I have long maintained an affinity for words, a love of reading and language itself. To a large degree, my passion has been sponsored by my education in the arts of literature and composition, a trend has persisted even to this, my sophomore year of high school.
Since last September, my classmates and I have chronicled English literature as it has developed throughout the ages. From a linguistic standpoint, it has been extremely interesting to see the advances of our language in vocabulary and syntax, yet even more so the changes in storytelling and style have enthralled me.
As the year began, we delved into the ever-classic Beowulf. Though not as ancient as The Odyssey or tales of other archaic civilizations, the epic emanates a similar air of inhumanly heroics, which, although often unacceptable to modern audiences for its lack of realism, is enjoyable for its archetypal characteristics. As with many if not all of the works I will discuss, Beowulf is a true portal to another time, imparting on the reader the same awe which the people of old felt in experiencing the tale of this epic hero.
Moving from the Danish isles to those of England, we next read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Marking the beginning of the presence of knighthood, the tale is one of many surrounding King Arthur and his Round Table. Exemplary in its symmetrical structure and symbolic usages, Sir Gawain most notably gives insight into the values and beliefs of the time. Yet these are perhaps the most outstanding qualities of the work; in reading Sir Gawain, one comes to understand the values of chivalric times, if not the plot, story, and other thematic elements.
From here we read a few books and the prologue of Chaucer’s immortal Canterbury Tales. As opposed to the anonymous composers of the retrospectively conservative aforementioned tales, Chaucer is revolutionary, a critic of the age’s corrupt church. This quality of subtle rebellion has resounded throughout history in various arts. Furthermore, in addition to providing an accurate representation of the social structure of England at the time, Chaucer’s writings, the Miller’s fabliau, the Pardoner’s allegory, are truly entertaining.
Shakespeare furthers the role and characteristics displayed by Chaucer in his tragedy, Othello: Moor of Venice. Novel in its portrayal of an African as its protagonist, the work explores racial and gender themes, and is notable for these characteristics. Yet most riveting is the tragedy’s antagonist, Iago, a deceitful and charismatic villain who, despite leaving his motives unstated, acts solely to rue Othello with such spite and yet such cunning that the audience is singularly and wholly captivated.
Our penultimate novel then was Jane Eyre. Moving to the near-modern age, Ms. Brontë’s novel is romantic, a true pleasure in which to delve, except for its lengthiness. This faux-autobiography is unique in the lot of works that have been discussed for its first person perspective, which provides a unique look into character not seen previously. In many ways an aspersion of Victorian beliefs and customs, Jane Eyre resembles Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a tale of true romance, and though occasionally melodramatic, is enjoyable for this purpose.
As we now look to end our year with Darles Chicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, I believe I have come to truly appreciate English literature as a whole. The diversity of the genre’s development has been incredibly interesting to observe, yet textual analyses aside, I have become engaged in the stories and have transported myself to other times. Yes, the texts have been dense and at times dull, but overall this escapade has been well worthwhile.
-Sebastian R., 10th grade