Recommend a Diverse Classic (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Recommend a Diverse Classic

Star Divider

PBS’s The Great American Read, an eight-part television series celebrating and discussing America’s top 100 novels as chosen by a survey of approximately 7,200 people, introduced me to the Chicano classic Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya back in 2018. Although I learned that the book has made it onto some regional school lists, I had never even heard the title before. I was in for a treat.

Bless Me, Ultima recounts the story of Antonio, a boy growing up on the edge of the llano. Torn between his mother’s love for the earth and his father’s love of freedom, his belief in the Catholic church and the miracles he has seen performed by Ultima the curandera, Antonio struggles to find his place in the world.

I often feel drawn to books that explore the struggles characters have with faith. For some people, faith is such a clear-cut thing, a solid truth they can rely on throughout life. Others, however, may find tension in how faith seems to conflict with reason, or how one faith contradicts another. Antonio is confused because he has been raised Catholic, but he sees that Ultima relies on wisdom from her ancestors that the church rejects–and consequently, seems to have great power. How can he reconcile the two worldviews?

Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age story because Antonio must come to the realization that not everything authority figures have told him may be true. He has to work through disillusionment and determine what he believes in, and what kind of life he wants to lead. He no longer has to capacity to accept whatever he is told, because he knows now that the world is full of contradictions. He has to resolve those contradictions within himself.

Some have found Bless Me, Ultima controversial, but I enjoyed the honest look Rudolfo Anaya provides of one boy’s interior life. Antonio is not perfect, it is true. He is human. And so he should be expected to have questions, to make mistakes, to wonder what is true, and to long for more certainty than the world can ever give. Antonio’s story is beautiful because it is real.

16 thoughts on “Recommend a Diverse Classic (Classic Remarks)

    • Krysta says:

      The prompt is to encourage people to share classics we may not usually think of since the term “classic” tends to make people think of white male authors. 🙂

      Like

      • mphtheatregirl says:

        Let me think (just listing those I loved): I have read books by Homer, Cervantes, Dickens, and Hugo: for the older classics. Tolkien for the newer classics. All of those are male authors, but of different countries

        “Classic” is a very hard word to define.

        Liked by 2 people

      • neeruahcop says:

        Sorry but I have to disagree since your remark makes it seem that Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot are all writing diverse classics which they definitely are not. Their worldview is as permeated in the White Cultural ethos of the time as their male counterparts.

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        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          I don’t think Krysta meant to imply that authors like Jane Austen would be considered diverse, just that people generally jump to thinking of male authors when they think of classics and that it’s only been rather recently that women authors have been added to the canon or considered widely worthy of academic study. It was basically a big deal we studied Felicia Hemans in my Romantic Poets class when I was in college and not just Keats, Wordsworth, etc. But, no, we obviously would not have put Bronte or Eliot or Hemans as answers to the prompt.

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        • Krysta says:

          I’m sorry if my comment came across that way! The purpose of the prompt was to promote books and authors that are being overlooked–and to help explain that in a concise manner, I did mention white male authors since they comprise the majority of the Western canon. However, I do think most of our readers understand authors like Austen and the Brontes are not diverse (and certainly not overlooked). Though the topic is broad and can be interpreted many ways (religious diversity? world literature? representations of neurodiversity?) I did not see anyone answer the prompt with a straight white female author. In fact, many of the answers introduced me to authors I had not been aware of previously, which I think is very exciting!

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  1. Never Not Reading says:

    I read this book because of The Great American Read too! It was too different from what I’m used to for me to truly *love* it, mostly because I didn’t really understand everything I was reading. I ended up reading a lot of Sparks Notes, actually. But I REALLY enjoyed it and am so thankful I read it.

    Like

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