A simple open ended question that leads to countless possibilities, from the quick response of “why not literature” to a response pulled from the depths of critical thought and much conjecture. Throughout history literature has helped form the social context of our society greatly. Some say literature is dying a slow death. What is to happen if the old standards of literary excellent are removed from high schools and universities. In our text book, Literature: The Human Experience, David Foster Wallace one of the contributors wrote in preface for instructors:
“We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy's impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character's pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive, we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.” (v)
Wallace's quotation proposes a link or a leap in the reader's mind to embody characters emotions with their own. Not much of anything else can do this. Case in point, from the confines of his shoe box cell on Robben Island a man had little else than literature to keep his mind occupied. Sentenced to a life in prison for seeking justice for his people from an apartheid government, Nelson Mandela read what ever he could get his hands on. A disguised book, the “Complete Works of Shakespeare” later to be known as the Robben Island Bible. The book was smuggled into the jail by political prisoner Sonny Venkatrathnam, who disguised it in colorful Diwali cards celebrating the Hindu festival of lights, finally convincing the warden it was his bible. Between the years of 1975 – 1978, the book was passed between 33 of Venkatrathnam's fellow prisoners. Consequently, many inmates autographed and dated their names beside a specific passage(s), regarding words of hardship, political unrest, or injustice. Mandela chose a passage from Julius Caesar, just before Caesar leaves for the senate to autograph; it includes the lines: “Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once”. (McKenzie)
After 27 years of imprisonment Mandela is finally freed. Instead of him displaying a bitterness towards the Afrikaans who took his freedom he works with them to form a new South Africa. The literary works he read in prison had to have an influence on the man he became. With the recent death of Mandela people all over the world will be compelled to read about his life of work. Just as with literature, something in his story might inspire someone to look beyond their own plight in society and grasp hold of something greater.
Literature is much more than words on paper bound between cardboard. When you read between the lines you my find new meaning. In Philip Larkin works you often find a poet and his use of the vernacular a little strange or unsettling at times. Sparking my interest I decided to research Larkin in a little more depth and...