Why literature is central to further world knowledge
Learners who enter and leave high school without having developed a love for literature—and great fiction—think that literature is all about stories.
For many of them, particularly students of natural sciences, the stories are much ado about nothing.
Far from it. Foremost, literature enables students to have a functional knowledge of the English language.
Indeed, in our case, literature is not just about mastering a language. Literature of any society is the depository of the knowledge, skills, abilities and habits of thinking and doing things that society has found useful to its survival and well-being.
Fictional works—novels, plays, poems, and fairy tales—from different civilisations have capacity to provide insights into life. It is such insights that are the goal of literature.
While those who develop a keen interest in these books invariably master the language, it is the things that these books impart to them that are of lasting value.
The beauty of literature does not lie in creating and solving problems. The problems simulated are a mirror of actual problems facing the individual at any given point, or which have faced mankind all along and no definitive answer has been provided.
Whatever the case, and whatever the nature of the problem, questions and dilemmas, readers are invited to ponder on the contradictions and mysteries of life as delineated in the fictional work in question.
In nearly all great literature, there is something called the inciting incident. This is an incident or event that set the central conflict into motion.
It is through the unfolding of events, or incidents, triggered by the inciting incident that the reader is enabled to have an understanding about something.
Through reading excellent works of fiction, we come to appreciate life, and human beings as well as their strength and weakness.
Crucially, the experience of reading literary fiction improves the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions.
The characters who illustrate incidents enable us to see the motivations, and the traits at work and we are able to understand the nexus between the action and the trait or the motivation. This knowledge helps many people to manage complex relationships.
One does not have to formally study literature in college to gain the insights and skills that are unique to it. All that is needed to appreciate literature is mastery of literacy skills at an early stage of education.
A strong grounding in reading and writing skills in Standard One and Two is sufficient to enable children to read any grade-appropriate book.
It is the building block of these books that builds the intellectual power to read, understand and appreciate the great works of art that define great civilisations.
It is pointless to pretend to have learned or mastered a language yet decide not to access all the vast intellectual wealth, which the wisest individuals and nations of the earth have created and preserved in that language, in our case, English.
We have some of the most profound speculations on science, philosophy, morals, government, law and economics originally written in English. These are books that educated people and policy makers ought to have acquaintance with.
There is literature behind the memorable lines in public speeches either from prepared speeches or those given extemporaneously.
Literature is not about old wives tales. It is about the mystery of life, its beauties, its pathos, and truths.
Every man living is confronted with these things in life. And they need literature to appreciate and deal with them. —The writer is Communications Officer, Ministry of Education