He held out a piece of paper. A mile-long list of novels sat before me. The list had been scoured by the other students, picked apart as if by vultures. A lot of the stories I wanted had been snatched up before I even got the chance to look at it. However, as my eyes scanned the page, a title jumped out at me – A Doll’s House.
The title intrigued me. It piqued my interest even though I knew nothing about it. I pointed at the page and a smile slowly spread across my teacher’s face. “You’ll like that one,” he said as he moved on to the next student. I wondered what he was thinking behind that smile.
My senior year high school English teacher had always been impossible to read. He liked to challenge his students. He pushed us harder then any other teacher we had encountered before. He took great pride in the English language, the many great authors that had graced the page with their thoughts and ideas, and he wanted us to understand the meaning behind the pages.
This was our final assignment of the year. It accounted for 20% of our grade and could make or break a lot of students’ senior year. There were only three months until graduation and this assignment would take us right up until then. It was a huge undertaking and a lot of pressure. Many students over the years had cracked under the stress and our teacher seemed to take a sort of sick pleasure in that.
For this project, we were told to read the novel of our choosing. Upon finishing our reading, we then had to research. We had to learn everything we could about the author, the history behind the text, and what led to its fruition. It was something none of us had ever done before. The intent was to prepare us for college research essays and in his words, “Show us the inside of a library.”
A Doll’s House is a short play written by Henrik Ibsen. I fell into the pages and finished it in two short days. It is a lovely story that is full of female empowerment. I liked it straight from the start. Over the next few weeks, I spent all my free time in the local university’s library diving into countless books, essays, and journal articles about the play and its author Henrik Ibsen. I was surprised to learn of its history; a story at the forefront of feminism with a history full of controversy and criticism that threw the play into a whole new light.
It was an epiphany. I learned so much outside of what the pages had to say. I had never experienced this depth of knowledge and understanding before. It was an interesting feeling. I had never been prouder of a piece of writing before. I submitted my paper with A Doll’s House written atop the page. As I placed it on his desk, I felt a sense of sadness – as if I was letting a piece of myself go. I had never put so much work into something and I spent the following week awaiting my teacher’s feedback with heavy anticipation.
The following week all of us students were sitting in the hallway, each awaiting our turn to receive our feedback with nervous trepidation. “Tiffany!”, he shouted through the closed doors. Everyone’s heads turned to look at me; it was if I was being called into the principal’s office for punishment. I slowly rose from my chair and headed towards his office. The knob turned slowly, and I opened the door to a surprise – a smile on his face and my paper in his hands.
He spoke highly of my writing and said he enjoyed my paper – “truly”, he said. He asked me what I thought of the process and I told him I found it hard, but revolutionary. I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye. He smiled at me and said, “I am not hard on all of you for kicks. I push my students hard because I know you can do it. And I want you to know you can do it too.”
Two weeks later, we all huddled together outside the gymnasium. Our principal was talking and any minute now he was going to start calling our names. We all stood together one last time, anxious and excited to make this huge step forward in our lives. As he bellowed out my name, I walked through those doors and into the next chapter of my life. As I walked across that stage, a huge smile spread across my face and I swear I walked a little bit taller. Because I now knew what everyone else seemed to know – that I could do it.