11 Classic Novels That Went Right Over PolicyMic's Head

We read these books in middle school and high school, hardly remember them, and do not plan on ever reading them again. "I'm sure they were nice," T. Chase Meacham, community intern, said, "But never again." We were probably too young when they were assigned, which is a shame. Or maybe we just didn’t do the reading. Either way, a few minutes of office polling revealed that we definitely missed the point on these renowned works of literature. 

1. 'Moby Dick,' Herman Melville, 1851

What we were supposed to take from it:

The satanic nature of the human spirit: its quest to surpass limits, defy nature, and defy God.  

What we took from it:

"This book started my lifelong obsession for confronting my deepest psychological fears with harpoons." –Tom McKay, Publishing Editor 

2. 'Lord of the Flies,' William Golding, 1954

What we were supposed to take from it:

Allegory. The "state of nature" political philosophy — Hobbes vs. Rousseau. The trauma of WWI and how to represent it. 


What we took from it:

"If you let a bunch of kids on an island, they will go crazy and try to enslave each other." –Christopher Altchek, Co-Founder

"The fat kid carried around the conch shell, right?" –Bayo Adafin, Sales Associate 

"I don’t even remember that book." –Chris Miles, Founding Editor 

"They tried to murder Ralph Wiggum!" –Tom

3. 'Heart of Darkness,' Joseph Conrad, 1899

What we were supposed to take from it:

Colonialism. The soul-deadening effect it has on the British character.  


What we took from it:

"Martin Sheen was pretty hot." –Nina Ippolito, Publishing Editor

4. 'The Scarlet Letter,' Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850

What we were supposed to take from it:

Puritanical society — its impact on sexuality and identity. Female independence.  

What we took from it:

"I mean … did they sew on the 'A?' Or iron it on?" –Michael McCutcheon, Politics Editor

"Man, f*ck Massachusetts." –Nina 

5. 'Of Mice and Men,' John Steinbeck, 1939

What we were supposed to take from it:

The powerlessness, tragedy, and vulnerability of the poor and disadvantaged in an economic and political system that does not value them.  


What we took from it:

"I remember there was a character named Lenny … because I was called Lenny when I was younger." –Elena Sheppard, Culture Editor 


6. 'The Great Gatsby,' F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

What we were supposed to take from it:

The concept of the American Dream: its beauty; its corruption by capitalism. 


What we took from it:

"My English teacher told us — based on symbols like East/West Egg, Daisy, Gatsby's yellow car — that white is the color of purity, and yellow is the color of corruption. Yellow is my favorite color. Thanks a lot, Mr. Lancaster." –Sam Meier, Activism Editor

"Gatsby threw really awesome parties, right?" –Nick Baker, Newsletter Editor

7. 'Flowers for Algernon,' Daniel Keyes, 1959

What we were supposed to take from it:

The ethical challenge of science in altering human life. Our views of disabilities.  


What we took from it:

"Something with a mouse, no flowers, and one very sad 5th grader (me) at the end." -Caira Conner, Community Editor

8. 'Jane Eyre,' Charlotte Bronte, 1847

What we were supposed to take from it:

Female independence; rising up through class structure. The horrors of colonialism. 


What we took from it:

"Nothing happens, then nothing happens, and then right at the end … nothing happens."  -Laura Dimon, Publishing Editor 

"This could be Wuthering Heights I'm remembering, but isn't one of the protagonists in Jane Eyre named after a candy bar? Heathcliff or something? Heathbars?" –Nick Baker 

9. 'Catcher in the Rye,' J.D. Sallinger, 1951

What we were supposed to take from it:

Adolescence as counterculture — an ambivalent position on society: A form of insanity? A form of truth?    


What we took from it:

"You’re all a bunch of goddamn phonies." –Jordan Fraade, Publishing Editor, reciting the one line (and only thing) from the book that he remembered.  

"Also, he rambles." -Caira

10. 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,' Mark Twain, 1884

What we were supposed to take from it:

The justice and ethical goodness of a child — the simple, innocent perspective that shines a light on the overall corruption of a society of adults.  


What we took from it:

"So jealous of Huck's raft-making skills ... Wait, did Huck build that raft?" –Sarah Singer, Publishing Editor

 "I remember … the movie." –Chris Miles, Founding Editor

11. 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' Harper Lee, 1960

What we were supposed to take from it:

Justice as a function of local, democratic values; the community's power to right its wrongs. 


What we took from it:

"Atticus. What a badass name." –Laura

"It was about race." -Chris A.

"All I can think of is this big tree and, to be quite honest, I'm not even sure there was a tree, or why anyone would spend time writing about a tree." –Bayo

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Laura Dimon

Laura graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2013. She has been published in the Economist, the Atlantic, and the Daily Beast. www.lauradimon.com / @lauradimon

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