Why Read and Write About Literature?

 

When there are so many things to study today, why study and write about literature?

Traditionally, at least two answers have been given to this question. One is that literature is fun. It's delightful.

One of the basic purposes of literature has always been to entertain, and anything that is genuinely entertaining has value. In this course, literature will be our FUN-tabulous springboard into the writing process. We'll read stories, poems and dramas, which I've selected for their uniqueness, and find our personal and social responses to them. Believe me, it is a good time.

The other reason we use literature in this class is because literature teaches us many things. It not only delights us, it instructs us. We can say that literature presents human experience; it doesn't discuss it. It shows; it doesn't tell. It appeals to our senses and to our feelings as well as to our minds. It enables us to see, hear and feel characters in action. In a sense, it recreates experience. To cite just one example, a philosopher might write a book explaining to us the defects of the philosophy called utilitarianism; but Charles Dickens, as a writer, wrote a novel, Hard Times, in which he exposed concretely, through a story, the problems with utilitarianisrn. He enables us, in this way, not only to understand the problems with our minds, but to see and hear them with our senses and feel them with our hearts as well.

But literature doesn't simply record (and show us) life, it interprets it. It doesn't simply reflect life, it focuses it. It's a mirror, but a special kind of mirror. It's a mirror in which we can see ourselves even more clearly, more vividly than in an ordinary mirror. So there is implicit in every poem or play or story a world view, a set of values. Literature (as well as philosophy) asks and answers the big questions: 1) Where have we come from? 2) Where are we going? 3) What is the meaning of our existence?

Literature not only asks these questions in a searching and eloquent way, but also encourages us to find ourselves and our own personal answers. Those reflections and our answers to those questions will become the stepping stones to well-crafted essays. They'll become your way of recording, measuring and challenging our views of self and society.

That's why we use Literature in this Composition class.