American classics have long held my interest. They bring into focus the eras in which they were written and capture moments in our nation’s diverse and unique history.
I’ve selected six of my favorites to recommend, ones that I enjoyed teaching as well. I’m not listing them in a specific order, rather I’m arranging them as they came to mind. Enjoy!
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne*
Hester Prynne who lives in Puritan New England is condemned by her peers as a scarlet women who must wear an A upon her bodice to proclaim her adultery to all. She skillfully creates this letter embroidered onto fine red cloth with elaborate style in gold thread. The book delves into the murky world of sin, punishment and retribution with the saving grace of love woven in.
Pearl, her daughter, comes into a world where she becomes the physical embodiment of sin. Hester’s partner in passion is the Reverend Dimmesdale who allows Hester to sacrifice and carry the punishment for their crime alone while he moves about their village as a veritable saint. Hester’s husband, Chillingworth who has long been absent, returns to see his wife with babe held in her arms pilloried in the town square for all to despise. A trap ensues by Chillingworth to snare Dimmesdale in a vicious web of lies and treachery. This is not an easy read but one that I find so complex and fascinating that my opinion about various characters changes each time I revisit it.
I do have one caution. The introduction titled “The Custom House” is tedious. It can easily be skipped without impacting your reading of the novel.
Amazon / BN / Goodreads
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
This tale of George and Lenny who travel from ranch to ranch earning a subsistence living in the 1930s will break your heart, but you will love the novel and think about its implications long after you’ve read it.
Big and strong, Lenny is a sweet child in a man’s body. Smaller and smart, George is the classic tragic hero. He loves Lenny and has promised to care for and protect him. This slender 100 page volume packs emotion into every page. You’ll laugh, frown and cry over what occurs but you’ll love George and Lenny. The language will not challenge you but the sophistication of the plot will alter your concepts of what is or is not moral and what choices are right or wrong.