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COVID-19 and The Five Conflicts

The last time I wrote in this blog, I had no idea how much my life was going to change shortly after I published a post about Moodle. Since then, I have entered the life I have always wanted: I have become an English teacher. This is my first year in public education, and it has been cut short by COVID-19. I offer this blog post as a reflection on that reality.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

From Meditation 17 by John Donne

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

Why Do We Have to Read Literature?

I’ve heard this question so many times. My answer, now that we are in the midst of a crisis, a pandemic: Because we need to prepare for moments like these. We need to prepare for frightening times, for joyful moments, for sad moments… for moments. We read literature to learn about the human condition, to absorb it within ourselves, to emerge from reading more a part of the human community than we were before. We read literature to learn more about our interdependence – not only with other humans but with the entire world, with all the beings, with all of it. We read literature to help ourselves admit our interdependence and to learn how to accept it. Eventually, we get it. It may be long after high school is over, but I hope that most do not have to wait that long.

What about the Five Conflicts?

We read literature for examples of the five conflicts (some might disagree on the number, but I learned of five, so I am sticking with that number) because we need to know how to cope with them. As a history major in 1993, I realized that humans can learn from the mistakes of the past. Our condition is such that we reflect on what has happened historically to make progress. As an English teacher, I have seen that we can use the five conflicts to categorize history within the context of literature (fiction and nonfiction) and make it more manageable.

The five conflicts are: person versus person; person versus society; person versus nature; person versus self; and person versus the supernatural. For each, we can find examples within literature to help us learn how to deal with these conflicts in our own lives.

Therefore, I leave you with this question (because English teachers aren’t supposed to spoon-feed the answers but rather help you to discover the answers within): What examples can you find within your literature treasure chest to address these conflicts? I bet you have read more than you might realize. While we have this time, think about it. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Be good to you, your family, and your loved ones.

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