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Jul 01 2017
by Sarah Shih

10 High School Required Reading Classics, Ranked

By Sarah Shih - Jul 01 2017

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an English teacher in possession of hundreds of classics must be in want of students who will enjoy them just as much. As we all know, it is rarely true though — how many times have we complained that English classes simply ruin novels for us because of all the analysis we have to do? Plus, there's always a due date for finishing each chapter, and the fun in reading seems to decrease day by day as stress catches up with us.

There are times, however, when we would close the book we have in our hands and think, "Well, there actually are some pretty cool moments. I even enjoyed some parts of it!" This can be the case for novels that make us forget we have English class for a moment. 

Here is a list of the top 10 classics we have read in high school, ranked.

10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

There is nothing like an allegory to force students to not only look at characterization but also the symbolism beyond the characters, and Lord of the Flies is an example of that. The novel challenges many ideas like immortality and government authority, and it definitely leaves some lasting impression after reading.

9. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is constantly praised for its depiction of adolescence and teenage angst, and to this day Holden Caulfield is still an extremely complex character that people love talking about. While there are students who cannot relate to the protagonist's constant complaints, many would also say that they completely understand Caulfield's contempt of "phoniness." Despite the mixed feelings towards this book, people can still definitely agree that many teenagers feel the intense emotions Caulfield experiences even 66 years after its publication.

8. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Orwell made the clever allegory so straightforward and approachable, yet he managed to include so many themes in this book — most importantly the Russian revolution. The mockery on humans also provides a different perspective for all the high school readers. Orwell cleverly removed certain prejudices we may have by changing all characters to animals, and it is never difficult for readers to associate each character with the political figure each is associated with. 

7. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

We have reached our obligatory Shakespeare! With memorable lines like, "Wherefore art thou Romeo," and, "For never was a story more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo," this piece can be so timeless even though it was written over four hundred years ago in an almost completely different style of English. And every time we read it, our hearts just break a little at the end for the title characters. (And even Benvolio too!)

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

With strong and thought-provoking themes like racism and justice, it is not difficult to imagine why To Kill a Mockingbird has been taught by so many schools in North America. Plus, it is hard to find a character as courageous and unique as Atticus Finch, and you couldn't help but feel upset and saddened as the justice system fails him over the course of the book. This emotional read certainly changes perspective.

5. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Speaking of emotional reads, The Outsiders is another novel that breaks everyone's heart. The characters may not always be morally correct, but you feel for them and wish that life could go easier on them anyways. From Ponyboy to Darry to Johnny to Dally, these characters are so distinct from each other and each have a story of their own to tell. With Ponyboy's genuine and powerful narration, The Outsiders is not a novel that is easily forgotten.

4. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Easily one of the most beloved and adored characters, Anne Shirley gives the story so much life. The character development in Anne of Green Gables is incredible — Anne has matured by the end of the novel, yet she never truly loses her magic and innocence. Her relationships with everyone else evolve too, and her interaction with Gilbert becomes one of the most important subplots in the story. Full of emotions and bittersweet feels of growing up, Anne of Green Gables never fails to bring a smile to the reader's face.

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

A strong female heroine, a swoon-worthy love interest with character development and well-written romance? Sign me up. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy may both be flawed characters, but they also constantly work on improving themselves and feel very human to the readers. Elizabeth's independence also makes her an inspiration, and we have to admire Austen for creating such character in her times. While times have changed a lot since its publication, Pride and Prejudice continues to be an inspiration and all-time favorite for many people. 

2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Hamlet is another Shakespeare work that takes us on an emotional roller coaster. While Shakespearean language can be hard to understand, it is not difficult to feel Hamlet's pain, Ophelia's hopelessness and Horatio's heartbreak over his best friend's death. Even the villain gets a few moments of repentance (even if it's still far from possible for the readers to sympathize with him). The discussion on mortality also leaves an impression on the readers — who can forget the line, "To be, or not to be?" Unforgettable and complex, Hamlet resonates with the readers despite the language and time barriers.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

And our winner features one of the most popular romances of all times! With Nick being the narrator that sees the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy as an outsider, we see every flaw yet can't help but be mesmerized at the same time. The dazzling setting in the roaring '20s definitely sets up the atmosphere even better as well. It is also so beautifully written — I would perhaps forever remember the last line and relate to it. With a clever plot and mesmerizing writing, The Great Gatsby would always be ranked as my favorite classics studied in high school.

Classics have always been an important aspect of English classes during our high school years. While there are many negative preconceptions surrounding them (how they are boring, dated, and difficult to interpret, just to say a few), some of them are able to leave lasting impression and allow us to feel the emotions contemporary fictions can also bring to us even if they were published in a much different time. These classics have changed my perspective on the genre, and I hope they have too for many other people. 

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Sarah Shih - University of Western Ontario

Sarah is a Second Year student attending the University of Western Ontario studying Psychology and Linguistics. In her free time, she can be seen reading or writing. If she is silent during a conversation, she is most likely plotting for her next article or the next chapter in her novel.

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