Sunday, September 14, 2014

Classic Novels: Can You See Them With Fresh Eyes?

As noted previously in this blog, my friend Carole and I have decided to read Weighty Books. After eight months of such reading, I have to wonder if I can read them with as fresh an eye as I would have in my undergraduate days.

I ask this question after finishing Tobacco Road, a relentless story of loss and more loss. Jeeter is beaten down by life and The Man. The last time he tried to farm his land, the rich folk of Augusta stole from him more than his entire profit: it took his desire for success. He would never win, no matter how hard he worked, so it made entire sense that he did not get up off the porch for much.

However, the characters of Tobacco Road were relentless sinners. Holy cow, by God and by Jesus, they were a wicked lot. I don't use those words lightly, but they fit in this case. Even characters who were supposed to be the most spiritually uplifted were fantastically immoral, even by Tobacco Road standards. The ending was as relentless and beaten-down as the rest of the story, and I felt dejected and depressed myself.

However, the more I read, the more it seemed I had read that story before. I had: in many other stories since. However, Tobacco Road was where it all started.

One of the decisions Carole and I made was to read related stories during the six months we focused on a book. For six months we read The Decameron, American Decameron and as much of The Heptameron as we could. (I took a break from the "-Ron Books" and will go back to The Heptameron soon enough.) I am glad, but I also may have to back off on that decision a little: I don't want to lose the magic of the seminal work because it's been hammered to death by other related books.

Along with Tobacco Road, Carole and I will read How Green is Our Valley and The Grapes of Wrath. Will stories be revealed with interesting perspective by three different authors, or will "The Man Gets You Down" theme be driven home with a level of relentlessness only Jeeter could appreciate? I'll keep you apprised.

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