Why do stories matter?

In The Bedroom

Occasionally, the topic of art and culture comes up here. As a devoted bookworm (something I share with many of you!), this blog post about stories and what children are being taught through those stories caught my attention, and it seemed like a good thing to share with you. Granted, I know nothing about the author other than what they’ve written, but I like it, and think you will at least appreciate the questions, inspired by the books her daughter brings home from school, raised.

Next, she brought home Of Mice and Men. We started it together. What gorgeous and beautiful writing—the descriptions of nature, the interaction between the two characters. A man named George, who could be off doing well on his own, is taking care of a big and simple man named Lennie, who accidentally kills the mice he loves because of his awkward big strength. In George, despite his gruff manner and his bad language, we see a glimpse of what is best in the human spirit, a glimpse of light in a benighted world.

The scene of the two camping out and discussing their hopes of someday owning their own little farm, where Lennie could tend rabbits, was so touching and hopeful, so filled with pathos and sorrow, and so beautifully written. Steinbeck is clearly one of the great masters of word use.

But I remembered The Pearl.  I glanced ahead, but this time, I looked more carefully.

On the next to last page, while discussing how their hoped-for little farm with rabbits is almost within their grasp, George presses a pistol against the back of Lennie’s head and shoots.

Now, in the story, he does it with a terribly heavy heart. He does it for “a good reason”—Lennie accidentally killed someone, but…

That doesn’t make it better.

I sat there holding the remains of my heart, which Steinbeck had just ripped out and stamped on. The devotion of this good man George had led to nothing. All their golden hopes turned to dross, sand.

And it wasn’t just the end. The book was full of examples of “the ends justify the means” type of thinking – such as a man killing four of nine puppies, so that the other five will have a chance.

Very realistic? Check. Very down to earth? Check. Very “the way of the world”? Check.

Why give a book like this to children to read? What are we trying to teach them? That life is difficult and meaningless? That sometimes its okay to kill something we love for a “good reason”? That life is pointless? That dreams and hopes are a sham? That no matter how you try, you cannot improve upon your circumstance, so it’s better not to even hope? (That was what The Pearl was about.)

What possible good is such a message doing our children?

…I’ve seen some of the other books on the school curriculum. Many of them are like this. In the name of “realism,” these works preach hopelessness and darkness.

They are lies!

So, you might ask, why does it matter if our children are being fed lies? They’re just stories, right?

What do stories matter?

Stories do matter, a great deal (or few of us would have such passionate attachments to certain ones, or certain types). Head on over to Jagi Lamplighter’s blog for the conclusion; ’tis well worth your while.

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