Why Classical Literature Matters

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Written by Gracielle Dedo

Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.” (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë)

Classical literature presents itself to many young individuals in the form of a report or necessary grade in their schooling. Adolescents often groan about the lack of desire they hold to read a novel that is older than their grandmother. Dropping drastically since 2004, roughly 20% of young American adults read for pleasure anymore. Who or what is at fault for the decrease in avid readers?

Why Don’t We Read?

Perhaps one of the most obvious culprits is the schooling system. Whilst in class, one is taught that when done reading a book they take a test, write a paper, or create a project. Thus implementing a system of transaction that results in a reward. Therefore, when reading outside of class for the pure fun of it, there is no immediate satisfaction of a grade telling you good job, you read a book! In addition, books are associated with “work and stress.” For some, this isn’t necessary. Satisfaction is obtained through the course of indulgence obtained when reading the book. For others, the transaction process is so deeply engrained that reading for pure bliss sounds dreadful. Technology does not help this dilemma either. Imagine a table set out in front of you. On the right sits Jane Austen’s Emma, and on the left, your phone. Which are you more likely to gravitate towards? Chances are, you answered the cell-phone. It could be that technology is easily accessible, overstimulating, and very difficult to get bored of, or it could be one’s stubbornness to pick up an old book or any book for that matter. We must take a closer look to clearly understand, why is a piece of classical literature so incredibly important?

Growing Your Mind

My Grandmother was a librarian and a reading teacher when I was younger. I clearly remember after every book she read to me, her asking, “What is the moral of the story?” Lessons and morals are taught through just about any book. Classical literature in specific contains universal lessons, answering timeless questions of moral dilemmas that pertain to the human condition. Words from hundreds of years ago teach our brains to think deeply and look at the bigger picture. There is a certain depth that most modern writing fails to achieve. The astuteness of Hemingway, Lee, Brontë, and Dickens all engage one’s mind in unfamiliar worldly perspectives from the past that simply cannot be learned through a textbook.

Some Examples

Engrossing oneself in the world of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice takes one on the journey of learning not to let your lack of perspective and prejudices of others blind you. Or walk into the dark and twisted mind of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, to understand that evil very much exists in this world and in evil, there is remorse. Pick up Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and read about social inequality, duality in this world, and one’s responsibility for their own life. Perhaps none of these are to your taste, maybe my favorite novel, Jane Eyre, which engrains the lesson of holding one’s self to the utmost level of respect, will be more to your taste.

Classical literature shows us how man once lived, the struggles he endured, and the lessons he learned. Applying these aphorisms to the present day and future creates a more knowledgeable prospect of life. Thus moving humanity forward on open horizons. The next time you find yourself debating between that book and your cell-phone, take a chance and pick up the book, it might surprise you how much there is to learn.