Brontë is Compelling!
And so is Sir Isaac Newton, as his apples gravitate earthbound. In other words, the discoveries of the past are part of our daily lives, however distant we might regard them to be. The philosophical knowledge that is gained from reading literature traverses the bounds of our earthly extant growing stronger as new ideas develop. Whilst physics unravel the mechanics of the universe, literature helps us examine the more intricate question of the esprit of life. It is a vessel that not only transcends centuries and cultures, but also unites them by helping us to appreciate that our world is a unique place to be shared by all living creatures. Reading literature is not just a mere romantic past-time, but a deeper and more meaningful activity that helps us reflect on the daily problems of life. So how can the bygone characters’ tales chiselled on contemporary moral tablets teach us about our modern existence?
A trip down memory lane will unravel that life has, and always will be harsh regardless of the era or country that one might have been blessed to inhabit. The study of literature is one way of discovering that the romanticised past was not always a utopia compared to the modern high-pressure environment. Modern life-style is akin to a gallop on quicksand; the traveller feels as if he/she are going nowhere fast. The deluge of information is drowning any creative progression, and may even create more problems than it solves. E-mails that require a speedy answer, intrusive mobile calls, and never-ending requests via text messages mean that we can never step off the treadmill of our competitive existence. The soul may wish for silent solitude to grow, but the smart phone is louder. In comparison to these electronic pressures, our ancestors had more time to read and think. That is if they could afford books, knew how to read, and had the time to do so; notwithstanding the lack of heating and electric lights. Despite modern high-tech comforts, life for most is a unique drama from which there is little respite. Just like Wuthering Heights, many people lead a gothic and turbulent lifestyle, blighted by domestic strife and financial pressures. Battling the elements during the arduous journey to Thrushcross Grange is similar to the daily commute to work. It reflects the stressful grind of being stuck in traffic, and the dangers that a vehicular journey presents. Its travelling discomfort is similar to the over-crowded public transport, or it’s less salubrious and inebriated passengers that late evening commuters share seats with on their way home. Are people lonelier that ever in our crowded cities?
Literature shows us that being alone in a crowd is not unique to our era. Selvon in his novel The Lonely Londoners tells us about migrant melancholy. The loneliness and nostalgia they experience in a foreign place. In his short-story, many will recognise their own plight to form expatriate communities so that the burden of domestic nostalgia may be lessened. For example, UK expats may search for British tea and baked beans, just like Tanty, who wanted to eat rice, and peas instead of ‘that English food’. These are the known and familiar tastes that offer domestic comfort in their migrant existence.
Abroad may not always mean a foreign land. It might be a career related move a great distance away from one’s family, to a bigger town. Some novels look very closely at the reality of life in a big city. Is it full of dazzle and lights, or do the cosmopolitan smiles struggle to hide an internal misery? In Joyce’s The Dubliners, we face the harshness and dangers of life in the city. The allusions to sexual abuse, the uneasiness of a possible paedophile, and the oppression of a patriarchal society, are all part of the world we live in. A co-dependent family may read with painful empathy the antiques of the alcoholic father. In ‘The Dead’ we meet with the stark reality of domestic secrets. A partner who has never left her past behind. The dream of a unique love that unites is shattered in the utterance of a few words. So what do Selvon and Joyce reveal through their texts?
Through literature, they help us discover that the past was as problematic as the present. Understanding that the societal issues traverse the centuries to re-create themselves helps us put our woes into perspective. Our toils are no longer unique as we journey through life. Domestic and professional strife was as arduous many centuries ago as it is now. Literature develops our thinking by challenging it. In its pages, we uncover how the people that walked the same ground before us dealt with their daily, quite often with far less support and understanding that might be available nowadays. It is a mirror of our lives, opening the door into our emotional penetralia, where we embrace our fears. Studying literature helps us develop an understanding of our multi-cultural world by showing us the toil and battles our world has gone through. It does not concentrate on the hard historical facts, but focuses instead on the emotional views of the writer who, through his/her characters reveals the happiness and fatigue that carved each era in history. Literature is cultural discovery through the pages of textual art. It reflects life and its daily stresses, forcing us to see that our problems are not unique. Through it, a passage to a journey of self-reflection is embarked upon, which helps us look at life from a different and wider angle. This new perspective offers the opportunity to unite communities through a deeper understanding of the human culture and empathy for the fellow human being.
What are your thoughts on literature?
N.B. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon, The Dubliners by James Joyce, are all novels from the Open University’s A230 module Reading and Studying Literature, details of which can be found here - http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/a230.htm