What is Literature
The question of what is literature and why we study it is a very difficult question to answer. This because there is no simple, or arguably completely correct, answer to what literature is. I believe literature is anything written down with the intent for it to be read by others for enjoyment or knowledge. The study of literature is important to us so we can try to get an idea of what life is like the perspective of the person writing the literature we study.
The definition of literature, according to dictionary.com, is, “writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.” That is a pretty good definition of literature but tries to limit poetry a little too much. Saying it must be poetry, novels, history, biography, or essay leave out a lot of things that I would consider to be literature. I believe literature can be in any form, formal and informal, as long as it was written with the intent to be read by others. This definition by dictionary.com excludes a lot of works of fiction that do not fall into those categories. A lot of short stories, many of which we have read in class, do not fall into those five categories. They are not poems, nor are they full novels. They do not have anything to do with history or a biography, and are not written in essay form, yet they are still considered literature. I don’t however think that everything written down is literature. It has to be written with the purpose of either telling a story or sharing the past in a non-academic way. The non-academic is important because a history textbook is not literature. It is an academic writing that is read in a very different way then literature. To me literature is almost a type of genre the way it read differently then academic writings. It comes with a connotation of being more entertaining then academic writings, whether that is true or not depends on the piece itself. For example, “The Allegory of the Cave” written by Plato is a work of literature but to me it is far more boring then some works of pure academic intent. Going back to the definition of literature, I do not think it is necessary for a work of literature to be published in order to become literature. If someone writes a short story in their notebook and never formally submits it to a publishing company that is still literature. It is still a written story made for the intent of enjoyment. To help define what literature is, it may be helpful to define what it isn’t. Literature isn’t just anything written down. A second definition of literature according to dictionary.com is, “any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills.” That is not what literature is in my opinion. That definition would include all advertisements, newspapers, magazines, interviews, and so on. If literature was all things written, then literature would lose its meaning. Literature must artistic. It has to be written with the meaning of knowledge or entertainment or both.
Why do we study literature is another question all together. Literature helps people experience things they would otherwise never be able to experience. Liam O'Flaherty’s “The Sniper” is a great example of this. When O’Flaherty is explaining the scene where the sniper is on the room lighting a cigarette and a bullet whizzes past his head is a great scene that helps explain what it would be like to be in that position (O’Flaherty page 474). Most people have never been in a war, even fewer in a sniper fire fight, and therefore most people will never know what it is like for those few that have been in that position. But by reading this story, people can almost visualize what it must have been like. The adrenaline pumping through their veins and the terror as a bullet almost hits you seems like an almost impossible thing to understand if you weren’t...
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