Crash Course Literature


  • How and Why We Read | Crash Course English Literature #101

    In which John Green kicks off the Crash Course Literature mini series with a reasonable set of questions. Why do we read? What's the point of reading critically? John will argue that reading is about effectively communicating with other people. Unlike a direct communication though, the writer has to communicate with a stranger, through time and space, with only "dry dead words on a page."

    Grades: 9-12
  • Romeo and Juliet Part 1 | Crash Course English Literature #102

    In which John Green examines Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare (video one of two). John delves into the world of Bill Shakespeare's famous star-crossed lovers and examines what the play is about, its structure, and the context in which it was written. Have you ever wanted to know what iambic pentameter is? Have you ever pondered what kind of people actually went to see a Shakespeare play in 1598? Were you aware that wherefore means "why?"

    Grades: 9-12
  • Romeo and Juliet Part 2 | Crash Course English Literature #103

    In which John Green returns to William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to explore the themes of true love, lust, and whether Romeo and Juliet were truly, deeply in love, or they were just a pair of impetuous teens (video two of two). John looks into how the structure and conventions of society in medieval Verona led to the star-crossed lovers' downfall. Along the way, you'll learn about courtly love, medieval responsibility to church, family and society, Chipotle burritos as a metaphor for true love, and even learn about literary sex.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Great Gatsby Part 1 | Crash Course English Literature #104

    In which John Green explores F Scott Fitzgerald's novel of the Jazz Age, The Great Gatsby (video one of two). John introduces you to Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and the other characters in the novel and tries to look beyond the surface story to figure out what this thing is ABOUT. Set in the 1920's against a conflicted backdrop of prohibition and excess, The Great Gatsby takes a close look at the American Dream as it existed in Fitzgerald's time. It turns out, it had a lot to do with money and status, and it still does today. John will cover the rich symbolism of the novel, from the distant green light to the pale gold of wealth and decay.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Great Gatsby Part 2 | Crash Course English Literature #105

    In which John Green continues to explore F Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby (video two of two). In this installment, John looks into the titular Gatsby's purported Greatness. Gatsby's single-minded pursuit of Daisy, his checkered past, and his checkered present all play a role in determining whether he was, in fact, great. Here's a hint: you don't have to be good to be great. It turns out greatness doesn't have much to do with whether you're a good person. Along the way, John explores the relentless forward march of time, the use of poetic language, and ironic titling of novels.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Catcher in the Rye Part 1 | Crash Course English Literature #106

    In which John Green examines JD Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye (video one of two). John pulls out the old school literary criticism by examining the text itself rather than paying attention to the biographical or historical context of the novel (that's for the next video). The Catcher in the Rye has managed to endure without a movie adaptation because a lot of its quality arises from the book's language. Find out how Holden's voice, his language, and his narrative technique combine to make the novel work.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Catcher in the Rye Part 2 | Crash Course English Literature #107

    In which John continues the discussion of JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (video two of two). This week John reads the novel with Salinger's life story in mind. John explores how Salinger's war experience, educational background, and romantic life inform the events of Holden Caulfield's life. How did Holden get to be such a whiny, self-absorbed teen? While it's not a great idea to read novels too biographically, Salinger's life surely informed Holden's.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Poetry of Emily Dickinson | Crash Course English Literature #108

    In which John Green examines of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Sure, John explores the creepy biographical details of Dickinson's life, but he also gets into why her poems have remained relevant over the decades. John discusses Dickinson's language, the structure of her work and her cake recipes. He also talks about Dickinson's famously eccentric punctuation, which again ends up relating to her cake recipes. Also, Dickinson's coconut cake recipe is included.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Odyssey | Crash Course Literature #201

    In which John Green teaches you about Homer's Odyssey. John teaches you the classic, by which I mean classical, epic poem, the Odyssey. The Journey of Odysseus as he made his way home after the conclusion of the Trojan War is the stuff of legend. John will teach you about the double standard in Greek culture, Odysseus as jerk/hero, ancient PTSD, and cycles of violence.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Oedipus | Crash Course Literature #202

    In which John Green teaches you about one of the least family-friendly family dramas in the history of family dramas, Oedipus Rex. Sophocles' most famous play sees its main character, who seems like he's got it all together, find out that he's killed his father, married his mother, and brought a plague down on his adopted hometown. He doesn't take this news well. John touches on all the classic Oedipus themes, including hamartia, fate, and the wrath of the gods, and even gets into some Freud, although Oedipus was notably not a sufferer of an Oedipus complex.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Hamlet Part 1 | Crash Course Literature #203

    In which John Green teaches you about Hamlet, William Shakespeare's longest and most-performed play (video one of two). People love Hamlet. The play that is, not necessarily the character. John will talk a little bit about the history of the play and the different versions of it that have appeared in the centuries since it was written. You'll also learn about some of the big themes in the play, get a brief plot overview, and the all important connections between Prince Hamlet and Simba, the Lion King. Seriously though, The Lion King is totally just a Hamlet musical with animals instead of people.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Hamlet Part 2 | Crash Course Literature #204

    In which John Green teaches you MORE about Bill Shakespeare's Hamlet (video two of two). John talks about gender roles in Hamlet and what kind of power and agency Ophelia and Gertrude had, if they had any at all (spoiler alert: we think they did). You'll also learn about regicide, Ophelia's flowers, and Hamlet's potential motivations.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Frankenstein Part 1 | Crash Course Literature #205

    In which John Green teaches you about Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein (video one of two). You'll learn about the Romantic movement in English lit, of which Frankenstein is a GREAT example, and you'll learn that Frankenstein might just be the first SciFi novel. Once again, literature comes down to just what it means to be human. John will review the plot, and take you through a couple of different critical readings of the novel, and will discuss the final disposition of Percy Shelley's heart.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Frankenstein Part 2 | Crash Course Literature #206

    In which John Green continues to teach you about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (video two of two). You'll learn about romantic vs Romantic, the latter of which is a literary movement. John will also look at a few different critical readings of Frankenstein, and you'll learn about Victor's motivations. We'll also look a little bit at the moral limitations of science, if there are any.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Reader, it's Jane Eyre | Crash Course Literature #207

    In which John Green teaches you about Charlotte Bronte's classic coming of age novel, Jane Eyre. When Jane Eyre was published in 1847, it was a huge hit. It really hit the controversial balance beautifully, being edgy enough to make news, but still mainstream enough to be widely popular. You'll learn a little about the story, learn about Jane as a feminist heroine, and even get some critical analysis on how Bertha might just be a dark mirror that acts out Jane's emotional reactions.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Things Fall Apart Part 1 | Crash Course Literature #208

    In which John Green teaches you about Chinua Achebe's 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart (video one of two). You'll learn about Igboland, a region in modern day Nigeria, prior to the arrival of the British Empire. Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo villager who  worked his way up from life as a sharecropper to become a respected leader in his community. Okonkwo has a tragic fall and is exiled. And then the trouble starts. British missionaries arrive and change everything. Things Fall Apart has a lot to say about colonization and even something to say about decolonization.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Things Fall Apart Part 2 | Crash Course Literature #209

    In which John Green concludes teaching you about Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (video two of two). You'll learn about the historical contexts of Things Fall Apart, including 19th century colonization and 20th century decolonization. We're going to learn a little bit about Achebe's childhood between two cultures, cover Okonkwo's sad, sad end, and even learn a little about The Babysitters Club.

    Grades: 9-12
  • To Kill a Mockingbird Part 1 | Crash Course Literature #210

    In which John Green teaches you about Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (video one of two). John will cover a bit about Harper Lee's personal life, seeing as this novel has some autobiographical elements, and her long association with Truman Capote, who figures as a character in the book. You'll get an overview of the plot, and we'll talk a bit about Mockingbird as an example of bildungsroman and Southern Gothic, and look into the novel as a commentary on the racism and patriarchy of the Alabama in which Harper Lee grew up.

    Grades: 9-12
  • To Kill a Mockingbird Part 2 | Crash Course Literature #211

    In which John Green teaches you move about To Kill a Mockingbird (video two of two). In this installment, John teaches you about race, class, and gender in the American south, as seen through the eyes of Scout and Harper Lee. John will talk about how Scout learns about these aspects of the social order as she interacts with the people of the town, learns from Calpurnia, watches the trial of Tom Robinson, and endures the attack of Bob Ewell.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Slaughterhouse-Five Part 1 | Crash Course Literature #212

    In which John Green teaches you about Kurt Vonnegut's most famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (video one of two). Vonnegut wrote the book in the Vietnam era, and it closely mirrors his personal experiences in World War II, as long as you throw out the time travel and aliens and stuff. Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran who was a prisoner of war, survived the Battle of the Bulge and the fire-bombing of Dresden, goes home after the war, and has trouble adapting to civilian life (this is the part that's like Vonnegut's own experience). Billy Pilgrim has flashbacks to the war that he interprets as being "unstuck in time." He believes he's been abducted by aliens and pretty much loses it. You'll learn a little about Vonnegut's life, quite a bit about Dresden, and probably more than you'd like about barbershop quartets as a metaphor for post traumatic stress.

    Grades: 9-12

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