Men in Literature: Keep the Classics

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

  • Of Mice and Men
  • Frankenstein
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Dracula
  • Animal Farm
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

My 9th grader shared her summer audiobook list. She asked friends and family for classic book recommendations. I noticed the books all featured male characters and wondered whether they had any themes, characterizations, or challenges in common?

Survival, 
Friendship,
Identity,
Striving to be worthy

Something’s different

Guys do these things differently from girls – more physically, outwardly, actively. If classics are no longer taught in school, students are missing the male viewpoint. Boy stories are different. Captain Underpants would never be a woman, neither would Captain Nemo. Girls can enjoy boy stories too, but Captain Underpants must be a guy and boys had to dream him up. It’s a boy thing! We love that lots of boys are like that.

Growing up in the 70’s, I read books with boy characters and male authors for hours on the back steps. I never wished Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Conan, or Encyclopedia Brown were girls. I wanted to suck up all the action, magic, and exotic settings through my eyeballs. Avid readers look for plot, character, and themes when choosing books, not whether they are about boys or girls. The all-boy main characters in the Time Warp Trio series does not reduce its fun or addiction.

Same is boring

Some female characters are action-oriented – e.g., Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine, Anne of Greene Gables, Laura Ingalls, and Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya – but it’s still different and that’s okay. That’s great! Same is boring. We can enjoy and honor both without throwing one on the bonfire of popular opinion and stomping on the ashes.

“Everybody wants a little bit of land, not much. Jus’ som’thin’ that was his. Som’thin’ he could live on and there couldn’t nobody throw him off of it.”

– John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

Contrast this method of storytelling to the tales of social and inner turmoil of Jane Austen’s and the Bronte sisters’ characters.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
photo by Producteurs Locaux on Unsplash

I’m glad my daughter explored this list. Of Mice and Men made her cry and Animal Farm scared her the most.

Don’t let the current man-hating trend stop you or your kids from discovering great books. Suggestions:

  • Hatchet by Gary Paulson
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Harry Potter series
  • Superhero comic books
  • Encyclopedia Brown series
  • Sheriff Longmire series
  • Ungifted by Gordon Korman

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