Sunday, November 4, 2007

#3 The Small Room - May Sarton

"It’s just that I feel overwhelmed. I don’t see how anyone can be a good teacher, let alone a great one. You can’t win; either you care too much or too little; you’re too impersonal or too personal; you don’t know enough or you bury the students in minutiae; you try to teach them to write an honest sentence, and then discover that what is involved is breaking a psychological block that can only be broken if you take on the role of psychoanalyst…" –Lucy Winter in The Small Room

The Small Room is a deeply questioning novel about women and the unique relationship between teacher and pupils. Set in a New England college for girls, the book explores how inveterate, established traditions and values of teaching are being challenged as demanded by the ever changing student body over time. Prizing excellence, the college presumes that by setting an uncompromising standard it might develop women who can take the lead, who can become responsible in the deepest sense.

The synonym to academic prestige is the invincible Professor Carryl Cope, a distinguished scholar, inspiring teacher who has been stimulating to her students. Despite her dominating over the faculty, she has adopted her students like orphans, push them, wrangle with them, and force them to grow in academic excellence. Her brilliance, dedication and strengths seem so flawless and formidable until a favorite student of hers, a rising star, fails to cope with the pressure to achieve higher ground, perpetrates an unethical act that threatens to shatter the very tradition of excellence.

Ranged against Carryl Cope is Lucy Winter, a fresh arrival to the school who lives on the heels of a disastrous relationship. Until the outburst of the scandal, Lucy has doubt and feels misgiving about involving with students at a personal level. That she has been haunted by personal affair makes her seek convalescence in this safe world in a college. But this temporary refuge turns out to be one that is reeled with tension, as immense amount of loose hostility and anger unveil and float around against Carryl Cope, who tries to hush up the student’s scandal.

Lucy Winter, who holds the students as individuals, snaps out of her teaching personality in the classroom, is able to answer students’ pleas for personal attention. What she gives to them is exactly the bane to Cope’s fall–for Cope has failed to penetrate to students’ personal lives and problems. In molding and pruning the students, Lucy has taught a most valuable lesson. “It’s not about winning.” Indeed, one can prove to be above the critic but if one doesn’t have self-respect and love, life has no meaning. This is a sentimental education that transcends scholastic merits. It’s about teaching students how to feel, how to live, and how to experience–the means to help ripen in life.

The Small Room is an absorbing work that probes into the most ambivalent and delicate quarters of human heart. It delves into the seemingly calm world of academia in which the faculty, beset by their conscience, are forced to reappraise their profession and motives.


Bybee said...

Wow, it sounds great....the paragraph you quoted sums up the feelings I often have as a teacher.

Eva said...

I just wrote up my thoughts on this one-I loved it!

Matt said...

I enjoyed the book very much, hooked from the beginning. I like novel set against an academic setting. This one will really warm your heart. :)

I'll go check out your review. :)