About.com Classic Lit Essays

This is a series of essays I wrote during the winter of 2006-2007 on the topic of classic literature. The approach I took with this project was to personalize the experience of “the classics”. I drew from memories of my time in school as a student as well as my time in the classroom as a teacher.

The Burden of Proof: All the Kings Men

“At a time in my life, when the first serious notions of individuality and uniqueness were beginning to bounce around in my head, All the King’s Men helped me to understand how to start seriously thinking about who I was.” Read the rest of the essay here.

Beowulf vs. Grendel

“Read together, Beowulf and Grendel map out the wonderful dichotomy of opposing perspectives.Beowulf–with its bravado and heroic deeds–revels in bloodshed and conquest, yet depicts Grendel as a remorseless monster, intent only on killing men. The message is that when men kill men, they are heroes; when Grendel kills men, he is a monster. Grendel takes on this double standard. While not asking for our sympathy, the book asks for our understanding.” Read the rest of the essay here.

Deciphering Chaucer

I consider language to be malleable. Reading Chaucer brought that point home. When we started reading The Canterbury Tales, I labored through the tales. As I started to get the hang of Middle English, I began to see the connections between the language of 14th-century England and our modern usage. Much like the thrill of reading a foreign language, cracking Middle English became an exercise in mental multi-tasking.” Read the rest of the essay here.

Ms. Woodbury: How I met Favorite Teacher (and what she taught me)

“I’d signed up to go to W.G. Enloe High School for their art program. I was a photographer, sculpture, painter and pencil/ink sketcher with some degree of talent…The gateway to all of the art classes at Enloe is a course called ‘Basic Two-Dimensional Design.’ Since I was going to Enloe for art, I didn’t really have a choice for my one electives but I browsed the other electives anyway to see what there was for me to take later. That’s when one of those life changing moments happened for me: I saw on the English department list ‘Science Fiction and Fantasy I.’ For an eighth grader with more comics and role-playing games than friends, the choice between “Basic Two-Dimensional Design” and “Science Fiction and Fantasy I” was not really a choice at all. I signed up for the sci-fi course. The course’s teacher was Diane Woodbury and she quickly became my hero and mentor. It was this course, and the teacher, that changed my life.” Read the rest of the essay here.

Learning to Love Nathaniel Hawthorne

Speaking in absolutes is never a safe habit but it is especially unsafe when you are a teenager. In high school, I broke rank with my favorite teacher, Diane Woodbury, and decided that I hated Nathaniel Hawthorne. Absolutely hated the guy. I figured that if The Scarlet Letter was supposed to be his masterpiece then there must not be any redeeming value to the rest of his contribution to literature…

I didn’t pick up another Hawthorne story until my Junior year of college. In an American Lit. course, we read ‘The Birth-mark’ and ‘Rappaccini’s Daughter.’ I was faced with an unsettling truth: both stories were really good… Naturally, I had to call Ms. Woodbury and concede defeat. I told her how much I liked ‘Rappaccini’s Daughter’ and ‘The Birth-mark’ and, therefore, had to retract my ‘I hate Hawthorne’ statements. She had a good laugh and said that she always knew I’d come around. Pride and good taste, however, have not changed my opinion of The Scarlet Letter.” Read the rest of the essay here.

Ride, Boldly Ride… if You Seek for El Dorado

If all the world is indeed a stage and all the men and women merely players, then I’m a techie. You know those dark-clad people who briefly peek around the curtain’s edge after the ovations die down for the actors on stage? The ones that the actors always turn to applaud while the audience is standing up and collecting their belongings? That’s me.” Read the rest of the essay here.

Teaching Macbeth

“When I met with my supervisor before I began student teaching, I told him I was an unabashed lover of Shakespeare and that I would have become a Shakespearian scholar if I’d felt the world needed one more Shakespearian scholar. He rewarded my passion for Bill (as I like to call him) by “letting” me teach all of the Shakespeare that needed to be taught that year. Included in this assignment was the teaching of “Ye Old Scottish Play,” Macbeth… Since reading Shakespeare can be about as compelling as looking at Bach’s sheet music, I tried to make the play come to life.” Read the rest of the essay here.


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