Students often complain that some of the novels I give as options for reading are “inappropriate.” There certainly is such a thing as inappropriateness, and I avoid it whenever possible; when such a title pops up, I remove it from my lists and/or allow students to change what they’re reading.
But most of what my students label as inappropriate really isn’t, not by any useful definition. Most objections aren’t to excessively explicit depictions of sex, violence, and profanity, which would be understandable, but merely to the inclusion of such things at all. Along with those items, another major target of criticism is how negative and “depressing” most classic books are.
It’s sad that so many people react to classic stories with revulsion because they have so little experience with great, meaningful literature. As I’ll show shortly, this ironic hesitancy to engage darker literature stems from an ignorance of the Bible, rather than a devotion to it.
As most objectors are Latter-day Saints, like me, I could respond that the most devout saints have never shied away from grittier depictions of reality, as long as they are ultimately artful and useful. Plenty of people and schools have banned Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for its coarse language, violence, and cynicism, yet President Thomas S. Monson obviously loves it and has quoted from it frequently, for example. As a vocal book lover, he must understand that artificially pristine stories are neither powerful nor useful. As in Huck Finn, the most meaningful victories come after periods of darkness.
But there’s an even more substantial body of work than that which students are clearly ignorant of: the scriptures. Perhaps no work in history is as thematically vast, sympathetic, realistic, and all-encompassing of human experience as the Bible. And, as such, it is also one of the most violent and negative books in the world.