English Curriculum Review
BY OLIVIA HU '22
Four years of English have unearthed a slew of short stories, novels, and poems (unfortunately) for my reading pleasure. While the curriculum itself is under reform (why are these white, male, straight authors still out here gatekeeping?), there are a few reads worth noting. For my lovely freshmen, consider this a preview for the coming years; and seniors, join me on a stroll down memory lane as I present to you my unabashedly biased review of AB’s English curriculum books.
Books by William Shakespeare
First up is our resident girlboss/weird uncle, William Shakespeare. It’s really a vicious cycle with him, and this honeymoon phase ain’t gonna last. You see, Hamlet was a success. Willie covered themes of depression, regret, and supernaturality all with a dash of artistically unhinged chaos. Overlooking the ridiculous plot points, like when Hamlet is rescued by a pack of friendly pirates, it’s hard not to enjoy the jaw-dropping, book-throwing, chandelier-swinging (in the 1996 film adaptation only) blowout of a finale.
My issue with Willie is that he never treats his female characters right: is he critiquing gender norms or plainly abusing these fictional women? (Spoilers ahead!) You see, Hamlet’s Ophelia, an innocent young lady, gets thoroughly gaslit, loses her entire immediate family, goes insane, and dies. Very sad. Post-mortem, however, her legacy is commemorated in poems, paintings, and music worldwide. Comparatively, in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth starts off a full woman, using her husband to gain political power. But she unfortunately goes crazy, haunted by guilt and regret, and also dies. And in Romeo and Juliet, well, we all know how that one ends. See the trend here? Willie walks a fine line with these women, and I struggle to take his side.
1984 - George Orwell & A Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
I pair these two ironic reads, not because their authors are both British and have notably large foreheads, but because both narratives double as social commentary. Set in dystopian worlds ruled by somewhat totalitarian governments, the two books examine relevant topics such as consumerism, propaganda, manipulation, and emotional repression. Without giving too much away (because the plot twists are UNREAL), the books feature generally relatable characters (though either lovable or hateable) who struggle to navigate their humanity. Their actions prompt us to reflect on our current society: are the exaggerated plot details—think phobia torture rooms, mass producing babies, hypnotic sleep-teaching, and being forced to wear the same outfit every day—really that bizarre and inapplicable to our daily lives? That wasn’t a rhetorical question; both novels left me questioning our societal norms and the flawed systems we perpetuate.
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Unpopular opinion: this book is not as dry as a saltine cracker! Haters, try reading between the lines next time. This masterpiece is narrated by protagonist Stevens, a twentieth century butler at Darlington Hall. Ishiguro threads the narrative with undisguised commentary on the World Wars, generational divides, and English aristocracy. Yet, amidst the social criticism, the book is filled with allegories and subtle plotlines: it’s a convoluted stream of consciousness or a delicate love story; it’s the diary of a crusty walnut of a man, or an exploration of dignity, regret, and finding joy beyond the glamours of youth. Essentially, it’s art, if you give Stevens a moment to speak his mind. Closing the back cover prompted a wave of nostalgia, melancholy, and an unexpected desire to improve my British accent. After all, instead of melting my brain surfing the Google, I might as well utilize the time that remains in my day.
Since I’m not able to flesh out my thoughts on the plenty of other books I’ve come across, here’s the SparkNotes version (which you and I are both unfamiliar with, I’m sure):
That’s all I have for you, my lovelies. Thanks for your time! And if you ever want to gossip about Willie’s latest drop or your favorite English read, you know who to call :)