Dear English Teacher,
My name is Alejandro Soto, I am a sophomore at Metro Early College high school. Throughout my reading courses, I have experienced many accounts of boredom, and felt no real connection to the materials taught in most of my reading courses. Personally, my cultural background and my families are very diverse, giving me a different perspective on common forms of literature. Some English teachers don’t have very diverse backgrounds but they are widely educated meaning they acquire a special form of relation with different types of authors and stories. The literary canon is a set of texts that have high culture in English and that are very valued reaching the status of classics. Traditionally, the criteria used to create the canon was well rounded texts with important lessons and values, but this also included a criteria on the author and their cultural background. Contrasting, in my essay I shifted more towards the use of a diverse criteria. While most English teachers prefer to teach canonical literature in their lessons, they should decidedly consider using modern diverse text to expose different writing styles and create reflections in texts to students in their classrooms.
“Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare is a widely known modern literature text that is preferably taught in many classrooms today. A common theme seen throughout this short story is that love is dangerous. A modern diverse text, “Father and Son” by Langston Hughes offers an identical message through a historical lens. In “Romeo and Juliet” love proves to be dangerous when Shakespeare writes, “This fight will decide who dies. They fight. TYBALT falls and dies” (Shakespeare 7). The anger felt by Romeo after Tybalt stabs and kills Murcutio is immense, causing him to fight and kill Tybalt. This shows love because Romeo took Murcutio’s place as a result of his effeminacy caused by Juliet and his love for her. Hughes wrote a similar message in his short story when he says, “Bert’s hands closed into fists, so the Colonel opened the drawer where the pistol was. He took it out and laid it on the table. ‘You black bastard,’ he said” (Hughes 28). Here, the clenching of Berts fist shows his hatred towards his white father. Also, the colonel offers a sign of hatred putting the gun on the table. The love these two feel towards each other is shown when Bert tells his father, “Why don’t you shoot?” Bert interrupted him, slowly turning his wrist” (Hughes 33). Colonel (Berts Father) refusing to shoot signifies love, but soon after Bert kills his father proving the theme that love is dangerous. While the literary lesson in “Romeo and Juliet” is so distinct, it has been taught for decades and fails to offer a mirror for modern teens. “Father and Son” should be taught in classrooms today because it gives a view on how race and culture drove people’s actions in recent American history. This text not only offers a good lesson on the history of many teens in American classrooms but it also directs a related theme to “Romeo and Juliet.” Unquestionably, love being dangerous is an important theme for students, but solving world problems is also very significant in the student curriculum for the desirable future of their societies.
Claude Mckay’s “America” is a diverse poem that conveys a message of people needing to address world problems. “Homework” by Allen Ginsburg is a similar prime example of a canonical poem that many teachers offer to their students. Throughout this poem a common theme is that we as humans need to address different social and economic issues that face our societies everyday. This idea is viewed as Ginsburg writes, “I’d throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa, put all the birds and elephants back in the jungle,I’d wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico, Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska” (Ginsberg 1). Here we can see the different issues in our world and how Ginsberg would fix them if he could just do it as her laundry. This connection between her laundry and the world is very deep and really illustrates the problems our countries face like pollution, global warming, aand dirty oceans. Now, the fact that she creates this sort of imagination also gives us an idea on how complex and hard those problems are. Also, the metaphor “Rinse down the Acid Rain” (Ginsburg 1), emphasizes the severity of many of those problems. Similarly, in the poem “America ” by Claude Mckay, he shows his personal connection to America, and how the issues concerning this country fuel his passion. The theme of this poem is to face your troubles and fight through them. This proves similar to themes and structure in “Homework” as Mckay writes, “And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, Stealing my breath of life, I will confess I love this cultured hell that tests my youth” (Mckay 1). The figurative language alone is similar to the poem “Homework”, here Mckay personifies America using the word “she”. Also the alliteration of the letter t also emphasizes the severity of the pressure America puts on African Americans. Although the poem “Homework” talks about the world’s problems, “America” by Claude Mckay summarizes a much more specific issue that America contains which acts as a similar or more important lesson for high school students. Not only does the poem “America” apply to many students and minority groups but it also but it gives light to issues of the past.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is a common canonical text taught in classrooms because of the themes about how culture and isolation can affect one, but “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fisfight in Heaven” by Sherman Alexie is a modern diverse text that offers a similar lesson on the effects of isolation. Throughout “A Rose for Emily” the author suggests that loneliness can drive one to make bad decisions; also, culture greatly impacts the way one thinks and makes choices. Similarly, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fisfight in Heaven” about how loneliness has negative impacts and how strong culture creates racial differences. This is first seen when Alexie writes, “At three in the morning I could act just as young as I wanted,” (Alexie 3). Here Alexie describes his actions when he was alone, as he says “act just as young as I wanted” typically acting as young as you want would imply bad decision making showing that bad things come from loneliness similarly described in “A Rose for Emily”. Also, the culture and racial differences is described when Alexie says, “Disembodied, I could see everything that was happening. Whites killing Indians and Indians killing whites” (Alexie 4). The racial tension is seen clearly between the two cultures that Alexie saw “killing each other,” this hatred was long lasting from early Indian American history. Many teachers may still prefer to teach the canonical “A Rose for Emily” because of its significance for historical literature, I think they should consider Alexies “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fisfight in Heaven” because it has the ability to act as a mirror for many students. As seen, both traditional and diverse texts show similar themes, but the modern option may be more appealing for lessons in english courses. In a like manner, “A Rose for Emily” can be compared to other diverse texts to show how loneliness is dangerous to mental health.
Again, “A Rose for Emily,” a common canonical text taught in many classrooms today has connections with many other texts. A similar diverse text, “Evo Morales” by Ricardo Lisias conveys a similar message that isolation can affect one’s state of mind in a much more engaging way for teens in today’s english curriculum. We see this style of writing w`hen Lisias states, “In the Paris airport I had a coffee at each place it was served, but I never came across Evo Morales” (Lisias 6). Here Ricardo indirectly shows his connection to chats with Evo Morales. This shows his loneliness as a person that travels around the world which is a similar feeling many young adults can relate to nowadays. Another strong example of an engaging way Ricardo conveys his message is as says, “But you, Evo, you’re the chubbiest-cheeked person in the world. If you’re thinking of having an operation on them, my friend, listen: they don’t let us out into the street in winter, and now that it’s winter, the garden is the same as the street, Evo the Great” (Lisias 13). While analyzing this quote, it shows how the lack of communication between himself and Evo has greatly affected him. In the last lines of the story Ricardo uses phrases such as “Evo the great” or “Evo the mighty chubby cheeked chub” to show how lonely he was, and how his mental state has been altered because of this isolation. Although “Evo Morales” isn’t a commonly used piece of literature, I strongly believe that teachers should consider using it solely because of its close relation to problems many teens struggle with daily. Not only is the theme of Isolation clearly thought out in Ricardo’s short story but he delivers it in a shorter and more modern engaging way. Reading “A Rose for Emily”, I felt no personal connection to the text because the context was so outdated. Throughout Ricardo’s “Evo Morales”, the text acted as a mirror for me as I sometimes have been lonely and driven insane at the sight of isolation. For this very reason I believe current english teachers should really consider the different texts they choose in their curriculum. On the other hand, in comparison to isolation felt by one, life struggles is a deep topic that is vital to be taught.
Both “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “The Arrangers of Marriage” by Chimamanda Adichie share a similar theme that marriage is harder than expected, and obsessions may affect others. But, in many classrooms today a teacher may lean more towards the canonical text “The Birthmark” because of its historical meaning in American literature culture. The theme of obsession is seen in Hawthorne’s text when he writes, “I feel myself fully competent to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most beloved, what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work! Even Pygmalion, when his sculptured woman assumed life, felt no greater ecstasy than mine will be” (Hawthorne 8). The way Aylmer talks to his wife Georginia here about her scarred cheek is very obsessive. The phrase “I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work!” shows his obsession with removing the imperfectness the scar on Georginias’s face has left. This in turn affects their relationship causing trust issues between the two, showing that marriage is hard which leads to Georginias death by way of poison. Adichie offers an account of the same theme when she says, “When he filled out a Social Security number application for me the next day, the name he entered in bold letters was AGATHA BELL” (Adichie 6). Here the author’s husband is so obsessed with appearing American that he leaves all his family’s cultural customs behind. Chimamanda is very affected by not only this but also her husband’s laziness in getting her employed. This summarizes the theme that marriage is truly harder than expected, especially from what the author thought it would be like coming from Nigeria to the United States. I think that Adichie’s text should be considered to be taught in classrooms because of the diversity in text, also the way it tells the stories of many people’s in a new, highly developed country. While reading this text it offered a mirror for me because of how closely it compared to the way my parents troubled coming to the U.S and how it affected their relationship during those beginning years. Moreover, texts offer reflections of one’s life, considering family and culture that is important to everyone.
A well known, commonly used canonical text in modern english classes is “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner. This text covers a theme of the importance for doing the right thing rather than following family and culture. The similar diverse text “Pyre” by Amitiva Kumar conveys a similar message in a more modern cultured way. One way Kumar shows this theme is when she writes, “During the long fourteen-hour flight to India I dealt with my sorrow by writing in my notebook a brief obituary for a Hindi newspaper that Ma read each morning” (Kumar 1). The long flight taken by Kumar right after the knowing of her mother’s death displays the importance of family in her culture. Another account of family and culture is as stated by Kumar, “I took pictures. The photograph of the yellow marigold floating on the Ganga, rather than my mother’s burning pyre, is what I put up on Facebook that evening” (Kumar 7). Kumars culture is signified by the Marigold and other customs during a relatives funeral. The difference here from “Barn Burning” is that the theme is identified that culture should be followed and practiced. We see this throughout the entire story as Kumar depicts different customs and rituals done in the recognition of her mother. For example, the body being cremated and the priests request to have Kumar spread out sandalwood on her mother’s body. These are different Indian traditions that live till this day. Although “Barn Burning” is a well written account of a Son taking the side of law over his Fathers. As well as many teachers leaning towards this text because of its historical significance to the literary canon. I believe that “Pyre” should be considered to be taught because of its ability to show culture in the world and teach a lesson of the importance of family in a relatable way for many young adults. Now, “Barn Burning” does offer a lesson on the crucialness of racial equality in a past society, but this lesson is also very outdated leaving room for new modern texts like “Pyre” that act as Mirrors for many American students. In support of race and culture, it can closely be related to life and the hard choices that come along with it.
“The Mortal Immortal” by Mary Shelly depicts a theme for readers that life forces one to make hard decisions. “Homecoming” by Laila Lalami talks about a young couple struggling to make life changing decisions living in a city that houses major unemployment. In Shelly’s text she her protagonist Winzy makes his hardest decision when she writes, “A philter to cure love; you would not cease to love your Bertha–beware to drink!” (Shelly 4). The potion to “cure love” is a symbol of Winzys fate in his love with Bertha (his wife). This proved to be a hard life decision to make because the potion in turn made him Immortal forcing him to watch the love of his life age, and eventually die. This short story offers a great conveying of the theme “life forces people to make hard decisions” while completing this task in a short text. In “Homecoming” Lalami writes an account of the same theme as follows, “‘I’ll save more’ he said, and then I’ll come back. He couldn’t think of her alone in an apartment, with no one to talk to, while he was at work” The decision whether to stay in Morocco and be unemployed or go back to Spain without his wife was the hardest decision and conflict in Lalamis’ short story. Aziz only saw negatives in bringing his wife to Spain, but at the same time staying in Morocco would soon lead himself, his mother, and wife homeless. The way Lailami illustrates this message to readers in a short engaging text that triggers an emotional sense is very unique. For this reason, teachers should contemplate the text they offer in classes. Not only will this create a more modern way of viewing literature but it will create mirrors for people whose parents might have struggled similar to the characters in this text. Conversely, the tough decisions everyone is forced to make is modernly associated with racism and the damaging effects that are closely associated.
Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a common text in the literary canon stating a theme that Racism has negative effects on societies but it is important to be sympathetic and good to everyone. Lee offers an account of this racism when he writes, “We were nearly to the road when I felt Jem’s hand leave me, and felt him jerk backwards to the ground. More scuffling, and there came a dull crunching sound and Jem screamed. I ran in the direction of Jem’s scream and sank into a flabby male stomach. Its owner said, “Uff!” and tried to catch my arms, but they were tightly pinioned,” (Lee 10). The main characters Jem and Scout were attacked here by Bob Ewell, a man who had beaten his daughter and blamed the incident on an innocent black man. The negative effect here was the siblings (Jem and Scout) being attacked due to their compliance with the law instead of the society’s racial views. Trevor Noah’s “Run” in the book “Born A Crime” gives a very similar message in a much more modern context. An example of this is shown as Noah says, “The reason we went to three churches was because my mom said each church gave her something different,” (Noah 8). Here the theme is more of having sympathy for people. As said, Trevor’s mom went to three different churches, all racially divided to attain a different lesson from each church. Being in the middle of the social class Noah and his mother were good too all people desiring different perspectives at different churches to avoid being close minded. As for the negative effect of Racism, Noah accounts this writing, “What I do remember, what I will never forget, is the violence that followed. The triumph of democracy over apartheid is sometimes called the Bloodless Revolution. It is called that because very little white blood was spilled. Black blood ran in the streets,” (Noah 12). “Bloodless Revolution,” this was a huge problem in South Africa in the 1990s reflected especially in Noah’s life because he was in the middle of the boat being a mixed child during the apartheid. English teachers tend to prefer the traditional text of “To Kill a Mockingbird” because of its place in American literature and history. But, I challenge teachers to reckon diverse stories, in particular “Run” by Trevor Noah because it captures the readers eye with it’s non-linear plot structure and as well as its use of relatable childhood tendencies like the importance of family and church. For this reason, english curriculum should be re-considered in more diverse and modern ways to reflect mirrors and windows for students to see as they read.
The Literary Canon has shown over time to provide us readers with well written texts that offer profound themes. For this reason scholars have chosen to put these stories in a respective set as the more important book one should teach and read. My examples of diverse texts to replace the canonical texts has shown to provide similar styles of writings and themes through evidence given. Many friends of mine and myself included tend to come across a recurring problem in which we show little to no relation to the famous texts in the canon. Moreover, these writings fail to create mirrors for many students including me, especially concerning the diverse Latin background I have. This isn’t mentioning the different cultural backgrounds of millions of teens in American classrooms. So why still choose the canonical texts? So what they “seemed” or “looked” better, it is a new day in age and people think differently from before. Modern Diverse texts have a much higher chance in impacting young students personally creating mirrors that relate to their lives. Without question English teachers should broadly consider incorporating diverse texts into their curriculum to improve student involvement and pleasure in reading.