Functions of Literature


ORDINARY LEVEL LITERATURE IN ENGLISH 
PART ONE: THEORY OF LITERATURE: AN INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE
UNIT 5: Functions of Literature
Class: FORM THREE
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:

  • Introduction 
  • Ideology on Function of Literature
  • Why do people read Literature?
  • Roles of Literature
  • Conclusion 
Introduction 
Like other subjects and disciplines, literature has its place in the society. Many subjects, fields and disciplines have their roles to perform in the society although most of the roles have cross-cutting aspects that all these fields share in common. Literature as a separate field has roles to perform as well.

Different Ideologies on Roles of Literature
According to the Marxist ideology, literature is one of the forms of social consciousness. And indeed, literature is a reflection of life in its all aspects. 
Literature is the study of man; his feelings or emotions; his needs; his relationships to his society; his contractions within himself and his community and his responses to all these aspects. Hence, the function of literature is to discuss all these aspects and whole human relationships.

Why Do People Read Literature?
In fact, we all read literature for a variety of reasons. These reasons may change in accordance with our age, our interest, and the kind of literature we read.
Pleasure. Our basic reason for reading literature is probably pleasure. We read literature mostly because we enjoy it. Reading literature for pleasure may take various forms: 
- We may read just to pass the time.
- We may read so as to find pleasure in learning about the life of a certain place or person.
- We also read simply for enjoyment we get from the arrangement of words and moral sayings.
- We also find pleasure even in reading about comedy and other comic stories.
- Others, though not all, find or hold that pleasure is the sole end.
Information and Knowledge. Also we often read literature for information and knowledge:
- We find possible solutions to our problems when we meet people in books whose problems are like our own.
- Through literature we sometimes understand situations we could not otherwise understand in real life.
- Some critics still hold that the true ends of literature are to instruct and delight that is, not only giving us the knowledge but also leaving us delighted.
Thus, by summing up, literature has got different roles to perform in the society as follows:

Functions/Roles of Literature in the Society
To educate people. Literature teaches people on existing social, political and economic systems. For after reading “Three Suitors One Husband” what is the play teaching you today?
To express people’s culture. Literature like language is an element of culture. It expresses people’s life and culture they have from one generation to another. For example, after reading “Hawa the Bus Driver” what culture is conveyed in the story? Or what is the men’s culture or beliefs towards women in the story?
To entertain people. Literature as an art form gives those entertainments that appeal to human lives and evoke pleasure to the readers. For example, after reading “Kalulu the Hare” what things in the story make you laugh/enjoy? Or did any incident in “Three Suitors One Husband” make you laugh?
To influence people in the society. Literature is also designed to influence people by instilling in them the revolutionary ideas and different ways of thinking especially those positive and sustainable ideas. For example, what way of life do you think Atangana’s family should take after what have happened to them in “Three Suitors One Husband”?  or what is the influence of “Unanswered Cries” to the African societies that undergo female genital mutilation?
To develop language. Literature uses language. Therefore, in so doing, literature develops and improves a particular language through all four language skills, namely, listening, speaking, reading, and writing to the readers. It also improves vocabulary and grammar. For example, are there any sayings in “The Lion and the Jewel”? What vocabulary items are used in ‘Fast Money’? Or does a language used in ‘The Magic Garden’ makes you laugh?
To liberate people. Literature also liberates people or awakens them from unfavorable conditions of life or bad treatments in the society. For example, after reading Olabisi’s life in ‘Unanswered Cries’ a person who participates in female genital mutilation can be awakened and stop practicing that tradition. Or many men can be aware of women’s ability by reading various literature about women including “Hawa the Bus Driver” and “Mabala The Farmer”.
To criticize the society. Literature as a tool for awareness criticizes the society by pointing out the evils and other injustices in the society. When criticized, the people in the particular society take necessary actions. For example, the novel “Passed Like a Shadow” criticizes the society that is loose in this era of HIV/AIDS disease. “Unanswered Cries” is also criticizing the societies that practice female genital mutilation in some African societies.

Conclusion
The sole function of literature is to delight and inform. This core function is accompanied by various roles literature performs in the society.

Practice Your Skills
In five paragraphs, criticize any character you know from any literary work you have read in Secondary School.

References
Abrahams, M.H (1971) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.


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