What We Really Learned in High School Lit. Class

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 Mockingbirdby 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 Julietby 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 Letterby 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.

The Odysseyby Homer: At the conclusion of the decade-long Trojan War, the Greek hero Odysseus sets out on an epic quest to return home to Ithaca and his beautiful Queen, Penelope.

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.

Extra Credit

What did I miss (not actually read)? 

Photo by AV Pride

Kayla Brown Kayla Brown is the author of the “Boston Babe Sports Bible” series and TNGG's weekly fashion column, "Haute and Dangerous" (inspired by a Ke$ha song). She hopes to one day channel her debilitating caffeine addiction into the noble art of copywriting. Her interests include watching YouTube videos of cute animals doing funny things. If you think you can handle it, follow her on Twitter: @kjbrown22.

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18 Responses to “What We Really Learned in High School Lit. Class”

    • Angela Stefano

      “Lord of the Flies”: What REALLY should have happened in “Lost”.

      Most Jane Austen books: Sisters are competitive (or “Don’t discount the ‘weird’ guys”)
      “The Poisonwood Bible”: Don’t become a missionary (I love her other books, but that one pained me to read…)

      The “Gatsby” lesson (among others) made me pretty much snort (chunky!) peanut butter up my nose. Well done.

  1. Caitlin

    A Separate Peace was my least favorite books EVER, mostly due to the 4 pages in the beginning dedicated to describing stairs. Mr. Knowles, they’re a symbol/metaphor…we got that by paragraph 2.

    “Of Mice and Men”–anyone wearing a glove full of Vaseline is a d-bag.

    “Animal Farm”–When in doubt, don’t ask Stalin.

    • Jessi Stafford

      Our english teacher made us do arts and crafts for every book we read. For A Separate Peace we collectively made a poster prominently featuring a blunt (with glitter!). A.P. English detention ensued.

      • Angela Stefano

        Aw, c’mon, it should be illegal to hate on ANYTHING that includes glitter (even if it’s a blatant drug reference in the middle of a high school). #kidding…mostly.

  2. ashley lee

    East of Eden: don’t name your 2 boys after Cain and Abel, or bad things will happen.

  3. Angela Diaco

    HILARIOUS Kayla!

    Grapes of Wrath: We always have California.

  4. Alex Pearlman

    So funny, I was laughing out loud through this whole thing!! Wonderful as always, Kayla. I’ll add: The Sun Also Rises: The friend zone blows.

  5. Caitlin

    Frankenstein: All those Frankenstein Halloween costumes and movies are a lie. (He’s not green and they call him “The Monster.”)

    A Tell Tale Heart: A dead person’s heart doesn’t beat, so don’t lose your shit.

    As I Lay Dying: Dead people smell bad and your mother is a fish.

  6. Maria Garriott

    Jane Eyre: Stay away from goofy older men with whacked out wives in the attic. Even if they’re rich.
    Sense and Sensibility:Don’t believe everything a Lothario says. Really, girls.


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