Life Lessons I’ve Learned From the Novels I’ve Read for English Classes

Elisabeth Tamte, Managing Editor, Student Life

While my four years at MHS have seen a wide variety of classes, I’ve always been able to count on my English classes to be enjoyable and applicable. As a self-professed bookworm, I’ve relished the opportunities I’ve had to read exceptional literature every year.

Looking back on these past four years, I can point to specific books, quotes, and discussions that ended up impacting my personal growth by teaching me invaluable lessons. The parallels between my development as a person and the themes from novels I read that year in class make it clear that these are not coincidences. While I don’t think high school rigidly determines what type of person you’ll become, I think it undoubtedly has an impact on the rest of your life.

In ninth grade, my English class read To Kill a Mockingbird. This novel showed me how important it is to think about other people’s perspective. It also taught me to value living with integrity, even when it’s hard.

Sophomore year, I decided to challenge myself with harder classes and increased involvement with activities. Through struggles, I learned to be grateful for the times when things were going smoothly. One of the novels I read that year, Catcher in the Rye, mirrored the sense of intrinsic motivation I gained from that year. Just like the main character Holden, I learned to hold myself accountable for things and to think about how I, as an individual, interact with my surroundings.

We also read My Antonia, which combined beautiful natural imagery with strong-willed and hard-working characters. My Antonia is a powerful work of literature that made me realize how much control an individual can have over how they are affected by their situation. These books made me appreciate patience, authenticity, and relentless optimism.

Junior year, I took AP Literature, affectionately referred to as an “intense book club” by our class. My favorite books we read were Jane Eyre and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Jane Eyre taught me about independence: independence of thinking, of speaking and of will. Jane’s determination showed me how far optimism and determination can get you.

We also read Their Eyes Were Watching God. This novel focuses on the main character’s journey to finding her own voice and then feeling confident expressing it to others. While the main message of both of these books is about self-realization, they also show how important it is to take things in perspective. For me, this has meant focusing on what’s really important — and cutting out unnecessary stress.

This past year, my English class read Walden by Henry David Thoreau. This book is especially relevant for seniors because it talks about self-reliance. In Walden, Thoreau criticizes society for causing people to care about superfluous things like money and appearances. One thing I took to heart from the book was how one’s opinion of themself is so much more important than what other people think. Being comfortable with yourself is more important than proving yourself to others.

Even though high school’s main purpose is to learn about school-related things, I think discovering who you are — and who you want to be — is more worthwhile. For me, a lot of what I’ve learned to value in myself and others has come from novels I’ve read in English class. My advice: pay attention to the wisdom others have (even if it is provided through a book); you never know if it could end up impacting your life.