Precious Thoughts

A few years ago, I taught Push by Sapphire in my Modern Novel class.  I was surprised at how shocked my students were at the story.  I mean, really, this is the generation that sees people’s heads get chopped off on the Internet.  When I revised my Modern Novel course to teach it a second time, I took Push off the reading list and replaced it with The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of shocking my students.  I just felt that I didn’t do a good job teaching Sapphire’s brillant novel.  On the other hand, there is a lot of critical material about The Bluest Eye — so I felt that I had more “help.” 

Now, with all the press out about Precious (the movie based after Push), I’m rethinking my decision.   Did I just chicken out of dealing with the Push’s themes of violence, incest, abuse, and poverty?  I know, of course, that The Bluest Eye deals a lot with the same themes; still, there is something far more disturbing about the issues in Push.  Or perhaps, it’s the way that Sapphire approached these issues — unflinching and almost matter of fact.  My Entertainment Weekly (I know — not a great “literary” source, but it works here) recently published a review of Precious stating “What’s terrifying about the abuse here is how casuallly it’s accepted as a fact of life, by both perpetrator and victim.”   I know that I have students who know this way of life.  Perhaps that is what made teaching Push so challenging.  And painful.

With all this said, I want to see Precious.  I know that it’s out in limited release — so I doubt that the film will make its way to rural New York.  Still, there is always DVD.  I also believe that this film has the power to make people talk.  Sapphire, of course, has not been silent about the challenges of making this film, and I’m looking forward to seeing the end result.


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I need to read the book and I want to see the film as well and wonder, too, how my students will react to it, given many of them are urban, African-American women who have overcome huge obstacles to further their education. Recently, my classes wrote a paper on how the American dream is portrayed by popular culture. In a brainstorming session, one of my students wrote that the American dream should be about children not getting hit for no reason. So many things about that sentence brought me up short and made me sad. Still that student is breaking the cycle just be succeeding in my class.

  2. Based on the nature of all the bestseller lists, books, movies, etc, how they’re generally dominated by escapist entertainment, “Precious” will probably not reach the widest audience it deserves. But thank goodness for DVD’s (the film version of the backlist!) which should help most of us see it when we can — even if it does reach here, I never get to the movies. Thanks for this, Karen, your honest self-appraisal.

  3. Karen Weyant Said:

    Thanks Sandy for your note. Yes, we have students who struggle to just get to the doorsteps of a college. When I hear their stories, I sometimes have to wonder — how important is that comma splice, really? Still, you have to read Push — it is uplifting in certain ways, and the ending has hope.

    Yes, Marie — I doubt that I will catch Precious at the theatre — but I will put it on my DVD list! Plus, when I teach The Modern Novel again, perhaps I will put Push back on my reading list. The movie may “push” people to read Sapphire’s novel.

  4. Looking forward to seeing this film. I’m remiss in never reading the book, but it’s now on my list.

  5. Sagarika Said:

    Hello Karen,
    After I read about the two books in your latest blog post I read the summaries of both these books and found both of them disturbing yet had to accept the harsh realities,finally.I think the book witnesses the hardest and the most ugly form of relationship along with the hope and sunshine of a better and happy tomorrow.
    I just was curious that where do you teach and what is your method of teaching,if you don’t mind me asking,of course?
    And as I saw everyone’s commenting on the film as well;
    I think the film on the book(s) might not get that much media attention since the books regarding these subjects are strong and powerful however the movies at times are not.Besides this the subject of the book is as such that there is a possibility of the film not gaining much commercial success however there are always people who appreciate and crave for good literature and their correct and real media projection or genuine filming.However one can never rule out the possibility that such real and hard accounts do gain mass sympathy,so the final and the absolute verdict would be given only once the film is released.
    Happy to have read about you teaching these books,
    Grateful to you for the good you are doing to the students,
    And thankful that there exists a-you,

    PS-you could reply on my blog or mail me,too.

  6. […] March 18, 2010 @ 7:41 pm } · { Novels, Pedagogy } { Tags: Push } A few months ago, I spoke of my longing to see the movie, Precious. I was right — the movie didn’t come […]

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