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All questions on English literature

What is the purpose of literature in our society?


Why is the purpose of literature?

In order to answer this question, let’s define our terms. What is literature and, specifically, what is English literature? Literature as defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica is quite simply a ‘body of written works.’ This includes works defined in the table below.  

Novel A narrative in prose
Novella A narrative in prose that is shorter than a novel
Play A piece of dramatic literature, which is performed
Short Story A narrative in prose that is shorter than a novella
Poem Uses figurative language and sometimes has a rhyme

  English literature is still literature - however, it is any work specific to the British Isles that was written anywhere between the 7th century and the present day. So, when you take any English literature courses, keep in mind that you will be narrowing your study to English literature books. Take a look at the timeline below to see some notable works!   literature_timeline As you might have guessed, English literature is considered as different from literature in the English language. The table below holds some other types of literature in the English language.  

American literature Literature from the US
Canadian literature Literature from Canada (non-French)
Australian literature Literature from Australia, including Aboriginal English
New Zealand literature Literature form New Zealand

  So now, what is the purpose of literature? Specifically, English literature? Without literature, there is no history. Not only did early works of literature provide first-hand accounts of historical events, but they also capture entire eras: popular culture, societal norms, and more. literature_importance  

How does literature affect our life?

If you’ve ever been interested in pursuing an English literature degree or want to find an English literature university specialization - you might be asking yourself this question. Let’s start by looking at the different categories of literature: categories_literature Within these categories, you can find the following genres:  

Fiction Short stories, myths, novels, novellas
Non-Fiction Autobiographies, speeches, essays, diaries
Drama Comedies, tragedies, pantomimes, melodramas
Poetry Poems, pastorals, lyrics

  So, let’s start with something the majority of people can relate to: lyrics. There is a reason why heart-wrenching ballads are so great to listen to during a bad breakup, or why certain songs can take you back to a moment in your life. Songs are the soundtrack to our lived experiences, and the techniques employed by lyricists can be considered literary techniques.   genres_literature You’ll find literature in the present day affects our lives mainly as a means of entertainment: from classic plays to binge-worthy series to stories shared at the dinner table. While this may seem like a modern-day tendency, the truth is literature has always been a means of entertainment.    

Greek Tragedies 5th century Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus
Shakespeare Plays 17th century Tragedy, tragicomedy comedy
Netflix Series 20th, 21st century Films, series, etc.

  Literature also affects language. When it comes to English literature especially, Shakespeare is said to have contributed about 1,700 words and about 40 different phrases to the English language. Take a look at some below!  

Words Invented Phrases
Laughing stock Eyeball
Dead as a doornail Puking
Fair play Obscene
In a pickle Marketable

 

What can literature teach us?

Keeping in mind that all of these questions could be answered differently depending on who you ask, we can generally split the teachings of literature into three main categories.   skills_gained_literature Let’s explore each of these categories in-depth.  

Personal In the form of catharsis, as a kind of therapy, gives you insight into personal events in your own life, etc.
World events Historical accounts of socio-cultural and economic events throughout history (i.e., 2008’s Great Recession, the Zoot Suit riots, etc.)
Hard and soft skills Can give you detailed instruction on a variety of topics: programming, directing, communication, etc.

  In other words, literature can teach us about ourselves, about the world and about a wide variety of skills.  

What are the benefits of studying English literature?

The benefits of studying English literature can be divided depending on the type of person who is studying. If you’re a student who isn’t interested in specializing in, for example, an English literature Cambridge program - you might be more interested in knowing how to revise for English literature.   If you’re interested in studying English at uni, you might be more interested in English literature graduate jobs. Let’s start with the first case   The benefits of studying and reviewing English literature for your class, even if you’re not particularly passionate about literature itself, are many.  

Benefit 1 Develop critical thinking skills
Benefit 2 Improve writing skills
Benefit 3 Keeps the brain stimulated

  While the above are benefits everyone can take advantage of, let’s take a look at the benefits of being an English literature major.  

Benefit 1 Can help you stand out in any industry
Benefit 2 Can be used as a creative outlet
Benefit 3 Opens up a wide variety of careers (translator, writer, editor, etc.)

 

What skills do you gain from studying English literature?

Now that we’ve talked about the influence that literature can have on personal and professional life, let’s discuss the benefits of studying literature. In other words, the importance of literature review with regards to building skills.   When you talk about the skills gained from studying English literature, it is necessary to look at the common assignments you’ll have to complete that will help you perfect these skills.  

Assignment Description
Research Paper English literature courses will require you to complete some sort of research paper. This includes: argumentative, critical, persuasive, etc.
Terms You will need to study and understand the literary terms used the most: metaphor, hyperbole, ekphrasis, climax, alliteration.
Tools You will need to study and understand the literary devices used in literature: allegory, epigraph, foreshadowing, juxtaposition, etc.
Reading In any English literature class you will have to complete reading assignments.

  When you’re studying literary terms and devices, reading books and completing research papers - you are actually polishing skills that will become very useful in the future. Take a look at just some of the skills you will develop while completing any of these four elements. literature_work

Answers
One of the chief purposes of literature is a means of exploring what it is to be human. It is also a way of communicating with others about a huge range of ideas and concerns. The writer does intend to convey certain meanings and will be aware of audience interpretation, the rest of the interpretation will be up to us as readers. Once the piece of literature is out in the world, it is open to the reader to try to understand it with the information available to us. At A Level you will be expected to think in a more critical and sophisticated way about a text, in preparation for university. You will be expected to understand more of the social, historical and political contexts surrounding the making of a work of literature. Your essay writing skills should improve, as will your ability to think about wider issues in relation to what you are reading.Your marker will be looking for the ability to read carefully and deeply, to analyse, and to be able to express your ideas fluently and cogently.  In preparation for your assessments: read and absorb as much as you can. Look over past exam questions, brush up on your vocabulary - all the useful words you'll need for exams, and practice your writing skills as much as possible. In your coursework, be sure to structure your essays properly and form coherent arguments. Use the text and surrounding criticism; all the information is there for the taking.Literature at degree level is challenging but so rewarding. Your mind will be opened to a huge variety of authors, ideas and concepts. You will be expected to read, a lot! You will also be required to research your ideas and think independently - the tutors will only give you so much - the rest of the work is up to you to discover in your own studies.
Frances H.
24 April 2016
Hi Tayo, The first is an interesting question. There can sometimes be a discrepancy between intention and what the teacher or students read into a novel or piece of literature. However, it is argued that anything is valid and whether the author intended the reading is neither here nor there. A-level English Literature often looks into literature much more deeply, with a focus on analysis. There is no creative writing usually, and there is also more of a focus on context. In an excellent essay, you would need to hit all the Assessment Objectives. These vary from including context, analysis, and correct punctuation and grammar. The essay would need to flow fluently and have a good and clear structure. It is sometimes difficult to prepare for controlled assessments and coursework, however I would recommend writing out quotes so you can begin to learn them if the controlled assessment is closed book. Also, research a few critics that can be used in your controlled assessment or coursework.At degree level, the breadth of literature is a lot wider. The depth of analysis is less as you are studying more books in a shorter amount of time. You are expected to do a lot more individual study. I hope Ive helped answer some of your questions. let me know if I can help any more! Martha 
Martha M.
25 May 2016
Hi Tayo.It took me a long time to become convinced that writers do in fact create layers of meaning in their texts (the colour red used alongside Curley's Wife in 'Of Mice and Men' is a perfect example of this). This is something that becomes more and more obvious the more you study literature. However, it is completely down to the reader to decide if they should read into a piece of literature or not, that is the beauty of literature, it can have a complete different meaning from one reader to the next, but both readings are equally valid. It is also sometimes the case that authors had to use symbolism to get across their meaning rather than simply saying it, for example, if they were writing in a context that banned their ideology. For example, if you believed that homosexuality was normal in Victorian England, it was much safer to hint about it through symbolism in poetry than to risk your reputation and be branded as a lunatic by simply stating it as a fact.The main difference between GCSE and A-Level is the amount of originality that you're expected to bring to your answers. At A-Level, you are expected to read the texts and come to your own conclusions as to what the writer intended, which I found to be a lot more interesting. You are expected to read and engage with critical arguments to get an understanding of the deeper themes of the texts.You also deal with more mature topics at A-Level (sex, politics, oppression, violence, etc), which makes the subject more engaging. The most obvious thing that the marker is looking for is the completion of all the assessment objectives, but this can take the magic away from English Literature. In my opinion, an excellent essay shows you have thought deeply about what the author intended with their writing, and that you have come up with your own opinions rather than simply regurgitating what your teacher has said. It's all well and good to talk about colour, but an outstanding essay could talk about colour specifically applied to nature, or gender, etc in order to display opinions of the time. Everybody has different ways to prepare, but in my experience mind-maps, brief essay plans, cue cards and even recording your own notes and playing them back are all excellent ways to revise.Literature at degree level is probably what you would expect: extremely interesting, varied and allows for much more originality and creativity, but it can be quite challenging. You are expected to be a lot more original in the ideas that you bring to your essays (a recent essay I wrote is 'Can 'The Hunger Games' be read successfully through Marxism?'). You get a lot more choice as to the types of books you can study too, so you can read what you love. You are also expected to do a lot more reading of critics in order to strengthen your knowledge of the topic or theme.
hannahc96
30 May 2016
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