L. M. Elliott (Author)
January 31, 2019
This talk will use as example SUSPECT RED, winner of the Grateful American Book Prize. Set during the Red Scare and Senator Joseph McCarthy whipping up Americans’ suspicion of one another, SUSPECT RED shows the trickle-down impact of national politics on two teenage boys and offers a contextual companion read for units on banned books, Fahrenheit 451, and The Crucible. The distance and perspective of time depicted in historical fiction offers a safe springboard, (with less emotional and personal immediacy), to discuss topics that resonate with today: media literacy; fear-mongering and catchy labels; mob mentality/peer pressure and “tribal loyalties;” innuendo taken as fact; xenophobia; dissent and 1st Amendment-guaranteed protests dubbed disloyal and Un-American; “naming names” and conspiracy theories; blacklisting; censorship; and our responsibilities within a democracy that believes in personal freedoms. Progressing by month from July 1953 to July 1954, each chapter in SUSPECT RED opens with factual headlines and events that affect the characters, giving readers surprising primary documents to consider, (and promoting analytical reading of media), as well as insight into why The Crucible and Fahrenheit 451 were so explosive in their time. Miller wrote his seminal work specifically as allegory for McCarthyism’s political witch-hunt (and lost his passport as a result). Limiting study of The Crucible to the 1692 Salem witch trials misses an opportunity to address the day-to-day poison of suspicion fueled by rhetoric, of a nation accepting innuendo and viral gossip as fact, and the question of how to confront legitimate dangers (Communism during the Cold War in this case) without sacrificing Constitutional freedoms or individual rights. This talk with provide practical tips and resources for discussing a little explored time in our history that so resonates with challenges of today, as well as general guidelines to using historical and biographical novels in the classroom.
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