In so many ways, literature is the backbone of humanity. It is, more than anything, the history of the individual. So what does that mean? We’ve all heard the phrase “history is written by the victors” and we’ve all seen how true it is. Literature stands as the record of what is hidden in the history books. Even more modern writers such as Toni Morrison use their talents to memorialize the past as it truly was. Those of us who never went through certain things like war or slavery can learn vicariously the pain of those who suffered through such events. Without these written accounts, history would lose precious aspects of itself. It would be out of reach, fading, and blurry to the eye.
However, that’s not the only reason literature is important. It is also a catalyst for expanding the mind. We can only experience so much in our day to day lives. By reading, we are living events through the characters. We are attending the balls of Jane Austen’s novels and on the pilgrimage in Chaucer’s tales. We are being asked the questions that come up in these stories and we are pushed to contemplate the deeper meaning of life. Without literature, many of these events would be lost to us; the important questions that guided our progression as a species would be discarded. Literature is a timeline of the metaphysical philosophies that shaped us into today’s society. It continues to challenge us, critiquing and celebrating our various facets.
Literature is our mirror. It is the most honest view of our society and culture. It refuses to hide us from ourselves. We see the aftereffects of our failings within it and we are asked to rise and take responsibility for our wrongs. It tackles the messier sides of what we hold most dear including religion, culture, and philosophy. When all flaws and beauty are laid bare before us, we can more accurately correct that which has been holding us back.
Despite this, literature is not one big critique. It is also an account of all the beauty humanity holds. We see the compassion, the empathy, the great lengths people are willing to go for each other. It is a connection between all of us, no matter our status as strangers or friends. How many people connect through a favorite book, poem, or author? We place pieces of ourselves in the things we read and we find ourselves in others who do the same. The sharing of literature is a silent vulnerability.
We are being challenged and shaped, even from the very first book we read. Children’s books revolve around sharing, being respectful, and being kind. They are intrinsic to molding the youth in a way they can easily understand. They are given a three-dimensional experience within the pages of a two-dimensional world. This is one of the many reasons why getting young children to enjoy reading is so important.
Another age bracket for which literature is important is the young adult bracket. Novels that tell coming-of-age stories give young adults a sense of unity and help them feel understood in a time of transition. Stories like these also mold the mind and teach individuality and decision-making skills. Within these fictional worlds, young adults can test their convictions and explore their views.
Those who major in English or spend their lives immersed in literature often find themselves defending their profession. It is not looked upon in the same way as business or science. For this reason, it is often written off as unimportant to society or a pipe dream profession. Literature and those who study it are not taken seriously. That doesn’t mean that we should engage in apologetics for our passions and our talents. Literature is the voice of humanity. To apologize for that is to apologize for our very existence. We all are subconsciously pursuing literature everyday of our lives. We sing the praises of popular fiction and we add our own meaning into the words we read. We are affected by these words and their relation to us. To ask why literature is important is to ask why life itself is important. Literature is a fulfillment of our deepest selves, a manifestation of all we hold dear. Literature is important because it is our reflection.