Monday, December 8, 2014

A Scary Conversation

Today I was teaching one of my favorite short stories of all time - "Cask of the Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe.  If you're not familiar with it, here is a brief synopsis.  Montressor (who is only referred to in the first person) is insulted by a man named Fortunato.  Obviously Fortunato has been blessed with wealth, health, respect, etc.  The insult was so slight that Fortunato was oblivious to the impact his words had on the narrator.  During Carnival Season, Montressor and Fortunato meet, and Montressor tells Fortunato he has a cask of this rare wine "Amontillado".  Fortunato is thrilled and almost gallops down into the catacombs for a taste.  Several times Montressor hints that the's going to kill Fortunato, but Fortunato is clearly in the dark about his fate.  Eventually Montressor chains Fortunato to a wall, and literally "walls" him in.  Fortunato's body remains in the catacombs for fifty years until Montressor confesses (because he felt others should know about his perfect crime.)

The conversation today was something along this line.  Was Fortunato partly responsible for his death?  After all, his obsession with amontillado led him to the creepy catacombs where he was eventually killed.  I honestly believed that my students would say the victim is not responsible for a murderer's behavior, and we would move on.  Nope, instead about half the class said, "yes".  I have to admit I was shocked.

So I tried to create a parallel example, "I'm walking through Central Park, and a mugger jumps me, stabs me, and I die. Am I partly responsible because I'm walking through Central Park?"

"Yes, if you're stupid enough to walk through a scary park, then yes, it's partly your fault."

I can't begin to explain how this disturbs me.  The lack of empathy for a victim and on top of that blaming them for their own demise just overwhelmed me.  And to be honest, I was a little crabby the rest of the class period.

I tried to again get them to see that a victim is not responsible for the crime committed against them (and granted by now I'm talking directly to only three students as the rest have bowed out), so I brought up Ferguson, MO.  Were the store owners that had their businesses burned due to looting responsible because they should have had some kind of security?  Response - What happened in Ferguson?  It was at that point I threw up my hands and moved on.

I think what I find so discouraging is the idea that several of these students believed someone could be responsible for a crime committed against him/her.  Some of them refused to see things from an alternative point of view because they enjoyed arguing with a teacher.  I get that.  And unfortunately there was a little name calling, which I tried to immediately squelch, but the lack of empathy really bothered (bothers) me, and I hope the entire conversation gets the kids thinking outside of class.  I know it did me.