One Question, Three Voices
We (Nancy, Brandy and Samantha) form a generational string of women in one family. They are three women, each with views and opinions formed by their environment and the times in which they grew up. Therefore, we thought it would be fun for each of us to answer the same question from our own unique paradigms and combine them into a single article. This is how 1 Question, 3 Voices was born. Each month we will tackle a single question and answer without first reading the others’ answers. These are combined for you here. This month we feature the question: Why study the classics. If you have suggestions on questions for future editions of 1 Question, 3 Voices we welcome you to comment below.
Why should we study the classics?
The classics. Whew! Daunting is the best word I can use for some of them. Yet all be a few are amazing once you make your way through them. But should they be taught? Should they be required reading in our schools? I’ll have to give that a resounding “no.”
Studying the classics should be a “want to” not a “have to” endeavor. Most of these tomes are difficult to read, using vocabulary that is out dated, and sentences that are long and cumbersome. For some, reading these can be a lesson in endurance rather than literature. We should be teaching students to be readers, to love to read, to want to read. If the book is meaningless and difficult, it only adds to a mounting dislike for reading.
As my vocabulary matured and love of reading fully established, I went back to read some of the classics. The classics frequently are referenced in everyday conversations, like teasing an aunt about Mrs Havisham, describing a man as Mr. Rochester, or feeling like you’ve been treated like Hester Prynne. I wanted to understand the context. In other words, I now “want to” read the classics. And while I fully enjoy the stories, I still find many difficult to read through to the end, Great Expectations and Red Badge of Courage for example. I still find myself having to reread chapters to get the story rather than just the words. Every time I reread one of them, I find so many things I missed the last time I read it.
I hate the idea of “studying” fiction; fiction should be appreciated. I consider the classics are books that everyone should read not because they required to, but because they want to. If they never get to the point of wanting tackle the classic to, there are plenty of other books that they will never run out of material.
There is a reason a book becomes a classic. Classic literature contains qualities and messages that transcend generations. They offer a unique outlook on life or have a unique message or are written in a unique manner that is important for people to hear. If they didn’t the works would have long ago faded into obscurity.
Should we study the classics? Absolutely. The messages and lessons they hold are things we need to learn. We need to read the Lord of the flies and learn what it has to tell us about the human condition. We need to read Of Mice and Men and let our hearts break with the hearts of millions of readers before us. We need to study Shakespeare and discover a rhythm and a voice that is difficult to find in today’s literary market.
It is often said that to be a great writer you should first be a great reader. How do we become great readers? We need to study great books. Only great books become classics. Only great books withstand the test of time. It is important for us, as authors and as people, to learn from these masters of their craft. We should learn about writing, learn about reading, learn about life, and just perhaps, learn something about ourselves.
In high school, you read the typical, and so-called boring, books, like Of Mice and Men, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, or plays like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Crucible. These are classics that have, without fail, been taught in schools across the United States. There is no doubt that the teachers, parents, doctors, architects know these books well and could probably teach them to their children. So why study them at school?
To answer that question we first have to realize that when we read the book in class the goal is to properly analyze and discuss the book with your peers and teachers. Next we have to look at the history surrounding each piece. For example, The Crucible, written during the Red Scare, compares the 1950s communist accusations to the 1692-1693 salem witch trial days where many people were being accused as witches. Arthur Miller, Author of The Crucible was making a statement about what his opinions were on the Red Scare.
In addition to the history of each book, there’s so much rhetoric in each piece, the kinds that you don’t see as much anymore, and to throw out the study of classics is to throw away the exposure to such rhetorical devices and obstacle of learning how to use them. The classics have a much richer history than any of us could probably ever know, and while these books may seem boring, the learning opportunities are too great to pass up.
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