Caution: Great Literature Ahead
Religion & Liberty Online

Caution: Great Literature Ahead

This is what our country has come to: warning labels on great literature. I’m not talking about the parental warning labels (that no parent ever sees, because who buys CDs anymore?) on CDs with explicit lyrics. Nope, we’re talking about warning labels on literature.

You see, we have to protect our young people from possible “triggers” – ideas, descriptions and situations in books that might make them unhappy or feel bad:

It is the so-called trigger warning applied to any content that students might find traumatizing, even works of literature. The trigger warning first arose on feminist websites as a way to alert victims of sexual violence to possibly upsetting discussions of rape (that would “trigger” memories of their trauma) but has gained wider currency.

I realize that some young people have had terrible things happen to them. However, that is what therapy is for. And, even if you have had bad things happen to you, you must learn to deal with them, or you’ll spend your entire life in seclusion because, well, bad things happen.

If we allow this nuttiness to continue, what in the world will our kids read? All of Shakespeare will be out (can you imagine what will happen if entire generations read Romeo and Juliet, what with the suicides and all?) No teen will ever learn the stoic morality of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. The Great Gatsby, where one might learn that money can destroy as well as build, won’t be allowed. Imagine trying to get The Scarlet Letter on a reading list: shame, shame everywhere! The Crucible? Nope. Might destroy the feelings of the class Wiccan. Lord of the Flies? Afraid not: kids who are bullied might have flashbacks. Children who have grown up in poverty might not appreciate The Grapes of Wrath or Les Miserables. Even popular teen lit like The Hunger Games won’t be fit for anyone to read – all the violence, scrambling for food, hunting.

Let’s stop this. We all have bad stuff that happens in our lives. One of the points of reading great literature is to help you know you’re not alone, that there exists elegant and eloquent ways to talk about both good and evil, right and wrong, and that human beings have been wrestling with this stuff since the beginning of time. We need Macbeth, Scout, Gatsby, Huck Finn, Anne Frank, George and Lennie, Jo and her sisters, Frodo and Sam. These characters become real to us in the immersion of reading.

Our kids need food for their souls, not junk food and eye candy. Stop coddling and let them read.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.