“Why do we study Literature?”

Whenever I put forth this question to the young minds of our upcoming generation, I am likely to get a response from them in the form of ‘drawing a blank’. Start pestering them to give some sort of an opinion over this question and the answers I do receive are generally instilled with words such as ‘pointless’, ‘useless’, ‘no good’ or even just a shrug that simply discards the entire subject altogether. And that’s a very hard blow to take for someone who is apparently teaching the subject with the idea that it is the most crucial stepping stone to broadening the horizons of these young learners.

As an advocator of the subject under discussion, I have observed the growing negligence towards Literature amongst my teenage students. Or to be more precise, there is without a doubt a major lack of basic understanding on the subject. Unfortunately, our educational system has not been able to draw proper attention of our student community towards the significance of studying Literature (whether English or Urdu). They all know why they need to study English Language but when it comes to the subject of Literature, their minds become foggy and you realize that asking them ‘WHY’ we study Literature is far from the matter. First and foremost, try asking a class of 15/16 year old students ‘WHAT’ is Literature and the reaction is cricket silence.

Let’s not generalize the entire thing by saying that this is the reaction you get from each and every single one of these young minds. No, you would still find a few sparks in the crowd who would give you some literary response that would ease your soul a bit. But it can also not be denied that this is not enough. A lot of students have expressed disinterest in the subject. The school curriculums are no doubt playing their role in providing good quality of Literature for senior students but I have experienced that what students are not being conveyed is the essence of Literature. This may be causing the indifference towards the subject and that I feel is a concern for the intellectual development of our learners. I’m not asking students to be compelled to love Literature. But they do need to be provided with proper knowledge of the subject. That is because there are always students who certainly have literary skills embedded in them with a flair for writing and are just simply sitting unaware about it. They are missing out on being taught the specialty of this subject. This is probably the reason why out of a 100% you would find only 2-5% of the students choosing Literature as an elective subject in their higher education.

Since, according to me, this is a growing concern, and also in order to answer all those who raise the question ‘What is the point of this?’ I would like to create awareness among the youth regarding the importance of Literature. Firstly, Literature is the kind of subject that gives one the freedom to relate to it in whatever way they choose to. As a subject, in Literature you may be assigned some ‘boring old novel’ to read and study and then answer questions regarding it. But a change of perspective is required in this regard. I have seen students trying to deal with Literature as they would deal with a mathematical problem, which is a horrifying spectacle. This is because students think that when they are given a question on the novel or story, there is one answer to it, which is not true (unless we are talking about comprehensions). Every single person can give his/her own understanding of what they have read and interpreted in regard to the writer’s idea behind the story and present it as a justified answer. This is what Literature does to your mind. It makes you read, analyze and question the thinking of the writer whose story you are examining and then somehow relate to it. Once you have done that, you would find that you are giving your very own creative and analytical opinion as an answer. You thought hard over the writer’s perspective, deciphering the meanings behind his words, and then you linked your own ideology with it, therefore giving an answer that is your very own original and personal take on the writer and his/her story. You told us what you think about the text and in the whole ‘thought process’ of indulging yourself in reading between the lines, you unconsciously allowed the intellectual wheels of your mind to start rolling. This is what Literature does and this is why we study it. It grooms the intellect of a young and fresh thinker.

When you are reading books, drama, poetry, short stories, essays or any piece of literary work, you are opening the gateway to unbound imagination and allowing your intellect to grow by perceiving so many ideas out there, provided to you in the form of words. And then you are asked to dissect those words, question that piece of knowledge, examine that burst of idea, scrutinize the symbolic meanings, and critically analyze the writer’s philosophy. You start dwelling on human nature and the situations that we as beings find ourselves in, in this world. As a result, you develop a profound sense of life. Your mind becomes perceptive, knowledgeable, polished and one that sees the world with a deeper eye. That is the ‘point’ of Literature. That is what Literature gives you. To think, feel and see deeply, while expanding your horizons. I especially feel that young minds need to be indulged in innovative ways of creative writing that give them the opportunity to think freely, imagine, experiment, create and put into words their idea. This is the beauty of creative writing. It gives one the liberty to pick something that strikes him from the vast sea of his ideas and put it down on paper. The end product is a piece of literature that will reflect the person’s own character. That is the essence of Literature. So, to all the young learners, let it be known that Literature is as much valuable in the process of building mind and character as any one of the other ‘practical’ subjects (maybe even more).