The classics are still good reads

December 18, 2007|By SHOVAL RESNICK / Pulse Correspondent

Have you ever wanted to tackle some classics on your own, but don't know where to start? Here are a few with my opinion of them:

"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck (1939)

The Great Depression forces families to pack their lives on their backs and become migrant workers. The Joad family heads west in their truck from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma to California in search of work. With one son just out of prison for murder and breaking the law by traveling out of state, the Joads try to stay under the radar. This is the all-American story - a family trying to scrounge a living in a time of despair.

Steinbeck allows the reader to see and feel as the characters do through his descriptions of every last detail. It is one of the more easily read classics, but not one of the most fascinating or dramatic tales.


"Siddhartha" by Hermann Hesse (1922)

Siddhartha is a young man from an upper-class family in India. He gives up the comforts provided by his status to find why there is suffering and pain in the world. He battles within himself for many years. Eventually, while sitting under a tree, he is enlightened and reaches Nirvana, a state of being at one with the entire universe. From then on, he seeks to teach the newfound wisdom and comes to be known as the Buddha. If you can get through the language, Hesse conveys profound messages about living, that life is meaningless without the search for purpose.

"Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes (1959)

A mentally retarded man, Charlie, undergoes an experimental surgery that improves his intelligence. But he realizes that being smart does not necessarily make him successful in all parts of life. Those around him dislike his rapidly growing intelligence; he soon surpasses them and is no longer the person he once was. Algernon is a mouse who had the same surgery a bit before Charlie; the mouse is a predictor for Charlie's progress and when the mouse begins to deteriorate, Charlie is concerned. Keyes leaves his imprint on the world in this moving tale. In addition to the captivating story, the novel conveys a critique of the treatment of people with disabilities in the U.S.

"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin (1899)

Edna Pontellier is awakened to the woman inside. She is married to a man she does not love and has children. While on vacation from their city home, Edna finds a romance that opens her eyes to her feelings of confinement. She is trapped by her role in society and by expectations for her behavior. Resentment fills her. Torn between love and duty to a family which adores her, she makes a life-changing decision. Chopin is uniquely able to portray her characters. The reader knows the character, yet future actions are not predicable. The story has a sense of intrigue. If the reader can relate to the tight-laced Victorian period, then "The Awakening" can be appreciated as a true romance.

"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

Hester Prynne has a child with a man who is not her husband. She is jailed. As further punishment, when she is released, she is forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her clothing so everyone knows her to be an adulterer. She raises her daughter on the outskirts of the small Puritan community in Salem. She will not reveal the father and holds the public shame on her shoulders; but the man suffers inwardly. The idea behind the novel is engaging, but the writing style is not as fast-paced as contemporary stories.

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