Why Read Literature Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1491 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … value of literature must apply to all human beings alike, not to some group…Men [and presumably women too] ought to value literature for being what it is; they ought to value it in terms and in degrees of its literary value…" (Draughon, Earl Wells, 2003, p. 114).

Literature is available to the literate person for many reasons. For one reason and purpose, literature is entertaining and provides for the reader a fascinating excursion anywhere in the world -- or the universe -- without the reader having to leave his or her comfortable chair. But there are many other reasons why literature should be read, and those will be presented in this paper.

How to Read like a Professor -- Thomas C. Foster

Professor of English Thomas C. Foster (University of Michigan) points out that readers of great literature get a taste of the wisdom from what many writers consider the greatest resource for themes and morality lessons, the Bible.

Foster reviews the many iconic authors and poets that lifted ideas from the Bible, including writers like Faulkner, Hemingway, John Milton, Chaucer, John Donne, Tony Morrison and James Baldwin, among many others. Why is knowing that great literary figures use Biblical ideas and events important? Part of the learning process in reading great literature is knowing the sources of the authors' ideas, Foster explains (Foster, 2003, pp. 53-54).

Is Foster a Bible scholar? No. But he is always interested in giving literature a "resonance test" to explore an idea or an incident or a character in a story that "…seems to be beyond the scope of the story's or poem's immediate dimensions" (54). And if something within the story resonates "outside itself, I start looking for allusions to older and bigger texts," he adds (54).

On the subject of Baldwin, Foster gives the reader an opportunity to learn how to make reading literature more interesting than just reading and turning a page, reading and turning a page. Foster makes a point of referencing Baldwin's short story Sonny's Blues; at the conclusion of the story, the narrator sends a drink up to the bandstand, to his younger brother Sonny who is playing his saxophone. Sonny has been something of a wild person, a troubled heroin junkie who spent time in prison and wanted to play jazz but never got it together until recently. His older brother, the narrator, is a successful Black middle class teacher. Foster explains that after Sonny takes a sip of the drink his brother has sent to him, and before the musically talented Sonny launches into the next song with his saxophone, Sonny sets the drink up on the piano.

Foster was impressed with the writing in this scene. The drink shimmers "like the very cup of trembling," Baldwin wrote. When Foster read that passage the first time he didn't know the origin of the phrase, but he knew it was special. The story of Sonny's Blues is "rich and full," he said, and the way Baldwin presents the "pain and redemption" was so very compelling, Foster didn't think about that phrase until he had read the story several times.

A little research revealed to Foster that Baldwin was a minister's son, and that Baldwin's most revered book was Go Tell it on the Mountain, so Foster made a search through the Bible. Sure enough, the phrase -- "like the very cup of trembling" -- came from Isaiah 51:17 (Foster, 55). In this chapter Isaiah is referring to the "cup of the Lord's fury" in the context of sons who have "lost their way, who are afflicted, who may yet succumb to desolation and destruction," and this certainly describes the narrator's little brother Sonny (Foster, 55). Hence, the point of using Foster's narrative in this paper is that reading literature closely, and working through important literature more than once -- as C.S. Lewis suggests in the next section of this paper -- one can solve riddles, find the origins of transformational language and phrasing, and quite frankly, learn more than just the inspiration or idea-development that comes from reading superficially.

On page 56, Foster relates the joy he discovers by digging deeper into the literature. Of course, not every reader is going to be as investigative as a professor of English, but the point here is that knowing where that phrase came from means the alert reader no longer just sees the "sordid story" of a jazz musician and his teacher… [END OF PREVIEW]

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