What Is Literature? Essay, Research Paper
What is Literature?
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines literature as: writings in prose or verse; especially
writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal
interest. This concept of thoughts and ideas on paper is a good start but does not thoroughly
define literature. Literature takes many forms and has evolved over time along with humankind.
Therefore to thoroughly define literature one must discuss the elements of literature, the history
of literature and what literature has become to today?s society.
As diverse as people themselves literature takes on many forms. The three major forms
are prose, poetry, and drama. This paper will discuss mainly prose literature. Prose is defined in
Mirriam-Webster as a literary medium distinguished from poetry especially by its greater
irregularity and variety of rhythm and its closer correspondence to the patterns of everyday
speech. Prose is also different from drama in that prose does not require the acting out of its
contents. Literature allows people to ?live? vicariously. That means that is used to pass ideas and
emotion of a unique situation to people who would otherwise not be able to experience them.
This is the main purpose of all literature. Literature does this through both real situations which
have happened, called non-fiction and imagined situations, called fiction. These situations allow
people to satisfy their innate desire to solve problems. The source of these ?problems? in
literature is called conflict. Imagery allows a writer to compare the unique situation they are
writing about to a situation that may be closer to what the reader has experienced. Symbols are
images that are used to represent otherwise intangible ideas, for example, the river of life.
Literature delivers these situations through stories. Stories have a plot which is the method to
how the story will be told. Stories also help to pass on lessons through time which allows people
to access the knowledge of history. This passing of information is essential to grow as a species.
Without literature man would just be another animal foraging for food.
Literature has evolved with man. It has not even always been written. Before the
development of language, literature took the form of pictures. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and
cave drawings depicting series of events were the first of these. Once language had developed
people started to put their ideas into words. People are not the only being to create literature,
according to Hebrew history even God has produced literature, i.e. the Ten Commandments. The
ancient Greeks produced many stories of their Gods and of great adventures. Aesop?s fables, and
Homer?s the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were epics, are some of the more notable ancient Greek
works. Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle also contributed significant works. These were the first
literary giants. The first work which could be called a novel was written by a Roman named
Petronius Arbiter, who died in approximately 66 AD(?Literature?) It was called ‘Satyricon’ and
was a story about the society at that time which was written humorously. In the middle ages
mankind did not make many advances. The lack of access to literature by the vast majority of the
population did not promote the sharing of ideas. The Arthurian legends were the most famous
pieces of literature to arise from this period. In about 1450 AD Johannes Gutenberg invented the
printing press and changed the face of literature.
Modern day literature is considered to have started during the Renaissance. Many works
started to appear. The most notable authors of the Renaissance include Cervantes, Shakespeare,
and Swift(?Literature?). Prose novels were easier to distribute due to the printing press. During
the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries many works that are considered classics today were
written. These works centered on the social themes of society. In the Twentieth century novels
took on a new form of mainly entertainment. Fiction was broken down into several subcatagories
including mystery and science-fiction. Non-fiction has also taken on many forms such as
biographies and how-to books. Even poetry and drama has changed taking forms in modern
songs and in movies and television.
It would take a large work of literature to try to define what literature is. Literature is a
reflection of mankind. It is our emotions, our trials, our triumphs and all our real or imagined
experiences written down so that what has happened will be remembered. Literature is written so
that humans can try to repeat our successes and learn from our failures. Literature may change
but it is necessary to our evolution as a species.
Jacobs, Henry, E. and Roberts, Edgar, V. Literature. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1998
?Literature.? Compton?s Encyclopedia. Online ed. 05 June 2000. FTP:
?Printing.? Encyclopedia.com. Online ed. 05 June 2000. FTP: