How can concepts in literature help generate global understanding?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nearly every culture has some version of literature, whether it is the unspoken stories passed on in the oral tradition or the intricate writings of the most advanced minds. Because of that, literature--the written and sometimes spoken word--is virtually universal.

Your question is how literature can be used to "generate global understanding," and it seems to me that literature can foster global relationships and understanding through the appreciation of common experiences and emotions. Finding our common ground can help minimize the differences on which we all tend to focus.

While literature is often cultural and the specifics of setting, character, and plot can change, the conflicts and themes are universal. Being hurt and disappointed but moving forward nonetheless is something people in every culture have experienced simply because they have lived. Overcoming betrayal and loss is not something specific to people on just one continent, and of course the universal equalizers are love and death.

Certain themes cross all cultures and can be found in literature from all over the world. For example, here is a quick look at a few novels with the common theme of dealing with personal guilt, shame, and betrayal:

  • The Scarlet Letter  - Nathaniel Hawthorne (America)
  • Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (England/Japan)
  • Crime and and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russia)
  • A Sentimental Education - Gustave Flaubert (France)
  • The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan) 

And of course these themes are timeless, occurring in written works written over many centuries and in many cultures. 

Reading and connecting with the universal conflicts, themes, and emotions found in literature can certainly encourage a greater appreciation and understanding of others and cultivate insight into the common condition of man. Literature can also be used as a tool to help promote cultural awareness and understanding; seeing how people in other cultures live is as interesting and instructive as connecting to the emotions and conflicts common to all of us. 

It is important to qualify the term literature, as there are certainly written works which serve to divide, incite, and isolate--many of them deliberately. The fact that such works have the power to create dissension and conflict is evidence that the opposite can also be true: good literature can unite and advance "global understanding."