Many people wonder why English is so important to study in school. In my high school years I heard complaint after complaint from friends. And of course, for those who don’t like reading, literature class is not exactly a treat.
However, I think there are valid reasons to study the written past. For one, to better understand our own language, the language we use around us in everyday life. The language I use as I type out to you, my readers. The language used on facebook and the news. The language we speak and write all the time. Language is what separates us from other animals and it is important, therefore, to devote some time to studying it.
Furthermore one might argue that literature teaches more about culture, history, philosophy, religion, psychology, and many other subjects alongside the area of linguistics. English is an all encompassing study in many ways.
However, I only recently discovered another use of reading the classics. It has come to my attention that a number of popular movies either reference or parody the books that high school English classes devote time to studying.
My friends are eager to get me to see a greater variety of movies and for that reason tonight I had my first experience with Easy A. I had to admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be seeing it, but figured it would be a good break from the day and agreed to watch. As the plot started out I was amused by some of the humor and reluctantly began to enjoy. And then came the part where I realized much of the movie is a reference to The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though the plot may involve many modern scenarios and the problems of teen judgment and prejudice, there are slightly deeper rooted ideas through the connection to this older novel.
I have discovered that this is not entirely unknown amongst popular romcoms and chick flicks. Though I am just getting started in entering this field I have been appreciating how She’s the Man is a modern version of Twelfth Night. Or as I was watching You’ve Got Mail (a bit of an older romcom, but amusing nonetheless) and realizing it was influenced by the Hungarian play Parfumerie.
To me this is a beautiful example of why literature is important to study. If books are being perpetuated in our popular culture there is clearly something that is still valuable about them. The messages are still relevant. The story ideas still have validity. Viewers can enjoy the humor of love and silly mix-ups in gender just as much in today’s time as in Shakespeare’s. And Hawthorne’s messages about judgment and condemnation also still have some relevance, especially to those living in the scary world of teenage cliques and rumors.
So why should we study the world of literature? Because it has something valuable to offer us, something we are still searching and seeking in other forms. And why not get a better understanding of how long these questions and problems have been perpetuating throughout our history. Perhaps Hawthorne’s visions of Puritan New England aren’t far off from the struggles faced by a girl in a modern high school.
Do you know of any more popular movies influenced by more “classical” sources? I would be curious to know! I am enjoying exploring this new finding of mine and hope I can continue to see literary influence in other films that I view in the future.