Ugh…junior high. Even though I interviewed for a high school position, the first job offer I received was for 6th grade. It was also the first job I rejected. People told me I was a dumb naïve 22-year-old (which I very well might have been), but I remembered too vividly how horrible junior high and the early years of high school were. We were all on a quest to understand ourselves and in the process created insecurities and anxieties, all of which came about because of envy. While I’ve worked through (most of) my deep-seeded insecurities, I’m still surrounded by them through my students. There is something about adolescence that perpetuates this sense of envy and usually serves as the largest source of conflict in high school. Even though the students might not realize it, so many of their disputes and problems come from a type of envy they feel toward another. The same is true of the literature that reflects this growth and initiation into adulthood. When studying the conflict that arises in coming-of-age novels, students need to consider the root of it: envy. The below examples of non-fiction pair nicely with fiction because they pose questions about the nature and effects of envy and fighting.
Excerpt from The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, Arthur Schopenhauer. A more challenging piece of non-fiction, Schopenhauer delineates the different types of envy and the cause of them. Have students identify the various types of envy described by Schopenhauer and argue which type best correlates with characters from the fiction they are reading. Natural connections with fiction can be found with Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, House on Mango Street, the Harry Potter series, and Atonement.
Excerpt from On Duties, Cicero. Another challenging essay, Cicero evaluates the nature of fighting as it is born out of envy. He ascertains that the way in which we treat others during battle reveals a lot about the character of the individual. Even though this text deals primarily with war, this could be explored in a more figurative sense with the conflict between two characters. Again, provide the essay and have students determine how Cicero would describe the moral fiber of the characters based on their knowledge of both the non-fiction and fiction pieces. Consider pairing this with The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Hamlet, and Lord of the Flies.