Why Do We Need To Study Literature

Why do we need to study literature?

Studying literature enables one to better understand social situations, history, one's own emotions, and various cultural practices. It also makes one more empathetic. 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Literature is one way for us to hear the voices of the past and work with the present.  It is a way for the present to connect to the possible future.  Story telling is one way for humans to reach out to other humans.  It is therapy, confession, entertainment, and knowledge all in one.  Why do we study it? 

We learn about history we didn't experience, customs we are not familiar with or that lead to what we do and perform now, hear voices of men, women, children, dragons, elves, slaves, aliens, and other characters in order to spark imagination. 

We learn to think outside the literal box by reading.  It forces your mind to picture places and experiences and activates our gestault thinking, which is crucial next to just spitting back information.

We can also relate to a character, real or fictional, that may have or is going through an experience like us.  Or who is going through an experience that we would like to have.  Or through an experience we would like to avoid.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why study literature, or any of the arts (painting, music, etc.)? Literature is just stories. If studying science, math, and computer engineering is, by far, more applicable to practical applications, technology, industry, and so on, it would seem to be a waste of time to study (let alone be forced to study) literature. Not to mention, you're bound to have a better shot at getting a job with a degree in engineering than if you have a degree in the humanities. You can count on life's experiences to educate you about the human condition. Armed with all this practical knowledge, having wasted no time on trivial subjects like reading and writing, poetry, or any philosophically-related field in the arts, you're bound to be much more successful; and certainly less distracted by whimsical pontifications about life. You're also bound to appreciate life a lot less; and you're probably bound to be a bit behind on history and doomed to repeat its mistakes, since knowing history requires reading (you can only get so much from the history channel). You're probably (although not certainly, there are exceptions to every case) also bound to be more intolerant, less profound, less literate, less inspired, and in the grand scheme of things, less moved by the stories of people's lives who are affected, for better or worse, (building schools vs. building bombs), by the useful applications of math and science.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Studying literature requires more than reading literature. When students study literature, they are studying an art form, like painting or music. Think of music, for a minute. Almost everyone enjoys music, but those who have studied music can appreciate it to a much greater extent because they understand what goes into writing and performing a piece of music. And so it is with literature. After studying the various forms of literature (plays, stories, poetry, novels), students begin to recognize literary elements (such as irony and symbolism) and to understand how they contribute to the work. Studying literature will make it possible for you to enjoy what you read to a greater extent because you will understand the artistry that created it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Literature is a resource where we can see what others have done before us. There are universal themes in literature with which all human beings can identify. Many students become frustrated with the study of literature that they don't feel is relevant to their lives. Gifted teachers can make literature selections that appeal to students, and they can also help students to see the connections inherent in the literature choices. I have used the example before of teaching Macbeth to high school sophomores. Once they began to understand the themes, they taught me about Dr. Dre and Eminem's song "Guilty Conscience." They shared the song lyrics (edited) with me and connected me with some contemporary literature I would never have otherwise encountered. Likewise, I connected them with one of the early greats of the English language.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think literature is one of the most honest forms of art. While movies and music are subject to censorship, and often only support one interpretation, literature is a living, breathing manifestation of life. Each time we read, we gain something we didn't have before. Even reading the same text at a different point in your life offers secrets you didn't discover the first time. That's why I encourage my students to speak of the texts we study in the present tense: they are constantly changing and revealing new truths.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Literature unlocks the culture of the time period, and in a way can give wisdom to the modern society about life.  Literature allows us to interpret our own life and emotions and find ways to relate to the story so we in turn can reflect.  It is also a form of entertainment and allows people to use their imagination to visualize the story within their own mind. But I find the real point of literature is the story of life, and all people want to do is to connect to other human beings so they find meaning in their own life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I am sensing frustration on your part.  Perhaps you don't like reading?  When my students tell me they don't like to read, my answer is always, "Keep looking.  You haven't found a book yet that speaks directly to you."

To answer your question, literature should be studied for a richer life.  Without it, we miss out on so much.  Think of all the places we get to go, people we get to meet, situations we get to experience without ever leaving our living rooms!  Without reading about these people, places, events, we quite possibly would never experience similar situations.  By reading about them, discussing them with others, thinking about how we would react in similar situations, we are learning.  We are gathering information and tools for our life toolbox.  Every book you read changes you...even if only slightly.  You are a different person on the other side of it whether you recognize it or not.  You are learning, collecting material, developing personality, discovering likes and dislikes about yourself.  You are studying the human condition, and this is important because you are part of the world itself. 

Reading provides for a richer, more fulfilling life.  Can you live without it?  Sure.  Some of us can.  I, for one, would absolutely wither and die if I could no longer read.  But without the enrichment and fulfillment that reading brings, life would be considerably less luminous.

Check out the link below to see what others have said about this topic.  Thank you for using enotes, and keep reading!  Good Luck!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial