Unpopular Literary Opinions

  • 41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_A lot of contemporary interpretations of Romeo and Juliet misunderstand the play completely.
    • If they don’t believe in love at first sight, they dismiss they entire play. OK, Macbeth opens with witches. Hamlet meets a ghost. Do you say “witches/ghosts don’t exist, so clearly this play offers nothing of value”?Β  Why should love, at first sight, be any different?
    • They say Romeo is fickle because he thought he was in love with another girl prior to meeting Juliet. But if you look at the poetry, Romeo’s language, once he meets Juliet, becomes more sophisticated. This indicates that it’s the real thing. So why include that other girl at all? Well, it’s Shakespeare telling us that this isn’t a childish infatuation because Romeo’s had that and it looked different.
    • They claim that Romeo and Juliet were two immature teens who didn’t really understand love or life. IRL, of course, a couple in their early teens wouldn’t understand true love. But for the sake of the play, we need to accept that this is a “perfect” love. It’s meant to be. Then we see the tragedy of what happens to a perfect love in a world filled with hate.
  • 511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_In Little Women Jo made the right romantic choices. She and Laurie would have been a disaster as a couple. They’re way too similar in terms of personality and they’d have clashed all the time. Jo also had a deep love for her family and defined herself in terms of her sisters. Laurie also loved her family, and saw Jo as sort of the “Lead March Sister.” In other words, the way he saw her was exactly the way she saw herself. He didn’t challenge her perceptions at all. Bhaer knew and cared for Jo independent of her family.
  • 51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_Wuthering Heights is not a romance. A love story, perhaps, but not a romance. And really it’s just as much a “hate story” as it is a “love story.” Even with the two characters who get a happy romantic ending, we’re ultimately left wondering if it was worth it. Lowood observes Cathy and Hareton together and grumbles “‘They are afraid of nothing…Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.'” Then he walks back and in the churchyard sees “the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.” The implication is that the price of Cathy and Hareton’s happiness is those three graves.
  • I think of John Green as a YA version of Nicholas Sparks. Which is fine if you like that, but I don’t really. I like his vlogs and persona but I feel like as a writer he doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
  • 51xipv5h1l-_ac_us218_I actually think that Go Set A Watchman enriched To Kill A Mockingbird and the characters. I much prefer to see Atticus Finch as a flawed human being rather than a perfect white savior. It makes sense that as a child, Scout perceives her father as a hero. And it makes sense that as an adult she’s able to see him as he is: a person with strengths and weaknesses and prejudices. It also makes sense for Atticus’ racism to come out in the way that it does. When an innocent man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, Atticus defends him, because a) it’s his job and b) people shouldn’t be held responsible for things that they didn’t do. But twenty years later, when civil rights are becoming a major issue, it seems believable that Atticus, who grew up in a segregated world where the power was squarely in the laps of white males, might begin to feel threatened. He fears to lose the privilege that’s been his all his life.
  • I like the Ron/Hermione pairing in Harry Potter. They’ve got the whole opposites attract thing going for them. They balance each other out. But I always felt like the Ginny/Harry pairing was just so that Harry wasn’t left romantically alone at the end of the series.51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_
  • 41rrzplmctl-_ac_us218_Rupi Kaur has yet to really impress me as a poet. I know a lot of people find her really relatable and I don’t want to diminish that. I think it’s wonderful when people have that response to something, even if I don’t share it. Especially since I can see why they relate to it. A lot of the themes that Kaur addresses in her work are universal. But I feel that, with a few exceptions, she doesn’t address them in an innovative or artful, or skillful way. My problem was that there is enough potential in the work for me to wish it was better.
  • I don’t particularly care for Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. I know that a literary detective in a futuristic world who goes inside books sounds like it should be right up my alley. I tried the first three books in the series but they just left me cold.
  • Stephen King is underrated from a literary point of view. He’s seen as a purely commercial writer. Yes, he’s written his share of trash, but when he gets it right, he really touches on our societies secrets, fears, and shame.

24 thoughts on “Unpopular Literary Opinions

  1. I’m with you on Ginny/Harry. She could have done so much better than Harry, and I think it would have made the books that much better if he had ended up with someone else (or no one).

    Nice point on Romeo & Juliet, too. I hadn’t seen the complaints about it, but I agree with your rebuttals.

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  2. I agree with a lot of this! It’s easy to dismiss Romeo and Juliet, but more is going on in the text. However, in the U.S., this play is often taught in high schools because teachers think students will relate to the teen characters. But the language is some of Shakespeare’s most sophisticated and so I’m not convinced this is a great way to introduce students to Shakespeare. They do tend to latch onto the plot and struggle with the language.

    And, yes, Laurie and Jo don’t make sense. They fight a lot, but don’t challenge each other. Bhaer challenges Jo and she listens. He inspires her to be better. When Laurie and Jo fight, they tend to patch it up and move on like it didn’t happen–they don’t always really “talk it out” or cause each other to change.

    And Ginny and Harry? I never understood it. Rowling said in an interview or something that it makes sense because both were possessed by Voldemort and could understand each other. Maybe that’s true, but I never saw that in the actual text.

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    • I think one of the reasons that Romeo and Juliet is so often taught in high school is that its “relatable” as you say, but I think the question of language is interesting. It IS more complex than the standard high school curriculum can do justice to, but it’s also chosen because of the way that iambic pentameter is used. The thinking is that students who are exposed to the relative iambic consistency of Romeo and Juliet will be more ready to read other plays in their later academic studies. I don’t know if I agree with that. I think the play CAN be taught very effectively in high school, but I think that teachers frequently emphasize the linguistic technicalities over content and significance. For example, almost every class can scan the lines of the prologue, but can they explain the significance of the fact that Romeo and Juliet’s dialogue with one another takes place in sonnet form? That’s significant because the Elizabethan sonnet was considered a poetic expression of love. If a student can’t see and explain that, or understand the changes in the sophistication of Romeo’s language as he becomes involved with Juliet, then ultimately the meaning of the play is lost.

      I agree 100% about Laurie and Jo. If they had married they would have been miserable. They were better off as friends (and ultimately in-laws, I suppose) who could enjoy one another’s presence but not have their lives and interests tied together.

      I’m not anti Harry and Ginny. It just felt like Rowling was pairing off all the characters and sending them off to their futures and she sort of said “well, Ginny had a crush on Harry six books ago. Let’s just have them end up together for old times sake!” Which is fine, it doesn’t bother me that much. But I’m surprised that she’s said that she regrets the Ron/Hermione pairing and not the Harry/Ginny one.

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      • U.S. high schools used to teach Julius Caesar before moving to Romeo and Juliet (some still do) so I’m not sure the choice is about iambic pentameter or they could choose a number of Shakespeare plays. (My school notably did not bother with scansion or anything like that. My teacher focused on comprehension and told us to use outside resources that translate Shakespeare into contemporary language. It was about summarizing the plot, not appreciating the poetry.) I’ve always understood schools to be teaching Shakespeare because he’s part of the Western cultural legacy and thought they moved to R&J as a part of an appeal to youth/youth culture.

        R&J is considered by scholars to be some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful language (and I agree), but I am not sure I would choose this one as an introduction for high school students. I think Henry V, for instance, is generally more accessible, along with Much Ado or some of the tragedies. My personal favorites are the romances, but Shakespeare actually moves away from the more rigid adherence to iambic pentameter at that stage of his career, so perhaps some high schools wouldn’t want to teach those! XD

        As for Rowling–I always thought she missed the one real pairing that made sense to me. Luna and Neville! I’m glad the movies hinted at the possibility.

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      • In my high school Romeo and Juliet was taught Freshman year and Julius Caesar was read Sophomore year. I think that a good approach to Shakespeare (regardless of which play they go with) is to understand how the language serves the plot.

        As for what’s most accessible to teens, I think that depends on the teens. For some Henry V might be far more accessible than R&J and for others, R&J might be more relevant. The teacher is probably the person who knows his/her class best and might be able to choose the best play for his/her particular students. But often these decisions aren’t made by the teacher. They come from higher up, and the teacher has to make the best of whatever they’re told to do.

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      • But if she never challenges him we just get the teacher-disciple relation which isn’t a great marriage dynamic either. Considering Jo’s intelligence it doesn’t sound like a stable dynamic either. That’s why I’m trying to remember if they are learning from each other and complementing each other or if it is mainly one-sided.

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      • I think that it challenges both of them. I’ll have to reread it at some time, but if I recall he initially takes a teaching position in the west, so that he can make some money (he’d had trouble since he arrived in America due to his German accent. In Germany he had been a respected professor but in America he was relegated to teaching German) and he goes away for a year. Jo’s inheritance of Plumfield means that he is able to return and they can marry and start the school . In that sense, yes she facilitates it. But if I recall he’d had some insecurities regarding taking on a leadership position as or “foreigner” and that he and Jo share the position of headmaster.

        But Jo also challenges him to be more bold in general. He’s initially reluctant to express his romantic feelings for Jo because he’s shy. So his proposal can be see as a challenge too.

        I think that because we experience most of this primarily from Jo’s perspective, it can seem like he’s more of a teacher. She’s more aware of the ways he challenges her than the ways that she challenges him. But if it were from his perspective I think we’d have a stronger sense of his insecurities and the fact that Jo pushes him to put himself out there more. Does that make sense?

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      • It makes a lot of sense, thanks for taking the time of writing all this!

        I agree, that really sounds like they are challenging each other. I agreed that Jo+Laurie wasn’t great but I wasn’t convinced that Jo+Bhaer was any better. I remembered it much too close to the teacher/student trope which I don’t care for but this sounds much more promising.

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      • You’re welcome. I’m always happy to discuss books! πŸ™‚
        As I said, my memory isn’t the best either so I’ll have to do a reread at some point, but yeah. He’s definitely very shy and Jo emboldens him a bit.

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      • I think that Bhaer primarily challenges Jo in Little Women. However, in the sequels, the two are shown as having equal division of labor in the school. Bhaer appears to be in charge of the curriculum and Jo in charge of discipline. Most notably, Bhaer doesn’t want to take a chance on a boy and he doesn’t like giving that boy numerous second chances to do better and integrate into school life. But Jo challenges him repeatedly to see the best in all the boys and to try to help them, even when doing so disrupts their lives to an annoying extent. So I think the sequels do more work to interrupt the teacher/student dynamic that I can certainly see in Little Women. (He takes her to lectures, he teaches her German, he chastises her about her writing, etc. While she seems mainly to boost his confidence by loving an older, poor gentleman.)

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      • I’m gonna be real, though. Amy and Laurie still don’t make sense to me in the sequels! I always felt like he just latched onto her because he’d take any March sister, apparently! And it works out for her because she gets to be rich and refined like she always wanted? I’m just not sure what Alcott was thinking there.

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      • I agree they don’t make sense, but I figured it works because they both get what they wanted. He gets to be part of the March family and she gets a rich husband.

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  3. “I think of John Greene as the YA version of Nicholas Sparks” – oh my gosh, yes! I couldn’t agree more and how have I never heard this/thought of this before. That is dead on, in so many ways. Wow. As to the Ginny/Harry thing…this has always been a sort of secret feeling of mine about the books. It felt like – all of a sudden – he was into his best friend’s sister and she was all into him. I liked them in the book, because I wanted to like them, but the pairing always felt a little jarring. Like you said, it felt more like Harry wouldn’t be alone at the end as opposed to a legitimate match. Personally, I was always hoping for Harry and Luna – the outsider/outcast thing would have been a bond and I just always loved her character :).

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  4. Wow! This post has so much in it, Fran! Well done. It makes me want to vent about my unpopular opinions. XD I completely agree with you when it comes to Romeo and Juliet — I think people who dismiss this play just don’t want to put the time and effort into understanding it.

    Ron and Hermione make total sense to me, too. And, honestly, Harry doesn’t make sense to me with much of anyone. I understand his relationship with Ginny as one similar to Katniss and Peeta; their emotional trauma is what brings them together.

    Great post! I found this through the Sunday Exchange on Pages Unbound. πŸ™‚

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