Literature: Does It Have Any Value?
Historically, imaginative literature has often been an object under attack. Plato warned his fellow Greeks that literature could rouse their emotions to too high an intensity. His recommendation was to throw the poets out of the republic. The Puritans who lived during the age of Shakespeare cautioned against the adverse effects of literature, especially drama. Tolstoy during his period of Christian conversion observed that literature was dangerous since it appealed to man's lowest instincts. Yet literature has not perished. Instead, it has flourished across the centuries. This essay will seek to defend literature by answering the following questions: Why is literature valuable? Why should we study it? How does it change our lives?
Literature is valuable because it offers us a rare chance at developing self-knowledge not readily available in other forms. As Oedipus Rex struggled to know himself, he did not recognize that he was blind. Only as Sophocles moves slowly with his development can the reader see what Oedipus eventually realizes. Physical sight is worthless if one cannot see the things of the spirit. By the play's end, Oedipus has blinded himself with Jocasta's brooch so that he will not be distracted by the physical act of seeing. Now he wishes to see clearly like Teiresias. Spiritual vision is his goal. Sophocles' drama allows this slow process of self-growth to be dramatically presented.
Self-knowledge is also a key ingredient in Ibsen's drama, The Doll House. Ibsen uses the dramatic form to show his audience how Nora must stop playing the part of Torvald's little girl. She must stop stealing sweets and own up to the more serious aspects of life (Perrine 948). Ibsen presents Nora as a woman who is no longer willing to function as her husband's doll. When the door slams at the play's end the audience is reminded that each of us has a responsibility to choos...