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It's hard to argue against the literary merit of a novel that has spawned numerous motion pictures centuries after its publication.
Literary merit alone justifies teaching Pride and Prejudice in high school. If teaching the novel, one may want to focus on the following literary elements:
- Irony: Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony abound and could form instructional topics for numerous days.
- Plot: Modern readers, especially high school readers, struggle with the plot complexities of Victorian novels. What a grand opportunity to have them analyze social and personal conflicts!
- Characterization: Modern readers, especially high school readers, struggle with the numerous characters present in novels of this era. Pride and Prejudice offers excellent opportunities for students to analyze character motivation.
- Setting: Background information on the time period and its social customs and mores demonstrate the effect of society on actions.
- Style: Austen's sentence complexity contributes to her theme that love is complex and not straightforward.
The following social issues may be addressed when teaching Pride and Prejudice:
- The role of women
- Money and social status
- Marriage and social status
- Social status in general
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Students struggle with novels of this era. High school students accustomed to straightforward accounts and instant gratification will need encouragement and explanation. Honors students and upper classmen enjoy the novel. Regular students may find the text too difficult. Because of Austen's use of elevated vocabulary, the novel presents opportunities for teaching Greek and Latin roots.
For students who are struggling, I recommend they watch one of the numerous cinematic productions or that they peruse Sparknotes or Cliff's notes. I realize a few English teachers just smashed their computer monitor with the keyboard and cursed my ancestry for suggesting such radical actions, but once students understand the basic plot, they are better able to tackle literary analysis. For students who wish to read the novel on their own, review independent reading strategies.
Because there are so many cinematic interpretations of the novel, requiring annotations proves effective.
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Teaching Pride and Prejudice doesn't require the screening of phone calls, death threats from angry parents, the loss of your teaching license, or the need to head to Jamaica for an extended period of time. Novels depicting sex or using inappropriate language did not become popular until much later.
The novel deals with a subject--love--in which high school students are interested, in a manner in which they are familiar--every day, somebody new falls for somebody else or somebody falls in love based on looks and regardless of the lack of personal integrity.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Review
These reviews highlight potential novels for high school English classes.