Looking at the summer reading list, you see abusive parents, child soldiers and culture shock. And that is just the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Honors classes. Even though the ?All Students? list is longer, it too has a fair presence of negative and/or depressing content. Why the doom and gloom?
?The English canon doesn?t show as much love to comedies as it does for tragedies,? English 10 Honors and IB Film Study teacher Pierce Bello said.
So it seems. Of all the books on the summer reading list, only A Hitchhiker?s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is a genuine comedy.
?Most good books don?t have anything to do with anything good,? IB English 2 teacher Hendrick Booz said.
True enough, but this is only because book authors and English departments seem to be operating under the impression that high-level literature ? that which best sends a message, weaves a tale or illustrates life ? must be tragic or contain tragic elements. This is especially evident in the IB/Honors reading list, where every single fiction book falls somewhere between morose and downright depressing.
Essentially, we, the students, are being told that comedy is less important, in text if nowhere else, than tragedy. That joy is less important that sorrow, that happiness is less important than sadness.
The English department focuses on tragedy because that is the way it has always been done. We are receiving an education that does not accurately reflect reality because of traditional canon. Granted tragedy often does leave a more lasting impact than comedy. You remember Sept. 11, 2001, but not the funniest thing you did in 2001.
But so what? Because you remember something better, that makes it more significant, more worthy of scholarly attention? Nonsense. Tragedy may be universal, but so is comedy. By making tragedy prevalent in our educational literature, those who selected it have allowed the visceral nature of the genre to mislead them. Instead of judging the texts on the inherent qualities that make high-level literature, they go by the emotional impact. While not necessarily incorrect by itself, such a method creates a skewed selection.
The human condition can be interpreted as inherently happy, and the literature we study should reflect that. Angela?s Ashes by Frank McCourt, the tenth grade honors English reading, is a step in the right direction. It tells an arguably tragic story (complete with a downcast title) with a humorous tone. Why can it not be the rule, instead of the exception?
It might be said that essentially comedic or uplifting books have no conflict to drive the book, but that is not the case. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson nicely illustrates how a comedic novel can have depths worth analyzing and a plot worth following, though the excessive drug use therein would certainly cause mobs of parents to break down Marshall?s doors, should it be assigned.
The weight of tradition presses down on English the county over, but this phenomenon will never change if one school does not step forward and provide proof-of-concept to make Fairfax County take notice. Marshall has an impressive, innovative and flexible English staff. There is no reason why we should not break new ground.