Mario Vargas Llosa

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In "Why Literature," Mario Vargas Llosa lays out an argument for the importance of literature in a person's life. One of my favorite quotes from Llosa is: "But literature has been, and will continue to be, as long as it exists, one of the common denominators of human experience through which human beings may recognize themselves, and converse with each other, no matter how different their professions, their life spans, their geographical and cultural locations, their personal circumstances." Using this as a springboard for a discussion, which works this semester have completed the goal set out for literature by Llosa? Which three works have been the "common denominators of human experience through which human beings may recognize themselves"?

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Without knowing which works of literature you have read, it's difficult to build a strategic answer to that part of your question. I'll provide some ideas which I think speak to this prompt to help you think about the literature you have read.

Your thesis is basically written for you within the prompt itself. It should probably read something like this: Because of their unifying themes, ___, ___, and ___ prove to be works which speak to people regardless of life experience, and act as a mirror for readers's own life experiences.

Each body paragraph would then examine the three works you have chosen to include in your thesis, examining how each one uses themes, characters, and conflict to create a shared experience.

For example, I might choose To Kill a Mockingbird as an example. How do I then use this text to identify unifying themes? Although the novel is set close to one hundred years ago now, the conflict in the novel presents challenges that Americans still face today. Do we ever encounter a situation when someone is judged unfairly because of race? Absolutely. Have I ever encountered a Bob Ewell? You bet. I could also examine Atticus Finch, who represents a desire for people to be treated fairly and without prejudice, teaching his own children about the values of empathy and decency. I hope I can see little pieces of myself in Atticus, and I could certainly use some of his quotes in this paragraph to build a case for conversations I could have with others, such has this one: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Or this one: “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.” These are views that speak to people regardless of age, life experience, or personal circumstances.

These are the types of things you can begin to examine as you reflect upon the literature you have studied this year. Which ones generate an inner dialogue within you about a shared experience of all humans? Did you find any characters particularly representative of the positive or negative experiences you find in society? Did any quotes really stand out to you as great conversation-starters for engaging with others and transforming the ways we interact with each other? These are great questions to help you evaluate the literature and determine your areas of focus.

I hope this has helps! This is a powerful prompt, and I hope you find the literature that most speaks to you as you engage in this meaningful reflection.

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The prompt is very open ended. I don't know what books you read, but the prompt invites you to reflect on the nature of "human experience" as represented in these books.

The first thing to do is try to evaluate...

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what Llosa means when he calls literature the "common denominator of human experience." In order to do this, you need to read hisessay carefully, and perhaps a bit against the grain. By that, I mean don't go along as a matter of course with his argument about literature. Instead, try to understand the assumptions on which Llosa is basing his assertion. For example, in arguing for literature as a "common denominator," Llosa insists on a certain universality of human experience that transcends culture, and that literature (or, "good literature," as opposed to "trash") somehow is able to articulate universal truths about that experience. You don't necessarily have to agree with this statement, but one thing your essay should address is whether any of the books you read show any signs of the universality.

Llosa also argues against specialization. While specialization in the sciences has allowed for deeper understanding, he argues that literature is not a science, and that the great strength of a well-read person is a certain richness of intellect that allows them to see common threads or ideas across texts or even between disciplines. So another direction your essay could take would be to illustrate this principle by identifying one of these common themes and discussing its use in different works. The point of such a comparison would be to use one work to explain and illuminate the other, and vice versa.

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This assignment asks you to be thoughtful, reflective, and synthetic regarding the texts read during the course. You don't mention the specific readings the course engaged in, other than the original one quoted above, but the prompt is pretty universal. A successful essay would likely follow this format:

Begin with a universal statement about how literature engages us in awareness of self and of others, how it speaks to a shared humanity, and how it opens our minds to the common thread uniting our wildly diverse experiences and realities. You can quote Llosa's passage as a focusing lens since the quote provided is meant to be a springboard. Your thesis statement will both identify the universal human quality you select and identify three of the texts your read that all illuminate that quality.

Supporting paragraphs could merely discuss each of the three different titles in a separate paragraph, all focused on the theme you select. More interesting and likely more successful would be paragraphs that put two or maybe all three together to show how they illuminate an aspect of the theme. Do they all reveal something true about interpersonal relationships, or do they all reveal something about the value of self-awareness or reflection? Do two stand in contrast to each other, showing a successful or unsuccessful approach to a similar dilemma? You need to be efficient with your selection of detail (though you must reference and quote), but you do not want to be deficient with the value of your thought. Make sure your topic sentences are spot-on in terms of illuminating that connection literature makes among individuals.

In your conclusion, you will want to reflect and extend on what reading and thinking about your chosen theme offers a person who wants to lead a more meaningful human life. What is at the core of your readings that speaks to the human desire for connection and meaning?

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