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Teacher's Guide [imagemap with 8 links]
Cora Unashamed in the Classroom

Teaching Cora Unashamed

Suggested Ground Rules for Discussion
Many of the questions in this guide deal with race and class. Setting ground rules before you begin can ensure respectful dialogue about the issues. Here are some suggestions:

  • Disagree respectfully without name-calling or put-downs.
  • Make an effort to see a situation through the speaker's eyes.
  • Confidentiality: What is said in the room stays in the room.
  • Don't be afraid of conflict or tension: These can be positive forces that lead to understanding.
Before Viewing
  1. Discuss why people's choices in life may be limited. What are some of the factors that create limitations? How might a person's race affect his or her choices? class? gender? age? Has this changed in the United States over time? How?

  2. Discuss the kinds of issues that emerged in the United States after slavery was abolished. (You may want to have your students research life in America following abolition.) What do you think are some of the ways in which people, white and black, dealt with the issues? Are we still dealing with some of those issues today? How?

  3. Ask students what they know about the Harlem Renaissance, the era in which "Cora Unashamed" was written. When did it take place, and why? Who was involved? Why was it important? For more information, have them look at the Harlem Renaissance section.

  4. Before watching the film, ask students to read the 15-page Langston Hughes story upon which it's based. You can print "Cora Unashamed" from this Web site or find it in Hughes's book, The Ways of White Folks. Works by Hughes

Note: The word "nigger" is used several times in the short story (though not in the film). Consider using the story as an opportunity to discuss the power of this word and other racial epithets. Why is derogatory language used to describe groups dangerous? Does it matter who uses the words? How does Hughes use the word in the story? What do you think about works with racial epithets being taught in schools? For more strategies for dealing with the word "nigger" in literature, see the "Huck Finn in Context" teaching guide, section 1, Exploring the Controversy/The "N" Word.

After Viewing

  1. In a class or small-group discussion, compare and contrast the story and the film. Discuss the similarities and differences between characters, tone, and setting. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to change certain things? What do you think of their choices?

  2. Discuss the title of the story. What are some of the things about which Cora is unashamed? Why? Who else in the story is unashamed? Who's ashamed? What do you think Langston Hughes is trying to say about shame?

  3. When Josephine is born at the start of the film, Cora's mother says, "Ain't no good come out of white and colored love." How is this statement supported and/or challenged by what happens in the film?

  4. Examine the relationships in the film. Discuss Cora's relationship with Joe, with Jessie, with Mrs. Studevant, and with Mr. Studevant. How is race a factor in each one? Is it irrelevant in any way? Compare and contrast the "couples" in the film (Cora and Joe, Jessie and Willie, and Mr. and Mrs. Studevant). How does race and/or class affect each of these relationships?

  5. Discuss what happens to Willie and his family. How is their situation similar to Cora's? How do you think the experience of immigrants to the United States is similar to the experience of African Americans? How is it different?

  6. Ask students to compare and contrast literature and film using examples from Cora Unashamed and other film adaptations (either in an essay or discussion). How is reading the story different from watching the movie? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each medium?

  7. Have students think about a personal relationship or situation in which race or class was or is a factor. Ask them to write about the relationship/situation and how it was or is impacted by race or class. How might the relationship or situation have been different in Cora's time?

  8. Assign small groups one or two other stories in Langston Hughes's short story collection, The Ways of White Folks. After reading the story, have groups discuss how black and white worlds collide in each narrative. How does each group view the other and why? How do the relationships in the story create tension? Ask each group to present a summary of their story and discussion to the rest of the class. To extend the activity, students can also do research projects on how black and white worlds mix today (one suggested resource is the New York Times' 15-part series, "How Race Is Lived in America.")

  9. Have students look at the Harlem Renaissance section to identify other artists from the era. Ask them to choose a work by one of these artists (e.g., a song, painting, poem, novel, or short story). In an essay, have them compare and contrast the work with "Cora Unashamed." Have them address the differences and similarities between the works' subjects, themes, characters, and style. How were these works important to their era? How are they still important today?

  10. Have the class read Professor Phyllis Palmer's article, Race, Sex, and Housework in the 1930s. How do students think Cora and Mrs. Studevant are different from domestics and their employers today? Consider having students debate the role of domestic help in our culture using examples from Cora, Palmer's article, and personal experiences.

  11. Using the Langston Hughes timeline and other resources, have students research the life of the author. Have students read his poem "I, Too" and/or other poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by the author. For a collection of the author's poetry (including "I, Too"), see Vintage Classics' Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. Discuss how the author's life and times are reflected in his writing. What makes his work uniquely African American? What makes it uniquely American?

Essays + Interviews | Who's Who | The Harlem Renaissance
A Hughes Timeline | Works by L. Hughes | Teacher's Guide
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