Today, there are too many people who believe that literature is simply not important or underestimate its abilities to stand the test of time and give us great knowledge. There is a stigma in society that implies one who is more inclined toward science and math will somehow be more successful in life, and that one who is more passionate toward literature and other art forms will be destined to a life of low-paying jobs and unsatisfying careers. Somewhere along the line, the world has come to think that literature is insignificant. To me, however, literature serves as a gateway to learning of the past and expanding my knowledge and understanding of the world. Here are just a few reasons why literature is important.
1. Expanding horizons
First and foremost, literature opens our eyes and makes us see more than just what the front door shows. It helps us realize the wide world outside, surrounding us. With this, we begin to learn, ask questions, and build our intuitions and instincts. We expand our minds.
2. Building critical thinking skills
Many of us learn what critical thinking is in our language arts classes. When we read, we learn to look between the lines. We are taught to find symbols, make connections, find themes, learn about characters. Reading expands these skills, and we begin to look at a sentence with a larger sense of detail and depth and realize the importance of hidden meanings so that we may come to a conclusion.
3. A leap into the past
History and literature are entwined with each other. History is not just about power struggles, wars, names, and dates. It is about people who are products of their time, with their own lives. Today the world is nothing like it was in the 15th century; people have changed largely. Without literature, we would not know about our past, our families, the people who came before and walked on the same ground as us.
4. Appreciation for other cultures and beliefs
Reading about history, anthropology, or religious studies provides a method of learning about cultures and beliefs other than our own. It allows you to understand and experience these other systems of living and other worlds. We get a view of the inside looking out, a personal view and insight into the minds and reasoning of someone else. We can learn, understand, and appreciate it.
5. Better writing skills
When you open a book, when your eyes read the words and you take in its contents, do you ask yourself: How did this person imagine and write this? Well, many of those authors, poets, or playwrights used literature to expand their writing.
6. Addressing humanity
All literature, whether it be poems, essays, novels, or short stories, helps us address human nature and conditions which affect all people. These may be the need for growth, doubts and fears of success and failure, the need for friends and family, the goodness of compassion and empathy, trust, or the realization of imperfection. We learn that imperfection is not always bad and that normal can be boring. We learn that life must be lived to the fullest. We need literature in order to connect with our own humanity.
Literature is important and necessary. It provides growth, strengthens our minds and gives us the ability to think outside the box.
I agree with all of the above discussions; but I am especially gratified to read what spearfam has written: that literature enhances our capacity to empathize.
People talk about the intellectual values of literature: critical thinking, citing evidence and so on. But, I value literature most of all for its emotional and esthetic appeal.
Empathy is emotional; sympathy, intellectual. Literature evokes such human emotions as pity and terror (Aristotle), love and compassion (A.C.Bradley) and many other epistemic virtues (i.e., virtues that help us to know the world and make it better) like honor, bravery, honesty and integrity (Ramirez). But recently, Susan Zunshine has a written a book demonstrating how the human emotion of empathy is critical in our understanding and appreciation of the novel.
Think of any great novel: Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield, Jude the Obscure, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Passage to India, Lincoln, The Namesake --in all of these excellent novels, we need empathy to fully appreciate them.
But where do we get empathy from? Consider the odds against empathy. Even in real life we empathize with others without actually experiencing what they exprience, a hard thing to do. How much more difficult would it be for readers to empathize with a character who is not actually going through anything!It is all fiction!
Yet we do. Prof. Zunshine says we do this because as we read our intellectual act of reading, i.e., making meaning from the text, triggers our neuro-cells "in some form of mirror effect," same as we would do in real life. However, because the novelist employs one more thing that is usually not present in real life events -- esthetics --the emotional impactof novel events (pun intended) enhance our empathy. Thus, because of our empathy we are able to not only realize the characters' emotions, we even anticipate them, Examples of what I am saying are legion, I need not give any more here.
Zunshine's book, and spearfam's reference to literature teaching us empathy, triggered this response from me.
I am grateful for your indulgance.