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. – Kennedy2 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.
– Nyxion6 months ago
From reams of fairytale retellings, to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, from Meg and Jo to Circe, the literary world bursts with retellings of classic novels. The smorgasbord of material grows every day, giving rise to multifaceted questions. What sets one retelling of a classic apart from another (why, for instance, might someone choose the Little Women retelling So Many Beginnings over Meg and Jo, and its companion novel, Beth and Amy)? Do some classics lend themselves to retellings better than others? Perhaps most intriguing of all, what is the benefit, for writers and readers, of retelling classics and/or reshaping them for a current audience? Once these classics are reshaped or retold, are they classics any longer? Discuss.
This is a really interesting topic and very timely to our current media- and book-scape. I think it would be helpful to think about the designation "classic." Of course, that's always a sticky topic, but it might be necessary to think about what it means to re-tell a classic. – JaniceElaine2 years ago
Yes, I should've clarified, that should be the first thing the writer does if they choose this topic. However, they would have to be careful that the article didn't become a full discussion of what a "classic" is. – Stephanie M.2 years ago
This is a great topic and the topic of one of my articles. Should classics continue to be remade? In our day and age is the moral of the classics even applicable? If the classics are remade and remade are they considered classics anymore? – scampbell2 years ago
Is it important to learn about classic literature to better understand contemporary writing?
I think this a great start for a topic! Maybe you could refine the topic a little by pointing to specific classics that are commonly assigned in secondary education? For example, To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Expectations, etc. I think that specific examples would definitely focus the article more and add to its impact. – Opaline7 years ago
Learning the basic nature of Classic Literature has always had a high importance, but there are stories that can be substituted. This might be something you'd want to explore as you're researching, such as what books might be able to replace, for example, A Tale of Two Cities in terms of having the same themes; so perhaps finding a more modern novel with themes of doppelgangers, unrequited love, and so on. I believe this is how new classics are born as time goes on and the classics we have now become more like the tales of Chaucer - simply something we skim over once or twice through secondary school or university. – Steven Gonzales7 years ago
I'm so glad there are more voices for this! I've taught college and high school, and I lose sleep over the push to leave Classic Literature to electives and Humanities rather than retaining it as part of a general education requirement. Yes, there are some we can substitute, but why? I don't believe that anything contemporary has the same academic or historical value. The emphasis on language and prose style is often only evident in older works. I would love to see how many of the most successful writers were influenced by the classics. A lot of the best novels out there have hints of classic works - prose, themes, conflicts and unique premises. To understand contemporary works, it would help to read the works that influenced their authors. – wtardieu7 years ago
Classics can be very Euro-centric. The more balanced approach of examining literature with classical themes would make a more relevant article. Such as looking at famous love stories, changing circumstances in life and qualities about human nature. I think it is worth giving this topic another analysis but framing it with classical world literature. – Munjeera7 years ago
I began my writing journey after several writing courses during college. I earned stellar commentary from my classmates and the professor. But, it wasn't until I started to revisit the writing of Shakespeare (which I dreaded in high school), the Greek myths (which always fascinated me), and science-fiction (H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke) that my inner voice resurfaced. The best place to begin testing personal writing ability is in the poetry and narratives of the great ones. It is the proving grounds for the imminent author or the hesitant observer. – lofreire7 years ago
I think that the "classics" are classics for a reason, but the canon of classic literature mostly excludes women, people of colour, and non-European/American literature, which is a huge problem. It might be interesting to examine how the canon of classic literature is being (rightfully) challenged by scholars who are inserting frequently underrepresented narratives and texts back into literary history. So, yes, I think people should read classics that interest them, but prioritize expanding their horizons. – Kristen7 years ago
Why is it that people find it so difficult and unsavory to read? Very few people actually enjoy and take it upon themselves to read anything from literature, modern works, the news, or frankly anything that consists of many words that require analytical thought to understand. Has this become too much for people? Literacy should never be compromised.
Who are these people?! And also what makes you think we read less? I guess I don't know either way, but do you have some statistics saying that book sales are lower? Or libraries are empty? I know print is going away, but I think people still read news on line. Or read magazines. – Tatijana8 years ago
I can personally vouch for some of your sentiments. Despite my best intentions, it takes a lot of personal coaxing to get myself to sit down and read instead of doing something else. Because when I like to relax, I like to use my eyes and my hands or my ears rather than sit in the same position letting my eyes roll over a page. Although to be honest, I've had this inkling lately that I would get much more satisfaction from reading a book than watching a film, because often, the stories in some of the books I remember enjoying in the past were more engaging and dynamic than a lot of the films I enjoy. So I have plenty of reason to return to reading books. I just don't find myself doing it much, if at all, on a day to day, week to week, and month to month basis. I DO, however, read plenty of articles and stuff online, including here on the Artifice. It's just when it comes to books, especially thick or heavy ones, I have less of a tendency to pick one up. – Jonathan Leiter8 years ago
I think you would find it very difficult to argue that no-one reads when they would have to read your article to see your argument..? It could certainly be said that people's reading habits have changed: Online content tends to have shorter paragraphs to keep attention; short stories and poetry are starting to be more popular again because they can more easily be devoured in a short amount of time; if you really wanted to argue that people don't read at all, you could potentially look at the re-emergence of spoken-word poetry (such as Polarbear or Kate Tempest) and how people are listening to poetry because of podcasts, commutes etc. rather than buying poetry books and reading them (this can be proven with the poetry book sales vrs views on youtube etc. for said artists.) – Francesca Turauskis8 years ago
If you Google "people reading less" like I did, you may find more concrete examples to support the topic, as others have suggested. In an October 2015 study, to paraphrase, American people in general read less, but women and young adults read the most. I'd be curious to see why that is. Here's a link: http://electricliterature.com/survey-shows-americans-are-reading-less-but-women-and-young-people-read-the-most/ – emilydeibler8 years ago
This is very interesting. I would like to see some psychological articles interact with this reading into our culture, and possibly the implications of the dominance of social media. – emilyinmannyc8 years ago
Others above have questioned the general statement about 'people not liking reading'. But could it be asked, "What has happened to society's attention span?" Someone once said he reads the first paragraph of a book and if it doesn't interest him, he moves on. Really? I also heard someone say they won't watch any movie from the 70's or before because they are too slow. Where is the public's patience? I attended a lecture by a successful screenwriter and he said there is a golden rule in the biz that no one camera shot lasts longer than 8 seconds. I didn't believe him until I started counting at the movie theater and sure enough, the camera changes every 8 seconds. Does the 'fast' changes of camera shots, the high paced video games and instant chat of texting influence our attention span? Are we no longer satisfied with Fast Food and now demand Faster Food? This could be a relevant take on the subject. - Dr. T – DrTestani8 years ago
I this topic could be taken in the direction that people don't read as much as they used to. To support this idea, things such as the decline in business success of bookstores, or the rise of flash fiction as a popular form of literature can be examined. Is it that people no longer like to read, or that they would rather pull up a piece of flash fiction on their phone rather than lug a copy of Anna Karenina around with them? – MichelleAjodah8 years ago
I have to question such an absolute statement as literacy should never be compromised. I am not sure if you mean literary appreciation, which I definitely think can and should be compromised. I think that literacy is irrelevant and a completely different issue than what you are discussing before. Whether or not one can read does not mean that they will want to read, and I think that the causes for someone being illiterate are different for those who are less passionate to read. Anyway, I think this is an interesting topic, but the writer needs to have a wider view of the media landscape than saying that something should not be compromised. Perhaps, look at some of the benefits/harms of straying from normal reading activity, the changes in how people consume literature, and definitely why these changes have occurred, and perhaps where we are moving towards, whether it be some post-physical or post-social landscape of reading, or so on. – Matthew Sims8 years ago
I think this could also discuss increasing visual and other literacies that have taken primacy in a more visual culture. "Reading" itself has changed, and is no longer viewed as one person interacting with a text -> an author -> an idea, in a vacuum. Instead, reading has social elements (Oprah's bookclub, for example) and there are other motivations to read instead of just for literary learning. – belindahuang187 years ago
I think this should also cover the use of audio and e-books which have seemed to replace "regular" reading. Are people possibly just getting too lazy to pick up a book or are they too busy to sit down and read? – kspart7 years ago
Something should be said about the new culture we live in when it comes to books. There is a reason why the argument on 'if we need libraries any more' even exist, or why Borders went out of business? I don't necessarily think people aren't reading anymore I just think how people are reading is changing... – cousinsa27 years ago
I understand where you're coming from, but I also believe that, as technology continues to advance, people tend to read in a different setting or capacity. It's not necessarily that people are reading any less or are straying away from it as a whole, it just varies from person to person, what technologies they immerse themselves in, how it affects their time/motivation to read, etc. – caitlynmorral7 years ago
This could easily be an interesting article to explore with some substantial evidence. Instead of going in with the assumption that nobody reads anymore, try focusing more on the how; how people read. It's ridiculous to assume nobody reads, it's not to assume that people read differently than traditionally thought. – Shipwright7 years ago
You can even investigate how children's literacy today is compared to that of those in the 20th century. – BMartin437 years ago
Perhaps you could tailor this to ask the following question: Why do people not like to read physical forms of literature. How has the digital age affected readership?
– kraussndhouse7 years ago
I actually wrote a similar blog on this topic. Here is the blog in full: It’s a common point of conversation in bookworm circles, ‘Nobody reads anymore!’ Similar threads can be picked up from the floors of bookstores, the foyers of creative writing seminars and workshops… I think we need to be more specific. This hyperbole is doing nobody any favours. If I were to take this phrase literally, ‘Nobody reads anymore!’ Well Charlie, I would call you a flat out liar with ya butt in the air in ya head in the sand. Because people do still read – hell – maybe more than ever! People these days fill the small gaps of their lives with words. When they’re waiting inline, at the doctor’s office, at the servo, on the loo and even when their having coffee with a friend. People are reading their FaceBook feeds, tweets, Instagram posts, blog posts, reviews and articles, maybe even some news! I would say that we are reading more than ever. People who don’t even like reading are now forced (heh-heh-heh) to read more thanks to our nifty, portable, mini-computers. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that no one reads novels anymore? But that too feels a bit lofty. Obviously there’s enough statistical data to support this, and I’m sure I could research it and rehash here but a) I don’t want to research it and b) I’m sure you don’t want to read about it. What I do know is that the people in my life who love books, love books. Passionately.
Desperately. Their eyes dance when they start talking about their latest read, there’s always a paperback in their bag and with twenty (+) unread books on the shelf at home, they still emerge from their local with fresh pressed purchases pinned to their chest.
Perhaps our gang is shrinking, but I tell ya, the loyalty is fierce. Where there are readers, there are writers. One invariably leads to the other. My masters course, the first for the university, anticipated ten students. Twenty-two hopeful Poe’s made the grade. Brandon Sanderson (Sci-fi/fantasy writer) teacher’s creative writing at BYU to a packed class every year, many students who want to participate in his course are turned away because, well, there’s only so many seats. The upswing of that however, is someone videoed all the lectures and you can find them here. You’re welcome. I might be pulling my rope a little tight here but stick with me. Have you noticed all the book that have been turned into movies lately? Someone out there in Hollywood is still reading, and he’s making a neat mint off it too. I know it’s a bit of a bleak wasteland out there. Publishing houses are shrinking. Amazon. Self-publishing. Declining rates. Gasp! There is a wee spark though and it is this, books aren’t going away. Maybe things will change but what doesn’t? Read on bookworms, and I’ll see you down at the local, where we can split a chai and talk about ‘kids these days.’ – taraeast887 years ago