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The Role of Literature in Cultural and Society Development

Jibran Khalil Jibran once said, “All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind. ” It is in everyone, it’s locked away, hidden and for the gifted, it comes out to give us the very languages we are using today. Literature, like music and film and theatre, is an art.

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As a matter of fact the purest form of art. Life, for many if not all, in scales that vary is pretty much the same journey measured by experiences, fortune, luck and love. We cannot all express them in a poetic or artistic manner but we all experience them nonetheless.

Most of us go through this wicked and unmerciful thing called life without ever being able to express those fortunate moments and hardships to others and more importantly to ourselves. We have reached an age where generations no longer pay mind to literature in a direct and hands on way. The new generation, including myself, doesn’t explore the poet within, as cliche as this may sound. Speeches from our presidents and world leaders don’t sound like they were fabricated from something real.

They were written by politicians and campaign specialists whose aim is to shock and awe, but sadly with facts and numbers, not with the humane and sentimental approach for which speeches and words were meant. The role of literature in society is to help enhance our way of thinking and perceiving our surroundings. It heightens our level of expression and speaking. You simply become that much more articulate and creative! Almost every book or novel that we read results in a push to our perception of life.

In Milton Albrecht’s “The Relationship of Literature and Society”, he adequately states that literature “reflects” society; its supposed converse is that literature influences or “shapes” society. On a daily basis we come across some kind of literary event. Something you could write a poem about, maybe even a book. More often than not they are overlooked, but it’s the creative minds that will always seize these moments and grant us the literature that will always help us relate. We live in a world where we desperately need a lifeline or a beacon that will always remind us that we are not robots or corporate machines.

We live in a world where people want to escape their daily responsibilities and commitments to something more heartfelt. We live in a world where we absolutely and undeniably need literature! While it is physically written in words, these words come alive in the imagination of the mind, and its ability to comprehend the complexity or simplicity of the text. Literature enables people to see through the lenses of others, and sometimes even inanimate objects; therefore, it becomes a looking glass into the world as others view it.

Like Thomas Edison came up with electricity, like Alexander Graham Bell gave us the telephone and like Mark Zuckerberg invented FACEBOOK, literature perhaps started with man discovering his ability to create. When this happened he realized that he could not only express his emotions in writing but in the process deliver messages of import to society carefully hidden in beautiful and crafted words. He decided that he could play with words to entertain and captivate people who would read them. In the olden days distance was of course a problem and so maintaining a history of world literature was impossible.

People in different parts of the world, using different languages and writing in different periods of time tackled literature differently. This has left us with books and creations that enrich our society and our heritage as a race. Even the most voracious reader can never hope to read all the books out there. There must be a reason for that, shouldn’t there? I mean many customs and cultures have withered over the centuries, many habits and arts have withdrawn into the abyss. But not literature! Literature inspires whole nations to rebel and change. This is the power of literature. It shapes, it moulds and in the process entertains.

It helps us learn about human nature in all its foibles and greatness; it lets us learn about the human past and our own pasts, and about other cultures. When we discover literature we can travel to any place at any time, even to the future, and see how others view the same world. It helps people get an in-depth view of life in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s the writer’s or someone else’s, may it be fiction or based on real life experiences. Whatever the case may be, reading a book, for instance, can put you in a totally different world, so foreign to you that you are bound to learn something from.

Reading, in my opinion, affects you on a much more personal level than watching a movie, therefore, after reading a book or any other piece of literature, the reader gains something which in turn he or she will inevitably bring into society whether it is a point-of-view, a new outlook or simply added knowledge or information. That person will carry what he/she learned on with them for years to come or probably forever and will most likely pass it on to other people and they in time will also pass n that newly acquired “crumb” of knowledge, causing a chain reaction of knowledge, if you will. After all, knowledge is one of the very few things that can never be taken away from you, and once anything is learned it inexorably triggers a change in that person, small or big, good or bad, that change will unavoidably occur and be brought with that person into society affecting how he or she would choose to converse with and/or treat others, how they would react to and handle certain situations and possibly the basis of their decision-making.

All of these things, in one way or another will most definitely have an impact on society as a whole and on its individual units. Literature and writing, though obviously connected, are not synonymous. Several pieces of literature that left a mark on our culture and society were passed down through oral tradition before they were ever fixed in written form. Take Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey that was dated all the way back to the late Bronze Age and handed down through different cultures by oral tradition before ever taking a written form.

Regardless of the form that literature may take, whether it’s in form of a novel or poem, movie or music, or just a simple oral form, it is undeniable that it bares several advantages for the person that actually takes the time to understand and appreciate it and eventually share it with others. You know? I may not be the most suitable person to be giving this speech or preaching about the importance of literature.

I may not have experienced the true hardships and joys of life. But one thing I believe is that no matter when I express this importance, be it today or in 50 years after life has taken its toll on me, it will always be true. Novels, books, words and literature are here to forever and always shake the very foundation of our world. To shake us, rattle us in hopes that those crumbs that Jibran spoke of would fall into a page and form future cultures and societies to come.

People nowadays, including myself sometimes, can be so apathetic and indifferent to our society and its people and oblivious to the fact that literature and education in general is a tool that can change that apathy and help shape us to become more well-rounded individuals that are somewhat free of the ignorance that can so easily destroy us without us even knowing it. The sad but apparent truth is that people these days don’t give reading and literature their just significance, most people probably never will, maybe it’s because of all the available distractions such as social networking and he like. The only solution for this problem is for previous generations to enlighten this generation on the importance of literature and how it can affect our society instead of constantly criticizing it. In the end, the people that criticize our generation forget who raised it, but that’s a different issue for a different time. I cannot be emphatic enough when stressing the importance of literature and reading and the rewards they so inconspicuously possess. After all, the famous author Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man that cannot read them. ”