One of my favorite courses I have taken so far in college is Great Books in the British and American traditions. In this course, I read many great works, including King Lear, Paradise Lost, Rasselas; Prince of Abyssinia, a hand-full of Hawthorne short stories, British and American poetry, and Huckleberry Finn. Not only were these literary works spectacular, the discussions in class were very intriguing and stimulating. Great Books has been my favorite class thus far because I have felt inspired to contribute as much as I could in class due to the support from the professor. In addition, because it was a discussion based class, I broadened my own viewpoint of the texts from the input from other classmates.
In preparation for each class lecture, each student was responsible for reading certain texts or sections of texts. In class, the professor started the lecture with questions about the reading. Throughout the lecture, the professor asked questions which were intended to lead the student to form a correct, or reasoned, interpretation and relation of the texts. The encouragement to talk in class, therefore, helped create an open platform for discussion. By talking through my ideas and interpretations of the writings, I deepened my knowledge of the texts and became much more engaged in the works which were discussed.
The ideas we discussed included love, honor, family, wisdom, religion, spirituality, and adventure, and how these ideas related to the texts. Even though we read a variety of text types, certain themes were included in all of them. The major theme which we discussed in the texts was voluntary and involuntary exile. It was interesting to trace these themes throughout the different works. In King Lear, we discussed the blinding implications of hubris, and the importance of family unity. In Paradise Lost, we also discussed the negative implications of hubris, while placing attention on the rhetoric of the author. Rasselas; Prince of Abyssinia, was a much more unique text because it followed the structure of a novel, but was more like a philosophical essay. Samuel Johnson, the author, used Rasselas as a vehicle to explore his philosophy of wisdom and human happiness. In the poems and short-stories, we focused on the rhetorical devices of the authors, as well as the ethical and moral meanings of the works. Finally, in Huckleberry Finn, we discussed the issue of racism, southwestern humor, as well as the controversy over the ending. As it may seem, each of these works have deep and hidden meanings. Therefore, having class discussions made it so interesting because the class was able to explore together the varying themes and ideas.
What added to the uniqueness of this course was the time of the class. We met every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:45-9. Because it was a night class, it made the experience truly feel like it was very different than anything I had ever done. Also, the lateness of the class placed added importance on the issues and themes we discussed. However, one of the downfalls to having a later class is that sometimes it encouraged me, as well as other classmates, to wait to do our homework for the next day’s courses until after class. Most of the time, this was avoided, but in the event of staying up late for the next day’s activities, I was reminded that I was in college and I could relate to my family and friend’s own stories of their college lives.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches English as a second language in Spain and plays basketball professionally there. She recently received her Bachelor's degree from Hillsdale College, one of the nation's top Liberal Arts schools in MI. At Hillsdale, she played basketball and studied English and Spanish. Some of her hobbies include reading, writing, painting, surfing, and playing the piano.