Classics Club June Question

Friday, June 20, 2014


Think of an example of a classic you’ve read that presents issues like racism/sexism as acceptable within society. Do you think the reception of this classic work would be the same if it were newly published today? What can we get out of this work despite its weaknesses? Or, why would you say this work is still remembered in 2014?

This fascinating question immediately made me think of Gone with the Wind. That book is often criticized for its portrayal of slaves in the south. It embraced certain stereotypes and was considered condescending in some ways. I think it’s crucial to think about the time period in which it was written and who the author was. Margaret Mitchell was raised in the South hearing about the glory days before the Civil War. That upbringing certainly affected the way she saw the past and how she wrote about it.

I think if the book was written now there would be a much larger scrutiny of those portrayals, but it’s a very different society now. I also think that if taken in the context of the work, the racial views don’t detract from the story. They are a picture of how many plantation owners viewed their lives. No one is claiming that the story is being told from the slaves’ point of view, which would be a vastly different novel.

There are times when sexism/racism truly ruins the reading experience for me (aka most of Hemingway’s novels). But I always try to think about the context of what was being written before I judge the work by my own standards. I don’t have to agree with what an author’s belief system is to enjoy other aspects of their work.

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Anonymous said...

It's so important to consider the cultural context of any writing. Mitchell was writing about a time when racism and slavery were the norm, and she was writing during a time when racism was still very much accepted. We can enjoy her sweeping saga without condoning racism.

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Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

abibliophilesstyle - I completely agree and thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting topic. Books are a product of their time period, and I try not to hold them to modern standards. However, when it comes to books intended for a young, impressionable audience, I'm more cautious about the racist/sexist themes (such as in the original version of Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo).

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

misfortuneofknowing - That's a great point. Maybe when introducing a younger audience to the book there needs to be some discussion about the context of the time period.