Teaching literature to high school students for more than ten years, I have come to realize that the dichotomy good-evil – in its many manifestations – is an issue students are very interested in, especially as some instance of evil can be spotted in any literary work they study. Intriguing questions, challenging points of view and unexpected associations which marked some of my literature classes have set the foundations of this paper.
On the one hand, I discovered that we can trace the “evolution” of evil in the literary works presented in some textbooks, from the monsters and dragons in the fairy-tales or heroic poems to the deeper motivations of negative behaviour in modern literature.
On the other hand, I felt challenged to make my students understand that evil should not necessarily take the form of the monster, devil or psychic to be able to affect our lives to such extent that it can even destroy us. We obviously should not expect to see dragons among us in order to be scared of the threat they represent or to choose to fight for our protection. This kind of evil does not exist; furthermore, we all know that the most dangerous threats are not visible, but invisible. It is not the light that frightens us, it is always the dark, the unknown that scares us and most of the time the darkness resides within us.
The literary works I chose to study bring up new perspectives on reading, based on different approaches to reading literature, from different angles, emphasizing that what is more interesting in a novel or short-story is always to be found beyond the story itself. Its is all meant to challenge the students to try and find all this interesting material by themselves, following the guidelines given by the teacher. Thus, students feel encouraged to go deeper into the literary works they study and to form and express their own opinions on their readings.
Furthermore, working with bilingual classes – six hours per week – gave a sense of confidence in approaching this aspect of life in the literature we study, as I felt I had more time to spend on these works and this would allow me to go deeper into them.
Last but not least, I felt encouraged to study such a generous but difficult topic as I felt that I could help my students become more aware of what lies deep within our human nature, of the darkness that exists in every human being, waiting to emerge to the surface. I felt that, once aware of this dark side of every soul, they will be more prepared to control it within themselves, and I hope that they will live at least freer and more responsible if not happier lives.
The 12 literary works I intend to discuss are:
- “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
- “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare
- “Dracula” by Bram Stocker
- “The rime of the ancient mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- “The tell-tale heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The scarlet letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- “Lord of the flies” by William Golding
- “The portrait of a lady” by Henry James
- “The great Gatsby” by Scott Fitzgerald
- “Absalom, Absalom” by William Faulkner
- “The Magus” by John Fowles
The trailers I linked to the titles can help introduce the literary works to the class.