Lesson Plans October 11--14 English 10
Purpose: students will work collaboratively, in small
groups, to create media presentations on either a
thematic, character, tone, comparison w/other piece/s
of literature or historical background for the Langston
Hughes short story “Cora Unashamed.”
Continue lesson in progress -- mini Students will continue working on
research project -- on CORA media presentation for topic they
UNASHAMED. Students will work chose on CORA UNASHAMED. By
on project two days this week. the end of this week students should
be ready to present during the first
Bell 3 will start project and finish in a week in 2nd quarter.
week and a half.
Students will spend some time
Distribute index cards to students looking at scoring rubric for the
near the end of class for reflection: project—second work day this week.
Where are you in the process of
project completion? List the steps Complete index cards.
you still need to do and how you are
going to accomplish them.
Assignments and handouts are
attached to this lesson plan.
Scoring rubric is also attached.
RESEARCH TOPIC/ASSIGNMENTS FOR “Cora different from watching the movie? What
Unashamed” After Viewing are the advantages and disadvantages of
1. In a class or small-group discussion,
compare and contrast the story and 7. Have students think about a
the film. Discuss the similarities and personal relationship or situation in
differences between characters, which race or class was or is a
tone, and setting. Why do you think factor. Ask them to write about the
the filmmakers chose to change relationship/situation and how it
certain things? What do you think of was or is impacted by race or class.
their choices? How might the relationship or
situation have been different in
2. Discuss the title of the story. What are some Cora's time?
of the things about which Cora is unashamed?
Why? Who else in the story is unashamed? 8. Assign small groups one or two other stories
Who's ashamed? What do you think Langston in Langston Hughes's short story collection,
Hughes is trying to The Ways of White
say about shame? Folks. After reading
the story, have
3. When Josephine groups discuss how
is born at the black and white
start of the film, worlds collide in each
Cora's mother narrative. How does
says, "Ain't no each group view the
good come out other and why? How
do the relationships
of white and
in the story create
tension? Ask each
How is this group to present a
statement supported and/or summary of their story and discussion to the
challenged by what happens in the rest of the class. To extend the activity,
film? students can also do research projects on how
black and white worlds mix today (one
4. Examine the relationships in the film. suggested resource is the New York Times'
Discuss Cora's relationship with Joe, with 15-part series, "How Race Is Lived in
Jessie, with Mrs. Studevant, and with Mr. America.")
Studevant. How is race a factor in each http://www.google.com/search?q=How+Race
one? Is it irrelevant in any way? Compare +is+lived+in+America++NYT&sourceid=ie7&rl
and contrast the "couples" in the film s=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-
(Cora and Joe, Jessie and Willie, and Mr. SearchBox&ie=&oe=
and Mrs. Studevant). How does race
and/or class affect each of these 9. Have students look at the Harlem
5. Discuss what happens to Willie and piece/americancollection/cora/harle
his family. How is their situation m.html) section to identify other
similar to Cora's? How do you think artists from the era. Ask them to
the experience of immigrants to the choose a work by one of these
United States is similar to the artists (e.g., a song, painting, poem,
experience of African Americans? novel, or short story). In an essay,
How is it different? have them compare and contrast the
6. Ask students to compare and contrast work with "Cora Unashamed." Have
literature and film using examples from them address the differences and
Cora Unashamed and other film similarities between the works'
adaptations (either in an essay or subjects, themes, characters, and
discussion). How is reading the story style. How were these works
important to their era? How are they familiar look. African American maid Cora Jenkins (Regina
Taylor) works for a demanding white family, headed by
still important today?
socialite Mrs. Art Studevant (Cherry Jones). In addition to
handling all the domestic chores, Cora is in charge of, and
10. Have the class read Professor Phyllis develops a loving relationship with, the youngest Studevant
Palmer's article, Race, Sex, and child, Jessie (Ellen Muth). Cora's race and sex disqualify her
Housework in the 1930s. How do from social equality with her employers, but tragedy reveals
students think Cora and Mrs. Studevant her to be their moral superior.
are different from domestics and their But there's a twist to this tale. Langston Hughes's short story
employers today? Consider having of the same name, "Cora Unashamed," is told from the black
perspective, a novel approach to storytelling at the time of its
students debate the role of domestic help
publication in 1934. Hughes made use of stock characters
in our culture using examples from Cora, familiar to black and white audiences, but transformed them.
Palmer's article, and personal
Hughes's short story collection, The Ways of White Folks, in
experiences. which "Cora Unashamed" first appeared, was revelatory for its
presentation of reality as experienced by black protagonists.
11. Using the Langston Hughes During the 1930s, through the wildly popular, still relatively
timeline and other resources, have new, medium of film, Hollywood entertained audiences with
students research the life of the set images of black Americans. While white characters could
author. Have students read his poem inhabit many walks of life, blacks were generally cast as
servants, entertainers, or comic foils. The movies certainly
"I, Too" and/or other poetry, fiction, and
didn't invent these images; they merely picked up where
nonfiction by the author. For a collection literature left off, drawing on the same stereotypes that
of the author's poetry (including "I, authors and performers had used for decades.
Too"), see Vintage Classics' Selected
It seemed Hughes, on first read, was no different. He filled his
Poems of Langston Hughes. Discuss how
story with details that would reassure white readers of its
the author's life and times are reflected accuracy and truth. Here was Cora, a black maid for a socially
in his writing. What makes his work superior white family, the Studevants. Their moral superiority
uniquely African American? What makes was guaranteed as well: Cora had given birth to a child out of
it uniquely American? wedlock. Furthermore, in accord with the popular expectations
of the period, Cora's devotion to her employers' white child
I, Too appeared to be boundless. But Hughes was not interested in
by Langston Hughes telling a story that white authors had been telling for years.
Instead, he subverted the presumed relationship of white
I, too, sing America (flawless) protagonists and their black (flawed) foils. Seen
from the servant's perspective, all this information takes on a
I am the darker brother. different meaning and transforms the typical popular image of
They send me to eat in the kitchen superior whites being served by inferior blacks. While Cora
When company comes, Jenkins is a servant -- and the lowliest social creature on the
But I laugh white scale at that, the domestic, or maid -- she is neither
And eat well, childlike nor unthinking, as black servants were so often
And grow strong. depicted in film and literature of the time. Cora's point of view,
candid and courageous, reveals more about the truths of life
in the Studevant household than her white, middle-class
I'll be at the table employers would wish to acknowledge, even to themselves.
When company comes.
Say to me, Melton, Iowa, the setting of the story, is "one of those
"Eat in the kitchen," miserable in-between little places, not large enough to be a
Then. town, nor small enough to be a village -- that is, a village in
Besides, the rural, charming sense of the word." The Jenkins family --
They'll see how beautiful I am Cora's parents, siblings, and Cora herself -- are socially and
And be ashamed -- economically isolated, the only black family in town. The role
that Cora plays later in the story, in the Studevant home, is
I too, am America not unlike the one she plays in her own, except that "she ate
better" with the Studevants. The eldest of eight children, Cora
was essentially a maid for her family: "She always had a little
Cora Unashamed: Race, Sex and Housework brother, or a little sister in her arms," Hughes explains. An
in the 1930s ailing mother and alcoholic father do not provide much
by Phyllis Palmer stability for the family, and in the eighth grade, Cora quits
Professor of American Studies and Women's Studies, school to work for the well-to-do white Studevants. Once
The George Washington University again, in keeping with prevalent popular-culture images, Cora
is quiet and obedient -- "humble," Hughes calls her. Cora's
At first glance, Cora Unashamed, the premiere film of humility, however, doesn't derive from some native
Masterpiece Theatre's American Collection, has a subservience, but from the calculations of self-preservation.
To complain to her employers, who treat her badly but not too Studevant with all the qualities an upstanding lady needed.
badly, would be to risk having to work for "poorer white folks She is "the civic and social leader of Melton, president of the
who would treat her worse," or to be out of work entirely. Woman's Club three years straight, and one of the pillars of
the church." The white middle-class housewife's status derived
And to be out of work entirely is not an option for Cora, for
from her presumed moral virtue and her valuable community
she supports her family. Opportunity comes to Cora, as it did
and charity work -- not to mention her clean home. Cora is not
to many non-white women at the time, in the form of the
merely an extension of the wife's work, as domestic work was
"maid of all work" job. According to popular magazines and
often categorized; she is actually the source of cleanliness
household manuals of the '30s, middle-class white
and, for Jessie, comfort in the Studevant home.
householders relied on the maid of all work to handle not only
the physically hardest tasks (except window-cleaning, usually
Hughes describes this white, middle-class reliance on women
left to men), but often to work 18-hour days, with no breaks.
domestics accurately. A Fortune magazine survey late in the
Cora's workday mirrors real-life schedules reported by
1930s reported that "70% of the rich, 42% of the upper
domestic workers to the U.S. Women's Bureau. One worker
middle class, and 14% of the lower middle class" hired
outlined her Saturday:
domestic workers. In addition, my own research into mid-
Got up at 5:15, fixed furnace, got breakfast, 1930s family spending shows that the wife's educational level
correlated with the hiring of domestic servants. Women with
made beds, polished nickel in bathroom and more education and greater possibilities of paid or volunteer
kitchen, polished tub and other fixtures; took floor employment regularly hired less well-educated women, and
brush, scrubbed and polished tile floor in usually those with options limited by racial discrimination, to
bathroom, scrubbed and polished floor in kitchen, take over housework. Because middle-class educated women
gained reputation outside the home only if they also kept their
washed windows, wiped woodwork, scrubbed and homes immaculate and their children well dressed and well
polished steps to basement and washed fed, their achievements depended directly on the availability
banisters. Swept all walks and front porch, and competence of unheralded domestic workers.
washed silk stocking, went to grocery, helped Rearing children was considered part of running the home.
make peanut bread; trimmed dried beef, washed "Like all the unpleasant things in the house," Hughes explains,
vegetables, put things away, scrubbed eggs, cut "Jessie was left to Cora." Jessie does not fit into the idealized
world that Mrs. Studevant, with Cora's behind-the-scenes
up vegetables to put in soup, fixed supper, made
help, so carefully cultivates. In developing the relationship
salad and desert. Washed dishes. between Cora and Jessie, Hughes undercuts the popular ideal,
epitomized in Shirley Temple movies, that white, well-dressed,
To Cora the litany of demands is a never-ending refrain: mannerly children were so beautiful and superior that any
"Cora, come here... Cora, put... Cora... Cora... Cora! Cora!" servant would prefer these "angels" to her own children.
There seems no limit to Mrs. Studevant's demands on Cora's Instead, Cora fills the gap left by her own daughter's early
time. death with love for Jessie, who has been emotionally
Once again, Hughes's Cora shares much with "real" women of abandoned by her parents and siblings. Cora needs someone
her social standing, or lack thereof. Especially for women of to love, and Jessie needs someone to love her. Their
color, who were limited by racial discrimination and who relationship is grounded in the similarity of their characters
constituted the majority of domestic workers as early as 1920, and circumstances, not in Cora's putting a higher value on a
domestic employment ranked as a major occupation. By the white child than a black one.
'20s, many white women had obtained more "respectable" And it is love. Cora bathes and clothes the little white baby --
jobs in retail sales, offices, or factories. By contrast, the 1930 and perhaps more importantly, keeps her in the kitchen out of
Census revealed that domestic work was a primary occupation her mother's sight. Having given birth to her own daughter at
for African American, Mexican American, Japanese American, the same time, Cora nurses Jessie, too, on Mrs. Studevant's
and Native American women. instructions, even though when the unmarried Cora's
Working conditions and wages were often disputed. But under pregnancy had begun to show, Mrs. Studevant banished her
Franklin Roosevelt, Depression and New Deal policies brought from the Studevants' "proper" home. A callous mother, Mrs.
about enormous improvements for American workers as the Studevant despairs of "dull little Jessie," who hasn't the wit
government responded to labor union demands for shorter and talent to follow her mother's social lead. Concerned above
hours and better wages. By 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act all with her social position, Mrs. Studevant leaves Jessie to
set a federal floor for minimum wages and a ceiling for hours Cora's care and teaching, where Jessie thrives.
for all workers in businesses that fell under Congress's Cora knows that only the social aspects of intimate
regulatory purview of interstate commerce. Throughout the relationships are bound by race. Her relationship with Jessie is
debates leading to the legislation, domestic workers sought indicative of this: "In her heart," Hughes writes, "she had
inclusion as workers comparable to anyone in a factory, store, adopted [Jessie]." In her heart, perhaps, but Cora was, of
or business. Congress, however, continued to exclude them course, forbidden to make any decisions regarding the girl's
from hour and wage coverage. Only in the aftermath of Civil welfare. Similarly, not sex, but marriage, adheres to racial
Rights and during the Women's Movement in the 1970s did barriers. The father of Cora's only child, Josephine, is white.
domestic workers gain hours and wages and Social Security "[Cora] had never known a colored lover," Hughes wrote.
coverage. Hughes never veers into such overtly political "There weren't any around. That was not her fault." She
territory, though, and Cora doesn't benefit from such knows that even after pregnancy, marriage is not an option.
regulations. "[S]he hadn't expected to marry Joe, or keep him. He was of
Ironically, Mrs. Studevant's prominence depends very much on that other world... But the child was hers -- a living bridge
Cora's efficient housework and child care. Hughes imbues Mrs. between two worlds."
While Cora may view Josephine as a bridge between black and children whose whole lives are influenced by her
white, the child's very existence marked Cora as "immoral."
example, especially where busy parents give only
Popular-culture movie models, for instance, encouraged
women to be sexy but not "loose." Girls learned to attract men a small portion of time to their children.
coyly, to allow a bit of "petting," but always to keep them at
an elegantly gloved arm's length. Katharine Hepburn, Myrna From Etiquette, by Emily Post, 1922
Loy, and Ginger Rogers were stars who, on the big screen,
dressed in fashionably revealing clothes, yet never had sexual
relations, or even serious kisses, except with their husbands --
Madam and Her Madam
and sometimes not even with them. In her simple honesty,
Cora has had sex with a man who shows her affection and by Langston Hughes
kindness, she accepts her pregnancy, and she devotes love to from The Selected Poems of Langston Hughes
her baby. Much as Cora enters into a relationship that can
never reach the "proper" conclusion of marriage, Jessie
chooses a boyfriend -- and a future -- socially suspect because I worked for a woman,
of his dark, Greek complexion. She wasn't mean--
According to Hughes's biographer, Arnold Rampersad, But she had a twelve-room
Sherwood Anderson remarked in a review of The Ways of House to clean.
White Folks: "My hat is off to you in relation to your own race,'
but not in relation to the whites, who were caricatures."
Had to get breakfast,
Anderson may have had a point that Hughes was not
particularly interested in presenting a white point of view; Dinner, and Supper, too--
after all, that viewpoint dominated the media of the era. Then take care of her children
Despite the fact that the behavior Hughes depicts is accurate When I got through.
and backed up by research, it's true that Mrs. Studevant is
largely a caricature. But the same could be said for Cora's
father (not portrayed in the dramatization), who "passed the Wash, iron, and scrub,
evenings telling long, comical stories to the white riff-raff of Walk the dog around--
the town, and drinking licker." Even as he indulged some It was too much,
popular stereotypes, Hughes was rewriting an unbalanced
Nearly broke me down.
cultural picture. He created a heroine unashamed of her work
and of her sexuality. In doing so, he provided a liberating
vision of womanhood for all women. I said, Madam,
Can it be
Phyllis Palmer, a Professor of American Studies and Women's You trying to make a
Studies at The George Washington University, is the author of
Pack-horse out of me?
Domesticity and Dirt: Housewives and Domestic Servants in
the United States, 1920-1945 (1990) and other articles and
essays about domestic workers and housework. She opened her mouth.
She cried, Oh, no!
The Well-Appointed House You know, Alberta,
I love you so!
A gem of a house may be no size at all, but its
lines are honest, and its painting and window I said, Madam,
curtains in good taste. As for its upkeep, its path That may be true--
or sidewalk is beautifully neat, steps scrubbed, But I'll be dogged
brasses polished, and its bell answered promptly If I love you!
by a trim maid with a low voice and quiet
courteous manner; all of which contributes to the
impression of "quality" even though it in nothing
suggests the luxury of a palace whose opened
bronze door reveals a row of powdered footmen.
The Nurse...It is unnecessary to add that one can
not be too particular in asking for a nurse's
reference and in never failing to get a personal
one from the lady she is leaving. Not only is it
necessary to have a sweet--tempered, competent
and clean person, but her moral character is of
utmost importance, since she is to be the
constant and inseparable companion of the
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
Let America Be America Again The free?
Who said the free? Not me?
by Langston Hughes Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
Let America be America again. For all the dreams we've dreamed
Let it be the dream it used to be. And all the songs we've sung
Let it be the pioneer on the plain And all the hopes we've held
Seeking a home where he himself is free. And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
(America never was America to me.) Except the dream that's almost dead today.
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed-- O, let America be America again--
Let it be that great strong land of love The land that never has been yet--
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
That any man be crushed by one above. The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
(It never was America to me.) Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free, Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
Equality is in the air we breathe. The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
(There's never been equality for me, We must take back our land again,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.") America!
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? O, yes,
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars? I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, And yet I swear this oath--
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars. America will be!
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-- Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
And finding only the same old stupid plan The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, The mountains and the endless plain--
Tangled in that ancient endless chain All, all the stretch of these great green states--
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! And make America again!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,