Serendipitous Relevance and American Lit

I like to show how the books we study in school have left a lasting legacy to contemporary society.  If nothing else, when students complain how boring and outdated the books are, I can either try to elicit some open mindedness by showing them that P. Diddy consciously imitates The Great Gatsby, or I can at least argue that their recalcitrance is in opposition to the popular culture with which they’re enthralled. 

This year has been an especially good one for that.  I started the year off with The Scarlet Letter, just as a teen comedy loosely based on it, Easy A, hit theaters.  When we read Moby Dick, I was able to show them the recent Blackberry ad about the novel (many students told me that the ad made much more sense afterwards!).  We finished Huckleberry Finn last month and now, as we review the semester, there’s a national controversy brewing about a new, censored version of the text. 

Near the end of this year, when I try to wrestle some Faulkner into my students, I’ll be able to tell them that Hollywood hunk James Franco is directing a new film of Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying

Now if only I could find a more recent reference for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea than a second season episode of The Simpsons

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Biblical Allusions In U2’s “Until the End of the World”

Three intense interests of mine have intersected lately–literacy, religion, and U2 (I’ll be seeing them in concert Friday night).  Ah, leave it to the Irish to combine literature and religion!

U2 has always been a great example of that trait of their people, and I fear that much of it is lost on us.  (I just found this great site summarizing some of the many Biblical allusions in their work.) 

Case in point: 1991’s “Until the End of the World,” from the Wim Wenders film of the same name, and U2’s album Achtung Baby.  At first glance, it’s just another conflicted love song (as every true fan knows, even after 30 years, U2 has still never written a purely positive love song).  But if you’re familiar with the Bible, it’s clear that this is Judas Iscariot confessing the betrayal of Jesus Christ.  Even the title takes itself from a famous promise made by Jesus to His followers, which ends the Gospel according to Matthew: “…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.  Amen.” 

Here are the lyrics, with my explanations and links to relevant Biblical text (mostly from Matthew, since that’s the reference in the title):

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