Klara and the Sun: Why It’s Important
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
By Maisie Quinn ’25
Rumors say that Klara and the Sun is leaving the ninth-grade English program as quickly as it entered it. It wasn’t on the survey given to students at the end of last year regarding which units should be taught this year, and teachers have made comments on how they believe it wasn’t the best novel for in-class reading. As a ninth grader who recently experienced all the benefits that this novel offered, I would much rather that it stayed, perhaps replacing Claire of the Sea Light as the first novel of the year.
In every class, there are people who never participate. It’s to be expected. It’s a truth of all required high-school classes. If a class is required, then there are going to be people who just don’t want to be there. Teachers often worry about getting these people to engage, and for good reason. It’s nearly impossible. You can’t force someone to suddenly become interested in a subject. Perhaps you can coax a few, but there are some people who will just never be interested in a subject, some who will even actively resist it.
Klara and the Sun, however, seems to be magic. When we had in-class discussions on the novel, I witnessed people speak up who I had barely even known were in the class. Something about Klara made people truly invested, or at least confident enough to talk. And I think I know what it is.
Though Klara is rich in character, world-building, allegory, and meaning, it is also written in a style that is plain and quite readable. This choice is deliberate on the part of the author, Kazuo Ishiguro; as the novel is narrated by a robot, the mechanical simplicity of the style reflects the mechanically simple way she sees the world. However, it also makes for a novel that is easy to discuss. Though the themes are (mostly) not thrown directly in your face, they are very plain to see, even if you’re not actively looking for them. This also makes it easy to discuss.
Compare it to Twelfth Night, another ninth-grade English text. It goes without saying that it is an excellent play, and should be essential reading. It is, after all, Shakespeare. However, I found that though our in-class discussions were just as lively, if not more so, they consisted of half the class rather than everyone. The style Twelfth Night is written in is not only poetic and complex, but archaic. This means that it is more difficult not only to read, but to figure out what is going on. And if someone isn’t interested in English, they’re not going to want to invest the time to read and understand it, which means fewer people participate in the conversation.
I'm not saying that we should strike all books with a complex style from the English department; far from it. As I said, works like Twelfth Night are masterpieces and should absolutely be read.
Instead, I propose that we start the year with Klara. If everyone is used to talking in class from the beginning, then it will be easier to engage them later. The novel that currently starts the year, Claire of the Sea Light, has recently had questions raised about its representation of queer people, calling into question its place in the curriculum. Perhaps it's time for Klara and the Sun to replace it.
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