Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Pet Peeve I Refuse to Pet

There are a few things that annoy me to no end. Now, I’m normally a disgustingly happy, perky person, except in the morning before my first two coffee, or when my grown children ask for money, and especially when the dog pees on my floor right after coming in from outside. But I digress…needless to say I’m not easily annoyed.

OK, people who know me; I see the smirk.

My number one pet peeve is the endless analysis of classical literature. All through my school years of the late sixties and early seventies (and yes, I’m aware I just dated myself), our English Lit teachers insisted on tearing apart wonderful literature by authors who truly knew how to write, trying to find hidden meanings and allegories behind the words, or even to psychologically analyze the authors.

Take one of my favorite authors, Samuel Clements, better known as Mark Twain. A humourist by inclination but writer and journalist by profession, he was a truly great storyteller. A frequent fantasy of mine is to be at one of his parlour gatherings, dressed in a charming gown, drinking wine and giggling while he extorts on some political or human societal subject of irony, He couldn’t resist telling stories at the least provocation just as a singer couldn’t help impulsively breaking out in song when they heard the first few bars of a favorite song. I know; I have that same weakness that I suspect most writers have.

Now to the point of this rant; my English Lit teacher in high school insisted that we write an essay about what or who Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer represented; his fear of homelessness, his anxiety about poverty and failure, or perhaps a childhood experience of abandonment?


I’m sure many of you will excuse my ignorance when, as a teenager, as I sat and looked about me in a daze at my classmates. I noticed many were looking thoughtful or already picking up their pens and eagerly scribbling their profound thoughts.

Heck, I thought this book was about two boys with overactive imaginations and far too much time on their hands for their own good. Now, at the time I first read this book, I thought it was rather overdone, and that no two boys could possibly get into that much trouble. Recently, I re-read the book after having three grown boys of my own, and from personal experience I’ve changed my mind on that issue. I gave birth to my own neighbourhood terrorists, and I can testify they were perfectly capable of getting into the same trouble that Huck and Tom got into. In fact, I will venture to say that compared to my boys, Huck and Finn were bordering on angels who made minor miscalculations.

And so I wrote my essay, as required, but took the position that Twain was a storyteller, and he told the story of two boys, that they were perhaps modeled after boys he knew in his youth or even after himself as a boy. It was a story; a very enjoyable story, and the boys, the raft, Jim, all of it was nothing more than main subjects or props to the story. There were no hidden meanings, no allegories, nothing but a story that a writer wanted to write to entertain his readers. Nothing more.

Needless to say I flunked. I got a “D” with a notation on the sideline that I lacked imagination and foresight, and that the teacher recommends to my mother that I read more. It didn’t matter that my mother was already worried about my voracious reading habits, sometimes forgoing social dates with my friends to bury my head in a book instead. I was heartened to find my mother agreed with me. The problem was, the mark stayed on my school records, but I stubbornly refused to re-write the essay despite the promise of an improved mark if I only stuck with the program and tore apart this wonderful piece of literature.

I shudder to think that, if I’m ever successful enough to have my books read in a hundred years or more, they will be analyzed to the point that some arrogant English professor will conclude that I suffered from schizophrenic depression complicated by a fear of dust bunnies and was a secret ecstasy pill user that saw her dog as her God. Worse yet, the spongy minds of the young students will actually swallow that garbage.

Perhaps there are some writers who deliberately write allegories, and perhaps some writers have hidden meanings in their prose; however, for the most part, I’m sure I can be forgiven if I simply read a well written piece of literature and take it on face value; a damn good story to be enjoyed and discussed. I also hope others read my novels and see them as they were intended; ideas that haunted me to the point that I simply had to write them down and share with others who love to hear a good story.


Carley Bauer said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this blog. Exceptionally well written. It could be that sharing your birth year, it took me back to English Lit classes.
Isn't it ironic that teachers misread students? You have a much more active imagination than I do. Yet, I enjoyed tearing these books apart. This was not so much about imagination as the desire to analyze. A trait which can actually hinder writing (in my humble opinion.)Trust me, if there is one thing you do not lack, it's imagination!

Nancy MacMillan said...

S.L. - I'm with you on this one. I loved Mark Twain, his imagination and his tales of adventure. I was a voracious reader as well, but I was also a tomboy and thrilled with each new caper, maybe wishing he was a friend of mine.

thank you for stopping by my blog. I left you a message there. LOL
Nancy @

Sue Ann Bowling said...

I've nominated you for a Versatile Blogger award. For details see my post Thursday, which will be up Thursday. Right now it's scheduled for 8 am ADT, but I may set it for midnight, so it's up when people of this side of the Atlantic wake up.

Catherine Lanser said...

Great post! As a former English Lit major I spent four years writing papers about what my professor wanted the book to be about. I have to admit I still fall back into that mode when I go to book club sometimes!

Liz said...

I love this! One of the reasons I still cringe when someone mentions Dickens is the first 100 page of heavy foreshadowing that my English teacher beat us over the head with as "great writing." Gads. Get to the story already.