Before going bungee jumping, you sign a hefty waiver that you understand that death and other serious consequences may result. Before every movie preview is a rating to give audiences an idea of how much sex and violence they will see.
Many books are also dangerous, raunchy, scary. Some literary characters even hold offensive points of view. Classic books are ripe for what college students and administrators call “trigger warnings.”
If you are considering reading, for instance, A Tale of Two Cities, you should know in advance that it offers a patronizing depiction of underprivileged Parisians—especially if you or someone close to you is an underprivileged Parisian. Likewise if you have ever advocated for alternative energy sources—you should be made aware that in Don Quixote there are scenes of graphic violence against wind power prototypes.
Provided with trigger warnings, readers will feel freedom to go ahead and read books that they were formerly fearful of, now that they’ve been forewarned about what’s inside. Trigger warnings are also useful for deterring people from reading what they know will be personally upsetting. They help people pre-judge a book by reducing it to a neat set of caveats.
As a public service, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) has decided to collect and distribute quality trigger warnings for classic and contemporary books. We are enlisting the help of readers everywhere to write and submit their own trigger warnings for their favorite books. They are brave souls who have already ventured into those pages unwarned.
What do you wish you knew about a book before you were traumatized by it? How would you warn future readers of say, Pride and Prejudice, The House at Pooh Corner, and 7 Ways to Win Friends and Influence People?
Don’t worry too much about giving away the ending. As Oberlin College wrote in its proposed guidelines for faculty members, “even if a trigger warning does contain a spoiler, experiencing a trigger is always, always worse than experiencing a spoiler.”
You can submit your trigger warnings on Twitter with the hashtag #triggerwarningfail and NAS’s handle @NASorg, or you can post them to NAS’s Facebook page or in the comments below. On Friday, the top three will be announced and the winners will receive a copy of NAS president Peter Wood’s book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now (trigger warning: apiphobic readers may experience intense emotions).
Here are some of the many submissions so far:
"Beauty and the Beast" Warning: Portrays Stockholm syndrome #triggerwarningfail @NASorg
“Around the World in Eighty Days” Warning – rushed travel, missed opportunities. #triggerwarningfail @NASorg
“The Republic” – Speluncaphobes beware.
"Goldilocks and the Three Bears" Warning: Human child terrorizes woodland animals, trespasses, eats baby’s food, invades beds #triggerwarningfail @NASorg