June 6, 2011

A Bitter Criticism Of AP Literature

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What is the issue?
For the final exam in AP Lit, our teacher asked us to write a speech explaining how the class has influenced us. My peers proceeded to kiss his ass. I went a different route and probably wound up with a very different grade. Here is the actual paper I turned in.
Flickr / Gabriel Calderón
Flickr / Gabriel Calderón

Through my work and experience in AP Literature, I’ve learned that nearly any work of writing can be analyzed to reveal deeper meaning. This will influence my future by allowing me to see the unintentional depth hidden in seemingly one-dimensional words. According to this class, anything and everything is meant to be overanalyzed almost to the point of ruin. So, as I further my education, I plan to continue to destroy books by inflating them with my own assumptions about what exactly the writer was trying to say.

  • In “How to Read Literature like a Professor” I first became acquainted with the idea that people who write books are out to trick you. They might be saying that it’s raining, but they mean for you to derive that the main character is recovering from an emotional collapse. This is unfortunate because, in real life, weather patterns are not intrinsically linked to one person’s mood. No one expects it to snow because a friend of theirs has a frosty disposition. And no one should. I don’t want to have to look out my window and wonder who got angry enough to cause it to thunderstorm.
  • Methuselah, the parrot from “Poisonwood Bible”, is supposedly a symbol of Congolese repression. But it was also a frustrating addition to an already chaotic narrative and, without the implied symbolism, just a stupid bird. I wish it had flown away a lot earlier on in the story.
  • The analytical potential of poetry is even worse than that of novels because poets are obsessed with ambiguity. In the poem “Nighttime Fires,” I predicted based on the title that it was about a fire burning during the night. I felt that this was an educated and thoughtful guess, but then it turned out to focus on the realization of a loved one’s true intent. That should have been made clearer in the title. I would have been more prepared to disregard the presence of the fire if I had known it was metaphorical.
  • I assume that Shakespeare will always have to be analyzed because his plays are so difficult to read. It’s overwhelming to think about how brilliant a writer he must have been to come up with so many methods to torture English students. Here is a quote from Macbeth: “the eye wink at the hand.” Thank you, Shakespeare. You have thoroughly confused me.
  • The essay that we wrote about “The Centaur” was also a confusing experience. I definitely had no idea if my analysis was the correct one and I feel that this confusion reflects the problem with the whole practice of analyzing in general.

I understand that the entire basis for studying literature is to analyze and explain the writing of others. I also understand that all of the things I find to be frustrating and mildly ridiculous about both are valuable. I enjoyed reading everything in class this year on some level. I genuinely hope that it was not a waste. TC mark

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