Danielle Heckenkamp explains how the Great Books can influence us as women and as mothers.
It is never easy to step outside our comfort zone. Yet it can easily be said that parenthood pushes us beyond those personal limits. When it comes to parenting, there are no two days alike, no two children alike, and no two families alike. There are commonalities that we can find among other parents, but each family unit has its own struggles and achievements unmatched with those around us.
This description of family uniqueness can also be found among the characters and topics of the Great Books. Through the Great Books (Classical Literature), we are forced to step outside of our comfort zone. It is through classical literature that we can embark upon moral lessons, understand the uniqueness of the person, and delve into deeper analytical thinking that can be transferred to our children and communities.
"The Great Books" is a term used to describe the classical books that focus on history, literature, philosophy, theology, and science. Each of these books contributed (in some way) to the development of Western Christian civilization. It is through the Great Books that we find ourselves lost among characters suffering from the same illnesses, celebrating the same joys, parenting the same headstrong children, and internally debating the same questions about the existence of God and the nature of man.
These books may seem beyond the scope of the average person at times, for it is not always easy to understand the irony of Johnathon Swift, the sarcasm of Charles Dickens, or the logical debate of Thomas Aquinas. Yet these books are truly gifts past down from generation to generation and are very applicable (and necessary) even in our modern society. It is through history and learning from the mistakes of others that provides the current generations with an opportunity to avoid those same errors.
I was blessed to attend a classical high school (Brookfield Academy), which developed my love for logic and rhetoric through the Great Books. My foundation was strong, and with that I have continued to develop my love for classical literature. However, I understand that this type of education is not as prevalent (yet beginning to expand more recently among private schools), so as adults without that foundation: how does one begin to understand the Great Books? Well, a beautiful and fruitful organization has sprung up that assists moms to reach outside of the average modern American publications and delves into an array of classics—this is The Well-Read Mom organization.
After attending a group for a while, my mom and I started our own group and began to invite friends. The monthly discussions are uplifting and informative. It is truly amazing to not only discuss, but learn from each other’s insights. While many of the books chosen are from a variety of my favorite authors, such as: Cather, Austen, L. M. Montgomery, Dickens, Bronte, and Alcott—there have been many books by authors that forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. This year is titled "The Year of the Giver," and I have been very pleased to expand my repertoire with books by John Steinbeck and Dorothy Day. Much can be said on either side regarding such controversial authors, but what is truly evident is the beauty in learning and appreciating their works—for not all literature is meant to give joy; some is meant to create, nurture, and resolve conflicts.
My plug for Well-Read Mom is beyond a monthly book—it is twofold. This organization brings the classics back into the forefront, while bringing women together in community. It is through the Great Books that we can step outside ourselves, yet also find ourselves among the characters and circumstances of literature from any time period. As we know, it is impossible to be stagnant—for if we are not progressing then we are digressing. The characters and discussion found in the Great Books are as various as the individual souls created by God. It is in a character’s behavior that we can discover our own failings and/or achievements.
If we do not desire to understand ourselves then how do we grow closer to God, our Creator? It is in love that we grow. Reading the Great Books will not only benefit our day-to-day lives as moms, by uplifting our minds to higher thoughts, but these teachings will gradually be passed down to our children. It is through our continual growth and learning that we can pass down such knowledge to our children.
Copyright 2023 Danielle Heckenkamp
About the Author
Danielle Heckenkamp is a stay at home mom and freelance writer who lives in Wisconsin with her husband and six children. Danielle writes about her daily experiences as a mom and love for her Catholic Faith. Danielle is the co-author of a nonfiction book about manners and common sense. You can step inside Danielle s daily life on Instagram.