Monday, November 7, 2011

In Love with Literature

“I am really enjoying Hamlet! When we first got these books I told my Mom that we were reading Hamlet and she said, “Oh my God. Don’t turn to me for help!” but now that we’re on Act Four I am really starting to understand it on my own. I like it when we read it together in class because you help us understand it better but I am actually getting to the point where I can read it all by myself. And I really like it!”

This comment from one of my students today made my morning. I watched Rosalee’s excitement and smiled at her sincerity and genuine pride. We talked for a few minutes about the character of Hamlet and others chimed in too, adding their own ideas on whether or not the man is over-the-top in his grief, or whether it is justified. We talked about other Shakespeare plays and other “crazy characters”. These are the times when I know I am indeed the woman for this job. I am genuinely in love with having teens fall in love with literature.

The funny thing is, I never truly appreciated Shakespeare myself until I entered the classroom as a teacher. I never read Hamlet until I began teaching seniors last year. I may have read Macbeth when I was in high school but I am not altogether sure because I know we did not read it or discuss it the way I do now with my classes. Maybe my memory has faded but to my best recollection, there were no witch cackles, no psychological studies of whether Lady Macbeth was an introvert or an extrovert, and no exclamations of “OH MY GOD. WHO IS THIS MADMAN KILLING NOW?!”

Okay, so I tend to get a little dramatic when I teach literature, especially the literature of “the olden days” that my students don’t think will be much fun. But I suppose I strive to make it a memorable experience for these teens. I want them to remember the crazy Miss Havisham from Dickens' Great Expectations. I want them to agonize over the fact that had Romeo only waited five more minutes before drinking that poison, Juliet would have woken up and they could have taken off together. I want them to remember the way we wrote our own “Gielps”, boasting of our accomplishments as we stood on the desks, preparing to be as bold as Beowulf was when he came to announce he would defeat Grendel. I want them to recall their own description of Room 101 when they think back on Winston Smith and his fear of rats in Orwell's 1984.

Sure, I love the literature but more importantly, I love the way literature makes us question ourselves and our world. I love the way that we can work to assess a man’s sanity when he is distraught with grief or the way we can empathize when the young innocent girl feels she has no one to turn to. As we troubleshoot the alternatives these characters had but did not see within their own stories, we begin to see our own options when we are so challenged by life. We begin to be emboldened by Beowulf’s courage to slay the monster and we fight rebelliously against those who say we are doomed again all hope. It is then that we begin to write our own tales, our own stories, our own lives.

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