Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ramona, Ramona

This morning--English department meeting--I was told that our principal had made a suggestion. Perhaps we should drop Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a novel that many of our juniors have trouble reading, and replace it with something else.

With what? asked our department head. Well, proposed the principal, what about Ramona, by Helen Hunt Jackson? Then the kids could learn California history.

Oh dear.

Ramona, for those of you not in the know, is a tearjerker romance from the nineteenth century, set in Southern California, which chronicles the doomed love of Alessandro, a brave young Indian, and Ramona, a Scots-Indian orphan who abandons her white privilege to run away with Alessandro and live with him in the wilderness.

It was written as a political novel, a denunciation of the mistreatment of Native Americans. It has a certain amount of political cachet: Jose Marti liked it! Marti wrote: “Ramona is a second Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . . The arrogant mestiza whose attachment to her Indian lover endures through persecution and death . . . and the desperate love they share until the vanquishing blond race casts them out like hunted animals . . . all this is alive in these pages.”

It survived as a romance. Well into the mid-twentieth century it was a beloved love story--the Balabusta's grandmother was a passionate fan.

A great American novel it is not. A replacement for The Scarlet Letter it is not. You could convince me to toss The Scarlet Letter. But not for Ramona.

4 comments:

The back of the hill said...

I am flabber-ghasted.

Commenter Abbi said...

Oh, when you first said "Ramona" I was thinking they wanted "Ramona the Brave" by Beverly Cleary, which I read in grade 2. That would really be pathetic!

debka_notion said...

Ramona? I think I read that in elementary school, it was something my sister got from a school book fair. (Maybe it was an adapted version?) Not on a level with the Scarlet Letter, which I read in 9th grade and did not have such problems with.

Marion said...

I recently blogged comparing the novel to the telenovela. The telenovela won.