How Will the Current Culture Affect Classic Novels?

Most of us grew up with some form of the classic novel. Whether we read abridged, illustrated versions for kids, encountered them in school, or watched TV or movie versions (e.g., Wishbone, Disney adaptations), most of us know at least some of the traditional "classics" of the Western canon. These include but are not limited to works by Dickens, Steinbeck, Morrison, Lee, Shakespeare, Austen, and Wells.

As our culture becomes more aware of concepts like marginalized experience and cultural appropriation though, our relationships with classic literature may change. We now critique certain examples of classics because of what they imply about non-Western, non-white cultures, or what they leave out. We critique them based on the roles women do or don’t play, or how characters of color are treated, or whether characters coded LGBT are sympathetic. As a disabled woman, I find myself being harsher with books like Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple because of how they treat members of my groups.

How does this heightened critique and awareness mean we should treat the classics? That is, can we still learn valuable things from these books even if they are cringe-worthy in their rhetoric or character portrayals? How can we engage with these books, without spending all our time on the problematic parts? Some of these classics have been retold because of heightened critique; was this a good or bad idea? And, are these critiques even valid, or should we simply say, "This was written in another time and we should simply accept that?" Discuss.

  • The critiques are valid, in my opinion. It is important to understand the contexts these stories were written in as they allow us to realize how much things have changed and, more importantly, what has not changed. To simply admit that these novels were written in a different time suggests that the problems that existed back then are solved now. We know that this is not the case, that people are still marginalized and cultures are still being appropriated. Learning about these issues when they were more apparent allow us to understand the injustices that are still ongoing today. – Kennedy 2 years ago
  • While thoughtful critique of problematic elements in classic literature can further productive discussion and help us understand how certain harmful attitudes became normalized, we must be careful not to judge historical works too harshly by today's standards. Rather than canceling classics entirely, it may be better to teach and analyze them with appropriate context, acknowledging flaws while still appreciating positives. Some reimagined versions aim to be more inclusive, but lose the original voice. Classics remain relevant when transcending their time and place to speak to universal human truths. No work is perfect, and reasonable people can disagree on how to handle insensitive content. Open discourse allows growth, while knee-jerk condemnation often does not. If we discard all works containing outdated views, we lose touch with our past and ability to learn from it. A balanced approach, neither banning classics nor accepting dated views uncritically, may be best as we determine how to engage thoughtfully with these works in today's climate. – Nyxion 8 months ago

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