Young Adult Fiction is the New American Literature Margaret Fuller Was Looking For
In my AP English Literature class I told my teacher I was reading a Young Adult book and she told me, “Okay but next time choose something with some substance.” And so my fight for Young Adult Fiction began.
Young Adult Fiction, “YA” books if you will. Just from that name, I can guess the books that you are thinking of: Twilight, Hunger Games, any Sarah Dessen book, Fault in Our Stars, the list goes on and on. Those books are great reads, but that is not the only side of Young Adult Fiction. My mom teaches sixth-grade language arts and has loved literature her whole life, but only reads young adult fiction one because she loves reading it, and two because that way she can get her students to read all the good books she is reading. She has a very high success rate for getting her students to want to read and then by high school those same students say the last time they read a full book was in her class. Their love for reading vanished, the most tragic story ever told.
Margaret Fuller also tells a tragic story of America not having its own literature in “American Literature; Its Position in the Present Time, and Prospects for the Future.” To be fair, when she was writing, the United States was a baby country and at this point, in the 1840s, we were an England 2.0 across the pond with a different government system. Sure we won the Revolutionary war, we had no monarchy, and we gave states their own rights, but on the social front, we were the same. We did not try and learn the ways of the Native Americans but imposed our learned British ways on them. Fuller argues that because of this, even though we are original in the sense that we became a new country, we have no originality or soul. Our literature, simply put, does not have a purpose. It may be beautiful and emotional, but there is no purpose that would help our society become a different and better version of what we came from.
“Without such ideas all attempts to construct a national literature must end in abortions like the monster of Frankenstein, things with forms, and the instincts of forms, but soulless, and therefore revolting. We cannot have expression till there is something to be expressed.”Margaret Fuller in “American Literature”
Having soul and originality is what makes literature, literature, wherever it may be written. She is saying how we don’t have anything of our own to be expressed that is any different than what is being expressed across the Atlantic. We can’t call our literature “new” and something of our own because we are simply an expansion of England with the way that we are writing. The literature written to be American Literature needs to have an impact that makes America different from England. She goes on to say that:
“It is sad for those that foresee, to know they may not live to share its glories, yet it is sweet, too, to know that every act and word, uttered in the light of that foresight, may tend to hasten or ennoble its fulfillment.”Margaret Fuller in “American Literature”
She is not too positive about our society ever getting to a place where we can call American Literature actually American Literature. When what we write will be original and daring. Something that challenges norms and has a purpose.
Many brilliant people have made arguments for how our literature has changed and how it is American Literature now with these classic novels and classic authors. I agree with them, I think these classics are brilliant and life-changing. They made American Literature have a purpose as they addressed big societal issues by speaking to the general public. That is the key, however. The general public.
“Meanwhile, the most important part of our literature, while the work of diffusion is still going on, lies in the journals, which monthly, weekly, daily, send their messages to every corner of this great land, and form, at present, the only efficient instrument for the general education of the people.”Margaret Fuller in “American Literature”
So, the authors created these amazingly captivating books that highlighted the good, bad, and ugly sides of American society. For instance, you don’t think of British Literature while reading The Great Gatsby. That being said, when the “classics” were written, reading was the biggest influence on the general public. So up until the late 20th century books were the best way to reach people. Are those books still reaching people today though?
I am majoring in English Literature, so yes, I do have a great appreciation for the “classics.” However, ask anyone that’s not an English major how much they liked reading classic literature and I can guarantee the general consensus will be pretty negative. This is because those classics just are not reaching the general public anymore. Classic literature has become an elitist learning experience, these books are straight up hard to understand now. There is a reason why we study them in higher level courses.
Young Adult Fiction is the new wave of American Literature. Certainly not discounting American Literature as we know it today, but our society is built differently today than it was a hundred years ago. We have technology and social media now so we aren’t reading the newspaper anymore, we are going to look at one specific article online. Reading is still the most important educational skill there is to learn but there is a big gap in our education system; students don’t want to read. The reason why pushing for young adult fiction being taught and discussed instead of the “classics” in schools is that they’re interesting for students today. Now, there is certainly a line of what Young Adult Fiction books would make for “new classics,” like Twilight probably would not make the cut. However, there are so many gripping Young Adult books that actually have a purpose and substance. These substances are the problems and things students are seeing in the world today. It’s the problems they might be going through and no, it’s not just having a crush on someone who doesn’t like you back. Topics like rape, racial discrimination, bullying, police discrimination, politics, family abuse, suicide, homosexuality, self-acceptance, mental illnesses are all thoroughly discussed in a very engaging and moving way. Titles such as The Hate U Give, The Outsiders, Genesis Begins Again, The Paper Cowboy, Simon Versus the Homo-Sapiens Agenda, All the Bright Places, among many other titles all have messages that should be read about and discussed in the classroom.
I think Margaret Fuller with how far American Literature has come, but I think she would be very disappointed in the rut we are in today. She would probably write an essay about it. America has different problems than it did when reading books was the easiest way to get to the general public. We have different platforms now and the way we teach reading in schools is keeping books on shelves to get dusty. A push for Young Adult fiction to be highly regarded as legit literature and to be taught in schools can help create readers and keep American Literature moving forward.
So to my AP English Literature teacher, I beg to differ.