's pacing and 
construct a timeline. Write a short essay 
considering the ways flashbacks and plot 
twists change the way the reader feels about 
the story's characters. 

Homework: Read "My Life with the Wave" 
by Octavio Paz. Identify moments when the 
story seems bizarre and others where it 
seems more conventional. 


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Day Six 

"My Life with the Wave" 
by Octavio Paz 

FOCUS: Surrealism 

Activities: Discuss surrealism. Identify specific 
instances where the story might be considered 
surrealistic, traditional, or romantic. Write 
about how Paz's quote on modernity might 
provide interpretive clues to the story. 

Homework: Re-read the story and read 
Handout Three. Write two paragraphs about 
Diane Thiel's interpretation of the story. 


Day Seven 

"My Life with the Wave" 
by Octavio Paz 

FOCUS: Metaphor 

Activities: Discuss imagery and personification. 
Debate Thiel's analysis of the story. Write an 
essay considering the impact of understanding 
both the literal and the figurative qualities of 
the wave. 

Homework: Read "Chac-Mool" by Carlos 
Fuentes. Pay close attention to the structure 
of the story. 

Day Eight 

"Chac-Mool" by Carlos Fuentes 

FOCUS: Epistolary Writing 

Activities: Discuss the story's structure and 
how the form lends itself to horror and 
suspense. Write a short story using the 
epistolary form. 

Homework: Find examples of symbolism in 


Day Nine 

"Chac-Mool" by Carlos Fuentes 

FOCUS: Symbolism 

Activities: Discuss the symbolic value of the 
stone figure. Write an essay on the symbolic 
value of water. 

Homework: Have students begin writing 
essays. Outlines are due at the next class. 


Day Ten 

FOCUS: What Makes a Short Story Great } 

Activities: Explore the qualities of a great short 
story. Review essay outlines and drafts. 

Homework: Essays are due next class period. 

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Short Fiction 

Literature has a lot to offer the reader. As art made verbal, the act of reading 
improves vocabulary and makes readers aware of the power of language, 
enhancing the ability to express ourselves. Short fiction traces its roots to 
the ancient tradition of oral storytelling when tales were passed down from 
one generation to another. Short stories are more focused than novels, 
making them ideal for reading in a single sitting. Because of its brevity, 
short fiction offers teachers unique opportunities to explore various aspects 
of literature (plot, character development, point of view, and setting) within 
a manageable time. 

Discussion Activities 

Read Teacher's Guide Handout One: Short Fiction. Ask your students to name 
some of their favorite fables, fairy tales, parables, or tall tales. What aspects of 
these stories appeal to them? Do they remember whether they first heard the 
story read (or told) aloud, or if they read it themselves? Is reading a story a 
significantly different experience from listening to it read aloud? Which do your 
students prefer and why? 

Read the Introduction to Sun, Stone, and Shadows from the Reader's Guide 
(p. 3) and Handout Two: Reader- Response Criticism. Use the essay and 
handout to talk about the ways reading Mexican literature can expand a reader's 
understanding of Mexican culture and history. Generate a discussion about the 
ways plot, action, or a particular character within a story can be interpreted 
in different ways by different people. Ask your students to keep a separate 
notebook that will serve as a reader-response journal. They will use this journal 
for their homework, to track their responses to stories, to note questions, and 
to list vocabulary words. 

Writing Exercise 

Ask students to write three paragraphs in their reader's journal considering a 
favorite fable, fairy tale, parable, or tall tale. What was the plot of the story? 
Did it have a moral lesson, or was the story simply entertaining? Ask students 
to consider why the story appealed to them at the age they first heard it, and 
whether or not it has the same emotional effect on them now. 

EJ Homework 

Ask students to read the short biography of Rosario Castellanos from the 
Reader's Guide (p. 8) and "Cooking Lesson." Ask students to write a short essay 
in their journals comparing the woman and her kitchen to a person in their own 
life who may or may not like to cook. 


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"Cooking Lesson" by Rosario Castellanos 

Realism is an attempt to reproduce faithfully the lives of ordinary people in 
everyday situations. Characters, settings, and events are presented in ways 
the reader should recognize as plausible. Realism often relies on appealing to 
the reader's senses because the success of realistic fiction relies on an authors 
ability to structure plots that ring true from emotional, psychological, and 
sensory perspectives. 

Food and its preparation are an especially important part of Mexican 
culture. In "Cooking Lesson" by Rosario Castellanos, a newly married 
woman attempts to cook a roast for the first time. The kitchen, the 
meat, and the aromas are described in great detail and echo the narrators 
emotional condition. It becomes clear that the sterility of the kitchen and 
the narrators culinary failure symbolize her troubled marriage and her 
resistance to assuming a traditional role in her new household. 

Discussion Activities 

Ask several students to read their homework aloud in class. Are the essays 
similar? If not, discuss students' various reactions to the story as a class, 
remembering that reader-response criticism allows for different interpretations 
of the same story as long as the reader's opinions remain grounded in the text. 
How much does personal experience affect the way students identify with this 
story? Is the same true for all works of literature? 

Ask students to name several examples of images, thoughts, actions, or emotions 
in the story that are both realistic and believable. As a class, discuss how each 
element contributes to the success of the story. 

Setting is the time and place in which the action of a story occurs. Often, setting 
is more than just background information. A particular setting can cause things to 
happen. Characters placed in a specific setting might behave in certain ways, have 
profound realizations, and reveal their innermost natures. Discuss the importance 
of setting in this story. 

%A Writing Exercise 

Rosario Castellanos appeals to each of her reader's senses to create realistic 
fiction. Ask students to write a short essay identifying ways Castellanos has 
appealed to all of the reader's senses while writing "Cooking Lesson." 

El Homework 

In their reader's journals, have students write a short description of the story's 
narrator, including a paragraph on each of the following questions. Who is the 
narrator? How does she feel about her marriage and the traditional roles of 
women in Mexican society' What parallels does the narrator see between herself 
and the ruined meat' 

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and Point of 

Cooking Lesson" by Rosario Castellanos 

The narrator tells the story with a specific perspective informed by his or 
her beliefs and experiences. Narrators can be major or minor characters, 
or exist outside the story altogether. The narrator weaves her or his point 
of view, including ignorance and bias, into telling the tale. A first-person 
narrator participates in the events of the story, using "I." A distanced 
narrator, often not a character, is removed from the action of the story 
and uses the third person (he, she, and they). The distanced narrator may 
be omniscient, able to read the minds of all the characters, or limited, 
describing only certain characters' thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, the 
type of narrator determines the point of view from which the story is told. 

"Cooking Lesson" is narrated from the first-person point of view by a newly 
married woman struggling to cook a meal for her husband. She tells us, "I 
stand here like an imbecile, in an impeccable and neutral kitchen, wearing 
the apron that I usurp in order to give a pretense of efficiency and of which 
I will be shamefully but justly stripped." As she prepares the meal, she 
reflects on her troubled marriage. 

Discussion Activities and Writing Exercise 

Using the homework assignment from the last class, ask students to discuss the 
role of the narrator in the story. Why might Castellanos have chosen to tell the 
story from the young woman's perspective rather than through a third-person 
objective narrator? How would a change in point of view have changed the 
reader's perspective? 

Ask students to write a response to the quotation below in their reader's 
journals addressing the following questions: Why is the narrator rebelling against 
her role as a wife? How might her duties differ from those of her mother's 
generation? How does she believe her husband will react if she refuses to 
perform these tasks, or if she fails to do them well? Why might that breed 

All the responsibilities and duties of a servant are assigned to me for everything. 
I'm supposed to keep the house impeccable, the clothes ready, mealtimes exact 
On the other hand, I'm supposed to contribute to the support of the household 
... In my free time I transform myself into a society matron who gives luncheons 
and dinners for her husband's friends, attends meetings, subscribes to the opera 
season, watches her weight, renews her wardrobe, cares for her skin, keeps 
herself attractive. 

[23 Homework 

Read "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" by Juan Rulfo. Make a list of the story's main 
characters and write a one-sentence description of each. 


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"Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" by Juan Rulfo 

The central character in a work of literature is called the protagonist. 
The protagonist usually initiates the main action of the story and often 
overcomes a flaw, such as weakness or ignorance, to achieve a new 
understanding by the work's end. A protagonist who acts with great 
honor or courage may be called a hero. An antihero is a protagonist 
lacking these qualities. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or 
purposeful, the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, or weak. The 
protagonist's journey is enriched by encounters with characters that hold 
differing beliefs. One such character type, a foil, has traits that contrast 
with the protagonist's and highlight important features of the main 
characters personality. The most important foil, the antagonist, opposes the 
protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success. 

The protagonist of Juan Rulfo's "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" is Juvencio 
Nava, a man who has lived in hiding for thirty-five wars after killing a 
neighbor, Don Lupe Terreros. Juvencio is pursued by Hon 1 upe's son. now 
a colonel, who has finally caught up with his father's killer. Juvencio s own 
son, Justino, has acted as a liaison between the colonel and Juvencio, despite 
concerns for his safety and that of his wife and eight children. 

Discussion Activities 

List the main characters on the board in front of your class. Using the homework 
assignment, discuss each character's role in the story. Assign a student to play 
each part. Ask the rest of the class to split into two teams. Assign one team to 
be Juvencio's defense attorneys and the other team to act as the prosecution. 
Each team may call the characters to serve as witnesses for either the defense 
or prosecution. Argue Juvencio's guilt or innocence, then debate his sentence. 
Does Juvencio warrant sympathy? What was his motive for killing Don Lupe' Is 
Colonel Terreros justified in his revenge? Does Juvencio deserve his punishment' 
Could anyone in this story be considered a hero? 

Jj Writing Exercise 

In their reader's journals ask students to write about what happens after the last 
scene in "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" Does this blood feud end with Juvencio. 
or does it set off a cycle of revenge? Is Colonel Terreros satisfied with the death 
of the man who murdered his father' What role did Justino play in his father's 
capture, and how does he cope with this experience? 

[73 Homework 

Have students re-read the story, this time identifying mapr turning points in the 
plot and shifts in time. 

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"Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" by Juan Rulfo 

The author crafts a plot structure to create expectations, increase suspense, 
and develop characters. The pacing of events can make a novel either 
predictable or riveting. Foreshadowing and flashbacks allow the author to 
defy the constraints of time. Sometimes an author can confound a simple 
plot by telling stories within stories. In a conventional work of fiction, the 
peak of the story's conflict — the climax — is followed by the resolution, or 
denouement, in which the effects of that climactic action are presented. 

Rulfo's story grips the reader from the very first sentence — 'Tell them not 
to kill me, Justino!' — and the urgency of the narration continues on every 
page. The actual story is fairly simple: One man kills another over a land 
dispute; the killer goes into hiding and is caught nearly four decades later. 
The complexity of the story is the result of how the details and turning 
points of the story slowly unfold. 

Discussion Activities 

By propelling the reader into the middle of the action in the first sentence, Rulfo 
immediately piques our interest. Discuss as a class your students' reactions to the 
opening sentences of the story. Who is trying to kill this man? Why? What did 
he do? Does the way Rulfo began the story garner sympathy for the protagonist? 
Why or why not? 

We soon find out through flashback that Juvencio is not innocent. Ask students if 
they felt conflicted about their support of Juvencio. Did the tension in the story 
increase when they learned that he had murdered Don Lupe? 

Have students map out a timeline of the story's main events. Which are told 
in the present and which are revealed through flashbacks? How does the way 
the reader finds out new information affect how he or she feels about the 

Writing Exercise 

"Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" slowly reveals itself through flashbacks. Have 
students write in their reader's journal about the twists in the story's plot. Did 
their allegiance shift between the characters? If so, at what point did this change 
take place? Did they anticipate any of the plot twists? Which revelation had the 
most impact? Why? 

C3 Homework 

Read "My Life with the Wave" by Octavio Paz. Identify several examples for each 
of the following questions: Which specific moments in the story are bizarre or 
dreamlike? Which moments seem more conventional? 


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My Life with the Wave" by Octavio Paz 

Surrealism is a movement in art and writing, begun by the French poet 
Andre Breton in 1924 with the publication of his manifesto LeManifeste 
du Surrealisme. It stated that a deeper reality exists, which to mortal minds 
is unfathomable. To mirror that profound reality, surrealist artists are fond 
of bizarre and dreamlike imagery. Drawing on the theories of Sigmund 
Freud, surrealists seek to create their art according to the dictates of the 
unconscious mind. 

Surrealism flourished between World Wars I and II. Such artists as Pablo 
Picasso (1881-1973), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Rene Magritte (1898- 
1967), and Salvador Dali (1904-1989) painted surrealist works at different 
points in their careers. Reading Octavio Paz's "My Life with the Wave as 
a Surrealist prose poem is only one of several possible interpretations of this 
fascinating short story. First published in 1976, it can be read as an erotic 
allegory, an exploration of the artists relationship with his muse, a short 
story exploring magical realism, or in ways yet undiscovered. 

Discussion Activities 

The following statement summarizes Andre Breton's surrealist ambition: 
"I believe in the future transmutation of those two seemingly contradictory 
states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, of surreality. so to 
speak. I am looking forward to its consummation, certain that I shall never 
share in it, but death would matter little to me could I but taste the joy it will 
yield ultimately." How might this surrealist claim apply to Octavio Paz's story 
"My Life with the Wave"? 

Although "My Life with the Wave" is a fantastical story which elements of the 
plot resemble other, more traditional stories students have read? In particular, 
how does the story seem like a conventional love affair? Ask students to identify 
specific moments in the story where the language evokes a typical romance 
between two people. Can the story still be considered Surrealist? 

Writing Exercise 

In his Nobel lecture Octavio Paz said. "We pursue modernity in her incessant 
metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her. She always escapes: each 
encounter ends in flight. We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was 
just a little air." In their journals, have students write two paragraphs considering 
how this quotation might provide clues to interpreting the story 

n Homework 

Reread "My Life with the Wave." then read Handout Three in this guide. Ask 
students to write two paragraphs explaining the reasons why they agree or 
disagree with Thiel's interpretation 

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My Life with the Wave" by Octavio Paz 

Writers use figurative language to help the reader visualize and experience 
events and emotions. Imagery, a word or series of words that refers to 
any sensory experience (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste), helps create 
a visceral experience for the reader. Some figurative language asks us to 
stretch our imaginations, finding the likeness in seemingly unrelated things. 
A simile is a comparison between two things that initially seem quite 
different but are shown to have a significant resemblance. Similes employ 
a connective, usually "like," "as," or "than," or a verb such as "resembles." 
A metaphor states that one thing is something else in order to extend and 
expand the meaning of one of those objects. By asserting that a thing is 
something else, metaphors create a close association that underscores some 
important similarity. 

Personification is a figure of speech in which a thing, an animal, or an 
abstract term (truth, death, the past, etc.) takes on human qualities. 
Understanding this story depends on paying attention to both the literal 
and figurative elements that Paz evokes. 

Discussion Activities 

What specific images does Paz use to describe the presence of the wave in the 
narrator's life at the beginning, and how do these images change by the story's 
end? How do the later, darker images contrast with the literal descriptions of 
clothing, trains, police officers, a jail cell, and an ice bucket? 

Identify specific moments where the wave is described with human qualities. How 
do these moments of personification — along with the bizarre physical details of 
her elemental nature — give "My Life with the Wave" a surreal quality? 

As a class, list three possible interpretations of the story's last two paragraphs. 
Why might the narrator say that the wave "was an implacable whip that lashed 
and lashed"? Ask several students to read their homework assignment aloud. Do 
they agree or disagree with Diane Thiel's point of view expressed in Handout 

Writing Exercise 

In their reader's journals, ask students to list several places in "My Life with the 
Wave" where words can refer (whether directly or simply by suggestion) to both 
a woman and a wave. In two paragraphs, describe how a full appreciation of the 
story depends on noticing its literal and figurative qualities. 

[J] Homework 


Have students read "Chac-Mool" by Carlos Fuentes. Ask them to pay special 
attention to its unusual form, consisting of a diary nested inside another 
character's first-person narration. 

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"Chac-Mool" by Carlos Fuentes 

The word "epistolary" comes from the Latin word for letter, epistola. 
"Epistolary" writing is told by way of documents written by one or more 
characters. These can take the form of letters, as in Mary Shelley s novel, 
Frankenstein; of diary entries, or a combination of documents, as in Bram 
Stokers novel Dracula. Fiction writers usually use the epistolary form to add 
authenticity to a story, a sense that the author or narrator has discovered 
these documents and is sharing them with the reader. 

Discussion Activities 

Carlos Fuentes chose to structure this story as a diary nested inside another 
character's first-person narration. Discuss the structure of "Chac-Mool" using 
the homework assignment from the previous class. Why might Fuentes have 
decided to tell the story through the filter of a narrator reading his friend 
Filiberto's diary entries? How might the ending have had to change if Fuentes had 
just given us Filiberto's diaries? 

The narrator's account isn't just a framing device. He interrupts Filiberto's diary 
twice. In the first of these interruptions he writes, "The entry for August 25 
seemed to have been written by a different person. At times it was the writing 
of a child, each letter laboriously separated; other times, nervous, trailing into 
illegibility." How does a reader's awareness not just of Filiberto's medium — in 
this case, "a cheap notebook with graph-paper pages and marble-ized-paper 
binding" — but also his erratic penmanship, condition how we interpret his story? 

Finally, consider that two of the greatest horror stories. Frankenstein and Dracula. 
and "Chac-Mool" are all written in epistolary form. What is it about the 
epistolary form that might lend itself to the creation of unease, or suspense, 
or dread? 

J^ Writing Exercise 

Ask students to write a short story in their reader's journal using the epistolary 
form. Encourage them to be creative. They may use letters, diary entries, e-mails, 
or even blog posts. 

H Homework 

Have students page back through "Chac-Mool" to find examples of symbolic 
objects. How is the symbolic meaning different from the literal significance of 
the object? How does each symbol inform our understanding of the story or 

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"Chac-Mool" by Carlos Fuentes 

Symbols are persons, places, or things in a narrative that have significance 
beyond a literal understanding. The craft of storytelling depends on 
symbols to present ideas and point toward new meanings. Most frequently, 
a specific object will be used to refer to (or symbolize) a more abstract 
concept. The repeated appearance of an object suggests a non-literal, or 
figurative, meaning attached to the object. Symbols are often found in 
the story's title, at the beginning and end of the story, within a profound 
action, or in the name or personality of a character. The life of a story is 
perpetuated by generations of readers interpreting and reinterpreting the 
main symbols. By identifying and understanding symbols, readers can 
reveal new interpretations of the story. 

Beyond its delights as a spooky story, what might "Chac-Mool" mean? As 
the story begins, Filiberto has just drowned trying to swim away from his 
hotel. The narrator arrives to pick up his friend s body and finds Filiberto s 
notebook in a satchel. The diary entries describe Filiberto's doomed last 
days with his Chac-Mool statue. 

Discussion Activities and Writing Exercises 

Show your students photographs of a Chac-Mool. Discuss what symbolic value 
this primitive stone figure has in the story. Ask your students why they think the 
Chac-Mool starts out in the cellar, and why Filiberto winds up there. We last see 
the Chac-Mool as a "yellow-skinned Indian in a smoking jacket and ascot" (p. 46). 
How has the Chac-Mool changed over the course of the story? Who changes 
more, him or Filiberto? By the end, are they both ruined? 

Writing Exercise 

Ask your students to write a two-page essay on what water might symbolize in 
"Chac-Mool." Does its symbolic value change or evolve over the course of the 
story? Of all the ways for Filiberto to die, why do you think Fuentes opted for 
drowning? Have your students support their ideas with passages from the text. 

2J Homework 

Have your students begin to write their essays, using the topics at the end of this 
guide or subjects that emerge as students look through their reader's journals. 
Outlines are due at the next class. 

12 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Lesson Ten 

Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives in the 
larger context of the human struggle. The writers voice, style, and use of 
language inform the plot, characters, and themes. By creating opportunities 
to learn and reflect, a great story is a work of art that affects many 
generations of readers, changes lives, challenges assumptions, and breaks 
new ground. 


What Makes 
a Short Story 

Discussion Activities 

Ask students the following questions: If you were the voice of your generation, 
what would be your most important message? Why might you choose to convey 
this in a short story rather than a novel, poem, speech, or essay? What story 
would you tell to get your point across? 

Writing Exercise 

Have students work on their essays in class. Be available to assist with outlines, 
drafts, and arguments. Have them partner with another student to edit outlines 
and rough drafts. For this editing, provide students with a list of things they 
should look for in a well-written essay. 

Ul Homework 

Students should finish writing their essays to hand in during the next class. 

National Endowment fbi the \m 


The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, 
as do the Discussion Questions in the Readers Guide. Advanced students can come up with their 
own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided 

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the story. This statement or 
thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting 
reasons should be backed by references to the text. 

1. Marriage threatens the identity of the female 4. 
narrator of "Cooking Lesson" by Rosario 
Castellanos. Expand the plot summary and the 
character analysis from your reader's journal 

to explore the ways the piece of steak serves 
as a symbol for the narrator's life. How do the 
changes that take place as the meat cooks help 
us understand the narrator's emotional state? 
Why might Castellanos have chosen meat as a 
symbol? r 

2. Analyze one of the stories in the collection 
and draft one sentence that summarizes its 
primary theme. Using quotations from the 
text, write an essay that supports your claim. 
Be sure to consider the title of the story, point 
of view, main characters, setting, and objects of 
symbolic value while writing your essay. 

3. Magical realism blends elements of the real 6. 
world with imaginative surrealistic descriptions 

and events. Many Latin American writers are 
considered masters of the form. Expand the 
entries in your reader's journal to consider 
the ways Octavio Paz brings elements of 
magical realism to the page in "My Life with 
the Wave." How does the incorporation of 
fantastical characters and events add to the 
effect of the story? How does our world differ 
when studied through the lens of possibility 
provided by magical realism? 

Writing about setting invites you to study 
not only the story's time and place, but also 
the ways that a particular setting affects each 
of the characters. Choose a story in the 
anthology and write an essay considering the 
following questions: When and where does 
the story take place? Does the location suggest 
anything about the characters' lives? Is weather 
an important aspect of the story? If so, how? 

Take two stories in which you find similarities 
and evaluate the strengths of each, providing 
evidence from the texts to support your 
judgments. This could include character studies 
of the stories' protagonists, comparison of the 
settings, contrasting different authors' styles of 
writing, or a focus on the ways a similar topic 
or theme is addressed. 

Choose a story you did not enjoy reading 
and write a critical review. Be sure to offer 
thoughtful reasoning for your criticisms and 
support your arguments with passages from 
the text. 

14 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read 
community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, 
or a bookstore. 

1. Photo Gallery: Divide students into five 
groups. Assign each group one of the following 

a. Ancient Mexico 

b. The Mexican countryside, including crops 
grown today 

c. Modern Mexican cities 

d. Twentieth-century political leaders 

e. Cathedrals and churches 

Ask each group to find and print photographs 
relating to its assigned topic and write captions 
for each. Assemble the photographs into an 
exhibit that can be shown at a school assembly 
or in conjunction with a Big Read event in your 

2. Performance: Work with your school's 
drama instructor to produce a reader's theater 
or stage version of one or more of the short 
stories in the anthology. Students who do not 
feel comfortable acting can work on lighting, 
set creation, or costume design. 

3. Artist's Gallery: Ask students to draw or 
paint a scene from one of the short stories 
in the anthology Display the artwork in your 
school's hallway or at a local Big Read event, 
or create an exhibit on Surrealist Mexican 
art. Ask students to research the artists and 
their creations, including biographical, cultural, 
and historical facts that add to a complete 
understanding of the work. Display the exhibit 
in a school library, auditorium, or at a 
venue in your community. 

Read-a-thon: Read several stories from the 
anthology aloud at a local coffee shop or local 
hangout. Team with a culinary arts program at 
a local high school or college to provide typical 
Mexican sweets for patrons to enjoy with their 

Adaptation: Divide the class into groups. Ask 
students to adapt their favorite stories from 
Sun, Stone, and Shadows using your town or city 
as a setting. They should write all the dialogue 
and take the parts of all the characters. Ask 
each group to perform for the entire class or 
at a student assembly. Afterward, discuss the 
shift in setting. How did it change the story ; 
What are some of the social issues Mexico and 
the United States share? 

Cultural Appreciation: Teaming with a 
world history, current affairs, or social studies 
class, plan a day to explore Mexican culture. 
Play Mexican music, show a Mexican film, 
enjoy Mexican food, and talk about recent 
news events that have special relevance to the 
people of Mexico. 

National Endowment for the \i t-> the big reap • |5 


Short Fiction 

Modern literary fiction has been dominated by 
two forms: the novel and the short story. "Fiction" 
(from the Latin fictio, "a shaping, a counterfeiting") 
is a name for writing that is at least partially 
imagined. In historical fiction, a writer draws 
on factual information to present scenes, events, 
and characters, but the facts are of secondary 
importance. Readers should expect a novel or story 
to create a sense of how people respond to life's 
circumstances rather than an authentic chronicle of 
past events. 

Ancient forms of the short story date back to the 
days of oral storytelling. Most of us are familiar 
with Aesop's fables and the parables of Jesus 
from the New Testament. These brief narratives 
teach a moral lesson. Usually short enough to be 
memorized, they tend to be less complicated and 
closely detailed than a story written for the printed 
page. Fairy tales such as "Jack and the Beanstalk" 
and tall tales like those about Paul Bunyan and 
Pecos Bill are set in world of magical possibility 
where supernatural and fantastic occurrences are 
commonplace. Fairy and tall tales tend to be more 
elaborately constructed than fables and parables 
but they thrive on action rather than on character 

The written short story emerged in the early 
nineteenth century and was the last major literary 
form to develop. The short story did at least three 
things that changed the way brief fiction was told. 
First, it condensed the action of the tale — usually 
into a single situation focused on a single character. 
All of the dramatic and narrative power of the 

story was compressed into exploring that one 
action — its motivations, unfolding, and effects. 
The second hallmark of modern short fiction is 
fully delineated character. Characters are usually 
imagined people who populate a story. Some works 
of fiction have characters that are not human, such 
as in "My Life with the Wave" by Octavio Paz, 
but even these characters are imbued with human 

Finally, the short story used prose in a poetic 
manner. Sound and rhythm, image and symbol, 
tone and point of view were carefully crafted to 
communicate the plot as well as the physical and 
emotional experience of the story. Edgar Allan Poe, 
who helped develop the short story, thought of the 
form as an essentially poetic kind of prose narrative 
that created a trancelike state of heightened feeling, 
thought, and sensitivity. 

The plot of a short story is the element most 
readers most remember. Plot is a pattern of actions, 
events, and situations an author uses to tell a story. 
Through plot, writers create a series of emotional 
responses in the reader: suspense, humor, sadness, 
excitement, even terror. A successful short story 
combines plot with strong characters and poetic 
language to challenge, delight and enchant its 

Excerpted from The Longman Anthology of Short Fiction by 
Dana Gioia and R. S. Gwynn, eds. 

16 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


Reader- Response Criticism 

Literary criticism is not an abstract, intellectual 
exercise; it is a natural human response to 
literature. Literary criticism is nothing more than 
discourse — spoken or written — about literature. 
Reader-response criticism attempts to describe what 
happens in the readers mind while interpreting 
a work of fiction. This type of literary criticism 
recognizes that like writing, reading is a creative 
process. Reader-response critics believe that no text 
provides self-contained meaning; literary texts do 
not have meaning independently from readers' 
interpretations. According to this school, a text is 
not complete until it is read and interpreted. 

The easiest way to explain reader-response criticism 
is to relate it to the common experience of 
re-reading a favorite book after many years. A book 
one read as a child might seem shockingly different 
when re-read as an adolescent or as an adult. The 
character once remembered favorably might seem 
less admirable while another character becomes 
more sympathetic. The book has not changed. 
\ lowever, our life experiences between the first 
reading and any subsequent re-reading can affect 
the way we respond to a story. 

Reader-response criticism explores how different 
individuals see the same text differently. It 
emphasizes how religious, cultural, and social 
values affect the way we read and respond to a 
work of fiction. Of course, no two individuals will 
necessarily read a text in exactly the same way nor 

will they agree on its meaning. Rather than declare 
one interpretation correct and the other mistaken, 
reader-response criticism recognizes that different 
insights are inevitable. Instead of trying to ignore 
or reconcile the contradictions, it explores them. 
Reader-response criticism also overlaps with gender 
criticism in exploring how men and women read 
the same text with different assumptions. 

While reader-response criticism rejects the notion 
that there can be a single correct reading for 
a literary text, it doesn't consider all readings 
permissible. Each text creates limits to its possible 
interpretations. We cannot suddenly change the 
setting, the way a story's plot unfolds, or redefine 
its characters. 

Keeping a reader's journal is a great way to keep 
track of the fiction you read and your emotional 
responses to the stories. Vm can use the journal to 
explore ideas for cssavs. note important quotations, 
and list words to look up in the dictionary. I 
your readers journal while studying Sun, Stone, 
and Shadows to provide a convenient way of 
documenting your ov« n response to the stones you 
read in the anthology. 

I nceip t cd from 1 he Longm 

n.ui.i ( tioi.i .mil R s Gwynn, eos. 

National 1 ndowment tot tin 



Paz's "My Life with the Wave" 

An Allegory of the Creative Process, by Diane Thiel 

Octavio Paz's "My Life with the Wave" has 
a many-layered nature which eludes immediate 
definition. Is it a love relationship that the 
wave describes, or is it an aspect of himself? 
Is it memory? Or is it the muse, inspiration — 
which follows him from the sea, causes him 
imprisonment, and then is waiting for him 
on his return home, ready to toss him in 
many directions? 

The wave is vested with human qualities, and the 
speaker has a relationship with her that is both 
physical and emotional. A superficial reading 
might lead to the conclusion that the wave is 
merely a representation of a love relationship. 
The sensuous nature of the wave and the erotic 
and tempestuous relationship of the speaker with 
her support this impression. A closer reading, 
however, reveals some inconsistencies. The wave 
presents some non-human qualities. Her tempests, 
like those of the sea, are tied to the weather. She 
lacks the human center of mortality, and the 
vulnerability which comes from it. 

The origin of this piece — its inclusion in Aguila 
o sol (Eagle or Sun), a collection of prose poems 
which deals with the creative process — offers a 
useful clue to the deeper possible meanings of 
the wave. The pieces in Aguila o sol describe the 
artistic process as a physical, erotic encounter, 
sometimes violent. Paz's choice of a wave to depict 
the experience is an evocative one. As a writer, he 
struggles with the volatile demands of the Muse. 
It is a relationship which strikes a familiar chord 
with all writers. The wave will follow you home. 
You have no choice in the matter. It will come in 
search of you. You will do anything for this wave. 
Going to prison will not keep you from writing. 

But it is a tempestuous relationship — tortuous 
at times, because you may not know what the 
Muse requires. 

The double metaphor — the creative process as 
a wave, and the wave as a person — is effective 
because it can describe the relationship with the 
Muse simultaneously on intellectual, emotional, 
and visceral levels. The erotic connotations are 
particularly effective because they heighten the 
intensity of the piece. Paz chose a feminine noun 
(la old) for his character, which requires the 
feminine pronoun in Spanish. The effect in the 
original language is somewhat subtler than the 
use of "she" in English. The translation strongly 
encourages one to initially read the piece as a 
description of a love relationship. 

The final image of the wave, broken up to fill ice 
buckets, may be chilling, but it is also a clue to her 
identity. The ideas generated by the creative process 
become tortuous at times. One may have to leave a 
project for a while, in order to allow the inspiration 
to solidify into words. For the writer, inspiration 
can be a monster with which one must battle, 
until it is broken up into pieces — words, poems, 
stories. The fact that the speaker "sells" the wave 
further suggests her nature as Muse. Is the waiter 
the editor, who uses small shards of the product of 
inspiration to enrich the lives of readers, like chilled 
wine? It is an unfortunate fate — the wave of 
inspiration reduced to restaurant ice. One cannot 
truly capture the wave, Paz seems to suggest, only 
serve it in the tiniest of pieces. 

Used with permission of the author. Originally published in 
Fiction, edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 

18 • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


Castellanos, Rosario. A Rosario Castellanos Reader. An 
Anthology of Her Poetry, Short Fiction, Essays, and Drama. 
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988. 

Fuentes, Carlos. Myself with Others. New York: Farrar, 
Straus & Giroux, 1988. 

Paz, Octavio, The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in 
Mexico. New York: Grove Press, 1961. 

Rulfo, Juan. Juan Rulfo's Mexico. Washington: Smithsonian, 

Web sites 

This Web site contains information about the culture and 

history of Mexico. 1 990 


The Nobel Foundation Web site contains information 

about Octavio Paz, an overview of his work, a complete 

bibliography, and the text of his Nobel lecture and 

banquet speech. 

The Academy of American Poets contains a biography. 

bibliography, and link to information related to Octavio 

The Web site of The American Academy of Achievement 
serves to spark the imagination of students across 
America and around the globe by bringing them into 
direct personal contact with the greatest thinkers and 
achievers of the age. The site contains an interview with 
Carlos Fuentes conducted in June 2006. 

This site contains information on the Surrealist movement 
that was founded in 1924 by Andre Breton It also 
contains biographical information on Surrealists such as 
Salvador Dali. Rene Magntte. and Max Ernst 

National 1 tulowmont tor the \m^ 


NCTE Standards 

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards" 

Students read a wide range of print and 
non-print texts to build an understanding of 
texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of 
the United States and the world; to acquire 
new information; to respond to the needs 
and demands of society and the workplace; 
and for personal fulfillment. Among these 
texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and 
contemporary works. 

Students read a wide range of literature from 
many periods in many genres to build an 
understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., 
philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human 

Students apply a wide range of strategies 
to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and 
appreciate texts. They draw on their prior 
experience, their interactions with other 
readers and writers, their knowledge of 
word meaning and of other texts, their 
word identification strategies, and their 
understanding of textual features (e.g., 
sound-letter correspondence, sentence 
structure, context, graphics). 

Students adjust their use of spoken, written, 
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, 
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a 
variety of audiences and for different purposes. 

Students employ a wide range of strategies as 
they write and use different writing process 
elements appropriately to communicate with 
different audiences for a variety of purposes. 


Students apply knowledge of language 
structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling 
and punctuation), media techniques, figurative 
language, and genre to create, critique, and 
discuss print and non-print texts. 

Students conduct research on issues and 
interests by generating ideas and questions, and 
by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and 
synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., 
print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to 
communicate their discoveries in ways that suit 
their purpose and audience. 

Students use a variety of technological and 
information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, 
computer networks, video) to gather and 
synthesize information and to create and 
communicate knowledge. 


Students develop an understanding of and 
respect for diversity in language use, patterns, 
and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, 
geographic regions, and social roles. 

10. Students whose first language is not English 
make use of their first language to develop 
competency in the English language arts and to 
develop understanding of content across the 

1 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable, 
reflective, creative, and critical members of a 
variety of literary communities. 

12. Students use spoken, written, and visual 
language to accomplish their own purposes 
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and 
the exchange of information). 

* This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and 
develop your application of the curriculum. 

20 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

"At home, my father made me read Mexican 
history, study Mexican geography, and understand 

the names, the dreams and defeats of Mexico . 
a land of Oz with a green cactus road, a landscape 

and a soul so different from those of the United 
States that they seemed a fantasy." 

from Myself with Others: Selected Essays 


Top left, clockwise: Rosario 




Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz. 

"The temples and gods of pre-Columbian 

Mexico are a pile of ruins, but the spirit that 

breathed life into that world has not disappeared; 

it speaks to us in the hermetic language of myth, 

legend, forms of social coexistence, popular art, 

customs. Being a Mexican writer means listening 

to the voice of that present, that presence." 


from his 1990 Nobel Prize acceptance lecture 

From today on, 111 be 
whatever I choose to 
be at the moment... " 


from her short story "Cooking Lesson" 


The Big Read is an initiative of the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading 
to the center of American culture. The NEA presents 
The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of 
Museum and Library Services and in cooperation 
with Arts Midwest. 


'«• -JNllllUltM .. 

•:•* Museum.odLibrary 


A great nation deserves great art