American Literature Essay, Research Paper
American Literature: Its importance on Society and Our Lives
The most influential invention of the history of mankind is that of the printing press. With its invention, people were awaking to the world around them. The printing press enabled people to learn of events in other parts of the world in the comfort of their own home. But with the rise in technology we no longer relay on this form of medium to get the news and the information of the world. Instead we use the printed word to experience the harshness of the New York streets, live in a small town in Ohio, and listen first hand to the voice of jazz. The printed word exposes us to the idea’s and thoughts of a particular character. It lets us look through someone else’s eyes. Through the novels Winsburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, Maggie: a Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane, and the short story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, one discover that American literature helps us understand and come to terms with society, other’s point of view, and helps us express ourselves through the use of words.
American literature helps one understand other people’s thoughts and beliefs. It is important that as a society we understand other people’s opinions and are intolerable to those opinion. This must be accomplished in order for us to function as a society. Literature is a way of understanding other people. For example in the book Winesburg, Ohio we are introduced to the character of Elmer Cowley. He is an odd character and everyone in the story thinks of him as “queer.” When we read his story, however, we realize that his queerness comes from his struggle to be normal. After an outbreak in his
attempt to be like everyone else, Anderson writes, “the passion that had been the cause of his outburst in the store began to again find expression. ‘I will not be queer – one to be looked at and listened to,’ he declared aloud. ‘I’ll be like other people’” (107). If we understand why people do not fit in we can then help them conform to society.
Another way of looking at someone else’s point of view, is to see how they feel during a certain situation. In the fight against child abuse, it is helpful to know what the child is going through. To know how much they are hurting. In Maggie we are able to see just that. We are able to witness first hand the detrimental experience of a mother hitting her child. Crane illustrates, “The mother’s massive shoulders heaved with anger. Grasping the urchin by the neck and shoulders she shook him until he rattled… Jimmie screamed in pain and tried to twist his shoulders out of the clasp of the huge arms” (81).
Although we are exposed to the tribulation of a mother’s hand, through literature we also are exposed to other individuals more positive, enlighten feelings and experiences. The effect that music has on someone can only be witnessed through someone else’s eyes. “Sonny’s Blues” is just another example of what literature can do. James Baldwin describes blues by writing, “[Creole] hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about” (69). Blues is a beautiful piece of art and to see its effect on people makes it even that much more beautiful.
In addition to helping one understand other people, Literature is a way of talking about social problems. In order to learn about the problems that this country is going through one must ether experience it or read about it. Through literature we can learn why these problems exist. Alcoholism is a huge problem in society. The effects of
acholism harmful to the person taking the drink. In Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson writes of the consequences that alcohol has on Tom forester. Anderson describes, “Tom got drunk in a very short time… His head seemed to be flying about like a pin wheel and then projecting itself off into space and his arms and legs flopped helplessly about” (121). Even though alcohol is dangerous to oneself, it is also very harmful to the people who live closest to them. In Maggie, we see the effects that a drunken mother has on her son. Crane writes, “[Jimmie] cast furtive glances at his mother. His practiced eye perceived her gradually emerge from a muddled mist of sentiment until her brain burned in drunken heat. He sat breathless” (82). Alcoholism is a disease that needs to be cured. Too many kids like Jimmie are being hurt by this fatal disease.
The streets are a far more worse problem then alcoholism. On the streets young boys are exposed to drug, sex, and a life with no future. Once you are born in to this prison it is hard to escape. In “Sonny’s Blues,” James Baldwin writes,
But houses exactly like the houses of our oats yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster. Some escaped the trap, most didn’t. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animal amputate a leg and leave it in the trap. (53)
Stories like this one helps society understand what keeps these kids trapped in this life. We can learn to help them by understanding them.
Furthermore, literature is a reflection of life and some experiences about life. In Winesburg, Ohio, we learn what it is like to grow up in a small town. We learn of George
Willards life and the experiences he has with the people of his town. We feel first hand the closeness he has with the people he grew up with. Anderson explains, “He knows the people in the towns along the his railroad better than a city man knows the people who live in his apartment building” (137).
In Stephen Crane’s Maggie we look through the eyes of a lost and troubled teen as opposed to a small town boy. We learn through her tragic story how kids choose the road of drugs, sex, law breaking, and prostitution. We learn through her life experiences that her bad choices were influenced by the dysfunctional family in which she lives in. Crane writes of Maggie’s mother, Mary, and how her drunkenness has effected her life. When Mary is arrested for being drunk she tries to blame it on Maggie. But the police reply, “Mary, the records of this and other courts show that you are the mother of forty-two daughters who have been ruined. The case is unparalleled in the annals of this court,” (113).
Liteture is away of expressing the thought and ideas of the author. away of traveling through time and experiencing the life of someone else. We learn how other people think and are able to understand people a little bit better. We learn through someone’s else’s eyes. Literature is important to American Society in more ways than one. Life without literature would be one of thoughtlessness and boredom. We would not be able to think and the experiences of other people would be left to themselves. The ideas and thoughts of other people would be left unsaid.