Bookish Moments on Boy Meets World

I was a nineties kid, and I grew up on Boy Meets World. I routinely took photos of Topanga to the hair dresser with instructions to make my hair look like hers. (I had a similar relationship with Meg Ryan.) I followed the ups and downs of the Cory-Topanga love affair. I celebrated the evolution of Shawn’s character and his ability to love and trust. As the series went on, Eric became funnier, and my sister and I still quote his one-liners.

For die-hard fans of the sitcom, the end of June marks an exciting time as the spin-off series, Girl Meets World, premieres.

The interesting thing about Boy Meets World is that Cory was growing up, going to school, learning life lessons. And you can’t go to school and learn life lessons without those lessons becoming central to the plot of the show. Boy Meets World, via the lessons taught in the classroom (and sometimes out of it) by Mr. Feeny, provides an excellent summer recommended reading syllabus, covering classics from Hamlet to A Christmas Carol to The Great Gatsby. Literature is an undercurrent to the show.

And so, I gathered up some of my favorite bookish moments from Boy Meets World. I’m sure there are many more, running from nuance to full-blown thematic relevance, all of which make the heart that much fonder.

“Chick Like Me” (S4E15)

In season 4, Cory is a columnist for the school paper – and he’s bad at it. After Mr. Feeny leads a class discussion of the book Black Like Me, in which a white man, John Howard Griffin, disguises himself as a black man to understand how the world treats African Americans differently, Shawn suggests Cory do a modified version of the experiment by dressing up as a girl – Chick Like Me. But since Shawn makes a more graceful girl than Cory, it’s Shawn who disguises himself and goes out on a date with a notorious misogynist, who has recently pushed himself on Topanga’s friend Debbie. The guys learn a lesson on the pressures that women feel when dating.

“I Love You, Donna Karan” (S5E7)

In season 5, we’re in the thick of the Shawn and Angela tension – they agreed to a two-week rule, but at the end, they both want more, though neither will admit it. When Shawn finds a purse that someone has left unattended, the contents reveal the woman of his dreams – kiwi-mango lip gloss, a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a ticket stub for a Van Damme movie. When he returns the purse to its owner, and then discovers that the girl has a boyfriend, Shawn is crushed. But in a twist of fate, and unbeknownst to Shawn, the purse may have belonged to that girl, but its contents belonged to Angela.

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“A Long Walk to Pittsburgh” (S4E16) 

Cory finds out that Topanga’s parents are moving her to Pittsburgh. When his mother tries to console him, while also perhaps dropping some untimely truth bombs about their age and the likely eventualities of high school romance, Cory offers up what he believes is a bulletproof comparison:  he and Topanga are like Romeo and Juliet – “And they turned out okay, didn’t they?” While reading the book in his backyard, Mr. Feeny finds him and urges him to check out the end of the final scene, where Cory finds the death scene and declares that Shakespeare was a hack.

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“Wake Up, Little Cory” (S2E7)

Cory and Topanga stay late at school to work on a video project about sex and love, but they fall asleep and are discovered by a furious Feeny. Rumors fly about the two, and when Cory is asked whether he’s the man or not – did he get somewhere with Topanga or not? – he says he’s the man. Topanga’s reputation is tarnished, whereas Cory is a school icon, however briefly. The underlying literary work being discussed in this episode is Much Ado About Nothing, a play about rumors and how damaging they can be for couples.

“Poetic License:  An Ode to Holden Caulfield” (S6E9)

Cory is harsh about a poem that Mr. Feeny reads in class, only to find out that Shawn wrote it. Cory and Feeny both encourage Shawn to participate in an open-mic poetry reading at the school; Shawn hesitates, but Cory tells him he only has to read if he wants to. At the poetry reading, however, he puts Shawn on the spot, and when Shawn rushes away from the mic, unable to read, Cory reads his very personal poem for him, in front of everyone, including Angela, who the poem is about. Cory also tries his hand at poetry, reciting poems about his frustrating relationship with Topanga.

“Seven the Hard Way” (S7E16)

After a war of pranks gets out of hand, Feeny and Eric assemble the gang to help patch things up. But when everyone refuses to make things better, we get a glimpse into the future based on how life will turn out if no one apologizes. And in the future, Eric has become a hermit and written a manifesto, which all hermits do. He has renamed himself “Plays With Squirrels,” and his book, a brick that rivals the biggest of big books, contains only one sentence:  “Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself.”

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