I haven’t written here in a while, because I have not really known what to write. Most of what I started I deleted, because even to me it sounded like an old fart screaming, “Get off my Lawn!” But, I just got finished reading an article from BuzzFeed (https://www.buzzfeed.com/amatullahshaw/classic-books-not-classic) that I found so disturbing it made my hands shake.
To add a bit of personal background, I am no longer aloud to goto parent/teacher conferences, or things such as back to school night. My spouse, who is a school teacher, is afraid that the questions I ask, such as, “Are we teaching the students anything besides how to pass the state tests this year?” tend to make people unhappy. She also had to stop me from loosing my mind when my child’s English Teacher informed us that the school curriculum no longer included the “Content” of literature. They were only going to be teaching the function of the writing in the books and stories the students were assigned to read.
Now I come across this article listing books that have been considered classic literature for decades with reasons as to why they should no longer be considered classics, basically stating how they are no longer relatable. This leaves me at a complete loss for words. I understand not liking or enjoying one or all of what is generally referred to as “Classic Literature”, but to find that they no longer have cultural value is a tragedy of epic proportions.
The article starts with The Catcher in the Rye, calling it outdated, and difficult to relate to. It then moves on to Steinbeck referring to books like The Grapes of Wrath as depressing and only about the struggles of life. The scarlet letter, gets called puritanical, Heart of Darkness is called misogynistic, and To Kill a Mockingbird makes no sense. It is as though the author of the article wants every story read today to be a fairytale from Disney.
Books like The Lord of the Flies are meant to disturb the reader. I would actually be more worried if it did not. The Lord of the Rings is supposed to ramble on. It is written to feel like it was a myth from oral history. The reader is supposed to be thrown off by the decadence in The Great Gatsby. And, if you can not find modern relevance in 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, then you really need to open your eyes, and your mind.
How can society and modern culture spend so much time talking about open minds, and lived experiences, and not see the value in reaching out into the ether to find insights for the world at large. You can read the facts of The Great Depression in history books, but The Grapes of Wrath helps you to feel the struggle. You can despise the racism of the south from decades ago, but To Kill a Mocking Bird can show you how much has honestly changed. How the effort that Atticus puts forth may be considered minimal by today’s standard, but was considered heroic at the time.
At the end of this I can hear the young people who might read this calling me a Boomer, or just out of touch. But, it truly hurts my soul that people might not find value in these stories anymore. I’m not going to pretend that all of these classics are easy reads, and some I do not personally find enjoyable. However, the potential for learning about the human condition that can be found in classic literature is invaluable. Unlikeable characters are there to be despised. Unpopular ideas are there to be discussed. There is value in being able to read stories to understand someone else’s perspective. There is value in a character’s lived experience. And to attempt to keep people “Safe” from that is a tragedy and a loss.
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”