Older Daughter is now back at the local public high school for junior year (long story). I've been helping her write an essay on "Death of a Salesman" for English class. True confession: I haven't actually read "Death of a Salesman", but I skimmed the wikipedia article, from which I deduce that "D of a S" is one bleak, dismal bummer of a play.
Here's a partial list of OD's assigned reading at school: Into the Wild (a misguided dreamer starves to death alone in Alaska), Catcher in the Rye (a depressed prep-school kid), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (racism and child rape), Persepolis (a girl growing up in Iran learns that her grandfather was imprisoned and tortured by the Shah; the revolution is not an improvement), Night (a horrific first-person account of the Holocaust), and Romeo and Juliet (two teenagers fall in love and wind up committing suicide). Notice a pattern?
Depressed people are commonly advised to avoid "ruminating", or chewing over depressive thoughts. I think this is good advice. In an ideal world OD should be avoiding depressing reading, but that's just not possible when she's going to high school.
Why is high school English reading such a downer? I can think of a couple of reasons (both idiotic, but that's par for the course):
1.) Dismal = Deep. A light-hearted or happy book can't be an Important Work of Literature. If we're going to be taken seriously, we must be seen to suffer. (This also happens in art education, where making the students suffer proves the seriousness of the course.)
2.) Since teenagers are often troubled, moody and depressed, and complain that the world is unjust and cruel, it's thought to be appropriate to give them books full of troubled, moody and depressed characters living in an unjust and cruel world. This is the theory that people can only understand books that relate directly to their own experience -- the old "text-to-self" concept. Bah, humbug! I say.