I’m going to be very upfront and tell you that I have no idea what the answers are to the questions that I just posed. I mean, these books are basically written in a different form of English, but I do have a couple guesses as to why these pieces of literature seem to pop up in high schools all across the country.
The answer to the first question is simple in my opinion. Why have these books survived so long? I think it comes right in the name: classic. The books are all set in times that are obviously not present day, but the themes and ideas always seem to cross over to our lives now. For example, To Kill A Mockingbird follows young Scout through her childhood as she realizes that some people are not who they seem to be. Whether you’re eighty years old or ten, you can relate to the “don’t judge a book by its cover” theme. Of Mice and Men taught us that the greatest acts of friendship are often the hardest, and The Great Gatsby reiterated that all is fair in love and war. Even A Tale of Two Cities, which is barely written in the English we speak today might I add, depicts the strength of love when Sydney Carton gives his life for his beloved Lucy.
The second question is a bit trickier. Honestly, there are a lot of books out there that are not considered classics, but they have universal themes like I talked about earlier. So, why these particular books? What makes them so special? I don’t think I have a complete answer for this one. Some of the “classics” that I have read have been awful, and I can’t think of one special thing about them. Yet, others have left me with a bigger picture. I think that reading is a very subjective thing to start with, so if someone important decides that a book is worth reading, then it must be worth reading. Maybe a guideline for classics is that they’re not supposed to make a ton of sense. Maybe in the in criteria it says “must be utterly confusing” or “must make you sleepy.” Of course, there are some classics like To Kill A Mockingbird that I actually enjoyed, so maybe the guidelines don’t say that. Maybe instead, we cling to books that have been around forever simply because we know that everyone has read them. Most everyone has an opinion on the work, so it makes discussing and analyzing easier.
The last question is most definitely my favorite because I think it combines the first two: why on Earth are high school students, of all people, expected to enjoy them? To me, this question is the most dumbfounding. Let’s be real: high school students often do not appreciate things like classics. At this point in time, we’re stuck to cell phones, but in all time periods, teens just want to have trendy fun, not read a dusty book. Very few people my age read books like Of Mice and Men on their own. Yet, I think I know the answer to my question. High school students have a necessity to learn and expand themselves so they don’t turn out to be horrible adults. If we read books that have universal themes and make us think (because they’re so darn confusing), then we’re learning. And, if we’re learning, we’re becoming more well-rounded people. Now of course, that doesn’t mean that once you read a classic, you are set for life, but I think that each classic can give one insight into a big life issue.
Still, I can’t say that I have personally enjoyed most of the “classic” novels that I’ve read throughout my first half of high school, but I can say that even as I wrote this post, I realized that maybe these books that we all seem to dread have a purpose. Happy kommenting :)