This year’s list of texts to study at GCSE have a wide variety, from comedies to tragedies; male protagonists, female protagonists and animal protagonists; written by men and written by women. However, there is one thing the majority of these pieces of literature have in common: they all have a pessimistic view on the world, regardless of whether it has a ‘happy’ ending or not. 

Teenagers already find it incredibly hard to push through these long tedious books, with the language so outdated that sometimes it takes word for word translations to even understand the English. On top of all that, it makes it even harder to analyse these texts down to every punctuation mark when the storylines are dark, dreary and depressing.

Texts such as ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which are considered feminist novels are too behind the times to be empowering to modern day women. In Jane Eyre, her love interest keeps his estranged wife hidden from the public and lies to Jane about it, yet she ends up marrying him! Similarly in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy is arrogant and cold towards Elizabeth to begin with, he has no respect for people he does not like and yet he is romanticised during the novel and ends up getting married to Elizabeth. In my opinion, these books have messages that a happy ending needs to include a marriage and it subtextually normalises sexism and women choosing men who disrespect them. It’s understandable that we need to know about past attitudes but there are plenty more progressive novels that reflect on the past.

As well these, literature like Macbeth and Lord of the Flies are creepy and chilling. With death at every corner of the page and corruption throughout, these books are an interesting choice to be studying in school at 9am on a Monday morning. Not only do young readers have to read these gruesome texts, they have to analyse them in detail, memorise specific quotes and write two papers for it in stressful conditions. 

Would it be possible to be set texts where women choose men who respect them, or choose to be happy without marriage? Possibly a novel where children are just children and don’t resort to murder and war? A story where animals on a farm just enjoy farm life instead of being filled with corruption and politics? GCSEs are gruelling enough in itself without the added sombre undertones of English Literature.

By Annika Nandi, The Henrietta Barnett School