Why Studying Literature is Important (Especially If You Hated It In High School)
So, why did you hate studying literature in high school?
Maybe because you had to write endless papers about symbolism and what the author meant when they put the night table on the left side of the bed instead of the right. A criticism of lit class I’ve heard a million times over: “The author didn’t really mean all these things, you’re just making it up.”
My answer: Yeah, so?
As an avid writer myself, I understand that maybe not every choice an author makes is a meaningful one. Maybe a character’s sweater is yellow because the author’s favourite color is yellow. (Fun side note, the choice of color in the Coldplay song “Yellow” is because the yellow pages phone book was sitting near singer Chris Martin when he was writing and he though it sounded good.) Or maybe yellow does serve to symbolise their sunny disposition. As you probably do not have a relationship with the author, you will likely never know for sure what their intentions were.
But their intentions don’t matter—at all. One of my favourite teachers (Hi Mrs. Shaffer!) used to say “Trust the text, not the teller” when we would complain about not having the home phone number of the author. And she was right about this as she was about most things.
Because the ability to draw connections between seemingly unrelated things, notice patterns, and see something that’s not there is the absolute essence of creativity and problem solving.
These are skills that are invaluable and in short supply all over the world. Your lit teachers knew you were probably not going to grow up to become the next great literary critic, but they were preparing you to see the world with a set of eyes ready to make sense and meaning out of seeming randomness and chaos. Then, to be able to curate that understanding and present it in coherent writing? Close to godliness.
And yes, these skills are invaluable in the workplace and will take you far in your professional life, but also imagine how much more beautiful life can be when we approach it with a mind that’s ready to see a bird flying through the air as not only a bird, but a symbol of joy as we step outside the hospital after a scary illness. Or how wonderful it would feel if the fact that we were just thinking of the exact song that came on the radio was more than just mere coincidence. Or if you started to notice that the one you love always makes you tea, but never drinks it on their own.
Appreciating literature is nothing short of seeing the world not just for what it is, but for what it could be, if you choose. And why wouldn’t you? :)