Dear English Teacher,
As a student of color and someone who follows the religion of Islam, I want representation for all minorities and underrepresented people, so I strongly believe that the English literature standards should include literature written by people of color and by people of different religions and ethnicities. The Literary Canon is a list of writings that have achieved the rank of classics. The bulk of these books are written by old white Christian men, and students don’t get an opportunity to see the perspective of other religions, genders, and races. There are many books from the literary canon that relate to books by ethnic authors and have a similar theme. If the Literary canon is inclusive of books by diverse authors, students will have an opportunity to see various perspectives and claim more from writings other than entertainment.
In writing, windows and mirrors help get points through to the reader or help the reader understand the perspective of the author. Mary Shelley makes use of a window to show a viewpoint to young students in “The Mortal Immortal”. In the short story, the main character, Winzy, drinks a potion (which he wasn’t supposed to), which gives him immortality, believing that it would rid him of his heartsickness. In a way, this story makes use of a window to show the reality of a person who has immortality, which is a dream of many of the youth and adults. In the book, Winzy reasons, “…I imagine that the despicable gifts of youth and good looks outweighed disgrace, hatred and scorn”(Shelley 7). Winzy is saying that everyone wants youth and good looks but is disgusted by those things because as he grew older and remained with the same young features, everyone grew old and withered away and he noticed how bad it really was after it was too late. This shows students that sometimes the most cherished thing could be the most hated and dreaded in the future. Essentially, the lesson is that “Be careful of what you wish for, for it might come back to bite you.” Shelley teaches the theme that many things that are perceived as benefits can really turn out to be curses. Likewise, “One Friday Morning” by Langston Hughes is a short story that shows students the value of windows and mirrors in prose, while Shelley’s “The Mortal Immortal” highlights the use of windows to teach a simple theme. The text reads, “ ‘Nancy Lee…‘your picture has won the Artist Club scholarship’ ”(Hughes 4). Nancy Lee, who is a black high school student, won an art scholarship based on skillfulness. Unfortunately, Nancy failed to get the scholarship once the committee uncovered the fact that she was black. Hughes provides a window that offers present-day students a glimpse of how unequal care was offered to blacks and people of color, even though it took place in the north, where schools were meant to be equal. Racism never leaves how much we try. Hughes’ lesson of racism and prejudice in “One Friday Morning” was clearly way more important looking at the world and societies we live in but, Shelley also used windows to explain the little important lessons in life. Teachers might prefer to teach “The Mortal Immortal” because of its use of windows to show the supposed reality of an immortal being and what are the contradictions that come with it, but Hughes used the window to display a viewpoint that was relevant to the times and was how certain underrepresented groups felt which would help students to open their eyes to matters.
The famous play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is regularly taught in high school to portray the reality of the human condition in life, such as the bittersweetness of death and undeniable love; yet, these aspects can also be seen in “Pyre” by Amitava Kumar while giving an insight into the Hindu culture and showing the perspective of someone who has experienced death and love and explained it from their point of view. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet wakes up to find Romeo dead and as she sees him and notices, “A cup, closed in my true love’s hand…”(Shakespeare 5.3) Even after Romeo’s untimely death, she addresses him as her true love displaying her love for him. This shows that she was willing to die with her love and she also states, “O churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop| To help me after? I will kiss thy lips. Haply some poison yet doth hang on them, To make me die with a restorative (Act 5, Scene 3).” She doesn’t care about life anymore because her love was her life and she was miffed at the fact that Romeo drank all the poison so she couldn’t be with him sooner. She wasn’t fearful of death, she wanted to join her husband and rest with him. A similar, yet different, experience happened in “Pyre” when the thought finally hit Amitava: “Is this why my mother had wanted me present at her death… Mukhaagni… means in practice that the male who is closest to the deceased, often the son… puts fire into the mouth of the person on the pyre. (Kumar 5)” This meant that his mother had proclaimed before her death that the closest male relative she had, the one she loved the most, was her son. So when the time for her cremation came, the one she loved most would send her off and be the last to bid farewell. That differs from Shakespeare where love was shown in self-sacrifice instead of entitlement to be the one to give the final adieu. Yes, Shakespeare is great, yes the tragedy, comedy, and love bring important lessons for one to learn, but it’s a little outdated. The 1600’s don’t match with the present time and current situations. Kumar’s “Pyre” on the other hand, brings an understanding of moving on after death, while also showing that love goes on even after death. “Pyre” also gives insight into Hindu culture where the men go bald at the death of a family member and they happen to cremate their dead. In modern English literature, Shakespearean English is outdated, and “Pyre” is part of the modern era and talks about even new advanced technology for cremation.
Another interesting piece of writing is “The Sick Rose” by William Blake which is a poem about love and sex. Blake uses a generous amount of metaphors; “O Rose thou art sick.” is being used as a title for a woman lover or is talking about her sexual parts, the first interpretation makes the most sense in this context. The flower rose, represents love, and calling someone a “Rose” is addressing a lover or an important female. Yet this is only half of the quote, while the other half says this “Rose” is sick, “thou art sick”. This might be implying that this woman is physically and spiritually injuring herself by having illicit sex. It is said, “The invisible worm” which is supposed to describe how this young woman is destroying herself with all the sexuality and it is as if a worm or parasite digging and destroying through something or someone in this case. Blake is considered one of the greatest influencers of poetry and art from the Romantic Age. Langston Hughes, a colored and more modern poet, also brings similar topics of love into his poetry. In the poem “Lover’s Return”, he writes, “But de devil told me: Damn a lover Comes home to die”(Hughes: Pg 1). This is talking about how the man comes home only to get rejected or betrayed by the one he loves. The man, “So sick an’ lonesome” came back saddened and it can only seem that he has returned from a relationship problem in which he was left heartbroken. Both poets are great, they both have meaning and thought behind their works. Teachers might say that Blake’s poem is way more appealing to the younger generation because of what it’s talking about and what the meaning behind it is along with the lesson it provides that you shouldn’t have illicit sex for the sake of your body, mind, and spirit. Still, a lot of students don’t have the maturity to talk about and analyze the poem without putting in flirtatious comments or giggles about the topic. On the other hand, Hughes’ poem is written from the perspective of a black man and is way more modern. Also, Hughes’ poem doesn’t have explicit details about sex so students would have the attention to understand the poem instead of getting off-topic. Hughes’s poem also has the lesson of choosing your life partner correctly and being careful in these matters. The poem is advising people to make careful choices for the future and not getting backstabbed and to be realistic about life. Overall both poems are great and have their own very good lessons but looking at things from a colored perspective would help students understand people and their ideologies more.
A play that is commonly read in many early high school literature courses is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A play that is comical, romantic, and full of imagination. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character Helena dreams to be with the dapper Demetrius. She wants him more than anything and she prays for him to love her. While Helena speaks to her friend and one-way rival Hermia, she says; “Oh, that my prayers could such affection move! (Act 1 Scene1)” Helena is so obsessed with Demetrius that all she can think about is how much she loves him and all she can do is sit in despair as he chases for her best friend Hermia. Helena is in a state of false hope and still believes that she can get Demetrius after sending him after her friend who was planning to elope with her lover. A comparable moment happened in the short story; “Homecoming” by Laila Lalami where the main character Aziz had always dreamt of going to Spain and attaining the European Dream of having a big business and having a happy life. In the story, it says, “His new car would be stacked to the roof with gifts for everyone in the family. When he rang the doorbell, his wife and aging parents would greet him with smiles on their faces. He would take his wife into arms, lift her, and they would twirl, like in the movies. (Page 1)” Aziz wanted to be a winner when he came back home and wanted people to see him as a hero. The man who went from a poor African country to a rich and prosperous businessman in Europe. As Aziz himself puts it, he’d have to alter his “daydreams”. In the story, it is said, “…Aziz found that he had to alter the details of his daydreams. (Page 1)” Aziz started looking at things more realistically as time went on because he knew that keeping his false hopes wouldn’t do him any good. He looked at things practically and he knew about how much his money input and output was and he shaped his dreams and visions accordingly. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an extravagant romance where characters keep chasing each other for blind love. When one of the side characters says, “And yet, to say the truth, reason, and love keep little company together nowadays” (Act3 Scene 1). Shakespeare put this in because there was an apparent fact that barely anyone in the play loved the latter for their personality but instead for their status and beauty. They don’t think much about who the person is or they don’t try to spend time getting to know each other. Young love is impulsive and no one reasons with themselves when they are in that stage. To think things through and to know each other and admire one another’s character is what love should be, not looking at each other’s beauty and going head over heels for them. In “Homecoming”, Aziz had been married to his wife for years and they were away from each other for a long time, yet they loved each other. Aziz has cheated on his wife while in Spain but then he had felt guilty about it, in the book it states, “He was ashamed to have cheated (Page 12)” Big mistake, but then he also is trying to get her to come with him to Spain as he says, “And I’ve started your paperwork, so you will be able to join me before long, inshallah. (Page 9)” He does love her but he knew his mistake and wanted to take her with him to Spain so he could be with his wife like it should have been. He loved her for her person not just for her beauty. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedic masterpiece in many’s eyes. It brings the reader to another world altogether, the reader loves the different characters that bring the story to life. Yet this story is just like a lovely dream, hence the name. “Homecoming”, on the other hand, is entertaining yet at the same time shows the reality of life. In her writing, Lalami shows the perspective of a Muslim Moroccan man who is aspiring to be great. She adds aspects of Islam and a touch of Arab culture while having a whole romance scene in her book. Teachers and students may love a rom-com play that brings some but less realistic lessons to the readers. A Midsummer Night’s Dream teaches the essence of love and not to chase after one with looks but to love someone based on who they are on the inside. Yet it still leaves everything a hopeless dream that couldn’t have been accomplished without magic and foolish blunders. “Homecoming” brings a key lesson that a person must always keep their goals reasonable and attainable. Both texts have useful lessons but it can be very well interpreted that “Homecoming” by Laila Lalani hit two birds with one stone and kept the book interesting while giving a lesson on love and reality. Students should read a book that would be effortless to understand, teaches core life lessons, and shows a window to other cultures and religions.
The essence of power in books is usually depicted as a tyrant ruler overbearing the nation, someone who snatches his rights of the kingdom back, or of white upper-class men proving themselves. In the book, “Street Of The House Of Wonders” by Rachida el-Charni, an Arab woman shows her strength and persistence when a thief stole her necklace and she pursued after him. “She possessed great courage. Not for an instant did she experience real fear. Nor was she going to back down.” The woman was so hard set on retrieving her stolen trinket that she was willing to fight and take down a much stronger and faster man. Despite people saying pessimistic and nonsensical comments like, “You’re weaker. How do you dare?” Comments like this are what make minorities weaker. They don’t want to stand up to help and when someone dares to stand up and fight for themselves, they shrink back into their burrows and hide like cowards. When someone rises for the right thing they say negative things that would make anyone lose hope in their cause. If a woman is struggling and people are just watching and refraining from helping, that’s very shameful. Would you want your cries of helplessness to be ignored and watched as if a film in the cinema? In India, there is a vile habit of teenage boys teasing, harassing, and even raping women because they think they have all the right over them and no one even tries to stop them. In the story, a young man wanted to help her out but the elders started taunting and saying, “Do you want to die? Leave her to it. She and no one else is responsible for her stubbornness.” What is clear from this is that the community doesn’t really have any sense of respect for women even after many cries for help. The people weren’t very supportive and just didn’t seem to care for others. In India, I saw some guys teasing a group of girls and I was having a nice stroll with my cousins and I said that I should go help them. My cousins, who ranged from the ages 13 to 18, all said just to ignore it because I could get hurt and I would get in a lot of trouble at home. Well, I took the risk and told the boys to stop, thankfully they did and all parties respectfully returned home. The point that I’m trying to make is that people don’t help because of three core reasons. The first is because of fear, people won’t want to do something however noble it is if it has them at risk. The second is that if the person is someone you don’t know, then why care? Finally, if it’s a lost cause then people won’t even want to risk their dignity, life, money, etc. In the story, the crowd had admitted defeat before the tussle even ended. They thought it was a lost cause and they didn’t want anything with this random woman who was already in a feeble position against an armed man. The story presented all three reasons why one wouldn’t help. There was an armed man and the fear of getting injured or killed, this woman really didn’t have anything to do with anyone and no one wanted to pay heed to her. The end result was in favor of the armed robber who was going to steal the trinket, meaning it would be a lost cause anyway. My cousins refrained me from going because they were fearful for me because I was one and they were 4. This short story shows that you should stand up for yourself and others even when the majority say the opposite and refuse to help you. A teacher may say that in Romeo and Juliet there are instances where characters stood up for themselves but I beg to differ, the majority of the characters would fight over and kill one another over the pettiest of things. Here we can see an Arab woman living and dealing with a real situation without any help and yet she tries her best with the toxic environment around her. The book, Street Of The House Of Wonders best covers topics about courage, persistence, and strength even when everyone thinks you’re weak.
“The Arrangers of Marriage” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a story about a woman who got an arranged marriage to a doctor living in America. Her husband sort of has an obsession with staying “American” and not behaving by their cultures’ norms. In the book, he’ll repeatedly say something about how Americans don’t do this and Americans don’t say this. The husband changed his name to Dave Bell and when his wife asks him about it, he replies with, “You don’t understand how it works in this country. If you want to get anywhere, you have to be as mainstream as possible.” (Pg. 6) Dave believes changing their lifestyle would help them to live in America and that he would be more successful when he leaves his cultural identity behind. His wife on the other hand does try to speak their language and tries to make their food. Dave is so conscious of not speaking their native language, when his wife says a native phrase and says “lift” instead of calling it an elevator, he says, “Speak English. There are people behind you… It’s an elevator, not a lift.” Dave can’t stand when his wife speaks the native language and she seems to think that as strange. SO whenever she has the time alone she would speak by herself or with a neighbor, Nia, to whom she would teach phrases from time to time when they would spend time together. The Arrangers of Marriage is an amazing book that represents how people should be proud of their heritage and not change themselves just because others may think it’s weird or beside the norm. This book is written from the perspective of an African woman who moved to America through marriage and her husband is obsessed with making a whole new identity only because he thinks it’s the right way to live. Highschoolers would greatly benefit from readings like this because they would get an insight into African culture and how arranged marriages work which many don’t know about.
Intersectional authors have a lot to teach and shed light on matters. While many of these lessons could be taught by the canonical authors and writers, literature from intersectional authors can provide the same lessons and a whole new window to how different cultures function and how different people go through life. Looking at the pros and cons of which group of authors to teach from, Intersectional authors bring much more to the table. Would I want to read about how colored people are being treated from a white person’s perspective or a colored person’s perspective? The answer is obvious and is the only rational option. Colored students would appreciate that literature written by people like them and people who understand their problems are being taught at school instead of people who have little to no idea about their lifestyles and are from an entirely different ethnic group.