The purpose of authors writing literary works is to teach specific values and themes that they deem essential to put across to their readers. Francine Prose, the author of the excerpt I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read, is just by being skeptical of using literary works to teach values because of the way many English classes target the values of the author rather than the literary work itself.
By using the two examples of the novels Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Prose expands her argument by proving to the reader that many English teachers focus on the background of the author and his or her values while losing some of the ability to show the true meaning of the works. Although I have not personally read Huckleberry Finn in an English class, the tactic of the scrutiny of racism is used by English classes throughout the country, and Prose accurately reflects on the point that if not for the inquiry of Twain’s own racism, students would see the deeper connection of the themes in the novel.
Her argument is that many teachers focus on discussions about racism in the book rather than overlooking the fact that Twain may have been racist in the novel, and teach less about the values in the story. I challenge whether or not teachers only focus about the racism, however I support her larger idea that the authors values should not overlook the meaning of the novel itself. The other novel that Prose uses is Of Mice and Men. Although we did analyze the themes and values Steinbeck used in his novel, this may have been counteracted by discussions about Steinbeck being a racist and his own ideas of the mentally ill.
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As Prose is correctly skeptical about, students shouldn’t overthink the authors view, because in the case of this novel, it was written nearly 90 years ago. The ideas of racism have changed drastically throughout this time, and although students shouldn’t overlook that Steinbeck may have been a racist, they should also not overanalyze his stance because then the reader loses the meaning of the story. Being skeptical of this literary work to teach values is accurate, because I can tell you that I remember being taught that Steinbeck may have been racist, but not the overall meaning of the novel.
Teachers regularly use racism to point out the author’s own values, and this often deteriorates the knowledge of the book itself because it is more civics than English. It also is a very easy topic to comprehend and teachers may use this as a lesson rather than the morals which may be harder to understand. Students should be asked to dig deeper into the text, and I agree that because they are not asked to do this, students are not getting the most out of what they are reading.