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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Protagonist Dies In The End

...or wishes to be dead.  Why is school-assigned young adult literature so terminally depressing?  I've brought a load of books into 2nd and Charles in hopes of eking out a few pennies, and have paused next to the "school reading" display halfway down the aisle. There are a lot of well-written, worthy books on the table, but taken together they'd make me want to hurl myself off a bridge--it's all the misery of the world, from unjust internment to slavery to rape, holocaust, pollution, and discrimination.

A sample:
The Devil's Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
The Stranger, by Albert Camus
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
Farewell To Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James Houston
Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Oh, sure, there were some where not *everybody* is terminally depressed: Chaim Potok's The Chosen and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, but only two to which I could point with any surety knowing they were thoroughly cheerful: the Gilbreth sibling's Cheaper by the Dozen and Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest".  Yet, in the company of Wiesel's Night, Orwell's Animal Farm, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying, this was weak relief.

I think all these books are needful reading, but I wonder whether youths are permanently inured to reading as they are assaulted by one grim tome after another as assigned classroom texts. The deer dies, the dog dies, the people die--aren't there good books that acknowledge the depravity of the world without permitting it to dominate the narrative? Novels and memoirs that refuse to permit dystopias to persist?  Whatever happened to the ironic humor of the statement by Wilde's thwarted writer in "The Importance of Being Earnest", summing her lost three-volume novel: "The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is what 'fiction' means!"?

Would that other, encouraging true stories like Hillenbrand's Seabuscuit and Unbroken were included with the above!

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I think one of the main reasons I never enjoyed literature in high school or college or grad school was precisely what you've said here. It's almost as if you have to define literature as depressing/suffering. (With the exception of Jane Austen, and probably a few others...)
In my high school 20th century American lit class, I remember thinking that the authors/characters needed Jesus. Perhaps a bit of an oversimplification, but not necessarily false. In grad school, I remember being quite discouraged that the German literature was always depressing.After college, I did some reading of literature on my own and enjoyed it. For me, now, I find that my Christian worldview helps me to see and understand that though there is suffering in the world, there can still be hope and joy in Christ. It doesn't make everything better, but it gives a framework. Also, I agree that it seems unnecessary and/or unhelpful to give such harsh, depressing, unpleasant works to teenagers. Aren't they dealing with teenage angst and inability to see the bigger picture, already? Why give them more "fodder" for the difficulties in life?