“Literature honors our human experiences.” The first time I heard that statement was in a contemporary literature class taught by Bill Holm at Southwest State University.
I had already been teaching English for over 10 years when I took the class, but it was the very first time that I had looked at literature through the lens of honoring human experiences. While I was teaching, I started every semester of literature by writing that statement on the chalk board and getting a conversation going with the students about what ‘honoring our human experiences’ means. I shared that reading literature helps people to place themselves in situations they may or may not ever experience. Reading Edgar Allan Poe forces the reader to come face to face with death. Poe’s works give a person to ask themselves, “How will I face death?”
I thought about other authors. George Orwell allowed the reader to look into the future and relate to the concept of ‘Big Brother is watching you.’
Novels always have a theme, a human experience or an idea the author wants the reader to ‘learn’ from reading the novel. I’ve been thinking about the bestselling novels of the past 50 years. I have been asking myself, “Do the novels mirror human experiences or mold human experiences?
The novels that I have read that hit the top novels of each decade include: 1950s - The Lord of the Flies by William Golding; 1960s – To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee; 1970s – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown; 1980s – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; 1990s – Harry Potter by J.K. Rowlings; 2000s – Harry Potter novels were still on top; 2010s – The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Did the author intend to mirror human experiences or were they written to mold human experiences? With the exception of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee all of the novels were fiction. As I look over the titles I believe that each author indeed honored human experiences, but what was the author hoping we would ‘learn’ from reading the book?
All of the books dealt with the age old ‘Good vs. Evil’ theme.
In Lord of the Flies, Golding was asking the question: Is mankind basically good or basically evil? In To Kill a Mocking Bird, Lee was asking the question: Should Blacks and Whites have the same equal rights? In Bury My Heart in Wounded Knee, Brown was stating historical facts about the racism and treatment of Native Americans by White Americans. In Ender’s Game, Card set the story in the future, but was making a statement about how society uses boys to fight wars. All the Harry Potter books are a clear cut ‘Good vs. Evil’ with Harry Potter fighting against evil and winning. In The Hunger Games Trilogy, also set in the future, Collins is asking the question: How much should the government control?
Page 2 of 2 - I truly believe that the above authors wanted the readers to mold their future behavior based on the characters and conflicts depicted in each book. The reader’s reaction to how the characters worked through the experiences helps to mold the way the reader will react in a similar experience.
What will the authors want us to learn in the future?