Why do we study literature?

When we study literature, our horizons are broadened, because we can learn about and come to understand people who are different from us. Conversely, we might discover characters or poems that we really identify with—it can be really exciting and validating to discover that your exact thoughts and feelings have also been experienced by someone else. Because of these effects, literature encourages us to be sensitive to the whole spectrum of human experience and to consider this when making decisions in our day-to-day lives. Academically, studying literature also helps us to refine our own writing skills and expand our vocabularies.

Expert Answers

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

The best metaphor I have ever heard on why we read literature is that literature acts as a window or mirror (or both.) This is expressed so often in education that I am not even able to tell you who said it originally.  But the idea struck me the first time I heard it several years ago.  Literature as a window allows us to peer out from our lives to learn about what is going on in the lives of people in other times and places.  A mirror is literature that we use to hold up and learn something about ourselves. Sometimes literature allows us to do both, learn about another world and learn about ourselves, too. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Videos

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

We study literature for the following reasons:

1.  It helps us learn about the world around us.  It takes us to new places, different time periods.  It broadens our minds and our horizons.

2. By studying literature, we discover ourselves.  We see ourselves and our lives reflected in characters.  It is amazing that we can see ourselves, glimpses of our own experiences that was written centuries before our birth.

3.  Studying literature also fosters higher order thinking skills.  We do this through analyzing themes, characters, symbols, motifs ets.

4.  We also read literature for the same reason that we watch movies and television.  It is entertaining.  It is downright fun to peak into the lives of others.

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

Most people study literature within the confines of an academic setting. Outside of that setting, most people read literature because they enjoy a good story, or a good poem. I don't know too many people that annotate a book outside of an academic setting. There might be some that do, but even in social settings, the ones that do annotate do so in relation to a particular use or question they have.

I disagree somewhat with the comment

many people that annotate a book outside of an academic setting. There might be some that do, but even in social settings, the ones that do annotate do so in relation to a particular use or question they have.

I know many people who annotate books that they read for pleasure. That begs the question though, how do we define reading for pleasure? If we read to learn or gain something, is that not still for pleasure? I think it is. It is a pleasure for me to learn something new. It gives me pleasure to discuss findings from my readings with friends and colleagues.

Outside of academic settings I think people read in order to experience something that they may not otherwise have a chance to experience. That may be a connection with another person or an understanding of something about other people. It may even be experiencing a place and time beyond their own.

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

We study literature because it feeds our souls. Great works of literature treat timeless themes that resonate with readers across centuries. The human condition remains fundamentally the same today as it was when the printed word was first produced. It is comforting to read of the travails and the joys of characters who struggle with the same issues that we encounter.

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

I think it was Leo Tolstoy who argued that all of literature, quality literature, revolves around two central issues:  Who are we and how shall we live?  These two questions strike at the heart of literature and provide answers to why we study literature.  If we take Tolstoy's paradigm and study it, we understand why a study of literature is vital to our understanding of ourselves and our world.  All literature does, to a large extent, address both questions in different ways.  The answers derived help us understand our identities and purposes in this life.  The manner in which these questions are answered may vary from text to text, yet the underlying premise behind why we study literature comes back to Tolstoy's predicament:  We seek answers to who we are and how we shall live.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team