Understanding Literature

More than two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Horace claimed that literature is “sweet” and “useful.” Since then, literature has been traditionally understood, at least in Western cultures, as having the dual purpose of entertaining and educating its audience. Literary texts are constructed in effect as objects of beauty, sources of pleasure and as conveyors of messages and information. While authors often claim no practical purpose for their works, all literature constitutes an attempt at persuasively conveying certain values and ideas. The entertaining and beautiful aspect of literary works acts in reality as part of the appeal and attractiveness which the work tries to attach to the ideas which it seeks to convey. The beauty of literature is therefore a part of its rhetoric, a device intended to strengthen the overall persuasiveness and influence of the work on its audience. While the entertaining aspect of literature may be rather obvious, understanding the ideas or values which a text advances is not always a simple task. Part of the problem is the fact that the ideas of a literary text are almost always presented in indirect or “symbolic” form. –Fidel Fajardo-AcostaUnderstanding Literature (Creighton University)