Classic literature is an elite group of books that are reflections of culture throughout different eras of history. These books not only reflect the society during the time which they were written, but reflect modern society as well. The themes and conflicts found in these works could easily be applied to modern day issues. In an age of rapid-fire digital information, the printed word has become archaic and most classics are now considered “boring” and “stuffy” compared to the popular literature of today. The focus has been pulled away from reflecting society, producing books that will fade with time. Classics should continue to be read, not only as a reflection of society, but as a preservation of human culture.
My favorite classic novel is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The story is often summarized as a doomed romance between a landowner’s daughter and the gypsy boy brought up as her playmate. However, the prevailing themes of the work can be found in today’s society as well as in the era in which the book was written. Conflicts of unhealthy relationships, class inequality, racial prejudices, and disorders such as depression are found in the modern world just as much as they are found on the English moors of Brontë’s novel.
I have always loved to read, so it’s no surprise that Wuthering Heights gained my attention from the pages of another book. The characters in the story were discussing a school project on Wuthering Heights and briefly talked about the story. Interested in the thought of a doomed Gothic romance set on the moors of England, I found a copy of the book at my local library. The first time I read the novel I almost didn’t finish it. The pace was slower than I was accustomed to and the language was very different from anything I had ever read. I had to purchase an annotated edition just to understand some of the dialect in the story. However, despite these hurdles, I was completely enthralled by the story. The desperate need to know the ending drove me on to finish the book. The ending came as a shock to me. In an age of Disney and happy endings, the unhappy conclusion of lovers kept apart in life but united in death rattled my perspective on romance novels. Although the book was a difficult read the first time through, the story and its unique plot kept me engaged and became my favorite novel.
Classics are books that have stood the test of time. They are books in which we find ourselves reflected in the characters and the problems they face. The values and issues represented in these works are still as relevant today as they were the day the books were written. Classics are stories that can be read by young or old, student or scholar, and each person will take away a different lesson from the work.
Classics novels contain elements of everything from religious tolerance to what exactly it means to fall in love. Though the stories are centuries old, the issues described in the works can easily be applied to modern life. With religious tensions running high around the world, perhaps we should look to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to teach us how to live in a society where clashing religions coexist. In a time where gender identity and sexual orientation are objects of controversy, Twelfth Night remains a didactic tale. War and terrorism prove the modern ideal that a country cannot be built without bloodshed, a problem Utopia sought to remedy. Throughout every classic work, reflections of modern society can be found.
We read classics to know that we are not alone. Whatever problems we face in our day to day lives, there is a story in which that very same problem has been conquered. We look to the heroes of these stories, from the chivalrous Sir Gawain to the devious Fantomina, to show us that it is alright to have weaknesses and imperfections. Classics are written to preserve the past, foresee the future, and teach us what it means to be human.