Student Question

Why do we need to study literature?

Quick answer:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Why do we study literature?

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. 

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Why do we study literature?

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.

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Why do we study literature?

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.

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Why do we study literature?

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.

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Why do we study literature?

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.

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Why is it important to study literature in high school?

Throughout the history of the world there has been an ongoing conversation of the ideas and  values that shape our society and have shaped each successive society.  If you want to take part of this "Great Conversation" of ideas that underlie the very world that we live in - our governments, our religions, our culture, our entertainment, and our economy, you need to understand the conversation that has happened previously before you can truly jump into its current.  If you have ever tried to jump into a conversation in the middle - you should see how awkward that can be - you will often merely rehash old ideas that have already been said.  This conversation was not played out in speech, it has been played out in the great works of literature, philosophy, and history.  This is why literature is important.    It asks the questions and poses the answers to universal questions of life that have effected mankind over the course of existence.  It encourages you to think about why you do what you do and question whether you are truly thinking about the results of your actions.  These types of questions allow you to help shape your world rather than being shaped by a culture that you do not really understand.

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Why is it important to study literature in high school?

Not only does literature allow a chance for the reader to experience other cultures at a fairly cheap price, it also promotes critical thinking and reasoning....a great piece of literature will keep you thinking, inspire you, etc.

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Why is it important to study literature in high school?

If for no other reason, each of our range of vision is pretty much limited to our own experience, but there is a whole other world out there facing a host of issues/problems/situations whatever, and we can learn a lot about ourselves from seeing how they react to their situations.  This works for novels (eg. The Scarlet Letter mentioned above and the whole questions of isolation for values that it contains, among others), plays (such as Death of a Salesman which asks basic questions about the value of work and its role in our lives), and poems such as "Death of the Hired Man" which asks what the root of human dignity is and what our responsibilities are to each other.  Obviously these are just 3 randomly chosen examples (because I have taught them all recently :)), but I know that without reading them, my whole view of the world would be much narrower.

There are lots of other reasons to study literature, but this is good enought for me :)

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Why is it important to study literature in high school?

When I teach literature to my students, I always try to relate it to modern day life.  There are really only 7 themes in literature, and just as history repeats itself, so do the themes in literature, just in different genres and eras.  For example, my students didn't find The ScarletLetter appealing until we discussed the parallels to today's world of marriage, infidelity, "the double standard," etc.  I also found an article from 2005 that was titled, "Florida 'Scarlet Letter'  Law Repealed by Gov. Bush," which I shared with my students.  It was fascinating to them to see that only 4 years ago, in the state of Florida, if a unwed mother wanted to put her baby up for adoption, she had to disclose in the newspaper her past sexual history, including every partner she had, with a full physical description of her partners, etc. 

So you see, time periods may change, but poeple and society basically stay the same.  The same themes that were present in the past, are still true today, and will remain in the future.

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Why is it important to study literature in high school?

As a teacher, I find that I use my literature studies to encourage students to think about what they are presented with in everyday life, especially by the media.

By studying literature, both classical and contemporary, one learns to read more into what they are presented with. No piece ever has just one straightforward reading and by showing what different aspects and readings are available, you learn to see other viewpoints. Nothing in our modern world is ever black and white, literature allows you to start seeing shades of grey.

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Why is it important to study literature in high school?

As I tell my students, reading and writing are best friends.  You need to be able to do one in order to do the other.  This will improve your communication skills.  You need to be able to communicate clearly, through writing and speaking, in order to be taken seriously in life.   When I am approached by an individual who can not communicate clearly I am less inclined to take them seriously.  Also, studying literature helps you understand the world.  Most literature, or should I say most good literature, speaks of issues that are still present in our current society.  We learn a great deal from studying the ideas of others.  Finally, why not? It is a beautiful thing if you give it the chance.

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Why is it important to study literature in high school?

It is important to study literature in high school for several reasons. First and foremost it will enhance your academic abilities in other areas. Also,reading literature from different time periods, from different places will only add to your understanding of the human experience. Many high schools design their English/Literature classes to correspond with their History classes by approximate time and place in order to offer the student a deeper understanding of that time and place, you will learn how to critically think. Another gift literature gives the student is an increased vocabulary. High school students today will graduate into an ever more competitive world and with an increased vocabulary your speech will become more articulate. Possessing these skills will clearly set you above those who do not. In the end it's a win-win for you !!! 

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Why do we read literature?

There are so many reasons that I'm not certain it can be summed up. 

Let's begin with the fact that literature is the collection of human wisdom throughout history--psychology, philosophy, theology, sociology, and history itself. It helps us see the world and others from the perspectives of others who are unlike us, and it helps us see ourselves in new ways (and through others' eyes). We read to benefit from the insights of others, to open our minds to complexities of life and ambiguities of meaning. We read to explore and better understand other cultures and beliefs, because only through reading can we put on the clothes of a Puritan and go to church with him and believe as he does, or wear the sari of the Hindu and worship as she does. 

When we read, we learn to see individual bias (thanks to unfairly biased questions and unreliable narrators). Reading teaches us appreciate literature itself, to see how literature has changed history (there's a reason the intelligensia is the first group to be rounded up and shot when a new regime rises). 

Literature helps us see the tragedy of history. History itself shows us the bare facts and figures, but literature gives us people who fall under history's sway. 

When we read, we learn to see the admirable, the nobility, in people around us, and we learn better ways to behave. 

But perhaps the most important reason I've ever thought of is this: literature teaches us that we are not alone. Through reading, we learn that others have been where we are, have felt as we feel, have believed as we believe. Paradoxically, we are unique just like everyone else. But we aren't alone. Others were here and they survived...and may have even learned from it--and so may we.

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What is the importance of learning literature?

This is all good in an academic sense, but let us not forget that literature can, and should, be read sometimes just for fun. The escape it provides from a hectic life is sometimes incomparable. Like visiting friends, one day you might just think, "I'm in the mood to read that book again."

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What is the importance of learning literature?

There are several ways that learning literature is vitally important. The first, which applies to anyone, even those who don't wish to pursue a career around literature, is that studying literature develops a great capacity for analysis, for seeing the deeper picture and for seeing "between the lines" of things. This analytical skill carries over to everyday affairs and problems as well. Another reason is that it opens the door to understanding earlier periods in time. For instance, if the attitudes held by even the fierce warriors of Homer's Iliad could be taken to heart, we might all be able to speak to each other and treat each other with the "greatest of kindness." The study of literature also helps to put our own present time in perspective; to see from where we came and down what path we journeyed to get to where we are culturally today--the great hope is that in so learning we might make some greater decisions than have gone before and that we might make otherwise.

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What is the importance of learning literature?

Reading literature well, and reading in general, require you to make connections and to engage in a critical process in order to discern the meaning of what is read.  This is critically important in an educational sense, but it is equally important in the routine experiences of life:  instruction manuals, insurance statements, contracts, etc.  Learning to read literature carefully has the carry-over effect to all types of reading.

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What is the importance of learning literature?

I think that it is particularly important as long as your definition of literature is not too restrictive and allows for the reading of a very wide variety and type of texts.  If this is the case, the study of and understanding of literature can lead to great insight into human nature as pohnpei pointed out as well as an understanding of history through the literature of the times.

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What is the importance of learning literature?

Most people would say that reading literature teaches you about the human condition.  Reading great works allows you to think about what some of the best minds of history have thought about things that are basic to human existence, things like love and duty and honor and death.  By reading literature, you are encouraged to think about these things and gain more insight into what it means to be human.

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Why is it important to study literature?

As a history teacher, I encourage my students to read books from the time period that we are studying because literature is a window into the past. Any study of the Great Depression, for example, is brought to life by reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men because although it is a fictional story, it is a product of that time and place. We learn so much about the lives of migrant workers and attitudes toward women and African-Americans in this novel. Similarly, Orwell’s Animal Farm might be called a “fairy story,” but it reveals a lot about British attitudes to the Russian Revolution and development of the Soviet state.

I also encourage a study of literature because reading and comprehending a text improves literacy rates. By encountering both familiar and unfamiliar words, students not only improve their own vocabulary but also their cognitive skills, as shown in this article from the Reading Agency (See Reference 1).

Of course, studying literature also fires the imagination and promotes curiosity, which will help students in every subject they study and every path they take in later life.

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Why is it important to study literature?

There are so many possible answers to this question that we can do little more than to scratch the surface here. However, one very good reason for studying literature is to develop greater empathy. In reading about many different people in many different situations, cultures, and historical eras, it becomes possible for us to put ourselves in their shoes, gaining a much broader perspective on life than would otherwise be the case. Literature takes us out of our comfort zones, expanding our cultural, intellectual, and emotional horizons beyond the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday.

On the face of it, many of the people that we encounter in works of literature are quite alien to us. They live in different worlds, speak different languages, and may subscribe to radically different value systems, yet when all is said and done, they are still recognizably human, and entering into their world, however strange that world may appear, allows us to connect with them on a level that is all too often buried deep beneath the many superficial differences that divide us.

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Why is it important to study literature?

This question has been discussed multiple times.  Please see the links below, and thank you for using eNotes.

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Why is it important to study the content of a literary text?

It is important to study the content of a literary text for many reasons. 

First, if you want any level of comprehension, you will have to look over a text very carefully. Texts often yield treasures only to those who will read carefully. In this respect, it is important to read great texts many times. Each rereading will give new insights. This is called the hermetical circle. 

Second, since texts are written (often times) in a different context and time, it takes extra effort to understand what it's saying. For example, reading Sophocles's Oedipus Rex is not easy. We are dealing with ancient Greece. We are over two thousand years removed. Customs, worldviews, and sensibilities are different. Only by reading carefully will we appreciate what is going on. 

Finally, when we study texts, they become a part of us. We may even change. In this regard, we must not diminish the power of words.

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What are the four main reasons why we need to study literature?

Your question suggests that this is something that has been covered in a textbook or in a lecture and that you are expected to produce four reasons in particular, those covered in your course.  However, as a general matter, you are likely to get different answers from different people. I can offer five reasons that I consider the most important reasons we study literature, which are that it allows us to move out of ourselves, that it allows us to look within ourselves, that it makes us empathetic, that it gives us common ground with other educated people, and that it is pleasurable in and of itself.

You will hear English teachers tell you that literature is a window upon the world, and this is so true.  Literature allows us to visit different times, different places, and different peoples.  Without it, all we would know about is a very limited piece of life.  When I read The Kite Runner, I learn about Afghani culture, the trials and tribulations the country has experienced, and what it is like to be an immigrant. When I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, I learn about still another culture, and I learn about how women and intellectualism are repressed in some other countries. When I read Huckleberry Finn, I am able to go back over a hundred years in the history of my own country, to learn about what life was like then in times of slavery and before this country was tamed. Who would want to deny themselves these wonderful windows onto the world out there?    

You may also hear that reading literature is like a mirror. What is meant by this is that it allows you to look at yourself. As we read, we notice how characters may be like us or not. We notice how situations might be similar to those we have experienced.  This has the effect of making us examine ourselves critically. What would we do in such a situation?  Would we act as particular character would act?  Sometimes, in my book group, this is the sort of discussion we have, and different people have different opinions about what is right or wrong, but the book we are discussing seems to make us focus upon ourselves, a way of asking if we measure up, if we are of good or bad character. Enders Game seems to be a mirror for readers, who think about what their own moral characters are.  Similarly, The Giver tends to make people examine themselves, to ask if they are really thinking for themselves or allowing others to force them into conformity. So, as we read, we are holding up a mirror to examine ourselves. 

Having these windows and mirrors makes us more empathetic people.  We are now able to have some insight into how other people live, how other people feel, how circumstances force people to make difficult choices that are not perfect. We are able to understand how someone can do everything right and still have a poor outcome because of circumstances beyond control. We can look deeply within ourselves and ask whether or not we are judgmental of others in a a way that is not very attractive. All of this encourages us to understand the feelings and motivations of those around us, which is what empathy really is.   There have been studies done that have concluded that those who read literature are more empathetic than those who do not.  And in order to get along in a diverse world, the most useful kind of emotional intelligence is probably empathy.

As you move along in the world, you will find that many educated people have read the same literature.  This gives you a common ground upon which to communicate.  Often when I meet strangers, we end up talking about the books we have read, and it is remarkable how many of the same literary works we have in common. This gives us a common frame of reference, a common vocabulary, and common literary allusions.  Literature is the stuff of civilization, and when we read it, we become part of a tribe of civilized people. That is a membership I cherish. 

Last, but not least, reading literature is one of life's great pleasures. It is as pleasurable as a good meal or a walk in the park on a beautiful day.  When I deserve a reward after a great deal of hard work, I often reward myself with reading. A book is a wonderful companion, not to replace people, but still a wonderful experience in and of itself. Even if all the previous reasons did not exist, I would still be a reader, just for the pleasure of it! 

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Why is the study of literature important?

Absolutely. Studying literature gives instruction on the human condition. It provides clarification on conflicts that many of us face. We see how others deal with the conflicts, and we realize that we are not alone. Studying literature also helps us clarify our thoughts with real issues in a setting where a wrong idea is not critical to our life. Last (and you don't have to study it for this benefit) but not least, literature provides escape and entertainment.

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Why is the study of literature important?

I firmly believe literature, like art (and literature is actually art as well) is not only a reflection of our lives, but a reflection of life during the times it was published, in the places it was published.  So reading Shakespeare is not merely fantastic in itself (and to me, it is) but it is a window into England in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Of Mice and Men lets me more accurately imagine what it would be like to live during the Depression, or to be a migrant worker today even.  Bless Me, Ultima takes me to 1940s Latino southwestern America. Great Gatsby puts me in the Roaring 20s.

Think of literature like a collection of snapshots of another era, another way of thinking, and another way of writing.  It gives us empathy, and teaches us history, most times without our even knowing it.

Yes.

Literature, unlike TV/movies/pictures - preserves through the art of language, which, when used well, can be so much richer and deeper and more widely appealing than (in my humble opinion) any other form of art or media.

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Why is the study of literature important?

I firmly believe literature, like art (and literature is actually art as well) is not only a reflection of our lives, but a reflection of life during the times it was published, in the places it was published.  So reading Shakespeare is not merely fantastic in itself (and to me, it is) but it is a window into England in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Of Mice and Men lets me more accurately imagine what it would be like to live during the Depression, or to be a migrant worker today even.  Bless Me, Ultima takes me to 1940s Latino southwestern America. Great Gatsby puts me in the Roaring 20s.

Think of literature like a collection of snapshots of another era, another way of thinking, and another way of writing.  It gives us empathy, and teaches us history, most times without our even knowing it.

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Why should literature be studied and how can you prove its importance?

“Literature” is a general term meaning communication in writing across time.  As in all “should” questions, the essence is the value of any human action or endeavor.  To study literature means to learn the ways the literary communication functions.  Just like a child who takes an alarm clock apart to see how it works, the literature student is dissecting the body of work to discern the subtleties of its structure, its psychological connections with humans, and its connection with large ideas.  The “value” of doing so lies in the “value” of understanding human communication itself – do we want to know “what makes it tick” or are we content to let it affect us without understanding why or how?  If we try to give some sort of commercial or product-oriented value to it, we are mistakenly assigning a commodity value to it, far removed from its literary purpose for existing.  So, in simple terms, we study literature to absorb it on a superior level, just as we would study a recipe to enjoy food on more than a nourishment level.  Its importance lies in its value as a receptacle for human wisdom and understanding.

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