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How to define literature?

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If you want to see your face look at a mirror; If you want to see your soul look at a work of art. HOW TO DEFINE LITERATURE? Finding an exact definition of literature has confused and baffled many literary theorists throughout history. Even now, a precise definition of literature has not been reached despite countless theories developed. However, if we focus on the main function of literature by consulting ancient Western literary theorists, we will see from their diverse theories that literature is a mirror, which reflects the human soul with its good and evil sides. By looking at this mirror, societies have had the chance of observing their situations objectively and as a result of this, they have felt the need to change and renew themselves. In the Western tradition, the first known theorist to think about the functions of the literature is the Greek philosopher Plato, who raised fundamental and enduring questions about the role of literature and its justification in his famous book The Republic. Although he is notorious for being severely critical against literature, he made a great contribution to the development of literary criticism because many thinkers have produced literary theories to refute Plato's arguments. ...read more.


Aristotle, Plato's student, implicitly rebuilds the broken mirror. His Poetics, the first work of theoretical criticism devoted specifically to poetry in the Western tradition, intended to investigate the nature of poetry through the classification of its different kinds and the analysis of their function and purpose. Besides defending that literature should imitate both evil and good, Aristotle gives it a role more than a mirror of the human soul. According to him, poetry is like a magic mirror, showing what may happen besides what is happening, which gives us a generalized view of human nature from which we can learn more than we can from particular facts. From this perspective, Aristotle sees literature closer to philosophy than history, contrary to his teacher considering literature as the enemy of philosophy. We can extend this idea. Literature is a source for sociology, anthropology, psychology, and all sciences dealing with human nature because literature expresses human soul (what it did, what it does and what it can do). When you read Hamlet, philosophically you question revenge, sociologically you see the royal lifestyle, anthropologically you see a European race and psychologically you witness the tide in the mind of a young prince who has to take revenge. ...read more.


thinking in the West; Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, which helped create a revulsion against slavery that made possible the American Civil War; George Orwell's Animal Farm, which showed people the real face of communism; and also we can add Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which made the world to see the real history of Africa. We have understood the functions of literature to a great extent, which will help us find the precise definition of literature. Now we can say that a piece of work differs from ordinary writings in having an effect on the reader even to create a revolution in the society by reflecting the present and future state of their soul and giving them a chance to correct their faults, just like cleaning a stain on your face after looking at the mirror. When combined with a perfect usage of language, this piece of work would have the right to be classified as a literary text. 1 Classical Literary Criticism, Horace, 'The Art of Poetry', page 107, Penguin Classics, introduction, revised translations, new material and notes by Penelope Murray, 2000 SEMIHA TOPAL 01080106 ELL 3 1 ...read more.

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