Use of Graphic Novels in Teaching Coming of Age

Use of Graphic Novels in Teaching Coming of Age

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Teaching a unit based around the theme of coming of age is important in an adolescent
classroom. It has been taught in high school language arts time and time again. Coming
of age works makes up a large part of the literary canon including works like The
Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, etc. Additionally,
this theme is important because the teenage students in the classroom are essentially
going through their own coming of age. They are currently making the difficult transition
out of childhood into adulthood. Students will be able to relate to literature that focuses
on a coming of age story more easily than to other works of literature. This will
encourage students to be more active participants in classroom discussions and
responding to the texts. It also allows students to apply the things that they learn from
literature to their own lives and struggles growing up. I would argue that this is one of the
most important things that teachers of literature can hope for. In this unit on coming of
age, the two primary texts will be To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and the graphic
novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has become one of the most widely taught
books in the high school classroom. In some classrooms, teachers make use of only a
partial interpretation of the novel that focuses on racial injustice. While this is a
significant theme in the novel and is absolutely one that should be taught, it is not the
main theme of the novel. To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of this racial injustice
through the perspective of a child. It is the story of the coming of age of the narrator,
Scout. According to Theodore Hipple in “Will the Real Mockingbird Please Stand Up?”
(1969), the novel also tells the story of the growth of Jem as he loses his childhood
innocence while he moves toward adulthood. By looking at the novel as a coming of age
of two children, students will be better able to relate to the work than they would if they
read it as a piece on racial injustice. However, students will still be able to learn about the
historical social injustice that is portrayed in the novel. This is a good way for students to
learn about how the society they live in was shaped. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming of
age story that holds a place in the literary canon and is a significant historical account of

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the society that we all live in.

The graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is another story of social
injustice told from the perspective of a child. It is the coming of age story of Marji during
a tumultuous time. Persepolis is a memoir about the author’s childhood in Iran during
the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the success of the Islamic Revolution, and the war
against Iraq. By teaching this novel in my classroom, students will learn about a culture
that is vastly different from our own. It is also a chance for them to learn a little about the
history of a region in which our country is currently so involved with. The format of
Persepolis also allows students to learn about a different form than they are likely
familiar with in literature, the graphic novel.

The graphic novel is an emerging medium for literary expression. Early comics
were adolescent stories of adventure, fantasy, and action. They were seen as childish;
unfortunately, this stigma somewhat remains. However, according to James Sturm, “with
the aid of new digital technologies, film, video and computer games are now much more
adept at providing visceral adventures to our country's thrill seekers. Freed from being
the primary medium of adolescent entertainment, comics have reinvented themselves.”

Over the past two decades, great works of graphic novels have been created such as Art
Spiegelman’s Maus that tells the story of the holocaust entwined with the story of the
author trying to connect with his Auschwitz survivor father, which makes great use of the
visuals of the form by portraying the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. The graphic
novel is an increasingly significant form of literary and artistic expression, which is
reason enough for teaching it. However, there are other reasons for using graphic novels
in classrooms. Graphic novels help students who are struggling readers by providing
support through the visual representations of the story. The pictures can help them
understand the actual text. Graphic novels also have less long portions of text that can
become confusing for struggling readers. Graphic novels can be beneficial for teaching
English language learners in the same way that it enables the struggling reader. Graphic
novels can also motivate students who are apathetic about reading. They can also
challenge high achieving learners by introducing them to a new form that has its own
conventions and methods of conveying information. Hopefully, graphic novels can
inspire a desire to read more graphic novels and conventional prose novels as well.

Works Cited

Hipple, T.W. (1969). Will the real mockingbird please stand up? Missouri English
Bulletin, 26(4).
Sturm, James. A Case for Comics. National Association of Comics Art Educators.
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