By Morghan Holt
by Morghan Holt
The Havre Daily News
Friday, May 7
Last week, I reviewed the outstanding, yet little-known work of author Kaye Gibbons. I asserted that her book could replace many of the books currently used in our high school curriculum, and could, perhaps, be used more effectively than those exchanged. I stated that Ellen Foster would likely never be considered for inclusion in a high school literature class, even an advanced one. I neglected, however, to explain why.
Like so much modern literature, Ellen Foster tackles themes that society is not prepared to face, and does so in a blunt, somewhat bawdy fashion. The language, at times, is obscene, and the word pictures the author paints are frequently unappealing. Kaye Gibbons, like most contemporary authors, wrote her book with one thing in mind: reality. She wrote in such a way that the events of Ellens distressing life could not be wrongly perceived or denied. She gathered up all the ugliness of humanity, divided it between Ellens father and grandmother, and shoved it in her readers faces. For this reason, the limitations put on high school literature courses would reject Kaye Gibbons work.
The limitations that would rule out such books as Ellen Foster are, surprisingly, not established by the course instructors. For the most part, the offense taken and the discomfort caused by the manner of modern literature belong to students. Recently, my Advanced Placement English class presented its major author projects. The assignment was for each student to select an author, read several of his/her works, write a report, and present information and an analysis to our class. On witnessing my classmates presentations, I noticed that a overwhelming number of them were offended by the language their author used. They understood and respected the writers message, but wished he could have presented it in a less aggressive manner. The fact is, some things cannot be presented inoffensively, because the act itself IS offensive. Without the vulgarity, the class presentation, the event becomes insignificant, meaningless, and is dismissed as simply another literary interlude. The indelicate display is necessary for effect.
Still, as a society, we reject ideas that force us to recognize the problems in our cheerful little world. Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger were both rejected in their time, considered crude, lewd, and socially unacceptable. We laugh, now, while reading Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye. It is inconceivable to us that anyone should find indecent foible in these mens books. Yet, today, we do the same. As a culture, we shun confrontation. We dont want to admit that there are problems with our world, much less take the time out of our busy lives to solve them. The manner in which todays authors present their material is offensive to us because it demands something from us. It makes us stop and think about the truly deplorable defects of humanity, which is something we are not yet prepared to face. Perhaps in thirty years, disconnected from our obloquy, students will be comfortable with the unrefined literary approach, but, by then, the compositions will have lost their meaning.