Essential Question Reflection Unit 4 (Semester 2)

How does literature get to the “heart of the matter”?

Because of literature’s sheer flexibility and versatility, there are many ways in which literature can get to the “heart of the matter”. One way is by teaching the reader the truth, or in other words a lesson. The author of the literature is the teacher, and by writing, he/she is teaching the reader how to become a better person. For example, one of the sonnets I’ve read in Unit 4 is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, where he talks about love and what it means to him. A key point that he brings out is that true love is not easily altered, and does not falter with time. In saying that, he might cause the reader to reevaluate how he/she views love and what relationships are supposed to be, or perhaps to manifest abstract thoughts in words. As an example, towards the end of 116, he says that he could not possibly be wrong in his interpretation of love because he feels it so strongly, and if what he feels is not love, then no man can ever possibly loved anyone. This leads me to another way of how literature gets to the heart of the matter, which is the reflective approach. Even if a piece of literature doesn’t explicitly teach the reader about anything, the act of taking a reader through a story and showing how the character reflects on his/her actions is enough to show a truth about the world. For example, in The Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad, as Marlow travels through the interior of Africa, he encounters torture and cruelty put on the natives by the European colonizers. This scene forces Marlow to reflect about the reasons why he was there in the first place; one of which was to “help” civilize the natives there. And when Marlow meets Kurtz, who is very clear on “exterminating” and “suppressing” the natives, he realizes that maybe the Europeans aren’t nearly as good as they think they are. Instead of the natives being the savages, he realizes that it was the Europeans who are the real savages. This type of reflection by characters in a story can provoke a lot of thought in readers – as it did in me – about how we view the world and the morals we use the evaluate our own actions.

 

To me, the way literature gets to the “heart of the matter” is very unique compared to the other disciplines I have been exposed to. For example, in science, the truth is often determined through observational studies and experiments to see if one’s thought experiments hold true in reality. In math, there are rigorous proofs to show that an equation or a theorem is the way it is. But literature is completely different. I think it embodies the human condition because it originates from the abstract (the authors’ experiences) and is transformed, thoughtfully, into words. Additionally, our own experiences also define how we interpret and absorb works. Thus, it’s actually really difficult to clearly say how literature gets to the heart of the matter – as it is different for everyone.

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