Dear English Teacher,
As a high school student, I think very highly of the texts that are taught during school. Going through my many English classes, I began to grow a respect for reading. Looking more in-depth at the text that were introduced, I began to see a pattern, which was defined to me as ‘the canon.’ The U.S literary critic, Harold Bloom, was the complier of an assortment of traditional text known as the canon. These texts were considered classics hence being commonly taught as quality writing. The canon is also known for its non-inclusive collection of authors. Bloom’s criteria used to create was exclusively white men. On the other hand, the criteria used in this paper will expose students to a broad range of diverse literature in which Harold Bloom called “the school of resentment,” which was made up of “Feminist, Afrocentrists, Marxist, Foucault-Inspired New Historicism, and Decontructionists.” Blooms outlook on literature concealed many different writing styles and views from plenty, considering his powerful influence. Besides being diverse, this criteria will shine a light on the just as powerful and impactful storylines. While more traditional authors are capable of teaching stories based on real-life connections and themes of give and take, diversity in writing styles rests not only in the authors but also in the way they deliver the information.
“One Friday Morning” by Langston Hughes and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee were written in the 1950 – 1960 time period; they both focus on racial prejudice. “One Friday Morning” begins with a short pre-story, which tells the reader a little about the author and his relation to the main character’s obstacle. The pre-story then ends with a couple of driving questions that buzz through the reader’s mind before beginning the story. The questions that stir the most thought were, “Is Nancy Lee’s hope at the end unrealistic? Is color-blindness a possible or desirable prospect in America—for blacks? For whites? For everyone? If racial prejudice is at odds with the American Dream, what about racial pride and racial preferences?” (Hughes 1) These questions force the reader to think about the progress the world has made. Pondering if we have moved forward or back causes a chain reaction of thoughts; is this happening today? Have I seen anything like this? Is this something happening around me? If so, what can I do?
Hughes does a great job expanding on the general theme of racial prejudice by bringing in sub-themes such as equal rights, the ‘American dream,’ and ideals versus reality. Hughes does not metaphorically say or beat around the bush but is very straightforward, speaking on the issue and its relevance. This is seen when Hughes writes, “‘But America is only what we who believe in it make it…And we didn’t give up because we believed in the American dream and our power to make that dream come true. Difficulties, yes. Mountains to climb, yes. Discouragements to face, yes. Democracy to make, yes.'” (Hughes 8) The American dream is something that many yearn to attain, so Hughes being a black man writing during a period where discrimination was high, but segregation was not official, shows the difficulty experienced then compared to now. “One Friday Morning” began with a student named Nancy Lee, who was colored going to a majority white school; she won an art contest, including a scholarship that would help her situation. Sadly, when the committee learned Nancy was colored, they decided not to give her the scholarship because they believed that a colored person’s presence would “create difficulties for all concerned” (Hughes 8). This reason for this is ludicrous and embarrassing, no matter what time period. A great opportunity was taken away from her, not for something she did but for her skin color, something she cannot change. This scholarship would have been going to someone who actually needed it, but with a whole race being cut out of the select options lessens the chance for it to go to someone in neeed, for example, in this very situation, Nancy was not as fourtunate as many of her non compared classmates. Nancy always being seen differently seemed a sense of approval which can be seen when Hughes writes, “‘I thought since the award would be made at assembly right after our oath of allegiance,’ the words tumbled almost hysterically from Nancy Lee’s throat now, ‘I would put part of the flag salute in my speech. You know, Miss O’Shay, that part of ‘liberty and justice for all.'” (Hughes 8) A student in any grade will always have a part of them that will crave acceptance and approval. As the short passage states, Nancy dedicated her speech to finally being accepted and included in what is said to be ‘for all’ in the pledge to the flag. Though her opportunity was take away from her it did not lessen the fire in her because she knows yes, there is an American dream, but liberty and justice for all is something that we have to strive towards. On the other hand, “To Kill a mockingbird” is traditionally taught in schools because of its ability to bring up issues and offer a learning experience. Still, for students, it is not always received this way. For instance, I read Hughes’ story in one sitting; I found it very interesting and easy to follow that I couldn’t stop. Since I never took Multicultural in 8th grade but skipped over and took English 9, I never read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in school. I had friends, though, who frequently spoke about the book because they were reading it in class. I was so glad I never had to read the book because I never saw a reason to continue from the small portion I read and their comments. According to my research with my friends, the most common thing said about this book was that “reading this book was more for a grade than for the life lesson. It was not interesting and, to be honest, a bit confusing.” Nevertheless, teachers may prefer the more known “To Kill A Mockingbird” because of the history and real-life connections; even so, one should not count out the more impactful story by Hughes, which leaves the reader to believe that the American dream can become a reality for all when we first fight the fight against discrimination.
Besides the equally important racial issues shown by Hughes and Lee, the American dream’s effects in anyone’s life need to be incorporated into a student’s education. “The Arrangers Of Marriage” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald are stories that focus on changing oneself to achieve The American dream, but instead, disappointment is obtained because the joy that they were seeking was not there. In exchange, they have completely lost a piece of themselves or their culture. In Adichie’s story, Dave, the main character’s new husband, continuously tells her what Americans do and don’t do. A few examples of this are shown here, “Americans don’t drink their tea with milk and sugar,” “Cookies. Americans call them cookies,”“It’s an elevator, not a lift. Americans say elevator,” “Pitcher. Americans say pitcher, not jug.” (Adichie 4, 7, 9, and14) He also discouraged her from speaking their native language and making food that was not American. Dave became so adapted to the ‘American way’ that he lost himself. One reason for this could be, he was an American doctor, and this was such a great thing not only in America but also in Nigeria, “A doctor in America! It is like we won a lottery for you!” (Adichie 3) Since he was beginning to make a name for himself as the American doctor, he was afraid that if his wife, Chinaza, began to bring any sense of foreigner into the mix, he would be shut down or not seen as a co-equal. Dave Bell, whose real name is Ofodile Udewa, changed his name because others would have difficulty pronouncing it. It was easy to catch onto Daves strategies of avoiding any situation. A few ways we see; corrections, avoidance, and being ignorant, in any situation. Using these stratigies he cuts out anything not American, which in his mind pushes him further to his goal of the American dream. Similarly, “The Great Gatsby” is focused on the American Dream, but this story was on the more successful side. Gatsby received the wealth, but not the joy that Dave believed would come with the package. Not only was joy averted, but the upper class did not welcome him with open arms. Gatsby thought that society would accept him after getting the riches and the fortunes, but little did he know his life proved the American dream unattainable. As I read Fitzgerald’s story in English class during quarantine, I had a lack of interest. The story was a bit long; I believed he could have summed up the story, but instead was dragged on. With the story being so long, I tended to get distracted very easily. I did not take too much from this story since I only read it for a grade, not the lesson. While a teacher may prefer teaching “The Great Gatsby” because of its ability to portray money’s power and life’s flexibility, Adichie’s story gives the student an account through a feminist lens with repetitive details that help the student seize and digest what is being given to them.
Unquestionably, the American dream is invariably prominent no matter the approach; in the same way, tough times come and go, but those who endure last. “Olingiris” by Samantha Schweblin and Macbeth by William Shakespeare are texts that focus on the trials and tribulations that people face in life. “Olingiris” is not viewed as the typical school choice, yet it does the same, some could say more, for students. This story is immensely descriptive and though it may not have been written in 2020, compared to Shakespeare’s text still manages to be something students can understand and relate to. Many face hardships that in turn shape character and builds endurance for future situations ; in this case, Schweblin writes, “The woman on the gurney had some savings and had signed up for a technical degree. But the cost of food, rent and tuition was very high, and soon she had to interrupt her studies and look for a job” (Scheblin 3). This is significant because when we begin reading the story, the characters and the scenery do not connect. The introduction leads us to believe the performance intended to happen to the woman on the gurney was caused by a medical condition or something of the sort. The assistant Schweblin writes about is facing her own set of trials, “She didn’t marry or have children. She left the countryside when her mother’s first symptoms of illness appeared, the same year the drought ruined the vineyards and the harvest. They decided that the assistant would move to the capital with her mother” (Schweblin 5). Schweblin introduced the assistant as someone important, yet the way the story was headed led the reader to believe there was no big backstory, and the assistant was just the assistant. The trial that the assistant faced led her to where she was today; It played a domino effect. As the story was wrapped up, the assistant walked back into the room to find the woman crying; Scweblin then wrote, “But it was the woman on the gurney who slowed her breathing and said, ‘Are you all right?’ The assistant waited. She wanted to know what was happening, understand what was happening. She felt something seize her, something strong in her throat” (Schweblin 7). The moment of shared pain was so decisive. We don’t see what everyone is going through, and Schweblin’s text encompasses how appearance does not give insight into one’s life. Macbeth is a play that is generally taught a some point in a student’s high school career. The main theme taken from Macbeth was ambition, in other words, determination. Through the tough times in Schweblins story we see ambition fo change, but in this play we see unchecked ambition can lead to ones demise. We know that many Shakespearean plays are conducted throughout the English curriculum because of its reliability to include memorable characters. The wording and sentence structure push the students to use their thinking skills to understand what he was trying to say. Despite this, schools should teach Schweblin’s story because it recognizes the problems in others’ lives and shows how to learn from it.
Tough times and people who endure are influential; similarly, trials and tribulations hold utmost importance in being taught at schools. “The Catcher In The Rye” by J. D. Salinger is commonly taught because it is seen as a great coming of age story with excellent writing. Similarly, “The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven” by Sherman Alexie is a short story that also speaks on the coming of age, but it is told from a Native American perspective. Evidently, teachers may feel that Salinger’s text is a better fit because it’s a classic and has valuable literary elements. Still the thought of text like Alexie’s should not be disregarded. “The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven” show how others’ words and actions can impact an individual’s life. For example, the main character was seeking something difficult, change. Change is something many can yearn for but if you yourself don’t take the first steps you won’t have someone do it for you, our main character is not a seeker but a doer. This short passage gives us a glimpse into his situation,”Sometimes, though, I would forget where I was and get lost. I’d drive for hours, searching for something familiar…Once, I ended up in a nice neighborhood, and somebody must have been worried because the police showed up and pulled me over.” (Alexie 5) As a result of repeatedly being seen as a threat, the main character often went out looking for things that would bring familiarity and comfort into his life. This change the main character was seeking was something that is still yearned for in modern day, to be seen as equal or at least fitting into the so called standard. “The Catcher In The Rye” presents a message of isolation for the main character’s benefit. Salinger does a considerable job telling the reader about the main character’s ability to take a step back, analyze the situation, and plan the best efforts to move forward. Likewise, in Alexie’s text, the main character is isolated; this may not be physical because he is usually speaking to others, but emotionally. We can see this when Alexie writes about the main character’s relationship with his girlfriend, “She and I never tried to hurt each other physically. I did love her, after all, and she loved me. But those arguments were just as damaging as a fist…All I know for sure, though, is that I woke from that dream in terror, packed up all my possessions, and left Seattle in the middle of the night. ‘I love you,’ she said as I left her. ‘And don’t ever come back.'” (Alexie, 8-9). Throughout the story, we see the main character seek some validation from his girlfriend, and because she knew him so well, she knew precisely what to say to cause him the most amount of pain. Her words and the way people looked at his skin color caused him to become “out of shape from drinking and sadness.” (Alexie 10) All the things society and the world around him suggest, root a never-ending cycle of pain. This pain began to shift into something he could not bear, resulting in him leaving his girlfriend and Seattle. His return to his family was something expected because his girlfriend was not like him; she was not colored, she was not a Native American, she did not understand, and his family knew that. After reading “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” students should have a understanding of what life for modern natives was like on the Spokane Reservation. Alexie’s stories create a new perspective, although it is sometimes painful. English teachers must teach Alexie’s story in classrooms because it brings awareness to the path that could be taken when searching for something as big as change. Oftentimes the stories and lives of Natives are not told; therefore, it is vital that Natives stories are brought into the light.
Yes, reading about trials and tribulations is useful to students. Still, stories explicitly made for and through young adults’ like them will perpetually better them. “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky are stories that appeal to a teenage audience. Each story addresses real-life situations that come with a bit of a blow because they are conversations we like to avoid. “Dear Martin” is a novel for young adults that shows the eye-opening experience of injustice and its relevance in the world. The book finds an excellent way of keeping its audience engaged because they can continuously connect. Stone writes, “I know you’d prefer to ignore this stuff because you benefit from it, but walking around pretending inequality doesn’t exist won’t make it disappear” (Stone 25). Throughout a student’s high school experience, they are exposed to many things; they can choose to accept it, or as the quote tells us, ignore it. When students choose to ignore it, it always doubles back because ignoring it ‘won’t make it disappear.’ Social injustice is genuine, and we see its notoriety in this book bountiful times; for example, Stone writes, “Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?” (Stone 109) There are times in real life when we don’t get a say in how others see us because they are amaurotic to the problem. Teaching this book will help students catch themselves in the act and if so, change. In Stone’s book, she writes, “But before you say something “isn’t fair,” you should consider your starting point versus someone else’s.” (Stone 50) His choice of words is impactful to a reader because he informs, and he gives steps for correction in the style of regular dialogue. Being colored has always been a factor people use to discriminate. The color of skin does not make anyone less of a human. When young adults begin to notice this, they may choose to separate themselves, which results in painful experiences. “The perks of being a wallflower” similarly speaks on the seriousness of the life of a young adult. Chbosky writes about celebrating differences which will help students along as they are growing up in school. This story covers the crucial subjects of drugs, love, friendship, etc, that are potent in student’s lives. Hoping back to Stone’s story we see that the story is told through a black boy’s point of view; his word choice collects strength; for example, Stone includes a question that when broken down holds a lot, “You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?” (Stone 115) Stone’s question packs a punch, ‘what type of man are you gonna be.’ I may not be a man, but I am apart of the black community. Yes, we will continuously fight for change, but for the time being, we have to look at ourselves and how our character can affect the society around us. “Dear Martin” is a story that will engage and educate students on these questions and thoughts that run through minds while being admissible.
Whereas students may be eager to focus on the stories that have the aptness to connect to life, the subject of belonging and the power in words is something that teachers should not omit. “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller is commonly taught in high school classrooms because of its ability to connect with things happening in the real world; however, “Previous Condition” by James Baldwin also does this while bringing its point across in a more modern way. “The Crucible,” being a play set in 1692, conveys a message in tests and trials with the influence of others. The author used the title itself as a metaphor. Considering the second definition of ‘crucible’ which states, “a situation or severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.” With this in mind, one could predict such things happening in the play. “The Crucible” was set in a time period of theocracy that was influenced by people’s beliefs and anyone who didn’t believe was killed. Miller wrote this play acting as a window to many, informing them of these very real Salem witch trials. For example, in act three Proctor said that his wife would never lie but to his surprise they brought her into the room and asked her a question in which she lied because she thought she would be protecting her husband, but little did she know she was sealing their fate. (Miller). In the example above, we see that one’s words can determine another’s fate. Miller layered themes about reputation, power / authority, and deception. These themes embrace the struggle of protecting one’s reputation in society which can easily be influenced by one’s words. Similarly, in “Previous Condition” Baldwin also conveys, in the form of a metaphor, events happening in the real world. Baldwin writes “nothing’s going to change, baby, people are too empty-headed, too empty-hearted—it’s always been like that, people always try to destroy what they don’t understand—and they hate almost everything because they understand so little—” (Baldwin 13) As stated above, Baldwin–like Ida–uses his words to explain how many acknowledge that things are happening around them. Yet, they are slow to act because they “understand so little” and are “empty-hearted.” Baldwin also says “Have you ever been sick to death of something? Well, I’m sick to death. And I’m scared. I’ve been fighting so goddamn long I’m not a person any more….You get so used to being hit you find you’re always waiting for it…How can I say what it feels like? I don’t know. I know everybody’s in trouble and nothing is easy, but how can I explain to you what it feels like to be black when I don’t understand it and don’t want to and spend all my time trying to forget it? ” (Baldwin 10) This, like most of the short story, sends to the reader this message of being black in a white man’s land. As we can see Peter expressed his yearn for acceptance in a world not made for him, yet rather ironically does not receive this acceptance from the black community either. Peter has been put through many tests and trials which he has pushed himself past with the occasional help of his friends. Yes he has pushed through these things but he has reached a point where he is beginning to feel that he is going through this life alone. Not even mentioning the toll others actions and words have made in his life. He is angry, he is upset, and he is not willing to continue in a world where he does not feel fit. Peter is so used to being treated and feeling a certain way and he hates that he can’t change the norm or the way others act in his presence but what he can change is his look on it. By the end of the story Baldwin shows the main character accepts the hint that society was blind to the things around them and that in order to move on we have to take the steps on our own. While some may see Miller’s text as a great illustration of serious topics and events today, one should definitely consider teaching this text from Baldwin instead. Baldwin was able to portray his message in a clever and clear way that was set in the present day. Additionally, Baldwin kept it short so a student would be able to understand the seriousness of situations, with many repetitive details you wouldn’t be able to ignore the facts.
In the same way, Hughes and Emerson use figurative language to bring in the powers of giving and taking life through the view of water and words. “Water” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Cross” by Langston Hughes are poems that share in shortness, specifically 12 lines and each story similarly speaks on the powers that enable life and death.“Water” written in 1822 was used by Emerson to portray the potency of figurative language. In Emerson’s poem he states “The water understands/Civilization well’” (Emerson 1.1-2) We see water being personified by Emerson as a thing of understanding. These lines encourage the reader to think of the uses of water and its important role in our society. Water as the poem informs us, understands; water not only helps the human body function, but also gives life to the world around us. Emerson does an exceptional job describing water with words that provide the reader with vivid images. For example, “It wets my foot, but prettily / It chills my life, but wittily” (Emerson 1.3-4) Water as beautiful as it is can be the cause of such terrible things. Being that water is an inanimate object, it does not have emotions which Emerson did not forget to mention for he said “It is not disconcerted, / It is not brokenhearted:” (Emerson 1.5-6) Through this we see that water cannot give or destroy based on emotions for they do not have any. Emerson also uses the repetition of the word “it” most likely to inform the reader that water can give or take life but itself is not life. The outcome of including this repetition gave an expedited impression on the limits of water. Similarly, Hughes poem “Cross” which was written nearly a century after Emerson’s poem uses figurative language to fill his poem with life. This poem speaks from a man who questioned his standpoint in life by the death of his parents. One could believe that it was out of guilt that such thought filled his mind. The author includes a rhyme pattern that can go easily unnoticed if not carefully analyzed. This rhyme pattern is specifically on the ends of the line, for example, “hell & well” (Hughes 2.2-4) and “shack & black” (Hughes 3.2-4) In stanza 1 Hughes says, “If I ever cursed my white old man / I take my curses back.” (Hughes 1.3-4) This brought an emphasis on how our words, just words can alter one’s conscience to believe that what was said is capable of being the cause of death. Hughes writes that if he was to have cursed this man he would take it back implying that if the curse was never given that maybe his “white old man” would still be alive. Hughes was very straightforward with his words, most things he said meant exactly that. Though one might prefer to teach the canonical poem by Emerson because of its use of figurative language and it’s words which are easy to roll off the tongue, one should most definitely consider teaching Hughes instead. Not only did Emerson show great use of figurative language he also made it relevant to students of this day and age. Many go through loss and Emerson gives a glimpse into his mind during this time. This has not lost value over the years for it is something that was important back then and still is now.
In a like manner, Shakespeare and Ali bring in another form of giving and taking through the lens of love. Romeo and Juliet by WIlliam Shakespeare is often taught in English curricula because of its ability to connect to an audience, to teach real life lessons, and its universal theme of the power of love; however, “Kind of love” by Hanna Ali incorporates all of this in about 8 pages, while additionally showing the reader the side of love that people fear; falling out of it. While teachers may lean on Shakespeare’s text because Romeo and Juliet is the second tragedy Shakespare wrote, and Shakespeare is known as one of the greatest writers of all time because he made a large impact on writing today, Ali’s text shows the possibility of complete blindness in the process of yearning for love, which then allows students to see that young love too can hold a façade without taking extreme measures. For example, Ali writes, “despite all my efforts to be different, to love differently, I was still the girl the fancy magazine had dedicated a page to. I was predictable. He made me predictable” (Ali 1). In the above passage, Ali expressed to the reader that the main character attempted to be different and love differently but because she was losing herself, reached to hold a façade, one that could no longer be supported because she became predictable. In Ali’s text she shows that a story of love can be told without resulting in death or a fairytale ending in our day and age. She ends her story writing, “halfway through, I think I ran to the toilet to vomit, again. Silly green eyes and dimples didn’t realise that the shame I carried around with me had grown into six weeks, a little lentil full of equal amounts promise and haram.” (Ali 8) Instead of death we see that the story ends with a teen pregnancy. In Romeo and Juliet a fairytale ending was not told but the death of both main characters came out of what they believed was love. Ali’s text also gives another theme about the necessity of self love and how it cannot be given by others. She gives this to us as soon as we begin the story when she writes, “I’d like to say Michael was my first love because that would mean that I am capable of loving in an organised manner…I was the girl in love with the boy in love with hashish” (Ali 1). Here Ali writes about allowing her self love to be determined on if others could love her. Knowing that she had become blind to love she begins to realize that her love was one way, she was in love with a boy whose mind was preoccupied. In our day and age many students can relate to this for this is something that will be important as long as cannabis is around and can be grasped by young adults. Lastly, Hannah Ali does a great job making her story set for young adults in our time while also touching on ongoing situations in the world today such as addictions and how they can reorder your priorities. It is important for such things to be taught to students in school. In Ali’s short yet impactful story she captures this all. Nevertheless give and take can come in many forms, this theme can be seen in many lights and is vital to be taught to students in this day and age. For this and many other reason Harold Bloom’s canon and its critera is not broad or favorable to students.
Undoubtedly we are now informed on the factors of the canon and how insubstantial they are. Luckily change has already begun to happen. The factors of writings getting into the canon are increasingly varied, but what can you as teachers still do? Well, there is an easy solution to that. Instead of leaning on the more traditional authors or classic texts, try comparing remote text and authors to the notorious arguments. Scrutinize and dissect the progress literature has made over the years. I found it more interesting reading all of these stories by diverse authors because they are intended to tell a story from a cut-off voice. The classic texts may try to do the same, but these authors live the lives they write about, it’s their world. Pulling away from these standard texts will better suit students whilst contributing exemplary traits seen in people like them that do outstanding things.