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Interpret At Your Own Risk


Adam Gilson

"ever upward"

Literature is a subjective form of expression that allows the reader to interpret meaning in accordance to that person's own life experience. As such, the reader will not only interpret the author's meaning, but have one's own self laid bare to evaluation. The opportunity to take a piece of literature and use it to evolve as a person is an important aspect of literature. Literature also serves as a barometer for social issues, as we saw in the underlying themes of feminism in "The Yellow Wall Paper" or to parallel the innate barbarity of society in "Heart of Darkness". This aspect of literature to operate as a benchmark for social morality is perhaps one it's most important abilities. Finally, literature serves as a stepping stone for societal evolution, as each idea and thought is dissected and expounded upon and new directions are taken in society. As such, literature lends itself to the evolution of humanity as we interpret it for our own personal growth; as we hearken to it for possible paradigm shifts in social norms; and as we are swept up in it as it constantly ebbs and flows on the shores of humankind.

An important aspect of literature is to allow interpretation of not only the author's meaning, but to let that very act lend itself to self evaluation. In the beginning of our English class, we went over many short poems and stories, such as "Little Red Riding Hood". In groups, we were asked to dissect the story into various points, taking what the meanings of each subtlety and applying it to our own self. Each group had their own interpretation of the nuances, as well as the main point of the story. This illustrates the aspect of literature to allow for self evaluation and personal growth. With so many meanings our small class gleaned from such a simple story, it becomes clear that literature in any form can act as a mirror of one's inner self, as what you see a story to mean is unique to your own life experiences. When this process is applied to more complex literature, and to all things we will come across in our life time, we see that the compounded effect of critical analysis of a piece (and in effect ourselves) will be a constant means of personal growth, should we choose to acknowledge said revelations.

Literature serving as a barometer for social issues has been a long standing aspect of its existence. The short story "The Yellow Wall Paper", wraps the woe of women who are treated as if they are fey minded sub humans incapable of knowing what is right for themselves in a nuanced tale of someone driven insane by their lack of control over their life. Here we see a silent cry for help by the author to bring attention to the mistreatment of women, however subtle it may be. Regardless of the interpretation of the meaning of the story, its existence holds true to the concept that literature serves as a benchmark for current social issues. Another example of this facet of literature is "The Lottery", a short story that warns of the evils of social apathy and conformity. Layered in the story are various representations of our culture, all culminating in a coda of brutal death to illustrate hypocrisy in the acceptance of violence until it involves us. These two works of literature compel the reader to evaluate what is socially acceptable, be it morally or ethically, thereby solidifying the idea that literature acts as a barometer for social issues.

Literature's place as a stepping stone for societal evolution is based on what our ability to create it means. On paper, the things that separate humankind from animals are few. Learning, adaptation, survival are one of many shared traits. However, literature gives us an advantage that can not be discounted: a pooling of knowledge, opinion, thoughts, ideas, and history. >From this pool, a primordial goo gestates, bursting forth new ages of humanity as we learn from them. From the early literature of ancient civilizations; to the moral conduct laid forth in the Bible, Koran, Buddha et al; from the Renaissance and scientific method developed in the 1600's; to the Salons and the Dadaists; and the post modernists and the modernists and neo-modernists and existentialists; we find humanity growing parallel to the evolving mass of literature, as each new movement reflects what has been written down and what is being delved on by future aspiring writers as they embody the voice of society.

As the essence of this concept is based on literature as a whole, there is no single piece we have reviewed in class that can substantiate this claim. However, if you were to imagine your life from 12:00pm today to 1:00pm today as a short story, a simple thought experiment can be presented to illustrate the point. The "Story of Your Hour", as we will call it, represents a slice of one person's life among billions, as well as an hour in your life among thousands. Whether or not it was eventful is beside the point; if you saved a baby from a burning building, or if you sat in quiet meditation, experiences are gained and thoughts are created. However, as this is just a story written down on paper, let's burn it so that it no longer exists in your mind. Your day is irrevocably changed, as well as the life of that baby and his family, or your relationship with your loved one that now lacks that moment of clarity you had whilst meditating, forcing you in to a bitter separation and years of torment. This is just one hour of one day of one person, with two examples. Parallel this to the loss of just one story, or one poem, and you begin to see the far reaching effect of literature as it is pooled into our collective conscious. Therefore, the aspect of literature to serve as a stepping stone for societal evolution is in and of itself tied to our own personal growth, as we move from one age of awareness of what is right and wrong in to the next, while at the same time affecting each other in the intricate web of human interaction.

When literature is contemplated under these three aspects, the aggregate affect of its meaning is astounding. Literature is so much a part of our daily lives it is hard to imagine how we would exist with out it. With no forward momentum or constant self and societal evaluation, we would become a stagnate culture living only to eat, sleep, and reproduce; in effect becoming animals. Literature is the vehicle for revelations of the psyche, pushing us ever further into new understandings of humanity. This essay is an example of such a concept, as it represents the writer's personal views as they have been inspired from the sum of his experiences with literature. All of these ideas reinforce the position that literature lends itself to societal evolution: for as we sip from its collected pools of knowledge, we become infused with its influence as it transcends our own being and surges forward with the flow of humanity.

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