Reading Assignment: Analysis Of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Looking For Alaska And The Pursuit Of Happiness

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Though the definition of great literature is ultimately indefinite and variable to an individual, it generally possesses several universal traits. Great literature is not only a one-time read; it is something that delivers a strong moral that stays applicable despite its time and cultural context. It can be said that the book ages with you, meaning that the book’s moral is complex enough so that the meaning received after reading the book multiple times is more developed than reading it only once.

Books that can be classified as great literature have a wide range of characters that reflect a variety of individuals. Not only does great literature contain a wealth of powerful messages and morals, but it is also applicable to a wide audience regardless of the focus of the book. Timeless and eye-opening, the perspective in great literature is unique and allows us to experience a side of an argument or issue that we are unfamiliar with or previously unaware of, therefore changing our take on several worldly issues.

In addition, great literature supplies us with ideas that allow us to make otherwise unseen connections with the world around us. Great literature differs from simply a good book in several different ways.

Often, a book pertains to a certain audience, such as thrillers, which appeal primarily to those who enjoy the specific genre. Because of this, the book is not universally applicable but is rather limited to a certain group. Books are commonly catered to those who especially enjoy the specific genre, which results in the story being enhanced rather than the idea or moral itself. For example, books in the mystery genre will be filled with exciting plot-twists, making the book more focused around the many twists and turns rather than a central moral. Simply put, the best books are not defined by a single predominant genre but rather are defined by the plot and ideas.

Three Books

Many of the books included in this year’s Class Reading List and Core Selection were examples of great literature, though some were not as fit to be called as such, despite being representative of their respective genre. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Pursuit of Happyness could be defined as great literature, while Ender’s Game, a book included on the Class Reading List, falls short.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith, tells the story of an aspirational young girl who, despite her life in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, is able to work hard to overcome these odds. This story qualifies as a bildungsroman, the genre studied in class, but also eloquently describes the less-told struggles of a family living shortly after the Great Depression. Frances Nolan, the main protagonist, experiences both the prejudice against women and the struggles of living in poverty. The family’s financial state also causes Johnny Nolan, her father, to become an alcoholic. This novel classifies as great literature because of its universal message: to be in charge of your own future instead of letting others dictate it.

Despite being viewed as a second priority after her brother, Francie Nolan takes her future into her own hands and teaches herself when she is restricted from going to school and uses her quick and resourceful mind to find a multitude of jobs that provides for her family. Though money is thinly stretched and the family is forced to periodically go hungry because of her largely irresponsible father, her determination allows her to be the first of her family to go to college. The message behind this book never loses its meaning; though the book is over half a century old, people all over the world can understand Francie Nolan’s struggles and take inspiration in her courage and determination. Francie’s aunt, Sissy, additionally resonates with a multitude of people through her bravery and intelligence, though it is masked with the guise of being a promiscuous and frivolous woman. She is constantly valued only for her beauty, which represents yet another prejudice that women face even today. Ultimately, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn can be considered a part of great literature because it highlights many social issues and prejudices, as well as has meaningful morals and characters that are applicable to a wide audience.

The Pursuit of Happyness

In Chris Gardner’s novel, The Pursuit of Happyness, Gardner reflects on his brief period of homelessness on the streets of San Francisco followed by his success in becoming a multi-millionaire investor. This memoir paints a vivid image of the realities of homelessness, as well as the difficulties of escaping poverty. Not only does this book highlight an important social justice issue that was studied in class, but it was also included in the Class Reading List because of its unique perspective. As a single black father, Chris Gardner allows us to see an already difficult situation emphasized by his status. Though Chris’s intelligence is by no means defined by his state of poverty, his ratty appearance and being black denies him several opportunities, such as when he is searching for a job after quitting his previous one.

Ultimately, this book is an example of great literature, as it allows us to see the homeless community in an entirely different way. Though we are constantly under the guise that the homeless are there because they are lazy and unwilling to make a change in their lives, this memoir disputes this stereotype. Though Chris is employed for the majority of his homelessness, he must use his minimum wage to decide on different essentials, such as whether to spend it on buying food or a hotel room. Because of his small earnings, he is incapable of even thinking about renting or buying a house until after a considerable amount of time. His success is also in many ways due to luck, as the firm he eventually gets hired into, Dean Witter Reynolds, takes pity on him and offers him a job despite his appearance from having just gotten out of jail.

Though his ascent out of poverty was primarily due to his determination and resilience, it is also partially due to the people he encounters, which provides us with the lesser-known prejudice that the homeless face: how even the most determined can fail to work their way out of poverty and reroute their lives without luck and the help of others. Though the book tells the rags-to-riches story of a black single father, his story of determination and resilience is widely inspirational, which is another characteristic of great literature. Gardner’s actions also become more comprehensible over time; though his sudden quit from his job to dedicate himself to being a stockbroker can be seen as irrational, it can eventually be understood that his passion and foresight overrode his desire to have a stable job.

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An example of a book that does not necessarily qualify as “great literature” is Ender’s Game, a science-fiction novel centered around a child prodigy who is destined to fight and defeat an alien species. This book follows the basic guidelines of a hero’s journey, which is why it is included in the Class Reading List. Though the book loosely supports the idea of becoming stronger with discipline and determination, it ultimately delivers the moral in a questionable way and ultimately has a very faulty plot. Ender, initially a weak boy, is selected to “train” in a space facility that focuses on the upcoming war against an alien species.

This is due to an incident in primary school, where he brutally retaliates against a classmate. Because of this event, the book already begins on the wrong foot by delivering the message that being violent is the easiest way to succeed. This is further supported as Ender goes through “Battle School” and become increasingly cruel and violent. This is a direct result of him usurping his former bullies in violence, which is the sole characteristic encouraged by his superiors. He quickly ascends the ranks in school, which is not due to hard work, but rather a talent that he seemingly discovers at every turn.

Ender seems to increase indefinitely in physical strength by virtually doing nothing but using his limitless brainpower and contains only nagging guilt from his brutality. Though this guilt is emphasized multiple times, he continues to dominate the school rankings by fear, which he seems to almost enjoy. He seems to be limited only by the toll his immense power takes on his conscience. Though Ender does grow stronger, his maturation is fueled by unethical morals. Not only is the main character’s principles questionable and somewhat twisted, but the plot makes little sense and contributes nothing to the idea of the story. The “Battle School” chooses only child prodigies to fight, which is a concept that is never truly explained. The child prodigies are also written poorly along with many other characters; they speak like adults rather than children with extraordinary intelligence, and most are inherently good or evil. The far-fetched setting and plot of the book are also largely unhelpful, as it does not appeal to those who do not enjoy science-fiction. Ultimately, this novel is not an example of “great literature”, as it has a questionable moral, a faulty plot, as well as flat characters.

Looking For Alaska Analysis

In Looking for Alaska, a novel by John Green, Miles Halter enters Culver Creek boarding school, meeting several people who impact his personality and gives him a new perspective on life. Alaska is among one of the first people he is acquainted with, as they are introduced shortly after he meets Chip, his roommate. Because of Miles’s talent for remembering last words, she shares her favorite one with him: Simón Bolívar, whose last words obsess over how to “escape the labyrinth”. Drawn to her wild personality, a stark contrast to what he had previously experienced, he becomes close with her and her group of friends.

Though Miles is initially a good student, he quickly learns from his new classmates to drink on campus and begins smoking. He is also introduced to a long-standing feud between Alaska and the “Weekend Warriors” when, in the middle of the night, they duct-tape his body and throw him into the lake. He later finds that this is because Kevin and Longwell, two Weekend Warriors, believed that Chip had ratted on one of their friends, and therefore was returning the favor to one of Chip’s friends. Alaska, furious, formulates a plan to get back at them, which they execute later.

Shortly after, the group gets drunk on campus to celebrate their success in pranking the Weekend Warriors. Alaska, in a drunk daze, dares Miles to kiss her, which he does until he and Alaska fall asleep. Waking up to Alaska in a hysterical mood, she pleads for them to provide a cover for her as she sneaks off campus. Confused but agreeing, Chip and Miles allow Alaska to leave though she is clearly still very intoxicated. The next morning, they wake to the news that Alaska had died in a car crash the night before. This news leaves them both shaken; because of her death, they begin to fight and drift apart as they try to decipher the meaning to her death. Miles is ultimately able to move on through the help of his World Religion class and decides that their obsession over the meaning of her death is pointless because he forgives and loves her. Both Chip and Miles learn to accept the inconclusiveness of her death.

My reason for choosing this book is because I have read many other books by John Green which I enjoyed, such as The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. The book has a unique setting of a boarding school that allows the different pranks and events of the book to seem appropriate.

Looking for Alaska ultimately does belong in great literature. Though this book is directed largely to teenage audiences, it still contains a variety of important ideas. It predominantly focuses on the concept of living and dying, of which Alaska is representative of both. In her life, she lives wildly and freely, concurrently influencing others with her boldness as well as enjoying herself to the fullest with little fear of death. She constantly reflects on the last words of Simón Bolívar, who asks how to “escape the labyrinth” in his last words. To Alaska, the “labyrinth” is life, and the “escape” is death. Miles also provides insight to the meaning of life and death. One of Miles’s only academic interests in the boarding school is his World Religion class, where he is made aware of why and how religions all over the world have come up with answers to life’s greatest questions involving life and death.

When Alaska dies, he is subjected to an intimate application of this knowledge of life and death. The concept of Alaska’s sudden and unexplained death is initially incomprehensible to him, causing him to fall into a deep depression. Eventually deciding that uncertainty is a natural part of life and death, he moves on and continues to live his life without resentment, and chooses, rather, to live with a fond memory of Alaska rather than focus on the last moments of her life. Both Alaska and Miles provide insight into their view of life and death, which are essentially two of the most important topics in our lives.

Forgiveness is also an important moral of the book, as Alaska’s lack thereof for herself is what causes her to live with such reckless abandon and self-hatred. She forgets her mother’s birthday, which causes her to drive recklessly away despite her obvious intoxication. Her inability to forgive herself almost defines her; because of this, she forces herself to be constantly moving so she does not relive when she froze as her mother died of an aneurysm. This weakness plagues her as she ages and eventually results in her death. Miles, however, is able to move past Alaska’s death precisely because he could forgive himself despite his guilt; he is able to look past the tragedy and understand that moving on is crucial for his quality of life.

In addition to the multiple important ideas present in the novel, each of the characters also has a myriad of traits that define them and give the story depth. For example, Chip is portrayed as initially a having a tough demeanor, but as the story progresses, we are able to see his internal softness and gentleness. He truly cares deeply about his friends, which is shown when he becomes obsessed with finding the reason for Alaska’s death. Alaska has a daring and outgoing demeanor but also has flashes of moodiness and indecisiveness. We are able to understand how Alaska is influenced by nothing but the present, as well as see the consequences of her impulsiveness. Because the story is in the perspective of Miles, Alaska’s mysterious demeanor is never revealed, adding to the suspense of the book. Not only this, Green separates the book into two segments: Before and After. This signifies before and after Alaska’s death, but also provides another factor for suspense in the book.

Because the ideas about life, death, and forgiveness are universal and applicable to a wide audience, this book can ultimately be classified as great literature. Many people struggle with coming to terms with how and what it means to live and die, which is illustrated in this novel through Alaska and Miles’s experiences. Miles eventually realizes that uncertainty is a natural factor in our lives, and Alaska is representative of the impacts that self-forgiveness has on us. All of these topics transcend time; forgiveness, as well as the concept of life and death, will always be applicable in our lives. In addition to the universal ideas mentioned in this novel, the book itself is also written eloquently and contains a variety of rounded characters.

Due to these factors, it should be included in next year’s Reading List. Looking for Alaska visits a topic that is mentioned far less in books, which only makes it more important. Compared to many other books, it has a much less conventional theme but nevertheless is of the same, if not higher importance. Though this book contains many important ideas ad morals, it ultimately appeals mostly to teenagers because of the language and setting. However, the principles are important enough so that the book can be impactful on anyone who reads it. Therefore, I would recommend it to everybody. Though I have read other books by John Green, this book includes a much less-visited topic, making it a book that stands out from others by the same author.

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