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Reading Multicultural Literature

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

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Time: 2 class periods
20 minutes
Materials: Copies of assigned texts (“Total Urbanization” by Douglas Bell, “The Carpet King” by Ginny Swart)


Blue Line

Students sometimes have limited views of the wide range of cultural and societal trends which influence both fiction and non-fiction writing. This short multicultural unit will encourage students to think about ways in which cultural beliefs and societal values are reflected in literature. They will read several fictional pieces which examine issues of urbanization and rural cultures.

Purpose – The goal of this two-day lesson is to get students interested in looking at different societal perspectives presented in literature.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the influence of cultural values and personal beliefs in fictional text.

National Language Arts Standards
Standard #2: Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

Standard #9: Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

Arizona Language Arts Standards
Strand 2: Comprehending Literary Text
Concept 2: Historical and Cultural Aspects of Literature
PO 1: Describe the historical and cultural aspects found in cross-cultural works of literature.
PO 3: Recognize ways that forms of literature (including poetry, novel and/or short story) present similar themes differently across genres.

Strand 3: Writing Applications
Concept 5: Literary Response
PO 1a: Describe the author’s use of literary elements (i.e., theme, point of view, characterization, setting, plot)
PO1c: Compare works within a literary genre that deal with similar themes (e.g., compare two short stories)

Teacher Background
You may obtain from the library or purchase the following books which can serve as resources for this and other lessons on multicultural literature:

  • "Coming of Age in America: A Multicultural Anthology” edited by Mary Frosch, published by New Press, May 1995. ISBN: 1565841476
  • "Braided Lives: An Anthology of Multicultural American Writing” edited by the Minnesota Humanities Commission Staff, published by Finney Company, September 1991. ISBN: 0962929808

Related and Resource Websites
Source for “The Carpet King” by Ginny Swart: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/CarpKing.shtml

Source for “Total Urbanization” by Douglas Bell: http://www.sffworld.com/authors/b/bell_douglas/fiction/totalurbanization1.html

Ginny  Swart Photo
Photo taken from


Day 1
1. Before students enter the classroom, have copies of the short story “The Carpet King” by Ginny Swart printed and ready to distribute. At the beginning of the period, have the following questions written on the board:

  • How does the place in which you live affect the kind of person you become? Think about the ways in which you are affected by your continent, your country, your state, your city, all the way down to your neighborhood. How do these elements of your environment shape who you are?”

Give the class about 10 minutes to think and write about these questions in their journals.

2. Begin a 15 minute class discussion about the question of the day. Examine each step of this hierarchy (continent, country, state, city, and neighborhood) and how these spheres of our environment affect us. You may even wish to break students into groups to have small, separate discussions about how each sphere influences us. To do this, assign one group of students to each of the following questions:

  • How does living on the North American continent affect our perspectives?”
  • How does living in the United States affect our perspectives?”
  • How does living in [your state] affect our perspectives?”
  • How does living in [your city] affect our perspectives?”
  • How does living in your neighborhood affect our perspectives?”

After about five minutes of brainstorming, bring the whole class back together to discuss the thoughts and ideas of each group. Students should be assembling and sharing their prior knowledge of the cultural, societal, and environmental influences on people. Encourage the class to think about the differences between them and someone who lives in a different continent, country, state, city, or neighborhood. Students should begin to see the many ways in which these factors influence our actions, ideas, and beliefs.

3. Explain to the class that they are going to be reading a variety of fictional texts which reflect the different cultural and societal perspectives of the characters. Hand out copies of the story “The Carpet King” by Ginny Swart, and give a brief introduction to the text. It is usually enjoyable for the students to practice reading aloud using a procedure like “popcorn”, where students can read a paragraph and then pass the reading onto another student by naming him/her. If you prefer, you may have the class begin reading the text silently. Depending on the ability levels of your students, you can have them read half the story and discuss the following questions, then finishing the reading for homework, or have the class read the story entirely in class, saving the questions for homework.

Questions to Consider for “The Carpet King”
1. How would you describe the setting or environment in which the story takes place? Think about the continent, country, city, and neighborhood. What kind of house does this family live in? What part of town do they live in? Why?

2. Compare and contrast the attitudes of the mother, father, and daughter toward Charles Andrews at the beginning of the story and then at the end. Does their view of him change?

3. What kind of man is Charles Andrews? How can you tell? What sets him apart from the Le Roux family? What cultural and societal values show in his manner?

4. Why do you think Mrs. Le Roux considers buying one of Andrews’ carpets? What might the carpets represent to her? What does Mr. Le Roux think of the carpets?

5. Does Mr. Le Roux trust Mr. Andrews? Why do you think Mr. Andrews was able to trick him into buying the carpets? How did their respective values and beliefs play into this transaction?

6. How does the author bring a sense of her African culture into the story? What affect does this have on the reader?

Day 2
1. Take the first 10 minutes of class to discuss the reading from the previous day, examining how cultural and societal values influenced each of the characters. Ask the class if they found anything about the story surprising or ironic. Also find out how the students can relate the story to their own lives (i.e., Have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to the Le Roux family?)

2. Explain to the class that today they will be examining a very different, futuristic text that looks at some issues similar to those expressed in “The Carpet King”. Just as cultural values affect our perspectives, the ideals embraced by particular social classes can affect us as well. Sometimes the values of society can steer the future in directions we cannot foresee. Give the class about 5-10 minutes to read the short story “Total Urbanization” by Douglas Bell.

3. Allow the class to separate into groups to discuss the story, using the following questions as a guide (students may choose a recorder to write down their answers):

Questions to Consider for “Total Urbanization”
1. Describe the setting and mood at the beginning of this story. Where does it take place? What is the general feeling of the story?

2. What kind of world does the narrator live in? According to him, how did society come to this point? How is this world different from the one we currently live in?

3. Explain the significance of the title “Total Urbanization”. What have been the negative affects of this world transformation?

4. Why do you think it is important to the main character to be “a great man”, someone whom history will remember? Is this an American ideal? Explain.

5. What does the narrator regret most as he is dying? Does his violent end surprise you?

6. Do you think such a future could realistically occur? Why or why not?

Collect student responses to questions and close with a wrap-up discussion of issues raised by the readings. Allow students to direct discussion as much as possible.

Not applicable.

Embedded Assessment
Student responses to the text may be evaluated for comprehension / completion of objective.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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