Rebecca’s 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Literature

The following post is my first ever guest post. (Hurray!) It was written by my dear friend, Rebecca. Rebecca graduated from the prestigious University of Pittsburgh in 2011 with a degree in English literature and history. She is currently that degree to use as a staff worker for University Christian Outreach, an incredible organization devoted to Christian outreach in an ecumenical environment on university campuses around the world.
She loves Jane Eyre in the way that I love Pride and Prejudice, and she loves coffee in, well, the same way that I love it. And if she was a vegetable, she would be an asparagus.
Rebecca blogs at The Ties That Bind. She cannot knit, but we still love her.
10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned From Literature
 
1. “Prejudices, it is well known, are more difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones” (Bronte, Jane Eyre 391). 
 
Jane Eyre is my favorite novel, and this quote is one of my favorites from it. I feel passionately that education in the solution to a plethora of social ills. I really admire Jane’s wisdom and her unwavering morals even when life throws a wrench into her well laid plans.
 
2. “Yo papa and yo mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves” (Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God 192). 
 
Two things that all literature must do: reveal something about the character of God, and teach the reader something about theyselves. 
 
3. “The mother women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle… They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Chopin, The Awakening 11). 
 
As I skimmed my battered copy of The Awakening for a quote to use for this post, I stumbled across the handwriting of my 16 year old self next to this quote with the question, “Is it possible for a women to stay at home and care for her children and still be happy?!” I wonder what my 16 year old self would do, if she knew her 23 year old future self  has no idea. 
 
4. “It’s as if every body’s made this tacit agreement to live in a state of total self-deception. The hell with reality! Let’s have a whole bunch of cute little winding roads and cute little houses painted white and pink and baby blue; let’s all be good consumers and have a lot of Togetherness and bring our children up in a bath of sentimentality- Daddy’s a great man because he makes a living, Mummy’s a great woman because she’s stuck by Daddy all these years- and if old reality ever does pop out and say Boo, we’ll all get busy and pretend it never happened” (Yates,Revolutionary Road, 68-69).
 
I love Yates’ daring criticism of the American Dream, specifically the suburbs. I say daring because Revolutionary Road was published in 1961, on the eve of America’s counter-culture movement. What do you do when you realize  that everything you’ve worked your adult life towards is causing you to rot from the inside out? Do you have an affair with a pretty secretary from your office, and accept a promotion from a job you hate to provide for your family, like Frank Wheeler did? Or do you perform an at-home abortion so your family can start over in France, like April Wheeler did? I love that you finish  this novel just as confused as the characters over what’s the “right” solution to a life of quiet desperation. 
 
5.“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 
-Jack Kerouac On the Road
 
I am reading this book right now, and am head over heals in love with it. Mostly because I will never drive from New York to San Francisco and back five times doing 110 in a borrowed Cadillac. Nor will I take a lover in every town I spend the night. Nor will I write poetry while high on heroin. But it sure is fun to read about Dean and Sal as they unapologetically flout every social convention I can think of. 
 
6. “Life is going to give you just what you put in it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait.” 
-Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 
 
Maya Angelou is one of my heroes in life. I love that her advice doesn’t sound like an Oprah “live your best life” bumper sticker. Happiness comes to those who do, those who live passionetly, those who pray, and those who wait. 
 
7. “Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (“Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” 
-Antoine de Saint Exupery The Little Prince
 
I read this book for the first time in middle school. I was struck by it’s simple wisdom. I read it again en francaise in high school (the only book I managed to do so with). I was again struck by it’s simple wisdom. I love The Little Prince’s secret. That lessons of the heart transcend age, language, and cultural barriers.  
 
8.“I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.” 
-Daphne du Maurier Rebecca
 
I’ve wanted to be older since I was a little kid. There’s something about wearing pearls at 36 that tells the world that you’ve got your act together. I appreciate thatRebecca convinced me to not be in such a hurry to grow up. Adulthood is about more than just wearing the pearls, it’s about what you had to do to get them. 
 
9. “The Heart is a lonely hunter with only one desire! To find some lasting comfort in the arms of anothers fire…driven by a desperate hunger to the arms of a neon light, the heart is a lonely hunter when there’s no sign of love in sight!”
-Carson McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
 
This quote is the best explanation I can think of for why people do stupid things in the name of love. Most literature exists to explain why people do stupid things in the name of love. 
 
10. “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book” 
-Malcolm X The Autobiography of Malcolm X
 
I read Malcolm X’s autobiography this past summer. Did you know that Malcolm X learned how to read and write in prison? I’d always assumed that he was educated at an Ivy League university because of his powerful oratorical skills. If one book can turn a street hustler into the spokesperson for the Black Power movement, think of what one book can do for you. 
 
Go forth with a skip in your step and your noose in a book. 
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