It is safe to say that Hemingway’s words do not ingrain themselves easily into the mind of an adolescent. In fact, one can even go as far to say that students actively rebel against works of classic literature, opting instead to look up the answers to reading questions and put the book out of their minds when they pass the test. Although this monotonous practice is a sign of the times in high school, the process is becoming far less innocuous as times change. The fact is simply that students refuse to read classics – for their age, for their frustrating complexity, or for a lack of excitement – and, as a reaction to this sentiment, a somewhat foreboding conclusion has been reached: students should not be required to delve into these classics if they have no interest. That aforementioned point is somewhat macabre in that Fahrenheit 451, a renowned classic, addresses this very attitude with the belief that the absence of great literature in a young person’s mind proves to be a sword they will plunge into their own heart. Adversely, the presence of the aforementioned literature is a weapon they wield against the world. A student will never know this, however, without reading or being forced to read Fahrenheit 451, as classics hold a trove of ethics and morals that are necessary to be gleaned by a maturing mind.
To explore this matter in full, it is essential to first define what a “classic” is; it is essential to recognize what sets that breed of book apart from the others. According to Italian author Italo Calvino, a classic book comes to represent the entire universe. A classic, like every book, presents itself as a singular experience, but comes to be understood as something much more. A classic, in short, exists outside the confines of geographic barriers and – most notably – withstands the test of time. A girl reading Anne of Green Gables in 2019 does not have the same context as Anne growing up in the Victorian era, sure, but the central theme of conflict between societal expectation and imagination still resonates clearly. The thing that sets classic novels apart from other works of literature is that they are timeless and, when you strip them down to their very cores, eternally relatable to everyone’s experiences. In essence, we are all living in the perennial gold rush of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and where else would we find something so resounding? If schools as a whole halted their teachings of classic novels, it would be as if an ancient talisman were lost to an entire generation.
However, it is reasonable to argue that a book touting the title of “classic” has no more value than a book written single-digits years ago. The thing about books is they all hold a myriad of meanings to a myriad of people, and to hold one book up as a greater work of literature than another is looked down upon. Yet there is, to an extent, a quantifiable value of how well written a book is, and another item that sets apart classics from other novels is this value. A meaning is just that, a meaning, but the nature of the writing within the book that explores the aforementioned meaning is just as important as the themes themselves. It is for this reason that we do not read Dr. Seuss in high school. That is not to say, however, that the degree of difficulty does not discourage a young mind. Again, Hemingway’s words do not ingrain themselves so easily. What makes classics different, though, is that it is worthwhile. To live without at least one classic under your belt is to live within the constraints of four gray walls; to live with knowledge lifted from one of these classic novels is to live within walls adorned with color and eccentricities, chin held high knowing the words of a thousand worlds are behind you.
Written by Madeline Tredway, Staff Writer