Do you remember what books, plays, or films you had to analyse for school or university? While most of us would rather forget the stressful times of homework, study, and cramming before a big test or essay, there is something to be said for casting your mind back to that period.
For me personally, I remember the frustration of getting through the seemingly never-ending Othello. However, in a sea of boring or dry texts I had to read for school, there is a particularly great one that far outweighs the bad ones. I asked myself, and fellow Library staff, about what high school texts we read that really had an impact on us, whether it be a positive or negative one.
“I had to read the Australian play ‘Cosi’ by Louis Nowra for year 12 English. The play was set in a mental hospital, where the lead character Lewis directs a play that the patients star in – so it’s a play within a play!
The morals of the story were: there is no ‘normal’, everyone is ‘crazy/different’ in their own way, and that friendship, love, and understanding bridges the gaps and differences between people.
I really enjoyed the play at the time, and as much as we students hated to admit it at the time, we thought it was really clever and funny. I still have Cosi in my bookshelf at home. It is apparently intended to be the sequel to one of Nowra’s previous plays, ‘Summer of the Aliens’, but Cosi works perfectly as a standalone.
Cosi was made into an Australian movie starring big Australian names such as Ben Mendelsohn, David Wenham, Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, Barry Otto, Jacki Weaver, and Colin Hay – of Men at Work”
“I read Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte in Year 11.
It ruined classic English literature from that period for me. I found it to be the most boring book I’d ever read at that stage of my life, and felt it was barely a step up from TV soap operas. That being said if I think of dysfunctional relationships I sometimes think of this book. And whenever I think of English moors. Which isn’t often”
“In year 9 I was allowed to read the novel Z for Zachariah as a reward for finishing my assignments early. The book was knocked the wind of me and planted the seed a life- long love of dystopian sci-fi. After a nuclear war teenager Anne lives alone in an isolated valley until one day a stranger in a radiation-proof suit arrives.
The book is tense and frightening. As a reader I couldn’t put this book down”
“For me it would be ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad.
It is truly a painful book to read – in every sense. It is long-winded and tedious to start with, you really have to push yourself to get through it. And then it drops – you are in, and it is so wild and lush and sick, you want to stop reading but you can’t because it is so gripping. It’s about a voyage up the Congo River in Africa, where the main character, Marlow, is on a mission to meet the ivory trader Kurtz. Kurtz initially has great plans to colonise the natives and make a better life for them, but in time he succumbs to jungle fever and develops a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. Marlow is mesmerised by Kurtz, who is eloquent and articulate. And yet a barbarian, a total monster.
It’s really painful stuff to read, even today, as you think about what it has taken to have the clean, safe and aesthetically pleasing world we live in here in Australia, and those who have suffered for it”
For David, high school was a boring time, so it took something special to stand out to him. He was always complaining to the teacher about the books on the syllabus, so his teacher assigned him a few books off the syllabus: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Looking back, these were monumental moments.
Catch-22 became David’s favourite book of all time, and To Kill a Mockingbird had a lasting significant impact on him too: his daughter is even named Jean-Louise, after the narrator, who goes by the nickname Scout.
“I first came across the play Our Country’s Good by British playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker, in my high school drama class. We had only ever performed Shakespeare plays at high school level but our new and energetic Drama and English teacher was keen to do something different. He opened the class by quoting one of the parts in the play;
“A play should make you understand something new. If it tells you what you already know, you leave it as ignorant as you went in.”
The play depicts the harsh realities of settlement for a group of convicts and British soldiers after transportation from England and is an adaption of the novel ‘The Playmaker’ by Australian author Thomas Keneally (which is available to borrow for our library – click here to place a hold). Whilst there are some comedic and romantic aspects to keep the play light and lively for the audience, it was the clever dialogue and powerful themes that particularly intrigued me. As we studied it more, it made my peers and I really think about the concept of law, order and justice and who holds the moral compass of a society.
My favourite character was the convict, and proud Englishman wordsmith, Mr John Wisehammer, who although considered inferior by the British officers was more often the voice of reason and justice over any of the law makers and enforcers in this new colony. He delivers a closing monologue which highlights the double meaning of the play’s title, ‘Our Country’s Good’ to not only refer to the beauty and bounty of their new country but also the sense of benefit colonialists gained by trading human beings, even its own citizens, across the seas; “true patriots all, for be it understood, we left our country, for our country’s good.”
“I have not forgotten the play Huis Clos by Jean Paul Sartre, which I read while studying French at University. Huis Clos is often translated into English as In Camera, which is a legal term referring to a discussion held behind closed doors.
In this play three evil and unrepentant people die and go to Hell. I love the theatre and I remember Huis Clos because I thought Sartre’s concept of Hell was simple but strikingly original. There are no devils with pitchforks, fire or showers of brimstone raining down on the damned. Yet, Sartre manages to create a powerful image for his audience. All of the action in this play takes place on one set, in just one room. The three characters enter the room at different stages. They gradually come to realise that they have gone to hell and admit why they are there. Joseph, Estelle and Inez are in this room to torment each other emotionally and mentally for eternity. The Valet comes into the room periodically during the first part of the play but there is no escape for our principal characters. That is their punishment.
Jean Paul Sartre was an atheist and an Existentialist who believed that we define ourselves and our sense of morality by our choices and actions. Our torment is that we may rely too much on the judgement of others. I think the appeal of this play is that most of us like to think that there is some form of justice awaiting those who make other peoples’ lives miserable; we say that “what goes around, comes around.” The characters do not and cannot change their shallow natures as they are already dead. This is not a play about redemption or forgiveness”
Which novels, plays, poetry, or films did you have to study in school that have left a mark on you?