Literature is important to society because it reflects cultural values and serves as a tool for teaching those values to others. Through literature, people can learn about specific periods in history and events that changed the world. Prose and poetry also provide a way to express emotions, raise questions and build critical thinking skills.
Understanding the Human Condition Through Literature
Common themes in literature include conflict, loneliness, fear and growth. As readers connect with these themes, they develop an understanding of the human condition. The characters and the challenges and successes they face become examples of what happens to people when they respond to or ignore these universal experiences. Stepping into the experiences of the characters can help readers develop empathy. Readers of "To Kill a Mockingbird" see tragedy, kindness and injustice through the eyes of the narrator.
Discovering Other Cultures Through Literature
Readers can learn about other cultures past and present through literature. The descriptions of the settings and actions of the characters put them in the middle of the action. For example, "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe is set in pre-colonial Nigeria and includes depictions of how European settlers changed the region. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work "100 Years of Solitude" doesn't just take place in Colombia. The story also retells the country's history.
Deepening Knowledge Through Literature
Literature offers ways for readers to deepen their understanding about historical events. A story transports them back in time, and reading about how the characters respond to and are affected by what happens brings history to life. For example, Toni Morrison's "Beloved" lets readers experience what life was like for recently freed slaves after the Civil War, along with the emotions they felt and decisions they had to make.
Literature falls into categories called genres and subgenres. Knowing the differences between these groups helps readers choose books, especially as they learn what types of stories and poetry they like to read. The most common genres include literary fiction, mystery, horror, historical fiction, science fiction, poetry and drama.
Each category has specific characteristics that appeal to different people, but themes can overlap between them. Both literary fiction and science fiction can offer social commentary, but they do so in different ways. Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" both explore similar themes of reputation, community and corruption of power. However, Miller set his story in 17th century New England, while Heinlein's story takes place in the future.
Great Works of Literature
Choosing great works of literature is not a simple task because there is always some debate about what makes a story great. However, books with interesting plots, believable characters and universal themes that stand the test of time tend to make the lists of great works. For example, "Anna Karenina" and "The Great Gatsby" appear on Time Magazine's and Encyclopedia Britannica's lists of great books. Other important works of literature include "The Canterbury Tales," "Don Quixote" and "The Tale of Genji."