The State of Classical Literature

Dr. Peter Sinclair, Chair of the Department of Languages and Literature, said, “Literature’s ability to speak to every imaginable truth, conflict, joy and tragedy concerning what it means to be human has made its great texts essential to our experience from the moment we homo sapiens could string together the most basic narratives up until today.”

Literature refers to different types of text, including novels, non-fiction, poetry and plays. Classic literature consists of works that provide insight into a generation of societal standards and are considered as having high criteria for competence.

“Classic literature is known for its excellence because although some may be controversial, they still stay relevant in modern English debates,” said junior English major Dylan Chizmadia.

High school students are generally obliged to read classic works of literature such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Prof. Joseph Alicastro of the School of Communication, Media and the Arts said, “Reading the classics during my college years led me to continue on to 20th century writers. Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene are two writers that influenced me the most.”

The local Boards of Education oversee the selection of books that are added to the library, eliminating any that might not be suitable for the pupils and establishing the required reading list.

“It is an unfortunate truth that there is a lack of diversity in classic literature. It requires significant searching to find diversity in the classics and it shouldn’t,” said Alicastro.

The historical implications of the absence of human rights contribute to the lack of diversity in classic literature.

In 1832, Virginia and Alabama forbade white people from teaching Black people to read or write, and those who did so were subject to fines and floggings under Slave Codes. Slave Codes dealt with slavery and people held as slaves, particularly concerning the Atlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in the Americas.

“I do not feel personally represented in classic literature. Classic literature is solely based on the Western European white culture; I am African American, so it’s hard to relate,” said senior sociology major Tiyaira Gilchrist

According to Sinclair, “A great crisis of our time, I would argue, is the assault on diversity happening in public schooling in many areas of the country right now, and the very dangerous and hideous practice of book banning.”

Book banning is a form of censorship that unfolds once private citizens, public officials or organizations remove a book from a library, a school reading list or a retail shelf because they disagree with its topics, concepts or content.

According to PEN America, a foundation that advocates safeguarding free expression, approximately 300 books have undergone bans in 11 Missouri school districts since August.

“Education is the process of applying the past to inform the present. Understanding what prior generations accomplished gives people perspective on the action to take in the future to avoid the same mistakes in history,” said junior social work major Brenna MacDonald.

The Connecticut Library Association ensures that literature remains on shelves for citizens despite banned statutes because the Confidentiality Act preserves patron’s privacy and permits them to read freely without government involvement.

“Importantly for us at Sacred Heart, you might notice from the above that literature speaks deeply to our Catholic mission by compelling us to continually reengage the great questions we have been asking since the beginning of human history: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose? What does it mean to work for the common good?” said Sinclair.

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