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The need for Classics in Literature

By Ego Mbagwu on 14 Feb, 2020

“What!” A teacher once told me that they don’t read those old popular English classical stories in primary and secondary schools any longer because he said that it is not necessary. That most of it is foreign and not relevant to our culture so they prefer to concentrate almost exclusively on African literature which they claim deals with issues that we can relate with and are set in familiar environment.

 What we seem to forget is that classics form the bed rock of English language and literature. A basic knowledge of them makes English studies easier and more enjoyable. They include popular works like Andersen and Grimm’s fairy tales, abridged versions of stories from ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’, ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, ‘Aesop’s fables,’ ‘Pandora’s box’,  ‘Oliver Twist”, the Bible etc.  


Most literary references, imagery and quotations are drawn from classical works. A lot of us use them without being aware of their origin. Nigerians often refer to people going abroad to seek the “Golden Fleece” and do not care to know that it is from the story of Jason or don’t be an Oliver from Charles Dicken’s ‘Oliver Twist which means don’t ask for more. Sometimes they are used as titles or made the subject matter. Chinua Achebe took the titles of his works  ‘ Things fall Apart’  from “The Second Coming” a poem by W B YEATS and “No longer at Ease” from “The Journey of the Maggi”, a poem by T S Elliot. If you are familiar with the poems you will have an idea of what Achebe’s stories were about before reading the books.   


This exclusion of Classics in literature in early years of education is largely responsible for poor performance in GCE and WASC English language and literature exams. Poetry relies mostly on imagery, which may be taken from an earlier work or story. These are usually explained as foot or side notes in school text books.  A good grasp of these classics would make it easier to understand and appreciate what is being read without seeking clarification from the notes. A good selection of these classics is provided by ZODML. Our e-library has a wide selection of classic literature. Why not download a book and tell us about it in our comments section.

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