While the vast majority of us had long since embraced the joys of literacy, those four years of high school English were still riddled with questions: “Who” or “whom”? Which witch? Why can’t we just watch the movie? Why should I give an iamb of pentameter? (See what I did there?)
Meanwhile, our professors had some questions of their own: “What crimes against humanity have I committed in my past life to justify being stuck here trying to teach these rotten kids instead of writing the Next Great American Novel?”
In the spirit of Book Week, let’s pay tribute to Mr. Keatings everywhere by summarizing our lessons from literature. English professors, know that your efforts have not been (entirely) in vain.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a best-loved American classic detailing racial tensions in depression-era Alabama as seen through the eyes of the book’s precocious narrator, six-year-old Scout Finch.
Lit. 101: Morality; social injustice; loss of innocence; the coexistence of good and evil.
[Real] Lesson Learned: This book has nothing to do with mockingbirds and/or the killing thereof.
Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare: “Two households, both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, where we lay our scene/From ancient grudge break to new mutiny/Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean/From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life…”
Lit.101: The individual versus society; the extremes of love; the inevitability of fate.
[Real] Lesson Learned: Kids do the darndest things.
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Set in a 17th century Puritan settlement near modern-day Boston, the story’s protagonist, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” (for “Adulteress”) on her clothing as punishment after conceiving an illegitimate child out of wedlock.
Lit. 101: Identity and society; good and evil; the human condition.
[Real] Lesson Learned: Don’t be a slut.
Lit. 101: The power of cunning over strength; the pitfalls of temptation; identity.
[Real] Lesson Learned: Men need to learn how to ask for directions.
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles: This classic tale of bromance unfolds during the summer before World War II, when studious, introverted Gene and enigmatic Golden Boy Phineas (Finny) form a deep (albeit unexpected) friendship while rooming together at their small New England prep school.
Lit. 101: War and peace; jealousy; guilt; the creation of inner enemies; co-dependency; coming of age.
[Real] Lesson Learned: Don’t climb trees with those whom you suspect may be harboring extreme jealousy of your good looks, charisma and/or athletic abilities.
- Oedipus: Incest is rarely the answer.
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Opium is a helluva drug.
- The Raven: When sanity is at stake, crows before hoes (especially if they’re named Lenore).
- Macbeth: Curse or no curse, never underestimate the need for a good stain remover.
- A Streetcar Named Desire: A Basket-Case Named ‘Desperate.’
- The Picture of Dorian Grey: … But seriously, looks are really the only thing that matters.
- The Great Gatsby: Money can’t buy everything, including entitled married women.
- Hamlet: = The Lion King!
What did I miss (not actually read)?