Book Review: English and American Lit.

pig-book

I picked up this book several years ago when my husband and I were collecting books from the Politically Incorrect Guide series. Having been an English major, this title, The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, particularly intrigued me. But this volume from 2006 became lost on the shelves and was rediscovered as I prepared to oversee my son’s high school online class on American Literature. Apparently, the methodology of teaching literature in universities today has changed dramatically since the mid to late 1980s when I attended college.

At Whitworth, we discussed the historical background of the text—both the time period in which the piece was written and the author’s personal background. We sought to understand what the text actually said, often using glossaries for older texts such as Chaucer’s. (I spent a semester studying part of The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English.) In class, we students discussed what ideas the authors conveyed in their writings—their beliefs about God, man, nature, and society. I often felt that the study of literature was a study of humanity—faith, psychology, sociology, politics, and history all wrapped up into one discipline.
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Literature is the product of an individual and his time. Great literature, though, surpasses a given time period because it addresses the human condition.

According to author Elizabeth Kantor, many universities no longer teach English literature but Marxism, feminism, and Freudian thought. She quoted one Arizona State University student as saying she “learned to ‘deconstruct the racist, misogynistic, homophobic subtext’ of the literature she studied.” It sounds like they are pulling rabbits out of a hat, finding ideas that aren’t really there.

During my senior research project class, the professor introduced us to Marxist, feminist, and a few other types of literary criticism for our information so we’d be aware of them as we embarked on our personal research. But they didn’t expect us to write that type of criticism. Kantor’s thesis is to demonstrate how English departments in the United States have run amok in political correctness and how such instruction denies students access to timeless truths that great literature of the English language can teach us all.

In Part I, Kantor provides an overview of the different periods of English literature with one chapter dedicated to the American canon. In a sidebar in each chapter, the author provides a brief list of recommended titles for the reader. In Part II, Kantor supplies one chapter on how the PC English professors suppress English literature and another chapter on what literature is for: “to teach and delight.” The author closes her book with Part III in which she teaches readers how to read great literature on their own. This book includes endnotes and an index. And of course, as a PIG book, it is embellished with sidebars that jab at the politically correct world.

Anyone who has a literature background, like me, or wants to dive into the classics but has always been afraid to, will enjoy Kantor’s easy-to-read style and unabashed criticism of the literary left.

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