‘Reading Lessons’ by Edwidge Danticat

Reading Lessons by Edwidge Danticat, 2005

The magic trick:

Placing the protagonist in a position of authority but then putting her in the role of student throughout the story

Our protagonist Danielle is very much an adult in this story. She is an elementary school teacher.

But it’s telling that when we first meet her, she is a confused child. Throughout the story, we see her in a variety of situations or relationships that put her in the role of the child, as the student.

She is cast in a position of authority, but spends the entire story learning the lessons. And that’s quite a trick on Danticat’s part.

The selection:

“What’s in this for me?” Danielle had asked Principal Boyfriend when he’d playfully dangled a time sheet in front of her that afternoon.

“Aside from the extra money?” He still had the same French accent, he’d told Danielle, with which he’d spoken since he left Burundi at sixteen. “Of course, the endless satisfaction of being a miracle worker, of making the blind see.”

There were times when his projects annoyed her so much that she thought she might hit him, not hard and not often, just once. But there were also times when she found herself feeling grateful to him, for even as he orchestrated his grand pedagogical schemes he never overlooked the details of her own life. He’d signed her up to teach that class, for example, as if he knew exactly what she would need that evening: not to be alone in their vast yet sparsely furnished Brickell Avenue condo, staring into a mirror, prodding anxious fingers at her flesh.

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