As a species, there’s nothing we love more than slapping cool quotes on Etsy throw pillows. For instance, I don’t even own a spatula, but I DO own no less than seven different pillows that say things like “NOT ALL THOSE WHO WANDER ARE LOST,” which is just something that happens when you take a lifelong trash nerd like myself and give her a steady income.
But sometimes, we make a big deal out of quotes that aren’t actually all that inspirational, considering the context in which they were written. Quotes like…
The inspiring quote: “To thine own self be true.” — Hamlet
Why it’s not actually all that inspiring: As words go, “be yourself” is some good, solid advice. However, “keep to yourself and act only in your own self interest” is somewhat less solid and altogether less good. Given that the speaker of the quote, Polonius, is a pompous moron who wasn’t meant to be taken anywhere near seriously, modern scholars often think this line is probably supposed to mean something closer to the second one.
The inspiring quote: “Not being heard is no reason for silence.” — Les Misérables
Why it’s not actually all that inspiring: I bet this has inspired a lot of people, or at least the twelve who actually had to read this book in school, and I’m not here to take that away from you. Just know that, in context, it has less than nothing to do with France’s various revolutions—the quote actually comes from the old gardener at the convent, Fauchelevent, who is like, “VALJEAN ARE YOU LISTENING? I’M JUST TRYING TO TELL YOU THE RIGHT WAY TO BURY A NUN, OKAY,” while Valjean ignores him completely. (As is the Valjean way. If you have not read the book, I cannot tell you much time Valjean spends ignoring people who are talking directly at him.)
The inspiring quote: “Always.” — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Why it’s not actually all that inspiring: This Snape quote is an enduring maxim for anyone who ever read Deathly Hallows, saw the movie, and then cried right there in the theater. Everybody got this on a T-shirt in 2011, including me. But if you think about it, “Always” as a response to “After all this time?” isn’t so much romantic as it is deeply troubling. Really, it’s a testament to Snape’s stunted emotional growth. The man just couldn’t move forward with his life. Losing Lily forced him into a perpetual stasis from which he never recovered, right up until the moment he died. Sorry. This took off in a direction I wasn’t expecting. Quick! Someone post that gif of the cat sitting on a porcupine! You know the one.
The inspiring quote: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” — The Education of Henry Adams
Why it’s not actually all that inspiring: If you’re anything like me, I’m sorry about that for a couple of reasons, but also I bet you’ve been seeing this poster in classrooms ever since the age of five. The problem is that Henry Adams wasn’t a huge fan of teachers. In fact, what he’s getting at here is that teachers can influence their students negatively. At one point in the chapter, he even says something along the lines of “At least a murderer just kills you; a bad teacher can screw you up FOR LIFE.” Which is true I guess, but jeez.
The inspiring quote: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” — Twelfth Night
Why it’s not actually all that inspiring: First of all, what this is really saying is less “You can do anything!” and more “YOU’RE BORN RICH, YOU BECOME RICH, OR YOU MARRY RICH. THOSE ARE ALL THE WAYS TO BECOME RICH. IF YOU ARE NOT RICH, YIKES.” Second of all, it’s a sex joke. During live performances of Twelfth Night, the actor playing Malvolio is often doing a pelvic thrust all sexy-like just to drive the point home. Besides, if you think for even one second that Shakespeare wrote the word “thrust” and didn’t mean it sexually, then we have nothing further to discuss, you and I, and this is where we go our separate ways.
Forget space travel, the Internet, or Beyonce’s twins—in the grand scheme of things, Snapchat will surely be mankind’s great enduring legacy. It’s short, sweet, and to the point, which is why it’s perfect for sending selfies, videos, and humorous one-liners about literary movements and periods spanning multiple centuries. One guess as to which of those this slideshow’s going to be about.
Like most people, I sold my soul to Marvel long ago in exchange for cool fight sequences, hot outfits, and (spoiler alert) the utter heartbreak of watching half the characters I’ve come to know and love fade away into dust and nothingness.
Even if you have somehow never seen a Marvel movie, you likely know that Robert Downey Jr. plays Iron Man, that the rest of the actors are mostly called Chris, and that every movie ends with at least one post-credits scene because Marvel hates me and my small bladder specifically.
Now, unlike most people, my job is to make classic literature accessible to the modern reader. Previously, I’ve done it with single sentences, pie charts, and quotes from The Office. Today, I’m doing it with quotes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because what better way to make the classics accessible that than by summing them up in quotes from the most culturally ubiquitous and universally adored superhero franchise? (Sorry DC, but you know what you did.)
My parents gave me my name for no reason other than they heard it somewhere and said, “Yep, that’ll do.” But if you’re a fictional character, there’s a good chance your name is so symbolic and meaningful it may as well be Remus McSecretWerewolf. (It’s also entirely possible that your name is boring and insignificant, but who’s writing articles about those?)
Look, I’m not saying I took one look at the names on this list and was able to correctly predict the rest of the plot. I’m just saying that I could have done, if I possessed so much as an ounce of critical thought and didn’t just sit back and let books happen to me.
Jane Austen often wrote letters to people in which she said things like “I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant, and spending all my money,” and “I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne,” and “I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”
And if you’re going to sit there and tell me these doesn’t sound like Ariana Grande Instagram captions, well, then you and I have nothing more to talk about. Good day.