“High Literature”? WHAT!?!?!


(This picture was taken off a google image search of the word “literature” – It ain’t mine people)

Hello again everyone!

I’d like to take this Tuesday to go on a mini rant, now don’t worry your pretty little head – I think it’s a legitimate rant.

So if you haven’t guessed already, I’m an English major – this basically means I read a shit ton of book sin a short period of time and get a degree for it with some occasional writing 14 page essays here and there (no biggie, right?). Well as an English major I’m required to take a certain number of classes that make us read pre 19th century literature, and I’m not complaining about this part, but rather most of these novels that we have to read are conveniently dubbed “high literature” let me put that in bold for you so you get my point “High Literature”. If you haven’t already guessed it – I have a problem with this label.

One problem with the “high literature” category is that it’s mostly filled with dead white man books, now dead white man books aren’t bad (I like some of them), the problem here is that we (at least in America) put these novels on this high pedestal that basically alienates the stories of many other cultures, women, and stories of different sexualities. Yes, I know I’m being very general here and the reason for that is because I have this great lack of knowledge of books that aren’t of the dead white man social group. I understand that there are books such as Jane Eyre, the works of the Bronte sisters and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, nonetheless compare that to the big honkin category that is “high literature” and you just have a bunch of dead white men controlling it. Now I’m not saying Kafka, Hemmingway, Dickens, Chekhov and many others aren’t incredible writers. I’m just wondering why is there a lack of diversity in what we teach in the classrooms. In my whole educational career I was never assigned a book written by a Black or Asian author until a couple of quarters ago, and an Arab author? Well forget about it. 

You can disagree with me if you like, maybe you’ve had a more diverse education than I’ve had but this categorization of “high literature” alienates many books that play with narrative structure, style, and language (all marks that make up the “high literature” category) and yet they don’t get recognized as such. Is there a time lapse before we’re allowed to call a story “high literature”? Is the “high literature” club the Hipsters of storytelling? And who has the power to say what is considered “high literature” or not?

You may call me nit-picky or too analytical but think of it this way: stories make up our life, history is just a composite of stories and although we think they’re told objectively, every history has pre-existing conditions that make the narrative of events subjective whether we’d like to admit it or not. Our lives, social interactions, every day, are based upon stories, what do you do when you talk to someone? You tell them a story! How do we learn to talk and how to think? We learn from the histories, and the fictions and non-fictions – we learn from the people who teach us, who in turn have been taught by histories, fictions, and non-fictions as well. If we are required year after year to keep recycling the same old material without incorporating more diverse literatures, then how are we going to grow up to think more openly, to view things from various perspectives, and to be more accepting and understanding of people and their situations. Not to get all philosophical or big-headed on you but stories invent us, your life is a living story that has yet to be finished why not spice it up a bit? Yes read the brilliant dead white guys of literature but also read novels from Shin Kyung-sook, Toni Morison, Sherman Alexie, Chang-rae Lee, George RR Martin, Le Thi Diem Thuy, Cormac McCarthy, Truman Capote, The Grimm Brothers, Cornelia Funke, Ursula Le Guin, Alison Bechdel, read poetry, read non fiction, read sci fi, plays, read graphic novels, read everything and anything you can even if you’re not particular to the genre.

What I’m trying to say is that I wish we could change the category of what is considered “high literature” – some books, yes, are more developed than others (example: Twilight vs The Great Gatsby) but every book has it’s purpose: they show you what you like, what you don’t like, how you want to speak, who you want to emulate, different ways of thinking, new cultures and customs that you were never familiar with, and in their simplest of forms – books can act as a great escape from the moment you’re in. It’s a tricky area that I’m not sure how to solve because even I fall victim to the hierarchical placing of books and their readers but where do you draw that line? When do you stop comparing and just enjoy the story? Should stories be informative or can they really just be for fun? Just some questions for your brain to chew on – if you have any thoughts on the subject feel free to write them in the comment section and I’ll defiantly converse with you about it. It’s a curious topic and I’m interested to know where you guys stand on the subject of it all.

Also, just before I sign off, I would like to say that I was born in the United States so my education experience strictly comes from and American perspective. I’m interested to know that if you’re a student in a different part of the world, if your literature/required reading curriculum is the same or different.

Ok that’s it! I’m done 🙂



– Miranda


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