Literary stereotypes serve two functions: they help readers make quick assumptions; they can also prejudice readers one way or another against a particular group. This lesson plan helps students recognize stereotypes and determine what may have motivated the author to use a stereotype.
What is a Stereotype?
- A stereotype is an oversimplified and fixed idea of what a particular group of people are like or do. Stereotypes take into account characteristics, personality types, or behaviors.
- Stereotypes have been used in the past to justify prejudicial attitudes and beliefs.
- Authors use character stereotypes to help readers understand what is happening. For example, if a story contains an overweight businessman who wears suits and smokes large cigars, the reader immediately recognizes a greedy person with no feelings. In literature, stereotyped characters are also called stock characters.
Stereotype Characters v. Reality
Stereotype: As I write this article in a coffee shop while chain-smoking, I call my friend Jaques who took his laptop to the mountains and is probably staring inquisitively into the sky waiting for inspiration. My friend Orlando walks in and throws a deck of cards on the table. I see the Jack of Hearts. I have now discovered the premise for my best selling novel. I head out to my Volkswagon Bus and hammer away on my typewriter. I'm an artist.
Reality: I neither smoke nor drink coffee. My wife got angry last week because I bought a Red Bull for a $1.99. That was the last one I ever drank. I have no friends (named Jaques or Orlando). Inspiration has yet to strike. I don't even play cards. I'm in my office typing up stereotype activities I did last year. I drive a Honda Odyssey. I write for money.
Stereotype Characters v Reality, Part 2
Stereotype: I am an English teacher. I can't wait to ruin somebody's day tomorrow. After school I'm going to read essays for 6 hours and use the ink in all 23 of my red pens. When I get home, I'm going to discuss Pride and Prejudice with my wife, Millicent. Then we're going to analyze poems for three hours and write a stereotype activities lesson plan. I eat beans and rice every night for dinner because that's all I can afford.
Reality: I am an English teacher. I enjoy teaching and look forward to helping young scholars tomorrow. After school I'm going to read essays for about 15-minutes and start crying. I use green pens. When I get home, I'm going to read Dr. Seuss to my son and jump on the trampoline. I will not even think of lesson plans. I eat rice and beans about once a week because they taste good.
Use the following activity before reading a work that contains stereotypes:
Make a chart:
- Column 1: Type of person
- Column 2: Stereotype
- Column 3: Reality
- Column 4: positive or negative
Here are some ideas:
- Teacher: see above
Businessperson - Stereotype: sits around in a suit, makes tons of money, thinks only about money; Reality: works very hard, provides opportunity and jobs for thousands; thinks about things most people think about--family, friends, economic stability.
- Lawyer - Stereotype: eloquent, good looking, spends all day in the court room prosecuting or defending high profile criminals; Reality: mostly mundane work, spends all day negotiating, doing paperwork, and occassionally going to court.
- Doctor - Stereotype: wears a lab coat, saves lives, performs surgery, dates beautiful nurses; Reality: wears regular clothes, spends more time checking for hernias than performing surgery, dates women in many careers.
- Your list can also include race, ethnic, and religious groups. Be sensitive.
- Make a similar chart as you read. Find stereotyped characters and complete a similar chart.