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Grim literature in the high schools?

QuantMechQuantMech 78 replies1 discussions Junior Member
I am posting this thread as a split-off from another one (the decals, etc. thread), where I raised a question about the concentration on fairly grim literature in high school English classes. More detailed comments are in the decals, etc. thread.

Let me say up front that I do not advocate censorship, nor do I advocate book banning. I think that some literature that is downright grim has its place in high school classes. However, I think that if students are reading 20-30 books a year, and they are all grim, it is likely to be depressing, at least to some students.

Literature I would put in the "grim" category includes: Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, The Jungle, East of Eden, Crime and Punishment, Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison), Death of a Salesman, Frankenstein (at the suggestion of ecouter11, if I am recalling correctly). The Great Gatsby is actually rather grim, in my opinion, and QMP's as well.

Literature that I would put in the tragic, but not grim category includes, for example, King Lear. Oedipus Rex (in the post-modern version, we would be "treated" to a detailed description of the sclera and the damage to them). A Separate Peace (not on par with the others, but pretty good in my opinion).

ecouter11 mentioned a number of "non-grim" works that might be part of the high school literature curriculum, but weren't covered in the local high school.

I would be interested in knowing whether anyone shares my opinion.

Also, I am hoping that mythmom, who is a literature professor, might show up on this thread. It would take some persuading to get me to change my opinion, but I am definitely interested in more informed opinions on the topic.
edited May 2013 in Parents Forum
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Replies to: Grim literature in the high schools?

  • poetgrlpoetgrl 192 replies2 discussions Junior Member
    My husband and I called it the "curriculum of misery and death"

    As in, "Great. Another book that is sure to instill a love of reading!" :rolleyes:
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  • QuantMechQuantMech 78 replies1 discussions Junior Member
    Thanks, poetgrl--you know exactly what I am talking about!
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  • poetgrlpoetgrl 192 replies2 discussions Junior Member
    Yes, if I had it to do all over again, I would have homeschooled. By the time I thought of it, the kids were entrenched in friendship groups and went to school for that.

    We took the kids to see a lot of Shakespeare and had them read the plays after they saw the show. We actually took them to a lot of plays and then had them read the plays after.

    There were books not in the curriculum they loved, like Harry Potter, and I don't know why on earth nobody just assigned Lord of the Rings. It's as vast as anything. Do a year with the Odyssey, Lord of the Rings and Huck Finn and The Color Purple, and you've got an awful lot of thematic and literary stuff you can talk about.

    My husband took the great books curriculum in high school.
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  • QuantMechQuantMech 78 replies1 discussions Junior Member
    The Color Purple is a great example of a book that would appear at the level of the "cover blurb" to be grim, but that is in fact not grim at all--and a wonderful book.

    The Lord of the Rings would be an excellent choice to read. I wonder whether the religious element of Tolkien's "sub-creation" keeps it out of the high schools. This is even more evident in the Silmarillion, but the creation story in the Silmarillion is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing in English that I have ever read.
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  • emeraldkity4emeraldkity4 54 replies3 discussions Junior Member
    The teen years are pretty grim, I think it is therapeutic to read about something more depressing than high school.
    If you think those are dour, look at what they are reading in middle school.( through high school)
    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Night by Elie Weisel,Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Patersen, even books I read in grade school like Island of the Blue Dolphins or Number the Stars, could also be taken as inspiring stories of the human spirit, despite conflict.
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  • QuantMechQuantMech 78 replies1 discussions Junior Member
    Diverging a little from the topic of my own thread, I think the "curriculum of misery and death" starts even earlier than high school. On the decals etc. thread, I mentioned an older student looking at an elementary school reading book and remarking, "Uh oh. It's a Newbury Medal winner. That means that somebody dies."

    The number of "children's books" about young people in war-torn societies that have horrifying problems with violence is also greatly increased from my childhood.

    I am not advocating for zero such books, just for some breaks from them.
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  • QuantMechQuantMech 78 replies1 discussions Junior Member
    Of the books that you have mentioned, emeraldkity4, I am only familiar with Number the Stars. I think it is very sad, but wouldn't call it grim.

    I think of Things Fall Apart as an adult book, and I am surprised that it would be read in middle school--we have a copy, but I have not read it yet.
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  • ecouter11ecouter11 4 replies0 discussions New Member
    I think English Literature, in general, is not very useful for most students. I personally like it and find it beautiful, but I think it might make sense for most students to take a "Writing" class that lets them read different genres and practice writing.

    My English teacher, this year, decided that we should learn literature as it originated, so we began with Beowulf, went to Cantebury Tales etc. etc. This was supposed to help us understand art forms, social norms, whatever. I think it worked, somewhat but at the same time - should a kid interested in engineering have to take this kind of class?

    I go to a specialized school in Canada. Since we don't have Ivies, high school is more laid back. Thus, students tend to focus on their interests and the classes they like, which unfortunately leads to many students somewhat 'blowing off' the English class. They don't try and then blame the teacher for lackluster grades. I feel like this occurs because there is no relation to *English Lit* and what they actually want to do later. Sure, you learn critical thinking and maybe, how to analyze but I think you can do that just as well without this curriculum of "grim literature".

    I guess it's a bit of a tangent, but I think grim lit is just the de-facto English literature curriculum, which is not all too helpful for most.
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  • poetgrlpoetgrl 192 replies2 discussions Junior Member
    Yes, it starts earlier.

    And it's so silly. Think of the early Newbury winners, Cady Woodlawn, etc.... I mean, why not Little Women? Great book.

    I think in 5th or 6th grade a beloved pet dies in almost every curriculum book around here. Then, 7th or 8th is the holocaust and genocide year.

    I'm not saying we can't have a pet die or a book about the holocaust, but the whole year? Seriously?

    No wonder the average adult gets out of school and reads like 1.5 books per year. And, my house is doing a lot of that reading for a lot of houses. :cool:

    What ever happened to literature with a transcendent ending?
    edited May 2013
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  • dietz199dietz199 26 replies0 discussions New Member
    Okay, being of German background when I read the thread title I thought it was a misspelling of Grimm - as in fairly tales. Which, yes, are actually pretty grim and were intended for an adult audience. :D
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  • jym626jym626 98 replies9 discussions
    Speaking of grim, one of my s's took a class in HS on Film Noir. Loved that class/
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  • poetgrlpoetgrl 192 replies2 discussions Junior Member
    Why don't I know if Snow White is Grimm? I've liked the recent film adaptations.
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  • calimamicalimami 7 replies0 discussions New Member
    thankfully, i went to a high school where the teachers were very much against teaching the standard english 'classics' (they saw them as too male and eurocentric for an urban--albeit suburbanish-- student body). but we did have a sprinkling of classic lit thrown in.

    so some of the stuff i read that i would consider grim would be:

    shirley jackson's the lottery (!!!)
    lord of the flies

    to emerald's point, some stuff i consider maybe 'harsh'/reality but not so much grim:

    james baldwin's if beale street could talk
    slave narratives
    maya angelou's i know why the caged bird sings
    gayl jones's eva's man
    flannery o'connor (some of her writing was grim but funny)
    edited May 2013
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  • QuantMechQuantMech 78 replies1 discussions Junior Member
    Little Women is a good example of a book that is not grim, yet that covers serious topics--for example, Beth's death. But there are light-hearted elements in it as well.

    And I agree that the "real" versions of Grimm's fairy tales are very grim indeed. But as mentioned by dietz199, they were intended for adults.
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  • QuantMechQuantMech 78 replies1 discussions Junior Member
    There was an opinion piece a while back in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which a literature professor commented about teaching The Lottery to a class of students who were steeped in cultural relativism. The students took it as essentially an anthropological study, and refused to criticize the lottery, if it was an element of a different culture.
    edited May 2013
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