hat is the purpose of literature? According to our reading from Experiencing the Humanities (Links to an external site.), “The present world civilizations are based on communication. Histories, languages, cultures and arts–everything involved in the humanities depends on and flowers through communication. Literature sets the example both in content and in style for the finest communication that can come through voice, paper, or visual play. Study the literature of a race or people, and you have studied the marks they have tracked through time. It is impossible to know most races or people in history without reference to their literature. Their literature, oral or written, is them, and they are their literature.”
Jewell, in this same section, goes on to assert that literature “helps people discover themselves. It gives readers insight into their feelings, thoughts, pasts, futures, and ultimate values.” This is one of the highest aims of any writer, and this discovery is generally established via a literary work’s theme.
In studying literature (or art or music or film, for that matter) the term theme is of profound importance. Theme is generally a universal truth; it is the overall point of the literary work. Most writers want us to learn something about ourselves by reading their work. A writer uses theme to speak to all of humanity – to what it means to be human and to deal with the mental, emotional and physical challenges of simply living life. And while a writer may have some particular theme in mind, the point of the literary work ultimately comes down to what the reader sees as the overall theme. It is the reader’s interpretation of the piece that determines whether or not the literary work has truly spoken from one human (the writer) to another (the reader).
For this Discussion, you will need to have read the Literature information and read through the literary works available in our first Cultural Arts module. After covering this information, identify the theme of one of the literary works assigned and explain how this theme speaks to humanity. Specifically, you need to give the name of the literary work, the author’s name, and what you see as a major theme. Explain what you see as the purpose of the piece. What does the author want the reader to take away from your selected literary work? What does the literary work say about our culture?
Posting – Your response to the prompt will need to be a full paragraph with a minimum of five complete sentences.
Responses – You will need to submit a minimum of two responses to postings made by your fellow classmates; your response postings will also need to be a minimum of one paragraph each.
Kurt Vonnegut’s “2BR02B”
This short story published in 1962 is set in a dystopian future that illustrates a version of population control. Vonnegut was a modern American writer, possibly best know for dark satirical works like Slaughterhouse-Five and Mother Night.
Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”
This poem is a excerpt from Carroll’s longer work Through the Looking-Glass, published in 1871, which is a companion piece to his famous Alice in Wonderland. Carroll was an English writer often noted to create fantastical children’s stories. A lively version of this poem can be seen in the 1951 Disney (or Buena Vista) animated film here (6 minutes): https://youtu.be/00WCEbKM_SE (Links to an external site.)
Upton Sinclair’s “The Second-Story Man”
Upton Sinclair, an American writer, is best known for his ground-breaking novel The Jungle which exposed harsh conditions endured by migrant workers in America’s meat-packing industry. “The Second Story Man” is a one-act play first published in 1912 by Sinclair in a collection of short plays he titled Plays of Protest.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3302/3302-h/3302-h… (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
https://librivox.org/one-act-play-collection-008/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. (scroll down to the bottom, listed last)
an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Hamlet
William Shakespeare. Possibly no name towers more over literary study. Shakespeare was an incredibly prolific playwright and poet. One of his most often quoted lines can be found in this soliloquy excerpted from the play Hamlet, as the main character contemplates suicide:l site.)
From Act III Scene I
I hear him coming. Let’s withdraw, my lord.
[Exeunt King and Polonius.]
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.
Good my lord,
How does your honour for this many a day?
I humbly thank you; well, well, well.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1524/1524-h/1524-h… (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
http://ia800204.us.archive.org/1/items/shakespeare… (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.