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Why Study Literature?

05.15.2023 • 5 min read

Learn about the value and benefits of studying literature: how it develops our skills as well as shapes our understanding of the society we live in.

What Is Literature?

The benefits of studying literature.

Literature & Outlier.org

Many libraries in the U.S. are under attack.

From small towns to big cities, it’s more common to see protests outside of libraries. Libraries are under the microscope and being scrutinized for what content they have on their shelves.

Some people see certain books as a threat to society. While others believe everyone has a right to access any information they wish. The fact is literature is so powerful some people see it as dangerous and want to choose what the public has a right to read.

This is not the first time in history that people have tried to censor literature for what it says. So what really is literature and why is it so powerful?

In this article, we’ll define literature, talk about the history of literature, and the benefits of studying literature in college.

Literature is an art form that uses language to create imaginative experiences. It includes poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction.

Literature communicates ideas and emotions.It entertains, educates, and inspires readers. Literature explores complex themes and is an important part of human culture.

From its original Latin derivative, "writing formed with letters," to its current definition, a "body of written works," our understanding of literature has evolved.

Literature explains society and culture. It both criticizes and affirms cultural values based on the writer’s perceptions. It expresses and explores the human condition. It looks back to the past and onward toward the future.

As literature represents the culture and history of a language or people, the study of literature has great value. To study literature means looking deeply into a large body of written work and examining it as an art form.

Of course, there are many different literary genres, or types of literature. At a liberal arts school , a literature program, a student would study these genres extensively and understand the historical and cultural context they represent.

Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction

Students in a college literature program examine many forms of literature, including:

Some definitions of literature separate fiction into 2 categories: literary fiction and genre fiction. Genre fiction consists of more popular literature read for entertainment. Some examples of genre fiction include crime, fantasy, and science fiction stories.

Literary fiction explores themes of the human condition. These stories cannot be further categorized and are read primarily for a philosophical search for the meaning of life. Examples of literary fiction include The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

You can discover more distinctions by studying literature in depth.

1. Literature Develops Communication Skills

The foundation of literature is the English Language. By reading literature, you can improve your knowledge of language: vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, content creation, and more. When you immerse yourself in William Shakespeare, Celeste Ng, or Chinua Achebe, you're absorbing new words, expressions, and ideas—without even realizing it.

You can use everything you learn to improve your own writing and communication skills . You will use these skills beyond high school and college. In our everyday lives, we navigate personal relationships, craft emails, present projects, collaborate with teammates, analyze data, and more.

Yuval Noah Harari has written much of his own literature on the history and success of the human race. In his book Sapiens, he emphasizes our ability to craft stories as one of our most valuable skills: " Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively.” Through these collective stories, we learn about the human experience, both in smaller interpersonal ways and on a larger, more global scale.

2. Literature Teaches Us About the Human Condition

Literature helps us reflect on the human experience, teaching us about who we are and the world we live in. It presents a range of emotions, from love to anger to grief to happiness. It gives us insight and context about societal norms and cultural traditions.

It explores our history and our present; it imagines our futures. It introduces us to new ways of thinking and living, compelling us to think critically and creatively about our own experiences.

Through literature, we see we're not alone in our thoughts and feelings. The characters we read about have already experienced similar difficulties and worked to solve or change them, giving us the blueprint to do the same.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice goes beyond social commentary to explore the complexities of familial relationships, romantic relationships, and friendships. Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth Bennet without meaning to, Elizabeth Bennet makes harsh judgments without knowing all the facts, and Mrs. Bennet worries about her daughter's future constantly. We can see ourselves in them.

3. Literature Teaches Us About Empathy

When we connect with literature's characters and narratives, we learn how to empathize with others. While we’re not physically experiencing the raging seas in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse or the loss of a loved one in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, we are swept up in the story and the emotion. This helps us develop empathy and emotional intelligence.

In a 2006 study , professors at the University of Toronto concluded a lifetime exposure to literary fiction positively correlated with advanced social ability. In 2020, the Harvard Business Review encouraged business students to read literary works to enhance their abilities to keep an open mind, process information, and make effective decisions.

4. Literature Helps Us Explore New Ideas

With words, and not actions, authors create spaces where we can explore new ideas, new structures, new concepts, and new products. When the only limit is your imagination, anything is possible in creative writing.

We can dive into the past to understand British society at the turn of the 19th century in Austen's Pride and Prejudice or jump into potential futures through Harari's Homo Deus. We can consider alternative futures like that in George Orwell's 1984 or conduct experiments in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

We don't encounter monsters or humanoid robots in our everyday lives (at least we hope not!). But when we explore them through literature, we’re equipped to consider, challenge, and analyze concepts we don't yet know or understand. This practice opens our minds and allows us to be more flexible when we face the new and unknown. These critical thinking skills enable us to process information easier.

5. Literature Changes the Way We Think

With everything we learn from literature and the skills it helps us develop, literature changes the way we think, work, and act.

When we can think more critically, we arrive at different conclusions. When we open our minds and empathize with others, we better accept and tolerate differences. When we can articulate and communicate effectively, we work better together to achieve and succeed.

Whether English literature or Russian literature or French literature, literature is the key to understanding ourselves and society.

Literature and Outlier.org

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The course explores:

How to level up your love letters

What writing and magic have in common

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How to get your writing published

How to create the perfect short sentence

Outlier courses are 100% online, so you can learn at your own pace from the comfort of your own home. At $149 per credit, you’ll save 50% compared to other college courses, all while earning transferable credits from the top-ranked University of Pittsburgh. If you decide to continue your education in literature, you can take the credit with you to the degree program of your choice.

It’s no doubt studying literature will give you a well-rounded education. It is through literature that societies have grown and developed—inspiring change throughout the world. Choosing to study literature will not only give you a glimpse into the past but help you articulate the present and inspire change in the future. By studying literature you will have the power to connect with others and truly touch their hearts and minds.

About the Author

Bob Patterson is a former Director of Admissions at Stanford University, UNC Chapel Hill, and UC Berkeley; Daisy Hill is the co-author of Uni in the USA…and beyond published by the Good Schools Guide 2019. Together, they have established MyGuidED, a new educational tool for students looking to apply to university (launching 2023).

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1 What Is Literature and Why Do We Study It?

why do we need to study literature essay

In this book created for my English 211 Literary Analysis introductory course for English literature and creative writing majors at the College of Western Idaho, I’ll introduce several different critical approaches that literary scholars may use to answer these questions.  The critical method we apply to a text can provide us with different perspectives as we learn to interpret a text and appreciate its meaning and beauty.

The existence of literature, however we define it, implies that we study literature. While people have been “studying” literature as long as literature has existed, the formal study of literature as we know it in college English literature courses began in the 1940s with the advent of New Criticism. The New Critics were formalists with a vested interest in defining literature–they were, after all, both creating and teaching about literary works. For them, literary criticism was, in fact, as John Crowe Ransom wrote in his 1942 essay “ Criticism, Inc., ” nothing less than “the business of literature.”

Responding to the concern that the study of literature at the university level was often more concerned with the history and life of the author than with the text itself, Ransom responded, “the students of the future must be permitted to study literature, and not merely about literature. But I think this is what the good students have always wanted to do. The wonder is that they have allowed themselves so long to be denied.”

We’ll learn more about New Criticism in Section Three. For now, let’s return to the two questions I posed earlier.

What is literature?

First, what is literature ? I know your high school teacher told you never to look up things on Wikipedia, but for the purposes of literary studies, Wikipedia can actually be an effective resource. You’ll notice that I link to Wikipedia articles occasionally in this book. Here’s how Wikipedia defines literature :

“ Literature  is any collection of  written  work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an  art  form, especially  prose   fiction ,  drama , and  poetry . [1]  In recent centuries, the definition has expanded to include  oral literature , much of which has been transcribed. [2] Literature is a method of recording, preserving, and transmitting knowledge and entertainment, and can also have a social, psychological, spiritual, or political role.”

This definition is well-suited for our purposes here because throughout this course, we will be considering several types of literary texts in a variety of contexts.

I’m a Classicist—a student of Greece and Rome and everything they touched—so I am always interested in words with Latin roots. The Latin root of our modern word literature  is  litera , or “letter.” Literature, then, is inextricably intertwined with the act of writing. But what kind of writing?

Who decides which texts are “literature”?

The second question is at least as important as the first one. If we agree that literature is somehow special and different from ordinary writing, then who decides which writings count as literature? Are English professors the only people who get to decide? What qualifications and training does someone need to determine whether or not a text is literature? What role do you as the reader play in this decision about a text?

Let’s consider a few examples of things that we would all probably classify as literature. I think we can all (probably) agree that the works of William Shakespeare are literature. We can look at Toni Morrison’s outstanding ouvre of work and conclude, along with the Nobel Prize Committee, that books such as Beloved   and  Song of Solomon   are literature. And if you’re taking a creative writing course and have been assigned the short stories of Raymond Carver or the poems of Joy Harjo , you’re probably convinced that these texts are literature too.

In each of these three cases, a different “deciding” mechanism is at play. First, with Shakespeare, there’s history and tradition. These plays that were written 500 years ago are still performed around the world and taught in high school and college English classes today. It seems we have consensus about the tragedies, histories, comedies, and sonnets of the Bard of Avon (or whoever wrote the plays).

In the second case, if you haven’t heard of Toni Morrison (and I am very sorry if you haven’t), you probably have heard of the Nobel Prize. This is one of the most prestigious awards given in literature, and since she’s a winner, we can safely assume that Toni Morrison’s works are literature.

Finally, your creative writing professor is an expert in their field. You know they have an MFA (and worked hard for it), so when they share their favorite short stories or poems with you, you trust that they are sharing works considered to be literature, even if you haven’t heard of Raymond Carver or Joy Harjo before taking their class.

(Aside: What about fanfiction? Is fanfiction literature?)

We may have to save the debate about fan fiction for another day, though I introduced it because there’s some fascinating and even literary award-winning fan fiction out there.

Returning to our question, what role do we as readers play in deciding whether something is literature? Like John Crowe Ransom quoted above, I think that the definition of literature should depend on more than the opinions of literary critics and literature professors.

I also want to note that contrary to some opinions, plenty of so-called genre fiction can also be classified as literature. The Nobel Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro has written both science fiction and historical fiction. Iain Banks , the British author of the critically acclaimed novel The Wasp Factory , published popular science fiction novels under the name Iain M. Banks. In other words, genre alone can’t tell us whether something is literature or not.

In this book, I want to give you the tools to decide for yourself. We’ll do this by exploring several different critical approaches that we can take to determine how a text functions and whether it is literature. These lenses can reveal different truths about the text, about our culture, and about ourselves as readers and scholars.

“Turf Wars”: Literary criticism vs. authors

It’s important to keep in mind that literature and literary theory have existed in conversation with each other since Aristotle used Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex to define tragedy. We’ll look at how critical theory and literature complement and disagree with each other throughout this book. For most of literary history, the conversation was largely a friendly one.

But in the twenty-first century, there’s a rising tension between literature and criticism. In his 2016 book Literature Against Criticism: University English and Contemporary Fiction in Conflict, literary scholar Martin Paul Eve argues that twenty-first century authors have developed

a series of novelistic techniques that, whether deliberate or not on the part of the author, function to outmanoeuvre, contain, and determine academic reading practices. This desire to discipline university English through the manipulation and restriction of possible hermeneutic paths is, I contend, a result firstly of the fact that the metafictional paradigm of the high-postmodern era has pitched critical and creative discourses into a type of productive competition with one another. Such tensions and overlaps (or ‘turf wars’) have only increased in light of the ongoing breakdown of coherent theoretical definitions of ‘literature’ as distinct from ‘criticism’ (15).

One of Eve’s points is that by narrowly and rigidly defining the boundaries of literature, university English professors have inadvertently created a situation where the market increasingly defines what “literature” is, despite the protestations of the academy. In other words, the gatekeeper role that literary criticism once played is no longer as important to authors. For example, (almost) no one would call 50 Shades of Grey literature—but the salacious E.L James novel was the bestselling book of the decade from 2010-2019, with more than 35 million copies sold worldwide.

If anyone with a blog can get a six-figure publishing deal , does it still matter that students know how to recognize and analyze literature? I think so, for a few reasons.

  • First, the practice of reading critically helps you to become a better reader and writer, which will help you to succeed not only in college English courses but throughout your academic and professional career.
  • Second, analysis is a highly sought after and transferable skill. By learning to analyze literature, you’ll practice the same skills you would use to analyze anything important. “Data analyst” is one of the most sought after job positions in the New Economy—and if you can analyze Shakespeare, you can analyze data. Indeed.com’s list of top 10 transferable skills includes analytical skills , which they define as “the traits and abilities that allow you to observe, research and interpret a subject in order to develop complex ideas and solutions.”
  • Finally, and for me personally, most importantly, reading and understanding literature makes life make sense. As we read literature, we expand our sense of what is possible for ourselves and for humanity. In the challenges we collectively face today, understanding the world and our place in it will be important for imagining new futures.

A note about using generative artificial intelligence

As I was working on creating this textbook, ChatGPT exploded into academic consciousness. Excited about the possibilities of this new tool, I immediately began incorporating it into my classroom teaching. In this book, I have used ChatGPT to help me with outlining content in chapters. I also used ChatGPT to create sample essays for each critical lens we will study in the course. These essays are dry and rather soulless, but they do a good job of modeling how to apply a specific theory to a literary text. I chose John Donne’s poem “The Canonization” as the text for these essays so that you can see how the different theories illuminate different aspects of the text.

I encourage students in my courses to use ChatGPT in the following ways:

  • To generate ideas about an approach to a text.
  • To better understand basic concepts.
  • To assist with outlining an essay.
  • To check grammar, punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, and other grammar/syntax issues.

If you choose to use Chat GPT, please include a brief acknowledgment statement as an appendix to your paper after your Works Cited page explaining how you have used the tool in your work. Here is an example of how to do this from Monash University’s “ Acknowledging the Use of Generative Artificial Intelligence .”

I acknowledge the use of [insert AI system(s) and link] to [specific use of generative artificial intelligence]. The prompts used include [list of prompts]. The output from these prompts was used to [explain use].

Here is more information about how to cite the use of generative AI like ChatGPT in your work. The information below was adapted from “Acknowledging and Citing Generative AI in Academic Work” by Liza Long (CC BY 4.0).

The Modern Language Association (MLA) uses a template of core elements to create citations for a Works Cited page. MLA  asks students to apply this approach when citing any type of generative AI in their work. They provide the following guidelines:

Cite a generative AI tool whenever you paraphrase, quote, or incorporate into your own work any content (whether text, image, data, or other) that was created by it. Acknowledge all functional uses of the tool (like editing your prose or translating words) in a note, your text, or another suitable location. Take care to vet the secondary sources it cites. (MLA)

Here are some examples of how to use and cite generative AI with MLA style:

Example One: Paraphrasing Text

Let’s say that I am trying to generate ideas for a paper on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I ask ChatGPT to provide me with a summary and identify the story’s main themes. Here’s a  link to the chat . I decide that I will explore the problem of identity and self-expression in my paper.

My Paraphrase of ChatGPT with In-Text Citation

The problem of identity and self expression, especially for nineteenth-century women, is a major theme in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (“Summarize the short story”).

Image of "Yellow Wallpaper Summary" chat with ChatGPT

Works Cited Entry

“Summarize the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Include a breakdown of the main themes” prompt.  ChatGPT.  24 May Version, OpenAI, 20 Jul. 2023,  https://chat.openai.com/share/d1526b95-920c-48fc-a9be-83cd7dfa4be5 

Example Two: Quoting Text

In the same chat, I continue to ask ChatGPT about the theme of identity and self expression. Here’s an example of how I could quote the response in the body of my paper:

When I asked  ChatGPT  to describe the theme of identity and self expression, it noted that the eponymous yellow wallpaper acts as a symbol of the narrator’s self-repression. However, when prompted to share the scholarly sources that formed the basis of this observation,  ChatGPT  responded, “As an AI language model, I don’t have access to my training data, but I was trained on a mixture of licensed data, data created by human trainers, and publicly available data. OpenAI, the organization behind my development, has not publicly disclosed the specifics of the individual datasets used, including whether scholarly sources were specifically used” (“Summarize the short story”).

It’s worth noting here that ChatGPT can “ hallucinate ” fake sources. As a Microsoft training manual notes, these chatbots are “built to be persuasive, not truthful” (Weiss &Metz, 2023). The May 24, 2023 version will no longer respond to direct requests for references; however, I was able to get around this restriction fairly easily by asking for “resources” instead.

When I ask for resources to learn more about “The Yellow Wallpaper,” here is one source it recommends:

“Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper: A Symptomatic Reading” by Elaine R. Hedges: This scholarly article delves into the psychological and feminist themes of the story, analyzing the narrator’s experience and the implications of the yellow wallpaper on her mental state. It’s available in the journal “Studies in Short Fiction.” (“Summarize the short story”).

Using Google Scholar, I look up this source to see if it’s real. Unsurprisingly, this source is not a real one, but it does lead me to another (real) source: Kasmer, Lisa. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s’ The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Symptomatic Reading.”  Literature and Psychology  36.3 (1990): 1.

Note: ALWAYS check any sources that ChatGPT or other generative AI tools recommend.

For more information about integrating and citing generative artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT, please see this section of  Write What Matters.

I acknowledge that ChatGPT does not respect the individual rights of authors and artists and ignores concerns over copyright and intellectual property in its training; additionally, I acknowledge that the system was trained in part through the exploitation of precarious workers in the global south. In this work I specifically used ChatGPT to assist with outlining chapters, providing background information about critical lenses, and creating “model” essays for the critical lenses we will learn about together. I have included links to my chats in an appendix to this book.

Critical theories: A targeted approach to writing about literature

Ultimately, there’s not one “right” way to read a text. In this book. we will explore a variety of critical theories that scholars use to analyze literature. The book is organized around different targets that are associated with the approach introduced in each chapter. In the introduction, for example, our target is literature. In future chapters you’ll explore these targeted analysis techniques:

  • Author: Biographical Criticism
  • Text: New Criticism
  • Reader: Reader Response Criticism
  • Gap: Deconstruction (Post-Structuralism)
  • Context: New Historicism and Cultural Studies
  • Power: Marxist and Postcolonial Criticism
  • Mind: Psychological Criticism
  • Gender: Feminist, Post Feminist, and Queer Theory
  • Nature: Ecocriticism

Each chapter will feature the target image with the central approach in the center. You’ll read a brief introduction about the theory, explore some primary texts (both critical and literary), watch a video, and apply the theory to a primary text. Each one of these theories could be the subject of its own entire course, so keep in mind that our goal in this book is to introduce these theories and give you a basic familiarity with these tools for literary analysis. For more information and practice, I recommend Steven Lynn’s excellent Texts and Contexts: Writing about Literature with Critical Theory , which provides a similar introductory framework.

I am so excited to share these tools with you and see you grow as a literary scholar. As we explore each of these critical worlds, you’ll likely find that some critical theories feel more natural or logical to you than others. I find myself much more comfortable with deconstruction than with psychological criticism, for example. Pay attention to how these theories work for you because this will help you to expand your approaches to texts and prepare you for more advanced courses in literature.

P.S. If you want to know what my favorite book is, I usually tell people it’s Herman Melville’s Moby Dick . And I do love that book! But I really have no idea what my “favorite” book of all time is, let alone what my favorite book was last year. Every new book that I read is a window into another world and a template for me to make sense out of my own experience and better empathize with others. That’s why I love literature. I hope you’ll love this experience too.

writings in prose or verse, especially :  writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (Merriam Webster)

Critical Worlds Copyright © 2024 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Why Study Literature?

Stacey Van Dahm

If you are here, reading this article, you might already know how important reading literature is. But if someone asks you, “Why study literature?” how would you answer? It’s an age-old question we once again face at a time when choosing what to study in college is tied to rather limited assumptions about what “success,” or a “good income,” or the very purpose of a college education actually is. In fact, the discussion about why we study literature is directly related to the general education or liberal arts curriculum at any institution of higher learning. These programs adhere to the notion (supported by research) that studying literature, philosophy, and art (i.e., the Humanities) makes us better people — more responsible, ethical, and civically engaged.

This is true, but that’s not exactly the conversation I want to have here. Instead, I want to start with a 200,000-year-old handprint.

In 2021, Archaeologists discovered the earliest known cave art in the Quesang village in the Tibetan Plateau. The hand- and footprints discovered, it turns out, were made by 7- and 12-year-old hominin species children [1] , somewhere between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago during the Middle Paleolithic period (Zhang et al). The journal Science Bulletin , originally publishing the findings, includes these two images of the prints:

why do we need to study literature essay

I include the images because they help us to imagine the children, who “squished their hands and feet into sticky mud” (Lanese) to leave the prints deliberately, which opens up a fascinating question about whether or not this is “art.” Matthew Bennet, a professor of environmental and geographical sciences at Bournemouth University in Poole, England, likens the composition to the scribbling of a toddler that a parent might hang on the fridge as “art.” It is intentional and playful. The implication is that, as a deliberate composition, it is artistic.

One of the ways we might understand these handprints is to tell their story. It seems the children were together, playing in the mud. I imagine them enjoying the feeling of wet mud squishing between their toes and fingers, the smell of earth and leisure. Perhaps they were siblings or cousins or similarly related young people attached to the same band of Denisovans or Homo erectus. Maybe one of them, the youngest — after having observed the other for some time — stuck their foot in the mud and lifted it straight up, out of some interest, a curiosity. The other sees this and does the same, and before long, they are taking it in turns, nudging each other out of the way, to slowly fill up the space with various hand- and footprints. Perhaps, liking the results, they left those prints there. Or maybe they were wrenched away from this “play” suddenly, out of some necessity, never to return. Either way, they hardly could have imagined that 200,000 years later scientists would find the marks preserved by the slow-moving forces of geological fate, to be discovered and studied during the so-called Anthropocene period.

Some cave drawings more definitively categorized as “figurative art” date back about 40,000 years and are found in Indonesia. The depictions of hands made with a stencil technique, as if outlined “against a background of red paint,” or the figures of animals once common in the area, shifted our assumptions about the origins of art. Scientists understand these figures to be an indication of the “moment when the human mind, with its unique capacity for imagination and symbolism, switched on” (Marchant). To put this in other terms, we have long understood art to be a sign of something unique about human beings and their sensibility.

These examples trigger our own curiosity. What were these human ancestors trying to capture as they drew figures of themselves and animals? What kinds of rituals or rites of passage included marking walls with handprints? How did early humans imagine themselves and their surroundings? How did they imagine themselves in relation to others? Why did they feel compelled to express their experience in visual images and stories? Is our amazing ability to imagine and represent experience beyond the self a unique sign of humanity?

What we see in early artistic endeavor is, really, ourselves. And our thirst to understand the drawings and stories and relics of the past has very much to do with a quest to understand human experience and our own place in it. In fact, the creation of stories, narratives, is very much about making meaning of the world, as explained in Clint Johnson’s, “ What Is Story ?”

Indeed, the story that I’ve told you so far is really a way to make sense of something. In fact, you will notice that the telling of this story included some make-believe — an anecdote of young people playing in mud — but also lots of other modes of inquiry and knowledge building: anthropology, geology, biology, and paleontology, for example.

My argument is that literary study is important because it is one more form of studying the artifacts of people over time, the kinds of artifacts that help us understand ourselves in historical context. Literary study is the study of the stories people have told about human experience throughout time. Cave drawings, like stories, suggest the centrality of aesthetic sensibility to human experience. They trigger our curiosity , and they show us we have a deep and connected human history that demonstrates a compulsion to create and leave a mark. Literary art is like that handprint in the mud; it is the imprint of a mind, a sensibility captured in artistic creation composed of words.

Literary study awakens our aesthetic sensibility.

It may be surprising that a handprint in the mud can inspire aesthetic wonder. But many of us have been moved by literary images that unfold before us as we read. These images are powerful because they happen in our minds and hearts. It is one of the ways that the experiences of literary characters become deeply embedded in our own emotional lives. Aesthetic experiences make us feel.

Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is filled with passages that evoke a sense of beauty both through imagistic descriptions and the kinds of human experiences they are attached to. The novel tells the story of a family over multiple generations in a small town in Columbia called Macondo. The death of José Arcadio Buendía, the patriarch of the family and the founder of the community, is represented in a way that evokes the gravity of the loss:

Entonces entraron al cuarto de José Arcadio Buendía, lo sacudieron con todas sus fuerzas, le gritaron al oído, le pusieron un espejo frente a las fosas nasales, pero no pudieron despertarlo. Poco después, cuando el carpintero le tomaba las medidas para el ataúd, vieron a través de la ventana que estaba cayendo una llovizna de minúsculas flores amarillas. Cayeron toda la noche sobre el pueblo en una tormenta silenciosa, y cubrieron los techos y atascaron las puertas, y sofocaron a los animales que durmieron a la intemperie. Tantas flores cayeron del cielo, que las calles amanecieron tapizadas de una colcha compacta, y tuvieron que despejarlas con palas y rastrillos para que pudiera pasar el entierro. ( Cien Años 166)
Then they went into José Arcadio Buendía’s room, shook him as hard as they could, shouted in his ear, put a mirror in front of his nostrils, but they could not awaken him. A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by. ( One Hundred Years 140)

The passage, beautiful in both Spanish and English, conveys the enormity of the loss in a surprising, magical scene that combines wonder and sadness. Falling yellow flowers make the loss visible, shared, throughout the whole community. It seems as if a higher power is responding to death with a “tormenta silenciosa,” a “silent storm” that blankets the town. The way that Gabriel García Márquez juxtaposes death with beauty in this scene touches our own sense of loss, uniting the literary image of grief with our own understanding of suffering. Falling yellow flowers remind us that suffering loss is always paired first with having loved.

These kinds of literary images live within us after we read a book, and they color our vision of the world and our ways of interacting with it.

Literary study activates our curiosity.

Literature also drives us to get answers to our questions, to ask and to explore. This is one of the things people mean when they say that literature “opens our minds.” When we are curious, we engage with the world by asking questions and listening carefully and thoughtfully to the answers we encounter. This way of facing life makes it much harder to judge others and shut out new ideas, and it makes it much easier to understand things that are unfamiliar.

A short story published in 2016 by Helen Oyeyemi, “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” is filled with curiosities. Some of the main characters in the story are … puppets — puppets who manipulate their handlers and each other with the verve of jealous children and the intensity of young lovers. The story defies simple explanation, but we see from the start that desire will be a driving force in the story when the main character, Rhada Chaudhry, a schoolgirl, meets another central character, Myrna Semyonova, and becomes determined to win her heart. She sets out to do so by telling stories. “I discovered that I could talk to you in natural, complete sentences. It was simple: If I talked to you, perhaps you would kiss me. And I had to have a kiss from you: To have seen your lips and not ever kissed them would have been the ruin of me …” (101). This desire initiates a metaphor of storytelling as an alternating current that animates both the teller and the listener. And it pricks our curiosity. Will she get the girl? 

As it turns out, this isn’t the right question. This story makes us curious by defying our expectations. It seems like a romance, but Oyeyemi’s love tangle becomes secondary when the story shifts to center puppetry, a surprising form of storytelling. Puppets, directed and manipulated by a puppeteer, enact stories, but in Oyeyemi’s world, when one small puppet asks, “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” the puppet master disappears, and with them, so do readers’ assumptions about how stories work. At first, Rhada joins Myrna’s puppet school saying, “I don’t feel one hundred percent sure that I’m not a puppet myself” (108). But soon, Rhada’s puppet, Gepetta, takes over the narration of the story, commenting on Rhada’s crushes, telling the history of enigmatic puppet, Rowan, with whom she listens to music while riding night buses since, she says, “neither of us needs sleep” (129). As the puppets manipulate their handlers and overtake our imaginations, we readers find ourselves delightfully lost. We are no longer in a romance or a puppet show. Eventually, someone, perhaps a jealous and long-suffering puppet, orchestrates a crime that exposes all the characters’ hidden suffering, fear, and desire. The story suggests that we are just as likely to be manipulated in the stories of our lives, pulled by the strings we pretend are not there. 

This is a story that raises many questions about the human condition. How do my assumptions about stories blind me to how I’m reading? What expectations and assumptions do I hold that cause me to misinterpret others? Is it possible for me to truly see others or for them to see me? Why are we so unaware of the suffering and pain of those around us? To what extent do my own desires and hidden fears hold me back?  

Literature piques our interest in both the magic of a fantastic tale and the complexity of human experience. In this case, literature makes us curious about our own choices and our own behavior in the face of human fragility, including our own.

Literary study also deepens our historical and critical perspective.

You likely remember learning about another historical period through reading. Literary texts draw readers into a time and place different from our own. Immersed in a literary world, we discover the values, beliefs, and systems that shape human behavior. Reading literature opens us to a critical examination of our shared humanity with fictional others.

In Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas’ novel Hallucinations , the author explores critical issues of religious and political oppression through a fantastical story about the struggle for Mexican independence from Spain. In it, he uses hyperbolic and outrageous depictions of the Spanish Inquisition as a metaphor for the brutality of colonial systems of power. Near the opening of the novel, Arenas includes descriptions of the Inquisitorial pyres that “burned night and day at the end of every street, so that heat and soot were perpetual in the city and on summer days made it unbearable” (14). His exaggerated descriptions include mobs “crowded about the flames” (14), lines of people waiting to be burned in the fires, and protesters choosing to die “an unchristian death, without the final benefaction conferred by confession” just to flout “the orders of the Holy Inquisition” (15).  In order to highlight the absurdity of abusive power and passive obedience, Arenas depicts the hypocrisy of church leaders condemning people to the punishment of the church for the sake of political power and the abuse of the most humble members of society, especially the Native Americans, whom the church claims to be there to save.

There is no way to read these passages of historical fiction without critically examining the truth of these historical events. Was the Spanish Inquisition truly this brutal? How many people were condemned to death? To what extent were these choices, played out in colonial cities, actually about solidifying power for individuals, for governments? How did spiritual manipulation affect the outcome of the conquest in Latin America? How did this historical moment shape the world as we know it today? For Arenas, the biggest question seems to be about how the desires and fears of just one person can influence choices and actions that change the lives of multitudes, even the direction of history.

When we encounter literary events that touch our own sense of shared humanity, we ask critical questions about the world around us. In this way, literature helps us to build an historical understanding of everyday life. Literature helps us critically examine such choices and how we, like the characters we love, might also be susceptible to the forces of desire that determine the course of history: the contradictions of fear and love, desire and humility, or pride and compassion.

Why study literature?

For many of us, reading brings great pleasure. But when it comes to college, studying literature makes us better people. That claim might seem overstated, but it is not. When we gain awareness of our aesthetic sensibility, we live in the knowledge that part of what makes us human, part of what we share with all people, is a need for beauty and an urge to create it. When our curiosity is sparked by a literary image, a moving theme, or the complex contradictions of human behavior, we become better at investigating the world around us. And when literature immerses us in another’s experience and another world, we become more able to critically examine our own lives and our own behavior. Studying literature makes us more human, more humane.

Works Cited

Arenas, Reinaldo. Hallucinations: Or, the Ill-fated Peregrinations of Fray Servando . Translated by Andrew Hurley. Penguin. 2002.

García Márquez, Gabriel.  Cien Años de Soledad.  Madrid: Alfaguara, 2007.

García Márquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitud e. Translated by Gregory Rabassa. Harper Perennial, 2006. 

Lanese, Nicoletta. “Kids’ Fossilized Handprints May Be Some of the World’s Oldest Art.”  Scientific American , 21 Sept. 2021, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kids-fossilized-handprints-may-be-some-of-the-worlds-oldest-art/ . Accessed 15 Dec. 2022. 

Marchant, Jo. “A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World.” Smithsonian Magazine, Jan. 2016 ,  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journey-oldest-cave-paintings-world-180957685/ . Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.

Oyeyemi, Helen. “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours . Riverhead Books, 2016. 95-151. 

Zhang, David D., et al. “Earliest Parietal Art: Hominin Hand and Foot Traces from the Middle Pleistocene of Tibet.” Science Bulletin , vol. 66, no. 24, Dec. 2021, pp. 2506–15. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.libprox1.slcc.edu/10.1016/j.scib.2021.09.001 . 

  • These were a subspecies of archaic humans thought to be either Denisovans or Homo erectus. ↵

Literary Studies @ SLCC Copyright © 2023 by Stacey Van Dahm is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Why Is Literature Important? (23 Reasons)

What’s the point of picking up a book when the world’s knowledge can be streamed directly into my ears or viewed on a screen, right?

But, stick with me for a moment.

With every turn of the page, literature challenges, comforts, and questions. It nurtures our capacity for empathy, enriches our language, and hones our critical thinking. It offers escape but also a confrontation with the truths of human existence—our joys, sorrows, ambitions, and fears.

Now, stick with me for a bit longer as we explore why literature is essential and how it has survived the test of time. Ready to turn the page? Let’s explore this together!

Table of Contents

Literature Fosters Empathy

Literature acts as a gateway into the lives, emotions, and experiences of others. By delving into a character’s journey, readers step out of their own lives and enter another’s world, broadening their emotional depth and fostering empathetic understanding.

  • Connection to Others : Through narratives, we connect with characters who may be vastly different from ourselves, allowing us to appreciate their struggles, joys, and sorrows.
  • Broadened Horizons : Exposure to diverse lifestyles and viewpoints broadens our worldview, aiding us in becoming more tolerant and appreciative of differences.
  • Emotional Depth : A poignant scene or a touching dialogue engraves deeper emotional understanding within us, which we then carry into our real-life interactions.

An example of empathy in literature is found in Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” where readers learn to understand and feel compassion for characters who confront racial injustice.

This tale, among others, extends the boundaries of our compassion beyond our immediate life circle and has the potential to affect social change through this expanded empathy.

Literature Stimulates Emotional Intelligence and Growth

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of and manage one’s own emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Literature educates the heart as much as the mind by illustrating the complexity of emotions.

  • Self-awareness: Recognizing personal emotions and their effects.
  • Self-regulation: Managing disruptive emotions and impulses.
  • Motivation: Relating one’s emotions to personal goals and objectives.
  • Empathy: Understanding the emotional makeup of others.
  • Social skills: Building and managing relationships effectively.

Readers may find themselves growing alongside characters, experiencing a maturation that parallels the protagonists’ evolutions. By dealing with fictional situations and conflicts, individuals become better equipped to face their challenges, making literature a catalyst for personal growth and development.

Literature Trains the Mind in Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills

Critical thinking can be defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. It is a cornerstone of education and personal development.

In the context of literature, readers activate these skills by dissecting themes, symbols, and the motives of characters.

  • Questioning the text: Readers must consider the reasons behind events and characters’ decisions.
  • Analyzing structures: Understanding how stories are crafted, including plot, setting, and character development.
  • Interpreting meaning: Delving into themes, symbols, and metaphors to grasp deeper significance.

This mental exercise enhances the ability to critique and argue points effectively, which is an essential skill in many professional environments.

Take, for example, Sherlock Holmes stories, which aren’t just about following the detective’s brilliant deductions. They invite readers to think alongside Holmes, practicing deductive reasoning by picking out important details and drawing conclusions from them.

Literature Encourages Lifelong Learning and Curiosity

The pursuit of knowledge and the joy of curiosity are deeply embedded in the human spirit. Each book, story, or poem offers a new opportunity to learn something unknown or to see the world from a different perspective.

  • New topics and themes challenge readers to explore subjects they may never have considered.
  • Exposure to different writing styles and genres can inspire further reading and investigation.
  • Lifelong learning through literature contributes to personal fulfillment and professional success.

The diversity in learning styles and preferences illustrates how literature accommodates and nurtures an array of learning journeys, contributing to a well-rounded, informed individual.

Literature Enriches Language Skills and Vocabulary

Complex narratives challenge readers to understand context, double meanings, and sophisticated themes, expanding not only vocabulary but also cognitive abilities. 

  • Advanced Vocabulary: Reading exposes one to new words and ways of using them.
  • Language Patterns: Various literary works employ distinct styles, enhancing one’s grasp of grammatical structures.
  • Figurative Language: Metaphors, similes, and analogies in literature sharpen comprehension and usage of nuanced language.

Over time, frequent readers tend to articulate thoughts better, achieve higher academic performance, and become more effective communicators. Language mastery is foundational to success in many areas of life, and literature offers a rich, enjoyable path to achieving it.

Literature Enhances Communication and Writing Abilities

Literature offers readers a look into the art of conveying thoughts, emotions, and narratives effectively, laying the groundwork for strong speaking and writing abilities.

Enhancing Verbal Skills:

  • Dialogue: Literature often includes examples of dialogue that reflect how people speak and interact, providing a model for effective verbal communication.
  • Narrative Voice: The unique voices of characters or narrators teach us about tone and style, which can translate into better-spoken communication.

Writing, like communication, is refined through exposure to good literature. Analyzing an author’s crafting of sentences, or how they build tension and convey mood, can be immensely beneficial for one’s own writing.

Improving Written Expression:

  • Style: Every author has a distinctive style—a personal fingerprint of word choice and syntax, which aspiring writers can learn from.
  • Structure: The way a story is structured, from sentence length to paragraph layout, influences how readers perceive and understand content.

Literature Provides a Voice for Social and Political Discourse

Authors can influence public opinion and inspire change by presenting stories that highlight societal issues. Through the power of the written word, literature has the capacity to shine a light on injustice, question authority, and offer new perspectives.

  • It stimulates discussions on social justice, equity, and human rights.
  • Authors often use allegory and satire to comment on contemporary political climates.
  • Literature can be a form of resistance and a catalyst for democratic change.

Reading literature that deals with complex social and political themes can be a transformative experience. It helps readers understand different viewpoints and teaches them about the struggles of others.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ” it was said to have laid the groundwork for the American Civil War by bringing the reality of slavery to readers in a poignant and humanizing manner.

Literature Bridges Gaps Between Diverse Cultures and Societies

World literature introduces readers to ways of life and belief systems unlike their own, promoting cross-cultural sensitivity and global citizenship.

  • Asian Literature: Explore Asian cultures through classic and contemporary works like “The Tale of Genji” and “The God of Small Things.”
  • African Literature: Explore the vibrant traditions and contemporary challenges of African societies through authors like Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie .
  • Middle Eastern Literature: Discover tales from ancient Arabian nights or contemporary reflections in works by authors like Khaled Hosseini .

By walking in the shoes of characters from around the world, readers gain a deeper appreciation of our shared humanity and the diversity that colors it. Literature serves as a bridge, connecting the reader to the global community and fostering unity through understanding.

Literature Enhances Our Understanding of History

Literature is a witness to history, capturing the essence of historical moments and the intricacies of lives lived during different eras. As much as history books record facts, literature infuses those facts with emotion and human experience.

  • Immersion into Periods: Whether through the accurate depictions of a period in historical fiction or symbolic representations in classics, literature offers an immersive view of the past.
  • Insight into Mindsets: Reading works from or about a specific time period provides insight into the thoughts and values of people from that era.
  • Comprehension of Events: Many authors incorporate significant historical events into their stories, allowing readers to understand the impact of these events on individuals and societies.

Books like “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy not only tell a tale but also bring the Napoleonic Wars to personal reality. They allow contemporary readers to feel the reverberations of the past in the comfort of the present.

Literature Develops Ethical Reasoning and Moral Understanding

Through stories, readers are exposed to complex scenarios where characters must make difficult choices. This exploration of right and wrong invites readers to contemplate moral complexities in a nuanced way.

  • Presents moral dilemmas: Readers evaluate characters’ choices, considering their own values in the process.
  • Reflects societal norms: Literature paints a picture of evolving ethical standards through various epochs and cultures.
  • Encourages reflection on consequences: The outcomes of actions in literature serve as cautionary or exemplary tales.

Reading about scenarios that challenge characters ethically allows individuals to explore their moral compasses within a safe and contemplative space. This vicarious exploration can lead to more nuanced ethical reasoning in one’s own life.

Literature Serves as a Medium for Escape and Mental Relaxation

Literature provides a respite in a fast-paced, often stressful world—a door to other worlds where the mind can wander freely, unwind, and rejuvenate. The act of reading is in itself a form of mental reprieve, a break from the immediacy of one’s own life.

Furthermore, this form of escapism also contributes positively to mental health. Literature’s transportive nature allows individuals to disconnect, recharge, and often return to their lives with renewed energy and a fresh perspective.

Literature Preserves Cultural Heritage and Traditions

Literature is a primary vehicle for sustaining the traditions and legacies of cultures worldwide. Each story, poem, or novel is a time capsule, enveloping the mores, beliefs, and expressions of the period it represents.

  • It captures and transmits oral and folk traditions.
  • It encapsulates the historical context and the zeitgeist of eras past.
  • It allows future generations to access and understand their cultural foundations and histories.

Epics like Homer’s “The Odyssey” faithfully conserve ancient Greece’s myths and social values, while classics like Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” provide insight into pre-colonial life in Africa as well as the impact of colonialism on indigenous cultures.

Literature does not merely record cultural artifacts; it breathes life into them, ensuring their persistence through the ages and reinforcing a shared human heritage that transcends the written word.

Literature Encourages Imagination and Creativity

Losing oneself to a work of literature can ignite the spark of imagination and inspire creativity. Unlike the passive consumption of visual media, reading necessitates that we use our minds to visualize characters and worlds, thus exercising and expanding our creative muscles.

For both authors and readers, the creation and interpretation of stories serve as a means of personal expression and imaginative exploration.

Examples of this abound, one of which is C.S. Lewis’ s “Chronicles of Narnia” series, which has sparked not only the imagination of its readers but also numerous adaptations in film, theater, and music.

Literature Challenges Stereotypes

Often, stereotypes are simplified and widely held beliefs about a particular group of people or things that can be ingrained in society’s consciousness.

When we engage with literature, we encounter characters and cultures that are complex, nuanced, and diverse. Literature can make us question our preconceived notions about others by presenting us with a range of experiences and identities.

  • Breaking down barriers: Stories can expose readers to different cultures, lifestyles, and belief systems, promoting empathy and understanding.
  • A broader perspective: Through narratives that span various backgrounds, readers can question their own preconceived notions and potentially rethink their biases.

By offering an array of diverse perspectives within its pages, literature acts as a catalyst for broader thinking, urging us to consider viewpoints outside of our own experience.

Literature Can Help Us Develop Our Unique Voice

In the quest to find one’s voice—be it in writing, speaking, or through artistic expression—literature can be a guiding force. As we read, we unconsciously absorb these styles, which later influence the development of our own writing and speaking voices.

  • Experimentation: Sampling different genres and authors provides a wealth of vocabulary and rhetorical techniques to draw from when crafting our language.
  • Reflection: Analyzing authors’ choices in narrative and dialogue can lead to a more profound understanding of how we wish to present our ideas.

Whether inspired by the raw honesty of Maya Angelou or the piercing insight of George Orwell, as we read, we learn, and as we learn, we find new words for our feelings and thoughts, crafting a voice that’s truly our own.

Literature Encourages You to Learn Deeper

Engaging with literature often sparks a desire to dig deeper into a subject, whether motivated by a historical setting, a scientific concept, or a foreign culture described in a story. This pursuit of knowledge extends beyond the pages of the book into real-world understanding.

Readers not only gain insights from within the confines of the book’s universe but are also drawn to investigate and learn more about the real-world context. When a book like Dan Brown ‘s “The Da Vinci Code” entwines history with fiction, readers may find themselves delving into art history or religious studies.

Literature Can Inspire Us to Pursue Our Own Writing Dreams

For aspiring writers, the world of literature is not just an escape; it is a source of inspiration and a catalyst for one’s own creative endeavors. Each narrative is a nod to the potential writer within, suggesting, “You, too, have a story to tell.”

  • A reader might start journaling after connecting with a character’s introspective diary.
  • Another might draft a screenplay inspired by the vibrant imagery in a novel.
  • Or perhaps a poem sparks a blog, a memoir, or even a new genre altogether.

Whether it is keeping a journal, starting a blog, or drafting a novel, the inspiration derived from literature is a powerful motivator in the pursuit of personal writing objectives.

Literature Reflects Human Experiences

The power of literature to mirror the full spectrum of human experiences is unparalleled. Through stories, one can find reflections of love, loss, triumph, and the mundanities of everyday life. Readers often see pieces of their reality within the pages, a testament to the universal nature of literary themes.

  • Love and Relationships:  From the romance of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” to the tempestuous bond between Heathcliff and Catherine in “Wuthering Heights,” literature explores the complexities of relationships.
  • Conflict and Resolution:  The challenges faced by characters in narratives from “The Odyssey” to “The Lord of the Rings” reflect our own struggles and the pursuit of resolution.

Reading these stories validates our own experiences and emotions, giving us comfort and a sense of connection to others.

Literature Lets Us Time Travel

Imagine a machine that allows us to travel through time. Literature is that machine, not made of gears and levers but of words and ideas.

  • Past:  Journey to Victorian England with Charles Dickens or to Renaissance Italy with Dante Alighieri.
  • Future:  Explore dystopian societies through the lens of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley.

We travel back to learn or forward to dream, all within the span of pages. Unlike a history textbook’s linear recitation of facts, literature often weaves personal tales with the period’s cultural and social norms, giving a multidimensional view of the past or speculative futures.

Literature Lets Us Appreciate the Beauty of Words

The aesthetic pleasure derived from reading well-crafted sentences, the rhythm of poetry, and the eloquence of a compelling dialogue is one of literature’s greatest offerings. The beauty of words lies not just in their meaning but in their sound and structure, which can move and captivate readers.

Authors like Shakespeare and Jane Austen are celebrated for their eloquence and mastery of dialogue. The melodic potential of language comes to life in poetry, from the classics of Emily Dickinson to the contemporary works of Amanda Gorman.

Each passage, phrase, and word in literature holds the potential to inspire awe and admiration, reminding us of the evocative power of language.

Literature Gives You Something to Talk About With Others

Books are great conversation starters, providing endless topics for discussion. Whether it’s the latest bestseller or a timeless classic, literature opens the door for shared insights and lively debate.

  • Book clubs gather to dissect the latest bestseller.
  • Classroom debates over the themes of a classic novel.
  • Friendships are formed through mutual appreciation of a beloved series.

Sharing thoughts about literature can lead to stronger social bonds and a better understanding of different viewpoints. Moreover, it’s an opportunity to learn from others’ interpretations and gain insights you might have missed.

Literature Can Take You on New Adventures Without Leaving Home

Adventures await within the pages of books, offering escapes into worlds unknown without ever having to step outside. Whether it’s fantasy, science fiction, or adventure novels, literature has the unique ability to transport readers to different realms of possibility and imagination.

  • Explore New Worlds:  Whether it’s through the magical wardrobe to Narnia in C.S. Lewis ‘s beloved series or the warring kingdoms in George R.R. Martin ‘s “Game of Thrones,” readers experience the thrill of exploration.
  • Escape from Reality:  During trying times or moments of ennui, literature offers a sanctuary, a place to escape and recharge emotionally and mentally.

A reader’s imagination is the only ticket needed for these boundless adventures, proving that one can travel the world without ever stepping foot outside.

Literature Can Make Children Smarter

Introducing children to literature is not just about storytelling; it’s an investment in their cognitive development. From enhanced vocabulary to improved memory and analytical skills, reading lays the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

  • Cognitive Development: Stories stimulate young brains, fostering growth and connectivity.
  • Academic Achievement: Reading proficiency is strongly linked to success in other academic areas.
  • Imagination and Creativity: Literature opens doors to new worlds, encouraging innovative thinking.

Picture books, fairy tales, and young adult novels all contribute to the intellectual enrichment of children, showing that literature is not merely an amusement but a powerful educational tool.

Literature reminds us that despite our different paths, we all share experiences that stories capture so eloquently. Whether it’s a novel that keeps us company on a quiet evening or a poem that resonates with our deepest emotions, literature uniquely touches each of us on a personal level.

So next time you pick up a book, remember that you’re not just flipping through pages—you’re igniting a spark that can illuminate, transform, and heal. And it’s our collective responsibility to keep this flame alive, honoring the past and inspiring the future.

May the stories we read today light the way for the journeys of tomorrow!

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Clariza Carizal

Department of English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago

Why Study Literature?

Serious intellectual endeavor starts with passion and curiosity. The Department of English is a place where faculty and students intensely discuss what they love—novels, poems, plays, paintings, films, comics, video games, and other art forms—along with theoretical and philosophical questions related to the study of literature and culture.

As part of a course of intensive study, these conversations spark immediate intellectual excitement while building toward the larger end of a liberal education.  Through the wide variety of literary-critical approaches they encounter in classes, English majors cultivate the analytical capacities that will continue to serve them in their personal and professional lives long after graduation.

Studying English at the University of Chicago is very much like attending a liberal arts college: most courses are small, discussion-based classes, and professors, along with graduate student teaching assistants and preceptors, closely mentor undergraduate students’ writing and intellectual development. At the same time, our undergraduates enjoy the intellectual benefits associated with studying at a major research university. Undergraduate majors can take some of their classes alongside graduate students, and all students learn cutting-edge scholarship that has expanded the boundaries of the field from professors with international reputations.

The mission of the Department of English undergraduate curriculum is to provide students with a thorough grounding in humanistic knowledge. Our students analyze fundamental questions about such topics as the formal qualities of individual works and literary genres, the status of literature within culture, the achievements of a particular author, the methods of literary scholarship and research, and the application of theory to literature. The department is also an intellectual melting pot: classes in everything from Medieval Epic to Shakespeare to Radical Documentary to the Literature of 9/11 accommodate majors and non-majors with a large range of interests across methodologies and disciplines. Drawing on the interdisciplinary tradition of the University of Chicago, the department encourages our students to integrate the concerns of other fields into their English studies and therefore maintains close links with the Committee on Creative Writing, Cinema and Media Studies, and TAPS (Theater and Performance Studies), along with other academic programs.

Major and Minor

BA/MA Option

Just Declared an English Major?

For those who have recently declared a major in English, congratulations! To get introduced to the department and our program requirements, please contact the Student Affairs Administrator, Anna Dobrowolski. Please also subscribe to the following UChicago email lists at lists.uchicago.edu to receive important departmental information:

  • English Newlsetter
  • [email protected] : For updates on departmental deadlines, courses, requirements, etc.
  • [email protected] : For updates on events, jobs and internships, and other opportunities of interest to English majors/minors.

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Why study literature.

Literature helps us better understand our lives, ourselves, and the world around us. Encounters with literature develop the concepts of identification, imagination, and empathy. In our increasingly chaotic world, these skills matter deeply. Taking a deep dive into literature from different cultures allows you to both expand your ability to evaluate and discuss the work itself and also better understand what it tells us about the world, our own beliefs and values, and the beliefs and values of others.

Literature is for everyone, no matter what your future major or career may be. Studying literature tests your creative mind, inspiring innovation and change. Literature helps us use our written language as a practical, everyday tool that enlightens, educates, and inspires those who interact with it.

Practical Skills Gained Through the Study of Literature

Let’s start with what may not be obvious, through the study of literature you develop practical skills that are applicable to a wide variety of careers. Writing, research, and class discussions develops skills such as developing persuasive arguments, carrying out analysis, and communication in an articulate manner, all of which are important to professional success.

When you study literature with Gustavus Adolphus, you’ll don’t just read old books and write essays. For instance, you’ll learn to present with a small group, plan and lead discussions, collaborate on activities, and work with off-campus organizations. You’ll build skills such as writing and summarizing complex information in a concise way. You’ll dive into readings and films to develop your ability to detect and analyze important details. 

While you might not associate any of these skills specifically with the study of literature, the truth is that literature is a fascinating subject with multiple transferable skills useful across career paths from business and arts to the sciences and trades. 

A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) found that the majority of hiring managers prioritize prospective employees who have skills that a literature degree can provide. Nearly all who were surveyed (an impressive 93%) agree that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” A literature degree offers all of these skills — and more. 

Thus in the English Department  at Gustavus Adolphus, you’ll take courses through the study of literature that develop the skills that employers in all types of industries are looking for.

Get more information about studying literature at Gustavus Adolphus .

Why Do We Study Literature?

Beyond thinking only about the practical skills to land you a job after college, studying literature is a meaningful endeavor. Simply put, engaging with literary works written by people from various cultures, viewpoints, and historical periods broadens our understanding of other people and our overall worldview.

The study of literature also exercises your critical thinking skills that can be used in all aspects of your life and in any career. The experience of studying and discussing literature in a classroom prepares you to think critically on your own about areas such as film, news, and social media, sparking new conversations and raising insightful questions. 

Understanding Human Nature Through Literature

One of the most widely used forms of expression is the written word, and it has been for centuries. Whether you’re engrossed in the drama of an ancient play or a compelling contemporary novel, you can notice parallels between the characters and our own behavior and current events. 

Great literature also teaches us about significant life issues. From the beginning, we are raised on stories of struggle: humans against a vast array of challenges, whether they be other people, nature, or one’s own self. The struggle against a challenge is central to literature. By reading and analyzing the material you grow your understanding of why humans create conflict, how it can be resolved, and what you can do to ensure preservation for yourself, others, and the world around you.

Empathy and Emotional Growth: The Significance of Literature in Our Lives

Literature allows us a window into places, people, and situations we wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise. Literature can transport you to another time and place without ever having to leave your room. You experience these stories simply by reading them; imagining them to life in your mind. The feelings evoked, whether sad, angry, inspired, or blissfully happy, are ours to share with the characters in the book. 

Literary studies also help us develop a stronger sense of who we are and how we act in any given situation. In a 2023 study , researchers found that students with a higher reading ability level had better social-emotional skills than those at a comparatively lower reading level. While scientists are still working on the link between regular reading and empathy levels, there’s one thing we can say for sure: literature can stir emotions deep within us.

The Value of Studying Literature: A Comprehensive Approach

Literature is a concrete way to wake up our senses and bring the world into sharper focus. Studying literature can help us to observe the things around us — sharpening our ability to listen and hear, smell, taste, and touch. 

Literature deepens our thinking by bringing more awareness of our own values and worldview, but also those of others throughout the world and throughout history. Because literature illustrates concepts in a vivid manner, we can observe differing values and worldviews in action. Literature allows us to explore the implications of various values and worldviews and gives us an excellent opportunity to take a closer look at our own assumptions about the world and compare them with others. 

Crossing Cultural Boundaries: The Role of Writing and Literature

Literature broadens your horizons. Cross-cultural literary studies teach you how to read and interpret complex texts, write persuasive interpretations, and use theoretical frames for literary and cultural interpretation. 

Writing and literature join together to teach the importance of understanding imaginative works within their cultural and historical contexts. Studying the literary traditions of different cultures around the world provides you with a deeper understanding of what a culture's literature says about its people's values and world views. Specialized courses offer a more in-depth look at different groups of writers, time periods, countries, cultures, and writing styles.

Exploring the Connection Between Creative Writing and Studying Literature

Creative writing is the imaginative and expressive use of language to convey stories, ideas, and emotions. Unlike other forms of writing that primarily focus on conveying information, creative writing emphasizes originality and the ability to captivate readers through narrative innovation. It encompasses various genres, including fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction, allowing writers to explore a diverse range of styles and themes. In this field, writers often draw inspiration from their personal experiences, observations, or sheer imagination, crafting unique worlds and characters that resonate with readers.

Studying literature provides inspiration and examples for the creative writer. Creative writing in turn nurtures the development of literary skills.

English Degrees in Literature

A literature degree offers a wealth of invaluable skills in both writing and research as well as provides a unique insight into the human mind. A degree in literature is considered excellent preparation for industries from finance to law. The Gustavus Adolphus English Department offers degree programs in: 

  • English with a Literature and Film Track 
  • English with a Multi-Ethnic and Global Literatures and Film Track 
  • Communication Arts/Literature Teaching 

Expand Your World: Literature at Gustavus Adolphus

In addition to those enrolled in English degree programs, students from all majors are encouraged to take a literature class or two during their time at Gustavus. Each course allows you the chance to explore areas that interest you the most, whether that’s U.S. Indigenous Literatures or African Digital Literatures. It’s up to you! 

Regardless of where your interests lie, you’ll be inspired by knowledgeable, innovative faculty during your literary studies in the English Department at Gustavus Adolphus. Working with world-class English and literature faculty prepares you to make a positive impact on your community, your life, and those surrounding you. Get started on your own path today at Gustavus Adolphus College.

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Why Our Students Study Literature

Students from all backgrounds find that their literature studies open their minds to unique perspectives and give them real-world skills — useful no matter what their major may be. Check out what our students have to say about how studying literature at Gustavus has influenced their approach to literature, education, and life.

"Creative writing has been a happy part of my life since I first learned to hold a pencil, so once I chose Gustavus, I considered my career as an English major a given. Perhaps I am a rare bird for that, being so sure of myself so soon. But I could not have anticipated how much I learned about the value of reading, in every area of life, through the English major; nor did I see its potential to shape me as a writer. No matter how straightforward a story may seem, the search for something deeper within it leads to all kinds of insights that, while perhaps not in line with the author's original intent (who knows?), teach you more about the world and the different ways people use language. The theory taught alongside literature, in combination with this analysis, gives you the power of perspective that is so essential to finding contentment and peace in communication with people who are different from you, in a way that is unique to the study of literature. To write you have to read, and to really read, you have to think, criticize, doubt, wonder, and stand amazed by words on the page. The English major showed me how to do that, and not only has it increased my skills as a writer, it has made me a more compassionate and honest person."

—Caitlin Skvorc

"I study literature because I believe there is power in stories. Literature is both intensely personal as well as a communal experience. I love examining how words, sentences, characters, plot lines, and tropes reveal who we are as humans. Humanity is a complicated thing and requires an infinite amount of words to describe and analyze. That's the joy of studying literature, there is always a new reality to discover."

—Mikaela Warner

"For me, the decision to study literature has been a struggle. Since I was young, I always enjoyed reading and being read to, but I always considered the actual study of literature to be made up; seriously, poets don’t actually try to "invoke" some other work. Literary devices? Some make-believe stuff that people invented to make English seem scientific. Although I enjoyed it, literature, to me, was studied only by those who weren’t smart enough to study something real, something provable.

As I understand it, those feelings are not uncommon. The difference for me, though (as compared to some other people I know), is that I grew out of them. I started really looking at rhetorical devices and the use of language. I started to see that, although it still was not science, it was art, and art is the greatest expression of that which is human. My goal is to learn as much as I can about the human condition, and what it really means to be human, in all aspects."

—David Lick

"By studying literature I find that this sense of confusion and search for self-discovery is a common theme. I am confident that my choice to be an English major is one that I will be satisfied with. Thus far, to be an English major entails more than just being able to read and write well. An English major must also strive to understand and interpret the importance that various forms of literature have had on the society of the past and the present. Being able to express opinions is another important aspect, as is starting a piece of literature with an open mind. These habits are also important when facing everyday life, not just literature.

The chance to read and write is something that everyone should be able to experience. Literature in all forms is everywhere in today’s society, and with this idea, it is clear just how important it is. Whether it is studied in the classroom, or read for pleasure or purpose, literature is a central part of many lives. It offers not only a chance to enlighten a person, but it also gives the chance to broaden one’s horizons and perspectives. In my case, having the opportunity to study literature in two different languages has helped me to find similarities in two different cultures, and to also find that although literature varies in form and content, it is important and it is a central part of many lives."

—Stephanie Conroy

"Reading and writing, the basic principles involved in the study of English, serve as the gateway to a deeper level of thought. After mastering these elementary skills, comprehension, analysis, and interpretation are learned and used to better educate oneself. Studying literature and observing personal reactions to the literature can make one more aware of his or her own values. English skills are helpful in every area of life. Reading, writing, comprehension, analysis, and interpretation increase efficiency in multiple ways including communication, documentation in other areas of study, and reflection of personal values. I believe there is no area of study that English and communication skills do not influence."

—Maria Freund

"Reading and writing, in general, are undoubtedly some of the most valuable skills one can have; obviously, having these skills makes it much easier for people to communicate and to participate in society. However, there exists a purpose for reading and writing outside of these immediate practical purposes; the written word can be used to enlighten, to persuade, to express emotion, or simply for enjoyment. In these forms the written word becomes an art form, and a way of reaching out to others through a personal experience between the writer and the reader. Reading is an excellent way to associate oneself with the great minds of history and peer into their own thoughts. Reading is surely one of the most effective ways one can expand oneself.

Literature is a way in which we can capture and interpret what has happened and is happening to us personally and to the world as a whole. An entire culture exists in the written word, documenting the collective thoughts of everyone who cared to share them with the world. Therefore, I believe that for one to truly be a part of human society, it is critical that one take part in the evolution and self-realization that is literature, even if only in the reading aspect. Writing, however, carries a grave importance, as literature simply would not exist in the accessible form it does without written word, and for that reason I believe all who can write should. One should take advantage of the great opportunity to be part of and contribute to the world and society in which he or she lives through writing. I see literature in the societal sense as a collective struggle to understand and make the best of the lives that we have all been given. Literature serves as a way to enrich our minds, and presents a way to improve the world not only through the beauty of its presence but through the ideas and tangible possibilities it possesses."

—Matt Beachey

"The best of my English teachers taught us literature because they wanted the art of it to expand our minds and help teach us new ways of seeing the world. I was taught to both see a work of literature as a way to understand the time it was written, and the people who produced it, and to find the parts of that work that spoke to me in my time and place. While I am skeptical about whether or not anyone can ever really understand a culture or a time prior to their own, I do know that many times literature and art provide insights that cold hard facts do not. Most of all I find that literature makes the differences more manageable and highlights the similarities between people. I can read a Greek tragedy two thousand years later and agree with things that some older white man was saying because he was a human being, and I am a human being. Although it may sound trite, I have had reading experiences that taught me more about what it means to live in this world.

Not everyone loves reading enough to do it in their spare time, but the people who do are the ones who get the most benefit out of what they read because they want to be there in that world that literature creates. I have met very intelligent people who do not read. But all of the interesting people I know read, whether or not they are particularly intelligent."

—Sybylla Yeoman Hendrix

"I read literature for a number of different reasons. Literature is an art full of passion and heart; it transcends the ages. Great literature hits on many different levels. Over the years authors have accomplished unfeasible tasks through the use of their words. Literature has prompted political and social change in societies and continues to do so to this day. It can be a battle cry for the proletariat to rise up and make a difference, and it can also provide personal counsel.

Literature sets me free from the responsibilities of this world, and at the same time, it ties me down to those same responsibilities. Some literature I read for an escape; to journey to a faraway land and go on a grand adventure with creatures beyond my imagination. Other literature has much more serious subject matter, and I read it to remind myself that life isn’t all cupcakes and ice cream."

—Ryan McGinty

"To me, literature is about the obsession with ideas. We read literature to discover and to learn about ideas and we write it to discover and to cultivate our own ideas. No lover of ideas can go without either reading or writing. For me, if I go too long without one or the other, I get this huge build-up of confused and jumbled ideas that suddenly overcome me and I just have to write them out in some form (philosophic prose, narrative, poetry, scribbled phrases, etc.). That must be why literature can appear in a multitude of forms: be it poetry or prose, the sonnet or the novel, the sestina or the short story, etc. All literature shares the common theme of the idea. Ideas explore, probe, inquire, and inspire. The reactions to such are all that become a part of the learning process. There is a great deal that literature can teach. Literature can teach to the individual and to all of society. It can teach us about the past and the present and even about the future. Subjects can be broad and far-reaching, but can also be specific. Literature teaches us about laughter and love, about remembering and forgetting. It can create emotion and warn us against our many human faults. It can attempt to disprove other ideas or attempt to find truth. I think we are all looking to find truth in some form or another. Oftentimes, the uncertainty of a specific meaning of a piece allows for its interpretation to be for the reader to decide. What is certain, however, is that there are things to be learned from literature that are specific to it, that cannot be attained through any other medium. To gather this knowledge and to experience its beauty all pertain to the importance of literature to me."

—Abby Travis

"Another reason that I enjoy reading so much is the places you can go to when you read. I know that that sounds pretty corny, like something on a PBS commercial, but I feel that there are a vast amount of experiences and people the reader gets to encounter in any work of literature."

—Stefan Kolis

"Although I concede that it is not absolutely necessary to major in English in order to gain perspective from literature, I feel that English is a good lens through which to view the world, both present and past. When I study a great work of literature, I not only gain insight into the universal truth about which the author has chosen to write, but I also, in my attempts to understand, can learn about the culture in which the author lived, the history surrounding the country of his origin, and the various intellectual, political, and artistic movements of the time. Thus the window to humanity that lies at the heart of all literature can act as a sort of connecting portal to the culture surrounding each individual author. The reader stands on the common ground of the universal truth around which a work is constructed – the point at which the reader’s world and the author’s meet – and begins to understand some of the motivations behind the author’s own quest for truth.

Great literature provides its readers with a window into various aspects of the human condition and a guide to the way we, as a species, relate to one another and to our surroundings. Literature gives us a mirror in which to examine our collective reflection as a people. It does not gloss over the pimples and blemishes of humanity, but exposes them quite openly. No concealer, no cover-up, only the truth. Literature is the reflecting pool into which every person that ever existed can look and see both his own face and the faces of all his fellow people. It enables each human to not only find the humanity within his own heart but also to connect him to the generations of other people who have been doing so since the beginning of time."

—Rebekah Schulz

Why You Need to Read Literature

College is full of books: textbooks and biographies, encyclopedias and novels, history books and essays. You finish your Epic of Gilgamesh book report and skim your way through the Iliad ; guzzle down Plato’s Republic and then delve into a worn and weary biology textbook. So it goes.

Amid all the reading and writing, something within us often dies. Somewhere between the physics homework and the paper on Theodore Roosevelt and imperialism, you can lose an imaginative, creative spark.

It’s possible to reenergize this spark via several creative disciplines: by playing a musical instrument, for instance, or through sketching, painting, baking, or writing poetry . But there is another important and easy way to reawaken the dying embers of a creative spirit: by reading literature.

Reading “for pleasure” is an easy habit to neglect. There’s so much to read, after all; your assigned reading list seems to extend into eternity, promising sleepless nights and a desperate caffeine craving.

But you need literature—regardless of major, and apart from all the nonfiction reading that fills our college years.

Literature Reveals Reality and Mystery

Famed Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote , “The type of mind that can understand good fiction is … the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.”

I recently read a passage that beautifully illustrates this truth—in Dunbar , Edward St. Aubyn’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic King Lear :

He found that the more resolutely he narrowed his field of vision, the more complexity seemed to emerge from it: the gray rocks on the edge of the path were covered in patches of white and acid green lichen, and where water gathered in cracks and hollows there were pockets of dark velvety moss. The broken rock on the path itself showed traces of rusty red and sometimes the momentary glitter of crystal. Like a child on the beach, he wanted to pick up the smooth stone with a white mineral vein encircling its dark surface, but he knew there would be no one to show it to. By the time he reached the stream, he no longer felt protected by his downward gaze; on the contrary, it seemed to be drawing him into a vertigo of detail, a microscopic world that he didn’t need a microscope to imagine, where every patch of lichen was a strangely colored forest of spores, their trunks rearing from the stony planet on which they lived.

Dunbar’s narration of detail and complexity in a country scene draws us in and offers us new vision. The passage is replete with realistic detail, but within that realism we discover depth and curiosity, fear and awe. In a biology class, you may learn all about plant and water life, about moss and lichen. But do you truly see them without also considering the mysterious intricacy of their private universe? This is what St. Aubyn tempts us to consider in Dunbar —what O’Connor identifies as the essential purpose of art, and therefore also of fiction.

Works of literature wake us up, committing our tepid bodies to an unexpected plunge into frigid water. We emerge eyes stinging, blood coursing, fully alive. We don’t return to our studies—or our lives—the same.

“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.” Thus Nora Zeale Hurston introduces her protagonist in Their Eyes Were Watching God , a stunning and glorious work of literature.

Textbooks can give you meaning and meat. But they can’t give you potency. They can’t give you these tantalizing layers of reality and mystery. That is what literature is for.

As Marilynne Robinson puts it in her Pulitzer Prize winner , Gilead : “It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance. … Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?” Sometimes literature offers us both vision and the courage—if we’re willing to commit ourselves to the text.

Literature Inspires

There were times during college when writer’s block threatened me with failing grades or missed deadlines. Scrambling for inspiration, I’d pick up a book—perhaps something I was reading for Western Lit, or a book I’d perused during Christmas break—and suddenly an idea would jump out of the text. Anna Karenina offered the perfect foil for a philosophy paper, Joseph Conrad suggested a new connection with Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan . For the student, literature offers new ways of seeing academic principles and ideas: it can often suggest ways to recast the drabness of data and argument into flesh and blood, plot and drama.

But literature doesn’t just inspire our intellect: it can also offer new insights into our emotional and spiritual lives. Dostoevsky’s characters offer heroic inspiration (and fearful admonition). John Steinbeck carries us through darkness and dread into the promise of redemption. Frodo Baggins’s self-sacrificial journey, Harry Potter’s dark premonitions of doom, Ender Wiggins’s battle with self and the other: all offer moments of hope, wonder, and inspiration.

Because our lives seem so boring and prosaic—devoid as they are of Voldemorts and Saurons—we need occasional inspiration. In fact, we need inspiration from Harry and Frodo because our lives so often lack tangible foes or life-and-death scenarios. Because we fail to comprehend our battles in the beige moments of existence, we need the fantastical and fearful to wake us up. Works of literature, by recasting our angels and demons, revive our energy and virtue. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “[Fairy tales] make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” 

Writing can also become an exercise in pulling talent and finesse from other authors. Ernest Hemingway teaches us how to write with short, concise strokes. Jane Austen shares wisdom and wit with every paragraph. Toni Morrison weaves poetry into every sentence. By reading these writers, we become better writers ourselves.

Literature Awakens Your Moral Imagination

But why do stories matter? Why are they necessary for a fruitful and artistic life? Why must we seek out more than mere fact and data?

For that answer, we must turn to Russell Kirk. In his classic essay on the moral imagination , Kirk suggests that literature teaches us what it means to be fully human—by instructing its readers in “their true nature, their dignity, and their place in the scheme of things.” From Homer to Hawthorne, Dickens to Dante, classic authors have captured and preserved the essential truths of the human condition in a way that awakens our consciences to truth. “It is the moral imagination which informs us concerning the dignity of human nature, which instructs us that we are more than naked apes,” argues Kirk.

a library filled with books

Of course, not all literature is equal; Kirk suggests that much modern literature feeds the “idyllic imagination,” a sentimental beast that “terminates in disillusion and boredom,” or the “diabolic imagination,” which “delights in the perverse and subhuman.” These things don’t grow our brains or souls; they feed temporal cravings and baser appetites.

The moral imagination, on the other hand, is cultivated by permanent things: by morals and manners, virtue and truth. It’s important to note that Kirk isn’t here calling for preachy literature; indeed, he notes that “the better the artist, one almost may say, the more subtle the preacher. Imaginative persuasion, not blunt exhortation, commonly is the method of the literary champion of norms.”

But books that carry within them such lofty, high ideals can’t help but leave an impression on the reader; they guide our behavior, lifting us out of ourselves and setting us on a wider sphere of understanding. “Sheer experience, as Franklin suggested, is the teacher of born fools,” writes Kirk. “Our lives are too brief and confused for most men to develop any normative pattern from their private experience … therefore we turn to the bank and capital of the ages, the normative knowledge found in revelation, authority, and historical experience, if we seek guidance in morals, taste, and politics.”

Perhaps the perfect example of a world rooted only in private experience comes (not necessarily ironically) from literature itself: from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World . Huxley describes a society that has locked up and forgotten its works of literature and philosophy, and instead occupies itself by seeking out momentary pleasures and sexual satisfaction. For these citizens, there’s no profounder inquiry, no deeper meaning in life.

Into this dystopian landscape emerges “the Savage,” a young man who was raised in the wilds of the West and upholds a handful of ancient volumes as his tutors. He quotes Shakespeare and the Bible and strives to live out gentlemanly norms. He’s thwarted at every turn by a culture that no longer understands virtue or heroism, until he finally succumbs to despair.

This is what life without the moral imagination looks like. “If we starve young people for imagination, adventure, and some sort of heroism,” warns Kirk, their moral core will wither and perish. As O’Connor points out, works that offer fantasy and mystery draw our souls to the unknown and eternal. Heroic novels inspire our souls to courage. All that they teach us is real, fictional though the stories may be.

“Fiction is truer than fact,” writes Kirk. “In great fiction we obtain the distilled wisdom of men of genius, understandings of human nature which we could attain—if at all—unaided by books, only at the end of life, after numberless painful experiences.”

In other words, literature teaches us wisdom. And that wisdom is hard-bought if built solely in isolation.

Literature Is Just Plain Fun

A final, necessary note: literature is delightful. It’s wondrous, exciting, and often terrifying fun. It offers us escape without the cost of a plane ticket, adventure without deadlines or endpoints. It’s spontaneous and soul-searching, lengthy and pointed, poignant and hilarious. Some literary works speak to us collectively, with a wisdom that’s been handed down through the ages. Others offer personal admonition and inspiration, bringing our brains and eyes out of muddled exhaustion into new clarity.

So we shouldn’t read just to be “edified,” to find inspiration or to “get something” out of the text. We should read for its own sake: read to discover the delights of a new story. We should leave our presumptions and predictions on the frontispiece, and abandon everything to the text. We won’t be disappointed.

But How Do You Find Time to Read?

It is, admittedly, difficult to read “for its own sake” as a college student. Beyond assigned texts (which are often skimmed in haste), we have little time to pick up large volumes by the likes of Tolstoy or Steinbeck.

But semester breaks offer opportunities for literary retreat. You could try to read a fantasy series (like The Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy ) over Christmas break, pick up a Hemingway novel during Thanksgiving, or a Donna Tartt novel during the summer.

It’s also worth trying out audiobooks, via Audible or other platforms. Audible creates reading opportunities during road trips, grocery-store runs, or long plane rides home for the holidays. You can “read” audiobooks during walks to and from classes, workouts, or right before bed.

Reading literature is difficult during college but not impossible. What’s more, it’s worth all the work and commitment—for its own sake, as well as for the various lessons and inspirations it offers. Long after you’ve forgotten the equations and dates, data points and definitions, that filled your college years, the stories you read will remain: nurturing and growing both soul and imagination. 

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. She’s written for The American Conservative, The Week, National Review, The Federalist, and The Washington Times, among others.

Complement with Russell Kirk on the true purpose of a liberal arts education , Jessica Hooten Wilson on what Flannery O’Connor’s stories reveal about politics today , and what “beauty will save the world” means according to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. 

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Why Do We Study Literature?

Why Do We Study Literature?

“Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakenly meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

At ATI, we love readers.

We love the people who get lost in a book – who cry with imaginary characters as they dream and fight and learn to fly. And we love helping our students become readers, because we believe that literature is a key element of a life well lived.

All children- all people- are somewhere in the process of self-creation. But in middle and high school, that process, which previously has been subconscious, becomes explicit. Unlike the toddler who creates herself without realizing it, a teenager needs to consciously choose the values she’ll uphold, the models she’ll emulate, the issues she’ll care about, the life she will lead. Art- and in particular literature- is a profoundly powerful tool for advancing that work.

A study of literature allows students to “try on” different lives and different perspectives. It provides examples of moral decision-making exemplified in specific characters and situations, and gives students the chance to consider their own character and decision-making in as-of-yet unencountered circumstances. Literature provides rich and varied examples of individuals in society, in a way that can inform the decisions students make about their own roles and relationships. It promotes perspective-taking, and an understanding of others. It enables students to recognize and connect with the universals of human experience.

Fundamentally, a study of literature is a study of the world: bigger, more complicated, and more diverse than we have yet seen it with our own eyes. The world of fiction can make real the struggles of someone a thousand miles or a thousand years away, and can challenge conclusions, inspire compassion, and ignite dreams. We teach literature as the learning material for human life. A shared immersion in literature allows our students to engage with one another, debate, and reflect on what matters to them and the lives they wish to live.

So how do we teach literature?

The first principle of literature at ATI is: students read first as readers. Literature courses can often focus on the “how” of texts, treating the piece as a mentor text for writing skills: “How did the author structure these chapters? How did the author employ metaphor to convey a message here?” In contrast, reading as readers first allows students to become completely immersed in the world of the story, to feel its questions and decision points as real, immediate, and consequential. The mechanics and techniques of writing come into consideration later, but the first job of a literature course is to help students love reading.

We also include literature in classes on history - reading the stories, songs, or poems of the heroes through the ages. We include it in mathematics - a class in Toronto is determined to emulate Sherlock Holmes’s use of the theorem of similar triangles to prove that they, too, could solve the mystery of the Musgrave Ritual. Literature makes tangible the value of knowledge in a multitude of fields, and we create and encourage integrations between literature and other subjects.

A key element of our literature curriculum is the novel study, where a small group of students will engage deeply with a specific text. The study may involve other short stories, essays, or poems brought in as comparison or companion material. The group engages in Socratic discussion circles, writes regular journal entries, and explores the narrative elements of the book through creative and written expression. Each of these routines strengthens a student’s ability to develop and defend a hypothesis about the work, with reference to specific textual evidence. Throughout all of these educational methods there is an emphasis on application: applying what is learned from the book to other texts, other subjects, historical events, present-day contexts, and a student’s own life and values.

Here at ATI, we love reading, and we love readers, and most of all, we love sharing that love of reading with new students!

We’re just kicking off the 2022-23 school year, and that means new novel studies. Here are some of the books our middle school students are reading this week. What are you reading this week?

why do we need to study literature essay

Laura Mazer is the SVP of Programs at Higher Ground Education, where she enjoys thinking about the scope and sequence of the universe.

Why Do We Need To Study Literature? What Are The Benefits?

Old books on a wooden shelf.

What is the importance of literature?

Benefits of studying literature, what are the reasons to study literature, benefits of literature to students.

This subject does not have any particular language across the world and religions. Still, every definition of literature aligns with one another and gives true meaning to this beautiful artistic subject.

The subject literature broadens our horizons. This particular subject gives us the opportunity to learn and understand those people and incidents which are very different yet important to know.

Our cultural heritage has literature as a very valuable part, which anybody can access very easily and get the most out of it to enrich their lives through different ways.

For some people, studying this particular subject can be daunting, but once you will understand to break the barrier, the texts of this subject will become one of the most entertaining, funny, romantic, yet tragic for you.

This subject has the ability to take us beyond our limited imagination and thoughts with respect to life to make us experience and live the life of a different community of people at different points in time.

It makes our brain grind itself both emotionally and intellectually to give us a deep knowledge of our society, history, and an actual understanding of our own lives.

You can get a very real glimpse of what you haven’t seen or when you weren’t present.

Literature enriches our experience in many ways.

If you want to know more about some common yet interesting things about daily life, you can check the articles on why do leaves fall and why do we fast .

The way literature gives relief from anxiety and stress, that not many subjects can give.

You won’t believe but just giving less time to reading and understanding literature for a very short period of time in the day can create good health for your brain and it a break from all the complex thinking. It slows down the heartbeat whenever we feel anxiety and this has been proved by the studies itself.

It takes the mind of readers away from the stress and worries in life.

World Literacy Foundation says that reading literature is one of the ways to inculcate a strong imagination and creativity within you. Because when we study literature, we start to create that particular scene in our mind which gives us a good concentration.

Watching movies is also nice but doesn’t need much imagination because we have the visuals in front of us.

Anyone with a short attention span can give a chance to literature to improve it. Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word came out with research that concluded that the brain takes a larger span of time to understand reading rather than watching media.

Because sometimes, the books and novels get very challenging and complex with many twists within a story, which makes the brain divert its attention to every minor detail.

A window gets provided to those who do a study of literature to see the outer world through the eyes of literary genres. It makes you understand the way every society and culture is and with a historical record as well.

It’s like a pathway to give you new adventurous experiences. Good personal skills are also get developed through literature. The benefits with which the literature comes is in itself sufficient to know the importance of it.

Reading not just only helps in building a good vocab, but also helps in inculcating a good reasoning ability in children and adults.

Literature introduces you to a rich language, helps you develop and discover good skills and words, discover a new self, sense the problems in society by a critical view, explore texts with new perspectives, read about culture, understand the value of poetry, gain the literary skills of classics, and develop a good writing sense.

They realize the problems which the other characters face and first-handedly think about the solution for it.

They understand the reasoning of each and every character and respond to it. You can feel whenever the character in the book is getting successful or failing a task.

Having a good vocabulary gives good improvement to the communication skills.

And eventually helps in developing work relationships. You can develop and discover a new view on history (which most think is a boring subject) by your own self if you study it from a literature point of view.

You won’t believe it at first, but the reasons because which you should study literature are very much connected to the ways you should live your life on a daily basis.

People haven’t changed their thinking and feeling style. The emotions they used to feel then, are the same they feel now.

Every lesson you will learn will be applicable to your life in many ways.

When a child starts to read literature, they understand the human’s reactions to various situations and the nature of our heart as well. The texts of essays, poems of good poets, novel stories, and diaries play the role of bridging the gap between two very distant timelines and between different ethnicities as well.

They get the awareness of how to deal with certain situations and secure themselves from future problems. While reading classic literature, you will feel the connection to the outer world and its good principles.

Literature is a very useful tool to make a child understand the evils and goods of society.

Literature connects us to history. Many people consider history as an important part of our life.

But if we read this subject with the sense of memorizing it, we will never be able to love it. Students can enjoy it more if they develop the habit of reading it through literature.

The importance of empathy in society is a lot, else it will change into a dog-eat-dog society very soon, which is going to hurt everyone in turn. According to research, reading a number of literary works will develop empathy in people.

The works of literary fiction are effective in this phenomenon, because readers like to understand deeply what the characters of this particular story are going through, hence they want to understand their joy, sorrow, and problems.

People who read more and more have a good ability to discern the mind and feelings of people in the most logical way. Studying literature helps in developing an opportunity to inculcate the higher-order thinking skills in the mind of the reader.

When you analyze the view of one story, you actually start to develop good thinking skills in yourself. Students, after reading literature, tend to apply what they read in the course of their own experience in life.

They often compare the stories from books to their own life.

Growing older, they develop such a good sense of morality that they can give strong discussion points. Because of a continuous habit of analyzing stories and relating to them from their own point of view often becomes the plus point during any general talk.

Reading literature is very important for students as reading gives development to the thought process, inculcates knowledge and valuable lessons for our mind to be creative. The way books hold interesting stories, feelings, thoughts, and information is very unlikely to be seen in anything.

Texts in literary books make us understand that some things should not get underestimated and that's why they get taught in schools.

Student life has always been and will always be challenging and complex. Now if a little reading can help them understand some processes of life, then there’s nothing wrong with it, right?

Reading literature is a fun activity.

But also this fun activity comes with some benefits also for a student. When a student reads the word, its cognitive functions get stimulated and eventually sharpens the mind, especially that part that develops the critical analysis and concentration.

What student life has as a major component is the ability to write. Start by just reading one book, and you won’t believe the change which you will realize after writing something after it.

Today's students are even aware of many devices to explore and learn things from new perspectives about poetry, plays, art stuff, classics, cultures, ideas, and many other literary words by doing research on web media. In schools, often texts of Shakespeare and John Locke get read by students.

The way they used to write is considered as the writing of the future.

Students can do a study of literature very well through these two poets who had excellent skills with high value. Students can develop good skills and gain a lot if they will start reading a number of books related to literature either on the web or through a book from the beginning of their childhoods.

Here at Kidadl , we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do we need to study literature, then why not take a look at why do boats float or why do people dance?

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Dedicated and experienced, Nidhi is a professional content writer with a strong reputation for delivering high-quality work. She has contributed her expertise to esteemed organizations, including Network 18 Media and Investment Ltd. Driven by her insatiable curiosity and love for journalism and mass communication, Nidhi pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, graduating with distinction in 2021. During her college years, she discovered her passion for Video Journalism, showcasing her skills as a videographer for her institution. Nidhi's commitment to making a positive impact extends beyond her professional pursuits. Actively engaging in volunteer work, she has contributed to various events and initiatives throughout her academic career.

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  • Importance of Literature: Essay

Literature is the foundation of life . It places an emphasis on many topics from human tragedies to tales of the ever-popular search for love. While it is physically written in words, these words come alive in the imagination of the mind, and its ability to comprehend the complexity or simplicity of the text.

Literature enables people to see through the lenses of others, and sometimes even inanimate objects; therefore, it becomes a looking glass into the world as others view it. It is a journey that is inscribed in pages and powered by the imagination of the reader.

Ultimately, literature has provided a gateway to teach the reader about life experiences from even the saddest stories to the most joyful ones that will touch their hearts.

From a very young age, many are exposed to literature in the most stripped-down form: picture books and simple texts that are mainly for the sole purpose of teaching the alphabet etc. Although these are not nearly as complex as an 800-page sci-fi novel, it is the first step that many take towards the literary world.

Progressively, as people grow older, they explore other genres of books, ones that propel them towards curiosity of the subject, and the overall book.

Reading and being given the keys to the literature world prepares individuals from an early age to discover the true importance of literature: being able to comprehend and understand situations from many perspectives.

Physically speaking, it is impossible to be someone else. It is impossible to switch bodies with another human being, and it is impossible to completely understand the complexity of their world. Literature, as an alternative, is the closest thing the world has to being able to understand another person whole-heartedly.

For stance, a novel about a treacherous war, written from the perspective of a soldier, allows the reader to envision their memories, their pain, and their emotions without actually being that person. Consequently, literature can act as a time machine, enabling individuals to go into a specific time period of the story, into the mind and soul of the protagonist.

With the ability to see the world with a pair of fresh eyes, it triggers the reader to reflect upon their own lives. Reading material that is relatable to the reader may teach them morals and encourage them to practice good judgment.

This can be proven through public school systems, where the books that are emphasized the most tend to have a moral-teaching purpose behind the story.

An example would be William Shakespeare’s stories, where each one is meant to be reflective of human nature – both the good and bad.

Consequently, this can promote better judgment of situations , so the reader does not find themselves in the same circumstances as perhaps those in the fiction world. Henceforth, literature is proven to not only be reflective of life, but it can also be used as a guide for the reader to follow and practice good judgment.

The world today is ever-changing. Never before has life been so chaotic and challenging for all. Life before literature was practical and predictable, but in the present-day, literature has expanded into countless libraries and into the minds of many as the gateway for comprehension and curiosity of the human mind and the world around them.

Literature is of great importance and is studied upon as it provides the ability to connect human relationships and define what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, words are alive more than ever before.

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Author:  William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)

Tutor and Freelance Writer. Science Teacher and Lover of Essays. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


Indeed literature is the foundation of life, people should know and appreciate these kind of things

its very useful info thanks

very helpful…..tnx

Hi, thanks!

First year student who wants to know about literature and how I can develop interest in reading novels.

Fantastic piece!

wonderful work

Literature is anything that is artistically presented through writtings or orally.

you may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold, richer than i you could never be, i know someone who told stories to me.

there’s a great saying that “the universe isn’t made up of at atoms, its made of stories” i hope none will argue this point, because this is the truest thing i have ever heard and its beautiful…….

I have learnt alot thanks to the topic literature.Literature is everything.It answers the questions why?,how? and what?.To me its my best and I will always treasure and embress literature to death.

I agree with the writer when says that Literature is the foundation of life. For me, reading is the most wonderful experience in life. It allows me to travel to other places and other times. I think that also has learnt me to emphathize with others, and see the world with other´s eyes and from their perspectives. I really like to read.

This is the first time i am presenting on a literature and i am surprised by the amount of people who are interested on the same subject. I regret my absence because i have missed much marvelous thing in that field.In fact literature is what is needed by the whole world,it brings the people of different culture together and by doing so it breaks the imposed barriers that divided people.My address now goes to the people of nowadays who prefer other source of entertainment like TV,i am not saying that TV is bad but reading is better of.COME BACK TO IT THEN.

literature is a mirror; a true reflection of our nature. it helps us see ourselves in a third persons point of view of first persons point of view. it instills virtues and condones vices. literature forms a great portion of fun and entertainment through plays, comedies and novels. it also educates individuals on life’s basic but delicate and sacred issues like love and death. it informs us of the many happenings and events that we would never have otherwise known about. literature also forms a source of livelihood to thousands of people, starting from writers,characters in plays, editors, printers,distributors and business people who deal with printed materials. literature is us and without it, we are void.

I believe that life without Literature would be unacceptable , with it i respect myself and loved human life . Next week i am going to make presentation about Literature, so i benefited from this essay.

Thanks a lot

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1.3: Why Study Literary Theory?

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In his essay “Disliking Books at an Early Age,” literary scholar Gerald Graff talks about how he struggled as a child to see the point of literature. “Literature and history,” he recalls, “had no apparent application to my experience.”Gerald Graff, “Disliking Books at an Early Age,” Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life 2, no. 6 (September–October 1992): 45–51, JSTOR . Even in college, Graff says, he “continued to find ‘serious’ reading painfully difficult and alien.”Gerald Graff, “Disliking Books at an Early Age,” Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life 2, no. 6 (September–October 1992): 45–51, JSTOR . This all changed for Graff when he encountered critical debates over the interpretation of Mark Twain’s novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1876). He read about critics who disagreed over the book’s meaning, value, and attitudes toward race. He realized that the conversations he’d been having with his classmates about the book in class discussion “were not too far from the thoughts of famous published critics,” which gave Graff a feeling of power and excitement about reading he’d never felt before.Gerald Graff, “Disliking Books at an Early Age,” Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life 2, no. 6 (September–October 1992): 45–51, JSTOR .

We hope you will feel that same power and excitement about reading as you learn about critical debates in literary study and begin to contribute to them in your own papers. Literature isn’t made up of inscrutable texts that can be deciphered only by a chosen few who have learned to speak in a secret code. Literature is written by people—talented people perhaps, but people nonetheless. And the concerns of literary critics are concerns that many people share: What does this work say about the human condition? How does it convey its message? Does it portray its subjects fairly? What political or social ideas does it advance? Literature has many potential meanings, and literary theory gives scholars different avenues to uncover those meanings.

By asking theoretical questions of the novels, stories, poems, plays, and essays that you read in your literature class, you can begin to grasp works that may seem ineffable—impenetrable—if you try to uncover a single, “correct” interpretation for them. In short, literary theory can give you a toolbox for approaching any literary text: a set of interpretive moves that can help you figure out where to start when your instructor asks you to comment on a work in class or develop a paper topic.

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  • World Literature Resources

Why Study Literature?

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1. Literature reflects human ideas, beliefs, and societies.

This is so fundamentally obvious that we tend to overlook it.   Why do we take the time to read literature? Because humanity is valuable. The Christian understanding of human life is one that stresses its inherent value and worth. Roger Lundin writes:

The doctrines of  Creation  and  Incarnation  affirm that human life is inherently meaningful. God has placed us in a world filled with order and hints of wonder, and through his acts of revelation and redemption he has entered into our history. As a result, although some things are obviously of greater importance than others, everything in our own experience has significance, and our attempt to discern that significance -- as well as we can -- is part of our calling as God's servants. (5)

Christ's incarnation teaches us that God hallows the material and cultural world. Because God created the world and loved it enough to enter it, Christians too should love it and seek to understand it.

2. When we read literature, we discover common human ways of understanding life.

We find similar messages, insights, and lessons. We read about closely related experiences.   We also find similar mistakes.

3. When we read literature, we also discover significant differences. This allows us to explore another’s message or life, even those separated from us by time and social barriers.

To read literature is a lesson in worldview.  We often learn how different others are in circumstances and approaches to life, as well as encounter the diverse differences in what humans believe.

4. Literature is full of human responses and reactions – in poems, essays, diaries, narratives, and in the characters of narratives. As we respond to and analyze these, we can gain a greater knowledge of the human psyche.

5. At the same time, we gain a greater knowledge of ourselves and our own responses because we most inevitably compare our lives to those in literature.

As we compare and contrast, not only various authors' views but also our own views and those of others, we deepen our sense of human reactions and our own self-responses. We have the possibility of becoming deeper, more self-aware people.

6. When we do this, we have the opportunity for discovering pride in our community and culture, for gaining respect for another’s, and for learning humility as we interact across cultures.

Yet being deeper and more self-aware requires certain virtues, in particular, a sense of respect and humility. Good dialogue requires faith, hope, and love: faith that communication can actually take place between people; hope that something may come of our efforts; and love for our fellow human beings in all their diversity, complexity, and variety.

7. We don’t always agree with what we read, or we agree in part. We read literature to test the truth of a message against our worldview.

For instance, Socrates believes that the soul is separated from the body at death, so he need not sorrow. Indeed, for Socrates, the soul is trapped in the body and longs for the day it may escape. As a Christian, on the other hand, I believe that the body and soul are both good things created by God and that God intends to resurrect our bodies as well. Socrates allows me to encounter a belief different than my own. He also allows me a chance to test Socrates' belief and even reject it.

8. We can cultivate wisdom; learn of good and evil; and experience the call to justice. Literature can not in itself make us a better person, but it can assist us in that quest.

Wisdom  can be defined as skill in living. By examining literary texts, their stories and their messages, we can increase in our understanding of how to live life. We learn how to discern what is healthy and destructive in the world, and we are challenged with injustice and its consequences. Literature may even challenge us to ask what we will do to help end the problems it pictures.

9. Literature offers us the beauty of words and stories, and as such, reflects the glory of God present in language, narratives, and the stuff of creation.

As a Christian, I believe that not only is God the final source of all truth and all goodness, but that God is also the final source of all  beauty . Part of being fully human under God is rejoicing in the wonder and joy that songs and stories and language can bring to our lives.

10. Literature can entertain us.

Leland Ryken writes:

What constitutes a  worthwhile  use of leisure time? There is no one right answer. . [But] literature has much to commend it as a leisure activity. In a day of mindless leisure pursuits, literature stands out by engaging our mind . . . . It enriches our life by making us aware of the world of human experience and human fears and longings . . . We can upgrade the quality of our leisure time by learning to value what is excellent rather than mediocre. (69-70)

Our use of our leisure is an extension of God's sabbath principle. God rested on the seventh day, not because he needed to, but in order to teach us the value of existence. God has created us to enjoy things. Times of rest and pleasure are not laziness but times of celebration.

11. Literature can offer us cultural literacy. Literary figures, plots, motifs, movements, and genres are a vital part of our cultural heritages.

One frequent question that students often ask: "Well, why are  these  works considered so important?" Louise Cowan has suggested the following seven reasons for why a text is considered a  classic :

  • The classics not only exhibit distinguished style, fine artistry, and keen intellect but create whole universes of imagination and thought.
  • They portray life as complex and many-sided, depicting both negative and positive aspects of human character in the process of discovering and testing enduring virtues.
  • They have a transforming effect on the reader's self-understanding.
  • They invite and survive frequent rereadings.
  • They adapt themselves to various times and places and provide a sense of the shared life of humanity.
  • They are considered classics by a sufficiently large number of people, establishing themselves with common readers as well as qualified authorities.

And, finally, their appeal endures over wide reaches of time. (21-22)

12. Literature can open us to our own latent interests and talents; we may even discover part of our vocation from God.

Frederick Buechner has noted that "the place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." For some of us, the study of literature plays a part in this calling. Literature can challenge us to grow as individuals and as communities, and for that, it is worth spending time with.

Cowan, Louise and Os Guinness.  Invitation to the Classics . Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Gallagher, Susan V. and Roger Lundin.  Literature Through the Eyes of Faith . NY: HarperCollins, 1989.

Ryken, Leland.  Windows to the World . Dallas: Probe, 1990.

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    It can put us in the shoes of people whose situations are radically different from our own, promoting empathy and understanding. It can teach us about history, geography, science, math, art, and every other subject we study. It makes us more informed citizens and stronger critical thinkers. The "superior artistic merit" also refers to the ...

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    Reading "for pleasure" is an easy habit to neglect. There's so much to read, after all; your assigned reading list seems to extend into eternity, promising sleepless nights and a desperate caffeine craving. But you need literature—regardless of major, and apart from all the nonfiction reading that fills our college years.

  11. Why Do We Study Literature?

    It promotes perspective-taking, and an understanding of others. It enables students to recognize and connect with the universals of human experience. Fundamentally, a study of literature is a study of the world: bigger, more complicated, and more diverse than we have yet seen it with our own eyes. The world of fiction can make real the ...

  12. Why Do We Need To Study Literature? What Are The Benefits?

    Literature introduces you to a rich language, helps you develop and discover good skills and words, discover a new self, sense the problems in society by a critical view, explore texts with new perspectives, read about culture, understand the value of poetry, gain the literary skills of classics, and develop a good writing sense.

  13. 1.2: Why Read and Write About Literature?

    Benefits of Literature. Studies show reading literature may help. promote empathy and social skills (Castano and Kidd) alleviate symptoms of depression (Billington et al.) business leaders succeed (Coleman) prevent dementia by stimulating the mind (Thorpe) These are just a few of the studied benefits of literature.

  14. 1.1: What is Literature?

    Genre is the type or style of literature. Each genre has its own conventions. Literary genres include creative nonfiction, fiction, drama, and poetry. Works that are literary tend to masterfully use genre conventions and literary devices to create a world in the mind of the reader.

  15. Importance of Literature: Essay

    Literature is of great importance and is studied upon as it provides the ability to connect human relationships and define what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, words are alive more than ever before. Literature is the foundation of life. It places an emphasis on many topics from human tragedies to tales of the ever-popular search for love.

  16. (PDF) Why Studying Literature is Important

    Many linguists and scholars, such as Curtis (2015), try to address the following question: why should we dedicate time to studying literature? First, the study of literature allows individuals to ...

  17. 1.3: Why Study Literary Theory?

    By asking theoretical questions of the novels, stories, poems, plays, and essays that you read in your literature class, you can begin to grasp works that may seem ineffable—impenetrable—if you try to uncover a single, "correct" interpretation for them. In short, literary theory can give you a toolbox for approaching any literary text ...

  18. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

  19. Why Study Literature?

    Why Study Literature? 1. Literature reflects human ideas, beliefs, and societies. This is so fundamentally obvious that we tend to overlook it. Why do we take the time to read literature? Because humanity is valuable. The Christian understanding of human life is one that stresses its inherent value and worth. Roger Lundin writes: The doctrines ...

  20. Writing a literature review

    Writing a literature review requires a range of skills to gather, sort, evaluate and summarise peer-reviewed published data into a relevant and informative unbiased narrative. Digital access to research papers, academic texts, review articles, reference databases and public data sets are all sources of information that are available to enrich ...

  21. Essay About WHY WE NEED TO Study Philippine History

    ESSAY ABOUT WHY WE NEED TO STUDY PHILIPPINE HISTORY. Studying history allows us to gain valuable perspectives on the problems of our modern society. Many problems, features, and characteristics of modern Philippine society can be traced back to historical questions on our colonial past, as well as our pre-colonial culture.