Most high school students were almost certainly forced to read through a slush pile of wordy literature. Whether you were an AP student or you coasted by in English 101, you definitely read some classic books that just don't hold up. Even though they’re considered paradigms of creative writing, certain books assigned for old school curriculums are, in fact, outdated and occasionally problematic.
No one is saying these classic novels should be forgotten, but it's debatable whether they should be shoved down students' throats. There are so many modern masterpieces that are more relevant and poignant. High schoolers deserve a different caliber of writing: it's time.
- Photo: Geoffrey Chaucer / Amazon
Geoffrey Chaucer's book The Canterbury Tales serves as a great reminder of why living in the 21st century is so great. The acclaimed piece of fiction is actually incredibly elitist, sexist, and culturally discriminatory. For example, there aren't many female characters in the fiction collective. The female characters we do meet seem to be uniquely capable of leading men to their downfalls. Plus, the pilgrimage the characters embark upon does not immediately resonate with modern readers.
- Photo: William Golding / Amazon
William Golding's Lord of the Flies has been banned multiple times. Usually people object to the violence that the children in the novel endure and enact upon one another. Kids murder one another; it's incredibly brutal. However, more nuanced critics find Golding's work to be quite racist. In the early edition's 11th chapter, Piggy calls the other boys "painted n******." In the revised version, Piggy uses the term "a pack of painted Indians," but the correction is still incredibly telling.
The book suggests that indigenous peoples are savage barbarians, morally inferior to European cultures. It's clear why this piece of literature doesn't hold up.
- Photo: Seamus Heaney / Amazon
Why are you torturing yourself? You don't need to read Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. It's a story about how nothing matters aside from masculinity and fighting monsters. However, if there aren't any monsters around, it's also fine to fight other men.
- Photo: J.D. Salinger / Amazon
Everyone goes through a phase where they read JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. The coming of age novel about Holden Caulfield really resonates with many angst-ridden teenagers. But it's hardly the best coming of age piece that's ever been written. This tale really illuminates the problems of a wealthy kid who could stand to be a little more realistic.
- Photo: Homer / Amazon
There isn't really a great way to read Homer's The Odyssey. The thousands of pages of Greek mythology are so convoluted, most people just read the piece to say they did it. In fact, the story is so oft told, class time would be better spent on a summary of the plot. Then teachers could explain the monomyth concept with a screening of Star Wars: A New Hope.
- Photo: Willa Cather / Amazon
Willa Cather's classic novel My Ántonia follows main character and lawyer Jim Burden, as he looks back on his life. Burden often remembers the hard times and his poor decisions with rose colored glasses. He leaves title character Ántonia behind and never tells her of his true feelings. Perhaps he does this because she's an immigrant and society views her as less than desirable; maybe he can't help but feel the same way.
Critics find Cather's work to be a bit disjointed, though. They feel her characters lack "in focus and abound in irrelevancies." And indeed, the focus seems to be on the sprawling Nebraska landscape instead of the maturation of integral characters. Unless you love to read about prairies and farm land, you can probably skip this novel.