What Does Literature Mean To You?

A picture from a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. (Credit: Birdport Arts Center)

Throughout history, humans have always communicated their ideas through storytelling. These prolific, inventive stories eventually transpired from mouth to paper, serving as tales that encouraged the growth of knowledge. As the human race developed, so did the literature of our people. Different cultures have their own stories, their own literature that they shared not only amongst themselves but with the world. Literature became a way that humans can communicate with one another—they can share ideas, personal anecdotes, and even lessons to be learned. It is form of knowledge.

And yet, what particularly is literature? Defined by Merriam-Webster as “literary culture” the concept on literature is one that can be greatly debated. In my experience with literature, it can be what you learn from a particular story, how it makes you feel emotionally, or even what spoke to you. Literature is a platform where authors can share ideas with eager audiences who thirst for knowledge. It can have a moving impact on the reader, helping them grow or develop their own opinions, or how they personally interacted with the text. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of literature is it cannot be defined in a scholarly sense, because it means something different to each individual.

For example, as an avid fan of the arts, I have long been exposed to an array of different forms of literature. As a participant within Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, I interacted with the text much differently then those who studied it in an academic sense. Even within the cast of the play, each verse, rhyme and piece of dialogue took on a different meaning. We each developed our own understanding of what the playwright had intended us to see. In my communication with the text, I was able to gain a greater understanding of the human condition and how this concept impacted my characters’ actions. However, the way my fellow cast mates interpreted the same text was an extremely varied–their own personal understanding.

This instance is a microcosm of the larger macrocosm of literature—each person has their own definition. No two people will have the same response to a piece of literature. And thus, I ask you:

What does literature mean to you?

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