Wednesday, July 23, 2008


L is for Lies

“He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it.”

-- Krebs, in Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home”

As an English teacher, I would like to teach my scholars to write the way Harold Krebs tried to live – without lying. I don’t mean to suggest that the kids in my classes purposely try to deceive me when they write, but I do think their writing often reflects the elusiveness and artificiality of contemporary life. Their digital-age culture constantly bombards them with convoluted and muddled messages, and their essays occasionally exhibit a similar kind of inattentive uncertainty. It’s as if they don’t know precisely what to write, so they just write as much as possible as quickly as possible, using fancy adjectives and intricate sentences to hide their bewilderment. This could be called a kind of lying, in the sense that the scholars aren’t communicating any solidly held ideas. Like their information-loaded culture, they’re shelling their audience (me) with words in the hope that I won’t notice that there’s no particular meaning behind them. Hemingway’s character didn’t want to live that way. After experiencing the gross dishonesty and treachery of war, he wanted to live a life of truthfulness and simplicity, two qualities I would like to foster in my scholars’ writing. I would like them to decide what they believe about the assigned topic, and then explain their beliefs in a thoroughly straightforward manner. If an idea can be expressed in ten brief words, so be it; anything longer or more glitzy might border on dishonesty. “Write just what you mean, and mean just what you write” might be an appropriate motto for the young writers in my classes. If Harold Krebs -- or Hemingway himself – were sitting among my scholars, they would surely appreciate that approach.

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