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Final Reflections on Literature and Its Impact on Life
Literature is a psychoanalysis of society, a reflection of our collective consciousness. It is a form of expressing observations about the world around us, and the impact that our actions and decisions have on our existence. The expressions found in literature are often but a mirror that one can hold up to humanity, enabling us to explore the process that we often call, ‘the human condition’.
Literature explores humanity’s passions and motivations, from works of fiction and biographies, to poetry and sacred texts of religion, the same themes and questions are explored. Simply stated, literature is a reflection of the way individuals live and interact with each other (Coles et al, 2010). It is interesting to reflect on what literature tells us about ourselves. It would seem that generation after generation, and era after era, human beings are doing the same thing despite advances in technology and an explosion of information, especially in the era that we now live.
Regardless of how much knowledge or skill human beings acquire, they still do the same things over and over in their interactions with each other and the world around them. They still make the same quality of decisions, they are still driven by the same emotions; love, fear, anger, hate, envy, jealousy, pride and prejudice. They also still ask the same questions: Who are we? What do we value? Why are we here? Of what value is what we do? What are emotions? Are the mind and the brain synonymous? What of faith and spirituality’s role? Stories of fiction are especially rich with these elements of our existence.
In short, stories, the setting or location where all the action takes place can be simple and ordinary, having no particular function other than being an environment in which the story can develop and grow. Sometimes the setting of the story can be symbolic of a greater theme alluded to in the story, such as the freeway representing freedom for Jake in ‘Love in L.A.’. Often a short story will begin with a ‘bang’ within the first or second paragraph; something to catch the reader’s attention. Having caught the reader’s attention, it is important to keep them engaged. This happens in the dialogue or action that takes place (Gilb, 1950).
The value of dialogue and action can never be overstated in fiction. However the overuse or underuse of these can take away the ‘spark’, as it were, from an otherwise potentially interesting tale. The reason dialogue and action are central to good fiction is that they bring out the personalities of characters, their motivations, their values and morals. The interaction of these personalities then create the plots and themes, tensions and tones as well as the ironies that rise to the surface as the story develops. The good writer of fiction knows that it is finding the balance between these two elements that producing an engaging story emerges from, regardless of the setting of the tale.
A good fiction writer in literature will be what a good Chef is to food service; priceless. To this end, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, would perhaps be my favourite for the simple reason that the Grandmother’s character represented so many other subtle themes. She represented several things; an Era, being of a different generation; a reign, being a dictator of sorts especially where her son was concerned; a standard for a value and moral system, with her foundational holier than thou attitude; but most of all the human condition; her distrust of people wherever it began, represents a coping mechanism that may have been born from fear or anxiety of uncertainty or loneliness or loss (O’Connor, 1977).
Whatever the case may be, she represents life in a nutshell: how long and hard it can be; how different people and circumstances change us; how we adapt to change; how we can sometimes end up being but a dim reflection of our true selves and finally; how we wear different masks in an attempt to hide the fact that we have become a shadow of who we were or, have ‘fallen from grace’ where people’s expectations are concerned or, perhaps we missed the path in life we had wanted to take and now a sense of regret fills that void where fulfilment would have been. In the end, we all die and are buried no matter the shape or form death comes at us in, regardless of whether we lived a long hard life, a short happy one or vice versa.
Another literary form that is rich with matters of the human condition is poetry. Poetry’s work however is not as direct as a work of fiction may be. It is an abstract expression of the concrete, filled with figurative language and symbolism that is often specific to the individual Poet. In a work of fiction, a reader can easily identify with the personalities of characters and even the setting of the story. Circumstances, attitudes, responses and the like are often easy to relate. The work of a Poet however is entirely different.
Poetry is a type of abstraction of ideas, themes and concepts, revolving around that which makes us human and often expressed indirectly. It addresses especially our mental processes and emotions that are not tangible and not easily explained using logic, such as fear, love, anger and hope. Consequently, it attaches imagery to these subtle elements in an attempt to express them. This imagery often also represents bigger concepts of life, for example light is often associated with life and vitality, while night and darkness are often associated with death as expressed in ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas.
Taking a poem at face value often causes a reader to miss the deeper expression that the poet was trying to express. The dynamic thing about poetry is that these expressions are largely contextual and light or night can mean entirely different things such as, intelligence or lack thereof, respectively. In this way, poetry then can be entirely misunderstood depending on the cultural context in which it is read. Poetry then needs to be supported by some background information about the context in which the poet wrote. Anecdotes relating to time period in history, cultural background, religious beliefs and the like all affect and influence the writing of poetry.
A Poet is a ‘master of the parable’ as it were. To this end, although Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ has had its fair share of attention, I would say that by far, Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ is more encompassing of humanity, the reason being that two things that human beings have in common are life and death. Throughout our lives as human beings, we are faced with challenges and victories, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and the same is true of those that we interact with.
Regardless of our aptitude in decision-making or emotional maturity at the various stages of our life, we will have to face death at some point or other. To me, Dylan’s expression in this poem reflects passion. Despite the anger he feels about his father’s attitude in facing death, he raises some poignant themes. He speaks of living life to the full, with vigour, and accepting death as an appropriate end to a life well lived. However, one should not face death with a sense of despondency as if defeated and filled with regret, but like a warrior, courageous and with gusto. That regardless of our worn and frail physical state, the same should not be true of our spirits and our minds. They should be effervescent to the end.