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they’re considered paradigms of creative writing, certain books assigned for old school curriculums are, in fact, outdated and occasionally problematic.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: 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 / Amazon21010
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: Charlotte Brontë / Amazon378
Jane Eyre is a 400 page introspective look into the psychological growth of the title character as she learns to love herself and understand the actions of other. Charlotte Brontë's classic is usually criticized for being too long, but, in fact, there are other more troubling concerns. While Eyre defies the typical expectation of femininity - she is not beautiful, particularly kind, or sentimental - she seems to deny the personhood of another woman.
Indeed, the woman in the attic is seen as racially other and therefore even less desirable than Eyre. Rarely even referred to by her name, Bertha is Creole and allegedly irreparably insane. The Creole woman is the first wife of Eyre's true love, but she is chained in the attic. Brontë doesn't challenge readers to consider why this is wrong. In fact, we're asked to forgive Bertha's husband, Rochester. When the mad woman dies tragically in a fire, we're supposed to sympathize with the husband who locked her in captivity.
It's no wonder Jane Eyre could stand to be removed from a few schools' curriculums.
- Photo: Willa Cather / Amazon4912
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.