Now that Barack Obama is president, novels that use “the N-word,” such as Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men should be dumped from high school reading lists, argues an English teacher in Washington state.
He’d encourage students to read these classics, but wouldn’t assign them, writes John Foley.
Those books are old, and we’re ready for new.
Huck Finn is too slow for modern readers and uses challenging Southern dialect, writes Foley. Mockingbird is “dated” because Atticus Finch, tells his daughter not to use the N-word because it’s “common.” Foley doesn’t mention the “N-word” in Of Mice and Men, but there is a black ranch hand so it’s probably in there. Foley thinks a book set in the Depression won’t resonate with today’s teens, though World War II is timely.
As replacements, he suggests David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars (prejudice against Japanese-Americans during World War II), Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (Vietnam War) and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
Like Huck, “Dove” involves an epic journey of discovery and loss and addresses an important social issue — the terrible treatment of women in the Old West. That issue does not rank as high as slavery on our national list of shame, but it definitely makes the list.
This seems awfully reductive to me: The three classics aren’t just social issue books. And I’d classify Snow Falling on Cedars as OK but not great. I haven’t read the other two: Frankly, Lonesome Dove was too long — and I’m a McMurtry fan.
Via The Daily Grind.
Update: “I don’t see kids reading,” says McMurtry, who owns a used and rare book store in his home town of Archer City, Texas.
John Foley responds to the criticism, adding that he’d also remove Gatsby from the reading list because the spoiled characters piss him off. I think they’re supposed to.