Formal Literary Canon

Blaire Lewis

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Written as an epistolary novel, Frankenstein is told in multiple point of views, switching from Dr. Frankenstein's to the monster's. The main character, Doctor Victor Frankenstein, taints with nature and spends months trying to form a creation out of old body parts. With secrecy, he is able to bring his creation to life and is horrified by its appearance. The monster leads Victor into remorse and isolation, as he realizes what he did is wrong, for the monster "ought to be thy Adam, but [is] rather the fallen angel." Victor later abandons the monster when the monster decides to kill Victor's family since Victor never created him a wife. The ongoing conflict of man vs. nature is important to learn from this novel, for there are always consequences when you do something you know is wrong.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath not only serves as a novel, but also teaches us about a significant event in history, as well as life lessons. Taking place during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, Steinbeck reflects on how Americans were impacted during this harsh, brutal time period. Many families, including Tom Joad's family were forced to migrate to California due to the lack of jobs and barren land in Oklahoma. Along the long, arduous journey, the Joad family encounters multiple hardships, such as family deaths, overcrowded camps and a starving man. Rose of Sharon breastfeeding the dying man towards the end illustrates the moral lesson to give even when you have nothing, which is why this novel is such an important read.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Written in the 1920's, The Great Gatsby reflects on the culture and diversity of the society, as well as the life of the people during this time period. Representing what is supposed to be "the American Dream," the use of symbolism captures the society as materialistic and self-absorbed. The main character, Jay Gatsby, represents the stereotypical man in the 20's who uses materials to win over love, whereas Nick represents the one who does not use money, or possessions to do so. Jay Gatsby strives to be more like Nick and as he realizes that his love, Daisy, does not care about the materials, his perspective changes and he becomes aware of the important things in life, which is a lesson that everyone should take from this novel.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Hamlet is a tragic play that focuses on Hamlet's inability to take vengeance against King Claudius. The ghost of Hamlet's father appears, explaining to Hamlet how King Claudius poisoned him, which motivates Hamlet to take action and do something about this tragedy. Hamlet goes back and forth multiple times, debating on whether or not he should kill Claudius, even though he knows it is what he needs to do. Contemplating suicide in the soliloquy, "to be or not to be," Hamlet's bloody thoughts on the meaning of life become apparent, reflecting on his madness and doubt. The idea of existentialism can be taught through Hamlet's actions and thoughts, teaching everyone how you will suffer no matter what choices you make in life, for life and death are both much larger than ourselves.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison introduces the main character from the start as an invisible man and nothing else. Having no name, or identity, the invisible man struggles to recognize his invisibility, and discover his true self. Along the journey, he realizes that he can have multipe identities since he is invisible and gets involved in "the Brotherhood," which is a lot like the Soviet Union. No person in the Brotherhood is treated as an individual, and is sacrificed by the organization. The invisible man realizes the deceitful plan and ignores his grandfather's advice to "overcome 'em with yeses...let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open" and gets himself out before it is too late. The notion of identity and self-duality is a lesson that everyone can take from this novel, for it takes many obstacles in life for a person to become aware of who they really are.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragic play written by William Shakespeare that focuses on the physical, mental and emotional effects of ambition and the damages one may face trying to seek too much power. Three witches open up the play telling Banquo and Macbeth of their future and how Macbeth will one day be the thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland. Curious by what the witches have to say, Banquo asks about his future and is told he will beget a line of Kings, but will never be king himself. As the witches vanish, the two men focus on the prophecies and are shocked to hear that Macbeth is the new thane of Cawdor. Intrigued by this, he wonders if the rest of the witches' prophecies will come true and if he really will be king one day. Macbeth writes to Lady Macbeth, his wife, and tells her everything that has happened so far and she insists that he kills King Duncan to gain his title as king. The two are so thirsty for power and fame that they end up killing everyone in order to obtain the throne. They let their ambition get the best of them, which eventually leads to Macbeth getting beheaded by Macduff, leaving Duncan's son, Malcolm as king. What can be learned from this play is to not let your ambition take over, for it can either make you or break you in the future.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Night is an important novel to read due to the historical aspects of it. Taking place during the Holocaust, the main character, Eliezer and his family fails to flee the country despite the warnings of the German's intentions towards the Jewish population. Eliezer's family doesn't leave when they have the chance and are placed in concentration camps, where the men and women of the family are separated. As Eliezer struggles to survive, he questions his faith in God and begins to only care about himself and his survival, despite the fact that his father is close to death. Eliezer and his father are later sent to another camp, called Bruna, where Eliezer's father passes away. The Allied forces liberate the concentration camps and although Eliezer makes it out alive, he still has to deal with the images of death and violence he has witnessed throughout. This novel informs us about the brutality of the Holocaust and how it can change a person's perspective in order to survive.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is a novel that displays and mocks the society in England during the early 1900's. The satire in this novel is used to attack the characters and bring a change about them. The women and men in England think highly of their reputation and social class, leading them to believe they are better than everyone else. The main character, Elizabeth struggles with whether she wants to make herself happy or her mom happy and just marry for her sake. She decides to follow her heart and marry the man she approves of to make herself happy, which is a lesson everyone should take from this novel. A person should never let others impact their happiness and should focus on other aspects of life, rather than reputation and social class.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter is important to read due to the feminism portrayed throughout the novel. Hester Prynee is humiliated in front of everyone and is forced to wear an "A" due to her past mistake of committing adultery. This reflects on how the woman were treated in the 17th century and how men would not be treated this way if they committed the same crime. This novel teaches us about the hypocrisy and unfair treatment of women and how people focused more on reputation during this time period.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is something everyone should read due to the moral lessons depicted throughout the novel. The main character, Scout Finch and her brother Jem, live in Maycomb during the time of the Great Depression, but are still well-off due to their father, Atticus, being a lawyer. During the summer, Jem and Scout encounter a boy named Dill who is enamored by the spooky house Arthur (Boo) Radley lives in. Boo never comes outside, but when he does, he leaves objects for Jem and Scout inside the knothole of a tree. After a while, Atticus tells them to stop going on Boo's property and Boo's brother, Nathan Radley eventually cements the knothole.
While the children were busy at the Radley place, Atticus encountered a colored man, named Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a white woman. Atticus agreed to defend Tom, which causes everyone in the neighborhood to look down on the Finch family. As the trial nears, Tom Robinson faces Mayella Ewell (girl he "raped") and her father, Bob, who accused Tom in the first place. The evidence clearly states that Tom is innocent, but the verdict states otherwise and he is sent to jail, where he is eventually shot to death while trying to escape. Although Bob Ewell got what he wanted out of the trial, he still feels like Atticus embarrassed him in front of everyone, so he decides to get revenge and attack Atticus' children, but Boo intervenes and saves them, stabbing Ewell instead. The lessons learned from this novel make it an important read, for it teaches everyone to to not judge a book by its cover and to always do the right thing, no matter the outcome.

1984 by George Orwell

1984 is important for students to read due to the multiple themes portrayed throughout the novel. The main character, Winston, is in a lower party and becomes frustrated with the controlling "Inner Party" that prohibits free thoughts, sex and any form of individuality. Winston hates the party and decides to go against them to write in a diary to express his thoughts, knowing he would get in trouble if caught. This novel explains how the government can control and take away a person's citizenship through the use of "Big Brother." Orwell's use of psychology teaches us about human nature and how you should not always believe what you hear, for "2+2 does not equal 5," no matter what the party tries to convince you. This novel serves as a warning of how the government runs today, for it still uses similar, less extreme methods to impact the way we think of the government and its policies.