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Teaching Literature With Movies

Written by Gary North on October 3, 2015

I teach literature after 1938 by teaching movies — mostly American movies. Here’s why:

There is an academic bias against movies as literature. Yet movies are clearly literature: stories that grab our attention.

How many novels can a student read in a semester? How many movies can a student see?

If we teach by examples, how many can a semester’s course cover — examples of themes and settings? If only novels are assigned, not many.

It is easier to teach literature when the form of literature grabs the student’s interest and attention. It may take three chapters for an author to get the story rolling. (Example: James Michener.) A movie had better get things rolling within five minutes — ten at the most.

We teach Shakespeaere’s best plays. Why not teach Hollywood’s best movies? We all know famous phrases of “Hamlet.” We also know famous phrases of “Casablanca.” You don’t believe me? I am shocked. Shocked!

Great literature should engage us.

Great movies engage us. Even mediocre ones do.

People stop reading a boring novel. They rarely leave the theater to avoid a boring movie. They stick it out. Why?

To understand the answer, you must understand both literature and people.

One reason: you don’t go on a date to read a novel together. Why not?

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