Re-reading Literature

Now that I have a bit more time than I used to have, I decided to read some American literature.  Its a subject that has always fascinated me.  I think, however prejudicially, that America is a pretty special place, and I wanted to dig into the American psyche a bit more.

I went to the library and checked out some college textbooks on American Literature.  Now, I’m not totally illiterate on the subject.  I read a great deal of good American fiction when I was younger, and have continued reading it through life, although at a slower pace when I was busier.  I understood the elements of a story to be: the main character or hero faces a conflict.  The conflict could be a person, situation, or internal crisis.  The conflict gets resolved, and the story ends either with the problem overcome, or the hero learning something vital, which allows the reader to determine how he will then act on his new knowledge.  However, what I read in the Literature texts, almost exclusively, was something else.  What I read seemed to go like this: the main character is in despair, the book explores dark elements of the human psyche, the main character is searching for meaning or happiness or love, and the climax is discovering it doesn’t exist.  The story ends either explicitly with the character’s death, or implicitly, with the character’s disappointment in his or her quest.  It was all pretty dark, depressing material.  It was amazing that I didn’t remember reading very much of this kind of literature in my youth.  Then it hit upon me that perhaps the selection of literature in these texts is biased toward this very negative kind of story.

Searching farther, I read an article explaining the difference between popular fiction and literature.  I expected to find out that popular fiction was lacking description, had shallow, underveloped characters or the like.  Instead, the difference is that popular fiction has the plot I described above, with a conflict resolution and (according to the author of the article) a “happy ending”.  According to this auth0r, true literature described the human condition as it is, with all its “angst”, and lack of answers.  In other words, real life has no happy endings, and no answers, so to write stories that have either of these is to succumb to the lure of writing popular fiction (with the inferior motive of making money) instead of literature.  Another author stated it was impossible for any Christian fiction to ever be considered literature, because a Christian’s unique belief system precludes any “angst” or despair.

Well, all I can say is I wonder if the requirement to study American Literature in one’s first two years of college  is a good thing.  What if it leads those young, mostly teenage students to believe that life is nothing but despair and meaninglessness?  No wonder there are so many college students on antidepressants!  Their beliefs about life have been shattered.  This is totally unnecessary in my judgment, because there are quite a lot of very happy people in the world: people solving their problems and creating good and beautiful things for their families and their posterity.  The intellectual crowd may be the ones out of synch with the “human condition”.  They are staring in despair at a glass thats all but empty, sure there are no answers to their thirst.  The rest of humanity is out to find the faucet.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: