Through the years I have tutored high school students in the area of literature and I’ve noticed a distinct change in what kids are required to read these days and what constitutes literature.
When I attended junior high school and high school, Dickens and Shakespeare were considered mandatory reading and almost all of their work was covered. Not so today. (Students might read A Christmas Carol, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet but not much more). In addition to this, the humanities were coordinated in such a way so that what one was studying in History corresponded to what one was reading in English (ie. When studying the French Revolution we were reading A Tale of Two Cities. We read Animal Farm when we learned about the Russian Revolution).
It’s not that kids are not assigned required reading today, it’s that the list seems somewhat limited to The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and sometimes Fahrenheit 451. The settings appear to be more futuristic in nature than historical, which most students might prefer. (Note the popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy).
It’s true that literature is fluid and throughout generations, new works have been so well received as to become modern classics (such was the case with To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye). Recently, books such as House on Mango Street and Night have met those same qualifications. Understandably, new classics should be introduced and analyzed. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in a few years, The Help were to fall into this category.
However, this begs the question, “Which older classics need be bumped to make way for the new ones?” Recently, I mentioned to a student with whom I was working, the significance of Grapes of Wrath when studying California history. What I got in return was a blank stare.
Surely it’s worth devoting even a few weeks to the study of classic literature if for no other reason than to be able to recognize the name Heathcliff during the course of a dinner conversation.
See if you can match the brief story line with the classic pieces listed below. Then scroll down for the correct answer.
1 Set at the time of the French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic wars
2 In Salem Massachusetts, a woman is punished for having committed adultery
3 French revolutionaries take revenge upon the aristocracy
4 Various women stand accused, by their neighbors, of witchcraft
5 A family leaves the dustbowl of Oklahoma in search of employment in California
6 A small group of boys fend for themselves and form a hierarchy on a deserted island
7 Story of the nouveau riche in pre-depression era Long Island
8 Tale of a man whose dreams of material success never quite come to fruition
9 Some might consider this a parable about the exploitive nature of whaling
10 In Northern California, two generations of brothers battle between good and evil
11 An Englishmen brings a swarthy, orphan into his home not knowing that the child is destined to, as an adult, become his daughter’s obsession.
12 A sailor, unjustly imprisoned for years, escapes and seeks his revenge.
13 A disabled outcast, hidden from society, falls in love with a beautiful woman.
14 An orphan, emotionally abused by her family as well as by the orphanage in which she was raised, finds work as a governess and falls in love with her employer
15 A woman, attempting to escape what she considers to be her provincial life, has a series of adulterous affairs.
16 In 19thC Russia, a woman first commits adultery and ultimately commits suicide
17 Set in 12thC England, it focuses on the battle between the Saxons and the Normans
18 Two friends, one of them ‘mentally challenged’, set out in depression era America to find work.
19 Emotional fallout from World War I described from the perspective of German soldiers
20 During the 19thC Klondike gold rush, a domesticated dog is snatched from a ranch in California and sold into a brutal life as a sled dog
21 A man must fend for himself after an ocean storm leaves him shipwrecked
22 A boy left to his own devices finds adventure along the Mississippi River.
23 An anti-slavery book published in 1852, it is said to have laid the groundwork for the Civil War
24 A tongue in cheek look at the social mores of middle class English society in the 19thC.
25 A man and his companion set out to revive the art of chivalry.
SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWERS:
1. WAR AND PEACE, 2. SCARLETT LETTER, 3 A TALE OF TWO CITIES, 4. THE CRUCIBLE, 5GRAPES OF WRATH, 6.LORD OF THE FLIES, 7.THE GREAT GATSBY, 8. DEATH OF A SALESMAN, 9. MOBY DICK, 10. EAST OF EDEN, 11. WUTHERING HEIGHTS, 12. THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, 13. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, 14 JANE EYRE, 15. MADAME BOVARY, 16. ANNA KARENINA, 167 IVANHOE, 18. OF MICE AND MEN, 19. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 20. CALL OF THE WILD, 21. ROBINSON CRUSOE, 22. THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, 23. UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, 24. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, 25. DON QUIOTE
Thanks for joining me along RHODES LESS TRAVELED and have a wonderful Passover/Easter weekend.