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In my A.P. English class senior year in high school, most everyone else was extremely reluctant to discuss The Handmaid's Tale, which we had read over summer break, because of the sexual content and this one particularly graphic portion where it repeatedly uses the "F-word." The class discussion was along the lines of how the book (and that part in particular) made them uncomfortable. Everyone thought I was weird anyway, so I went into a f-word laced rant about how I thought it was a f-ing amazing book.
These people were reluctant to read or discuss any book with conflict or non-family friendly content. And these were all honor students, like me.
Despite being in the literature stream, I was one of few people who enjoyed reading. Unfortunately, our french lit. teacher did absolutly nothing to encourage those who were less enthusiastic; teaching a class for her consisted in droning on monotonously for two hours while her students picked their noses or watched the flies buzzing above their heads.
But we soon discovered that there was one way to liven the class up: get her on to the subject of sex, at which point she would become very animated and start waving her hands around. It became a sort of competition among us: seeing who could find phallic symbols in the most unlikely texts.
Sometimes it didn't work. I can still see her, standing in front of the blackboard with her arms crossed and a puzzled look on her face, saying "I don't think that's what Proust had in mind with the madeleine, Anna..."
It's not that I won't read any books with that content. But I don't enjoy a book because of that content, and using the F word doesn't = quality literature. If I read a book with lots of sex and language, it's because the book has other merits that outweigh the things I don't care for.
ANYHOW... one thing that shocked me as an English major was the number of fellow English majors who hated reading. Seriously. They would moan and groan about the reading assignments, and I'm thinking, "um, are you in the wrong building or what?" Same with writing papers. It's what English majors DO.
However the point that weener was trying to make is that her classmates' attitude towards The Handmaid's Tale was excessively prudish, especially seeing as the book's sexual content isn't at all excessive OR gratuitous, and is an important part of the narrative. You can expect from honor students to show proof of a little more open-mindedness; a serious student of literature can't afford to shy away from legitimate sexual content (it's what makes the world go round, after all!).
I too know an impressive number of English students who never read a book outside of class; I also know quite a few who have lost all conception of reading for pleasure and reckon that anything less high-brow than Doestoevsky is beneath them; they seem to regard reading as I regard going to the gym: no pain, no gain.
My college English classes are the same way now. What is it with people shelling out thousands of dollars and then b*tching about the coursework? But that's a rant for a different time.
I don't mind being the odd one in my classes, it just means the teachers like me more than the others. :)
annkarina wrote: I loathe gratuitous use of swearing and excessive sex/violence (except when it comes to provoking lit. teachers).
Ah, but who decides what is gratuitous and what is legitimate use of obscenity in literature? I submit to you that everyone decides that for him- or herself... and trying to force your personal boundaries (or lack thereof) on other people in the name of literature is rather egocentric.
As I said, I read books that have graphic sexuality and profanity scattered throughout if it's just that: scattered, not forming the entire body of the work from cover to cover. If a book containing those elements is well-written, or has a very profound discussion of the human condition, or has wonderful characters, I will read it and enjoy it very much. Many times the R-rated material will be, as you said, an important part of the narrative. I recognize that.
But that doesn't mean that intelligent people (i.e. "honor students") HAVE to enjoy discussing those things in a classroom setting. For me, sex is an intensely personal thing and I would not be comfortable discussing it in a classroom of strangers. And I do not swear. I don't understand why my personal boundaries (that I am not forcing on anyone else) should be judged irrelevant in the light of (so-called) great literature. Again, who decides what's great literature and what isn't? Open-minded doesn't mean that a person must throw all of his or her personal values out the window.
If you had read the book, you would realize that it's not graphic sexuality and swearing cover to cover. In fact, it's almost all in that one scene, with a scene or two of less-graphic sexuality later in the book. You might enjoy it. But my classmates' reaction was closed-minded and prudish. I did expect more from the other "smart kids."
Confronting their attitudes with a swearing-filled rave was pretty gratuitous and egomaniacal, but I was 17 and the class clown to boot.
They were also turned off by two scenes in The God of Small Things: one where a little girl decorates a pile of cow poop with flowers, and the description of a very old dog's shiny, bald testicles. I responded that I wished we read about nothing BUT piles of poop and dog balls.
The syllabus was also centered exclusively around french literature.
I'm still amazed to hear that anyone could find the sexuality in The Handmaid's Tale offensive (even at the age of 17)...
You're welcome! :-) I just love rabbit-trails.
Really though, I don't mean to come across as snippy. I'm sorry if I have. I just didn't care for the inferences that could be drawn from your post — and, since we're all adults here, I thought we could discuss it. As far as I know LT doesn't have a rule about threads having to stay strictly on-topic.
weener wrote: In their opinion, the scene/book was a failure because it made them think about something they didn't want to think about. To them, if it makes you feel bad, it has failed.
Well, I'm not defending that kind of attitude. Often we need to be made uncomfortable to make things change (like Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin sparking the Civil War — not exactly a fun-filled read, but how necessary!). I'm just defending people's right to follow their personal convictions about explicit material in a classroom setting. I do not believe being intelligent means (or should mean) that you have no personal inhibitions — that's all.
weener wrote: If you had read the book, you would realize that it's not graphic sexuality and swearing cover to cover. ... You might enjoy it.
First off, I never said it was. And second, thanks for the recommendation; I'll look for it. And I will be sure to tell you how I like it!
I don't even remember those parts of The God of Small Things. I was much more turned off by the brother-sister sex.
*makes an attempt to get back on topic*... I remember a funny moment in an English class. We had a Japanese professor, a sweet little man of 85 (no kidding!) who was so happily clueless and good-natured about everything. Sometimes he got his words garbled because he talked so fast. We were talking about Nathaniel Hawthorne's books, and my professor called The House of the Seven Gables "The House of the Seven Bagels" — twice! It was very amusing. I don't know if I can ever take that book seriously now :-P
It was Sea Fever ("all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by"), in case anyone was wondering.
As someone who was a prudish honor student in high school... I never did understand why they always seemed to pick books with semi-disturbing content to read. Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are the two in particular... I wonder how I'd feel about them if I read them now.
>10 atimco: The House of the Seven Bagels.... priceless. :D
The other thing that's stuck in my memory is that our teacher couldn't pronounce "Massachusetts" at all. It was quite amusing when we did The Crucible.
All nine students in my Literature class liked reading books. All the people who didn't (over 100!) took English, where they studied The Matrix.
On topic, I remember in one English class in high school we read the poem "This Be the Verse" by Philip Larkin (The one that starts "They **** you up, your mom and dad") and I asked my teacher if the title came from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem "Requiem." He had never heard it, so I recited the little poem from memory and I don't think the rest of the class knew whether to laugh or throw me out. I guess the thought of reading fiction outside of class, much less POEMS was pretty foreign to most kids. I've pretty much always read poetry for fun, and, as with words of any kind, they tend to stick pretty firmly in my memory. I wonder what they would have done if I'd recited Prufrock.
In college we also read it for one of my poly sci classes I think again I was the only one who read it.
I should really go back and reread all the books we did in high school. I'd probably get a whole lot more out of them now.
We read all of the books out loud in class that year, but I'm such a fast reader that I always ended up reading ahead of everyone, so would be done with the book/chapter/section long before the class. This one other guy and I both ended up sleeping through half of the class. The teacher never said anything to either of us. I assume he figured that we both read the book and could answer pretty much any question he asked, so why not let us sleep. :D
I was the same way. There were very few books that I read in school that I actually enjoyed, but I read TONS outside of class. I never could figure out why they couldn't pick some good books for a change!
I mean, I'm fine with people disagreeing with me, but only if it makes sense. In 1920-something the color purple would have been known as referring to excessive luxury/royalty, not homosexuality. As I said, not the best class I've ever taken.
Anyway I was telling a friend about the story and about Paul being "somewhat of a dandy" and my friend said, "You mean he's gay." And I got to counter him with my professor's lecture on the history of the word, its meaning during that time period, etc.
Everyone jumped on me calling me insane.
People in the class were talking about how they empathized with Holden and that they saw a lot about in themselves within Holden.
It was at that point I saw my teacher smirk a little. Afterwards, she explained how Holden was pretty much crazy and how he refused to talk and communicate and thus would never grow. She mentioned how it's hinted that Holden is telling the story to a psychiatrist, to which many of the people in the class balked at and suddenly had a negative view of the character.
I must have been a weird kid though. I read Catcher on my own.
Pretty sneaky, huh?! I thought it was nifty.
Nobody ever understands book nerds, except other book nerds. Ah it's a lonely life.
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