I believe that literature matters. A professor asked me in my senior year why I thought poetry was important; how it could matter at a time when so little is valued. I struggled with the question, and was corrected for using too broad a stroke in my answer, equating poetry with literature.
I use literature because it is not just poetry that matters…literature matters. Literature matters because it contains a record of humanity beyond what any historic record can capture. It matters because within literary work, encompassed by the word literature, are the very secrets of what it means to be human.
Each day it becomes more acceptable to disregard literary study as a leisurely hobby which one could take up with spare time. This view excuses children from reading; adults from being informed or caring about the world; and politicians from funding anything but the sciences. It is not acceptable to give children excuses; to become a useless, uncaring mass; or to permit others to direct our lives and teach us what we should value…what we should teach our children to value. Literature is a fundamental need of a developed mind and soul. It should not be abandoned.
Science argues that the posable thumb and the manipulation of tools are evidence of human superiority; and of course these are distinct human traits. I love science. I love answers that will remain the same tomorrow and two-hundred years from tomorrow. I love the world’s organization into facts and numbers and congruous shapes found in the basest formations of life. Without science and invention, humanity would be unable to translate ideas to paper or communicate those ideas globally. But science does not define humanity.
Humanity is found in ideas, in the words used to share them, and what the words can mean beyond simple definition. It is a wholly human trait to manipulate language, to create and pose sentences which humans, as the uniquely qualified judges of language, are able to nominate as beautiful…or curse as trivial.
I see humanity in Atticus Finch; in his family’s persecution over his defense of a black man. I see humanity in May Bartram; in her love for John Marcher which burst like a beast into his awareness only at her tombstone. Humanity is in the stories loved for generations, canonized for the conveyance of shared experience, and valued because they are true hope of ever defining meaning and purpose. These stories teach us the fragility of humanity; its rewards and its beauty –its sadness and its polished apathy.
I’ve lived my life to this point in a manner influenced by my family and friends. Yet there is another, independent portion of me which was molded and nourished by my long-time love affair with literature. In my life, literature has taught me to be fragile; to be unafraid of my susceptibility to the impact of others. Literature has taught me to be human. It’s why I love literature, and why I believe literature matters.
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