Learning check

1. Vocabulary

No study aids.

a) Write the word that corresponds to the definition. 

 

a situation involving choice between two equally unsatisfactory alternatives

 

 

 make people want to do, have or accept something even if they know it is wrong

 

 

accept that something is true

 

 

to make somebody do something by force or threats

 

 

having or showing both good and bad feelings about something/somebody

 

 

having a bad reputation

 

 

to accept something without arguing, even if you do not agree with it

 

 

to go beyond the limit of what is morally or legally acceptable

 

unpleasant or offensive; not considered morally acceptable

 

 

b) Different word classes   

Verb

Noun

Verb

Noun

approve

 

 

acquiesce

 

fascinate

 

 

sacrifice

 

excite

 

 

rationalise

 

entice

 

 

attract

 

agitate

 

 

desire

 

perform

 

 

transgress

 

entertain

 

 

fascinate

 

bore

 

 

reproach

 

admire

 

 

justify

 

 

Learning check

2. Walk/sit and quiz

This can be done as a ‘Walk and quiz’ task, or in groups as a ‘Sit and quiz’ task.

No study aids.

 

Walk and Quiz

Each student gets a slip of paper with a question. The students walk around and ask a fellow student the question on their paper. If the student asked gets into difficulties, the one asking the question can help them. When they have asked each other and answered the questions, they swop the slips of paper and move on. If neither of the students can answer the question, they put a tick next to the question on the paper the teacher has put on his/her desk.

          

Sit and Quiz

If the task is done in groups, the students place the slips of paper in the centre of the table and take turns drawing, reading, answering and commenting on the answer. The questions they cannot answer should be put in a separate pile. 

 

Cut into slips of paper.

 

 

1. What kind of opening does the story have? Do you remember the first three words of the story? 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Who tells the story and what is the function of the narrator?

 

 

 

 

 

3. What can you say about the suspense graph and its importance for the theme?

 

 

 

 

4. Characterize the narrator's attitude to Hensch.

 

 

 

 

5. Explain the use of colour in the text.

 

 

 

 

 

6. What is the theme of the story?

 

 

 

 

7. What is the message of the story?

 

 

 

 

8. Which emotions does the community experience during the show?

 

 

 

 

 

9. Comment on the setting.

 

 

 

 

10.  Characterize the volunteers.

 

 

 

 

11.  Sum up Hensch's last act.

 

 

 

 

12.  How do the people feel when they leave the performance?

 

 

 

 

13.  Why do people go to the performance?

 

 

 

 

14.  Why do the people volunteer?

 

 

 

 

15.  Characterize Hensch.

 

 

 

 

16.  Characterize the narrator.

 

 

 

 

17.  Name five of Hensch’s acts.

 

 

 

 

18.  In what ways are the last three acts different from the previous ones?

 

 

 

 

19.  Is the story realistic? Why/why not?

 

 

 

 

20.  Did you like the story? Why/why not?

 

 

 

 

21.  Which character do you find most interesting? Why?

 

 

 

 

22.  Which question/s would you like to ask the author?

 

 

 

 

23.  Name some of the stylistic devices used in the text and give some examples.

 

 

 

 

24.  What limit does Hensch transgress?

 

 

 

 

25.  When precisely does the assistant change into a black dress? Why does this happen at this particular point?

 

 

 

 

26.  Why didn't the audience stop the three volunteers?

 

 

 

 

27.  Should the audience have stopped the volunteers from being marked? Why/why not?

 

 

 

 

 

28.  Why do the people remember the knife thrower with agitation and dismay?

 

 

 

 

 

29.  Why does the audience acquiesce in what is going on?

 

 

 

 

 

30.  What may the knife be a symbol of?

 

 

 

 

 


                           PAPER ON TEACHER'S DESK

1. What kind of opening does the story have? Do you remember the first three words of the story?

Can't answer:

 

 

 

 

2. Who tells the story and what is the function of the narrator?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

3. What can you say about the suspense graph and its importance for the theme?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

4. Characterize the narrator´s attitude to Hensch.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

5. Explain the use of colour in the text.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

6. What is the theme of the story?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

7. What is the message of the story?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

8. Which emotions does the community experience during the show?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

9. Comment on the setting.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

10.  Characterize the volunteers.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

11.  Sum up Hensch’s last act.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

12.  How do the people feel when they leave the performance?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

13.  Why do people go to the performance?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

14.  Why do the people volunteer?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

15.  Characterize Hensch.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

16.  Characterize the narrator.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

17.  Name five of Hensch's acts.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

18.  In what ways are the last three acts different from the previous ones?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

19.  Is the story realistic? Why/why not?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

20.  Did you like the story? Why/why not?

 

 

 

 

21.  Which character do you find most interesting? Why?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

22.  Which question/s would you like to ask the author?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

23.  Name some of the stylistic devices used in the text and give some examples.

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

24.  What limit does Hensch transgress?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

25.  When precisely does the assistant change into a black dress? Why does this happen at this particular point?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

26.  Why didn´t the audience stop the three volunteers?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

27.  Should the audience have stopped the volunteers from being marked? Why/why not?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

28.  Why do the people remember the knife thrower with agitation and dismay?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

29.  Why does the audience acquiesce in what is going on?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

30.  What may the knife be a symbol of?

Can’t answer:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning check

3. Star rating

Individually: Give the short story a rating of 1-5 stars. In groups: Try to reach consensus. Whole class: Defend your rating in a discussion with the other groups.

 

Text-related assignment

1. Written assignment: summary

Write a summary of the text seen from Hensch’s point of view (200 words).

 

Wider contexts

1. Author's comments

  • on the use of the first person plural narrator in “The Knife Thrower”:

In an interview by Marc Chénitier, professor of American Literature, conducted by e‑mail between November 20th and December 10th, 2003, Steven Millhauser comments on his use of the first person plural narrator in “The Knife Thrower”:

Steven Millhauser: As stories [for The Knife Thrower and Other Stories] began to accumulate during the 90s, I was aware that many of them made use of a plural narrator — the 'we' of the title story and of some half dozen others. The use of 'we' is, of course, hardly my invention. It’s used more than once by Kafka […] to say nothing of the famous opening of Madame Bovary, where the very first word is 'Nous'. It’s also used by the chorus in Greek tragedy, although there you have a visible group speaking together —sometimes as 'we', sometimes as 'I'. In any case, I found myself increasingly drawn to this pronoun, partly because it allowed me to enact the drama of an entire community set against a person or group that threatens it, and partly because the pronoun felt new and exciting, a pronoun that didn’t drag in its wake one hundred billion stories, as in the case of an 'I' or a 'he'. It strikes me as a barely explored pronoun, full of possibilities, and I’m certainly not done with it […] what interests me about the 'we' [..] is the way moral indecisiveness or questioning may be given more weight or significance by attaching itself to a multiple being. A single narrator might have multiple interpretations of an event, or might try to evade moral choice in numerous ways, but the same kind of uncertainty in an entire community becomes public, societal, even political, and carries a different weight. I would argue that the moral wavering of the 'we' in “The Knife Thrower” is more disturbing than the moral wavering of an 'I' would have been, or disturbing in a different way.

Does this comment add to your understanding of the message of "The Knife Thrower"?

  • On the reader’s response:

When asked by Marc Chénetier what was his most ardently wished for reaction on the reader's part, Millhauser answered, 

I’d wish the reader, in the course of falling into one of my stories, to grow more and more estranged from the familiar, until by the end of the story he or she, if only for a moment, sees the world as a mysterious and surprising place. After all, our nervous systems are arranged for practical ends — we see what’s immediately useful to us and ignore the rest. In this sense, art is a method of destruction. It turns our attention away from the useful, it allows us to see things usually obscured by habit — it invites us to witness the thrilling strangeness of the world.

 

Do you feel that Millhauser has succeeded in achieving this in The Knife Thrower? Why/Why not ?  

  • On the fantastic:

There are essentially two ways of presenting the fantastic in a story. You can begin in the everyday, familiar world and move gradually in the direction of the unfamiliar so that the reader can barely detect where the line is crossed, or you can introduce the fantastic suddenly and eruptively. [...] By temperament and conviction, I much prefer the first method, the slow elaboration of a quotidian world that veers gradually toward the unquotidian, the improbable, the impossible.

 

Which method does Millhauser use in “The Knife Thrower”?

Marc Chénetier, "An Interview with Steven Millhauser", Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2003, mis en ligne le 24 mars 2006, : http://transatlantica.revues.org/562

 

Post-reading

2. Literary context: other text by the same writer: comparison (written assignment)

Write an essay where you compare the use of the first person plural narrator in “The Knife Thrower” and in “The Sisterhood of the Night” also in The Knife Thrower And Other Stories.

 

Wider contexts

3. Other media: reality television

Is the community's fascination with Hensch similar to people's fascination with reality television? What are the similarities and the differences? You may choose to do this as a written assignment.

 

Wider contexts

4. Literary context: other genre: Ben Elton’s play Popcorn

 

Ben Elton (1959- ) was born in London and studied drama at Manchester University. He has written numerous television shows, and as well as plays and novels, which have been widely translated, he has also written poems and songs. He is also known as a stand-up comedian.

Elton turned Popcorn (1996), his fourth novel, into a successful play of the same title (1998). In his novel Dead Famous (2001) he satirizes Big Brother, and Chart Throb (2006) is a satire of the X Factor-style reality TV shows. Together with the band Queen he wrote the TV musical We Will Rock You (2002). He was also involved in the musical Love Never Dies (2010), which is a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. In 2009, a critic in The Guardian wrote “Newcomers to Elton's novels should start with the very funny and sharp Popcorn.”

 

Pre-reading

  1. Think of a violent film you have seen or heard about. Tell your neighbour about it.
  2. Why do people watch violent films?
  3. If at all, what is most likely to inspire people to become violent:

    a) reading about violence in a work of fiction?

    b) reading about violence in the newspaper?

    c)  watching violence in films or on television?

    d) playing violent computer games?

  1. Vocabulary. Translate the following words into Danish:  


 

cause and effect  ___________________________________________________________

notorious ___________________________________________________________

to put one’s case ___________________________________________________________

to glamorize violence ___________________________________________________________

a ratings monitor ___________________________________________________________ 

a killing spree ___________________________________________________________

to sue ___________________________________________________________     

a moral void ___________________________________________________________

to claim responsibility ___________________________________________________________

to pass the buck ___________________________________________________________

a psychopath ___________________________________________________________

 

 

Excerpt (page 46 “Wayne points the remote at the TV.” – the rest of the play) from Ben Elton’s play Popcorn, Samuel French. 1998.

Context:

Bruce Delamitri is a famous and hip film director, who has just received an Oscar for Best Director for his film Ordinary Americans, which is a very violent film about a young couple out on a killing spree.  In real life, Wayne and his girlfriend Scout, known as the notorious Mall Murderers, have been on a killing spree across the US, and they have been killing people in exactly the same way as the couple in Ordinary Americans

On the night of the Oscars, Wayne and Scout break into Bruce’s house, they take the people assembled there hostage including Bruce, Brooke Daniels, a female model/actress with whom Bruce expects to have a one-night stand,  Bruce’s soon-to-be ex-wife and his daughter Velvet. Wayne phones the TV networks and the police arrive at the house and a siege begins. Wayne’s plan is to force Bruce to go live on TV to say that he is responsible for Wayne’s and Scout’s killings because his film has had such a profound impact on them. In that way they will avoid the death penalty. If he won’t do it, Wayne will kill Bruce, his wife and his daughter.

Eventually Bruce and Wayne agree to debate the question of whose fault it is on TV. Wayne asks for a two-person TV crew to come to the house in order to film this debate. He also asks for a ratings computer so that he can see how many people are watching.  Kirsten and Bill are the two-person TV crew.

 

While-reading

Comprehension and analysis

P. 46 - p. 51 Black-out

In pairs/groups answer the following questions:

 

1. How do Wayne and Scout react to being on TV?

2. Why does Brooke Daniels croak?

3. “… Bruce here did not call his film ‘fifty-seven Murders plus People Taking Drugs and Fucking…’” What point is Wayne making?

4. What is the discussion about?

5. What are Bruce’s arguments? Find them in the text.

6. What are his tactics?

7. What is Wayne’s argument? Find it in the text.

8. Who is right, in your opinion?

9. Is this discussion good television? Why/Why not?

10. Why do the ratings suddenly go up?

11. Comment on the producer’s argument not to turn off the show.

12. How does Wayne justify killing Farrah? Is he right?

13. In your opinion, who is to blame for what?

 

P. 51 - 52 The Epilogue

  1. What is the epilogue about?
  2. Why has Elton chosen to continue the play after the black-out?
  3. What is the tone of the epilogue?
  4. Who is to blame?  

  

Overall questions

  1. Characterize Wayne and Scout and their relationship.
  2. Are the characters in the play round or flat? Argue your point.
  3. Does the author seem to sympathize with any of the characters?
  4. What is Elton’s view of television and the people watching it?
  5. What is his view of Americans and American society in general?
  6. What seems to be the theme of the play?
  7. Comment on the style.
  8. Judging from the short extract you have read, what sort of play is this?

   - a comedy   

    - a tragedy 

    - a thriller

    - a satirical comedy   

    …

  1. Where does the author’s main interest seem to lie?

    - developing characters and their psychology  

    - presenting an idea   

    - arguing a point   

    - developing interesting metaphors and similes   

    …


     

Glossary

 

p. 46

transfixed

tryllebundet

p. 47

´manacled

lænket

croak

hæst skrig

no´torious

berygtet

e´quate

sætte lighedstegn

moron

sinke, idiot

p. 48

Mary Poppins

musical film (1964) starring Julie Andrews

at that

(her) nu du siger det

hood = hoodlum

bølle

eventuality

mulighed

itch to

brænde efter

haul

hive

get off on

blive høj af

p. 49

slouch

stå og hænge

second guess

gætte, forudsige

Hamlet

tragedy by Shakespeare in which Hamlet’s father, the King of Denmark, is murdered by his brother, who is then murdered by Hamlet, who wants to avenge his father

´regicide kongemord

Oedipus

mythical Greek king who unwittingly fulfilled a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother

Jack Daniels

amerikansk whiskymærke

dys´functional

ikke fungere normalt

Ivan Pavlov

(1848-1936) Russian scientist best known for his studies of reflex behaviour. His most famous experiments demonstrated the conditioned and unconditioned reflexes in dogs. The idea here is that a stimulus can produce a conditioned response: Dogs salivate (response) in the presence of meat (stimulus). If you ring a bell every time the dog is in the presence of meat, the dog will start to salivate even though there is no meat. Every stimulus can be connected to the original stimulus and then lead to a conditioned reaction/reflex

mutha (sl.) = motherfucker

p. 50

hypo´critical

hyklerisk

´lunatic

galning

fate

skæbne

p. 51

curtain call

fremkaldelse på scenen

wash

farvelag

remaining in character

vedbliver at være de samme personer som i stykket

´cynical

kynisk; not believing that something good will happen or that something is important

sue somebody

rejse erstatningskrav mod en, lægge sag an mod en

a´ssault

angreb

inter´vene

gribe ind

claim

krav

torment

pine, smerte

a´menities

faciliteter

underwrite

erstatte

p. 52

inter´vention

indgriben

claim responsibility

tage ansvaret


Post-reading

Learning check

In groups: dramatize parts of the excerpts. One is the director and the others actors. Pay attention to tone, speed and movement.

 

Wider contexts

5. Written assignment: translation

En 32-årig dansk jurastuderende iværksatte den 7. februar 2011 en internetauktion om fem billetter til henrettelsen af Travis Runnels, der på det tidspunkt sad på dødsgangen i Texas. Udbyderen skulle selv have 10% af billetprisen, mens resten ville gå til Travis Runnels og hans familie. Auktionen er blevet stærkt kritiseret af Etisk Råd, der synes at det er smagløst og uetisk at ville gøre døden til et reality show. Andre forsvarer retten til kommerciel henrettelse, da det er den dødsdømte selv, der laver aftalen. Alle fanger har retten til at invitere fem gæster med til deres henrettelse, men det er normalt forbeholdt familie og venner. Man kan spørge sig selv om, hvorfor nogle mennesker skulle have lyst til at se en henrettelse. Et medlem af Etisk Råd udtalte i den anledning: ”Det er kun mennesker, der er syge i roen, som vil betale penge for det her.”