Sparknotes Extinguishes Individuality

Ashley Logan


After a long day of classes, sports practices, and homework, you’re down to the last assignment; reading two chapters in your book from English. You take out the book and stare at the cover, dreading to read the content of its pages. Then you wonder if it would be easier to read a summary provided by Sparknotes instead of the assigned reading. Why not?

Sparknotes has chapter-by-chapter summaries of almost all books read in English classes. Although reading these brief outlines are a good review they cannot replace the actual reading. “There ain’t no spark in Sparknotes. Reading Sparknotes instead of the actual novel is like going to prom with a sibling — you’ll get to see the ballroom, but you won’t enjoy the dance,” English teacher Steve Poling said.

The summaries leave out many details that could be in quizzes. Information like description of characters, symbols, and scene settings are not always included. When asked if his students could perform well on quizzes if they only read Sparknotes, Poling responded, “not mine. My reading quizzes include questions about dialogue, significant details, literary tools like figurative language and the author’s style and purpose.”

When reading a quick overview of the chapters you may miss the narrator’s voice. The voice reveals the character’s attitude, personality, and sometimes the time period that the book is based on. It’s a critical tool the author uses for the reader to understand the character more fully.

In Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, the voice of Holden Caulfield is a vital part in the novel. He uses phrases like “something like that” and ends his sentences with “and all” which reveal his insecure character. Sparknotes leaves out these phrases so the reader doesn’t get the full voice of Holden and they miss out on these key characteristics.

Some students become dependent on using Sparknotes and they don’t catch symbols when they’re mentioned. When students replace Shakespeare with Sparknotes they don’t learn how to understand his plays; a useful skill for essays and discussions.

When students actually read the book it’s easier to write essays. They already know the general area of where certain scenes occur so finding quotes is easier for them. If a student only read Sparknotes it would be harder to understand symbolic figures that would be helpful to know when writing an essay.

Sparknotes takes away the opportunity for a reader to interpret the book in their own way and they may miss important symbols and meanings. Actually reading the assigned book is much more enjoyable than reading short summaries on a screen.

If students become dependent on Sparknotes they won’t be able to think for themselves when asked to interpret certain paragraphs they will be assigned in the future.