Last of the carry over’s from the old blog. Originally posted on October 23rd, 2013.
I had a really excellent English teacher for both Freshman and Senior English. She was great. Sophomore English was great, too. Junior year… Well, let’s not go there.
However, even they couldn’t make some of the books we had to read any better. Every year, there was at least one book that I absolutely could. Not. Stand. Freshman year it was Animal Farm and Romeo and Juliet. Sophomore year it was Fahrenheit 451. Junior year? Well, I hated most of that year in general, since I’m not particularly fond of American Lit., but The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby really stood out. Senior year it was Hamlet, The Canterbury Tales and the ever charming, 1984.
Yeah, I had to read both Animal Farm and 1984. Same teacher, different years.
Don’t get me wrong; I read a lot of things in high school that I loved then and still love now. To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, The Fall of the House of Usher (not a novel, but I love that story) and of course, probably my favorite from high school, Wuthering Heights.
But not every character can be Heathcliff. Not every writer is Poe. Case in point? 1984.
I hated that book in high school. It squicked me out. Room 101? No thanks. And good God, I couldn’t stand Julia. Maybe the audience wasn’t supposed to like her. Maybe we weren’t suppose to like Winston. Well, Mr. Orwell, mission accomplished. I had to write an essay on that book. (We wrote essays on everything we read in that class.) The subject was, irony, if I remember correctly.
The irony now is that, looking back, I’m really glad I had to read that book. It’s still not a favorite. I won’t be adding it to my physical book shelf anytime soon, but I do have a copy on my kindle. I understand why most high school students have to read it. I understand why it’s still relevant, even now.
Maybe even more so, now. Don’t believe me? Look at the language in the book. It’s dubbed “Newspeak”.
Now go and look at the average 12-13 year old’s facebook status and see which of the two makes more sense. My money’s on the former. At least it seems coherent.
And as a Psych. student with an interest in Social Psychology, the book kind of fascinates me in some macabre way. The “two minutes hate” and the way Winston finds himself joining in? Perfect example of mob mentality.
Another one that I’m slowly developing an appreciation for is The Great Gatsby. It’ll never be one of my favorites, (though how gorgeous is the new movie version?) but I can at least stomach it now. Yes, Daisy is still whiny, Tom is still an ass, and Jordan is still an icy you-know-what. Tom, at least, seems like he was meant to be pretty much irredeemable from the start, but Daisy and Jordan? I can kind of understand where they were coming from now. Still don’t like them, but I don’t hate them anymore either.
Maybe something like 1984 should be left for college students? Animal Farm, too. Are most high school kids going to get the metaphor there? Stalin and Lenin pigs? Hell, does the average high school student know who Lenin and Stalin are? And I doubt most high school kids understand the idea of “Ingsoc”.
Most students don’t really know how to appreciate novels like that in high school. Some do, sure, but most will just slog through it because they’ve got a paper to write, or an exam to take. Though I’ve done that in college too.
I’m looking at you, Don Quixote and The Aeneid.
But at least most college students have heard of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. Most of them have some idea of what Communism and Socialism are.
Still, I’m grateful for having read what I did in high school. It’s served me well in college.
Except for The Scarlet Letter. Seriously, Hawthorne? Seriously?