Every semester at the end of Introduction to Literature, I give my students an opportunity to tell me how they would define literature. It comes within the context of a final exam essay in which they are writing a letter to an incoming student about their experiences with literature in the class. I am always intrigued by these definitions, as I know that the students' definitions have surely changed in the few short months since they enrolled in my class.
I would like to share some of the definitions my class wrote with you. Many of you are lovers of literature, too, and will find these inspiring! Some of these are thought-provoking. Some are funny. Some are a little off topic. (Remember, it's a freshman-level college course.)
What is literature?
"Lit is the power of words. It is the power to share life, love, and story through language. If brings us the opportunity to share the human experience with others. In fact, it is the marriage between recorded words and human experience. It is an escape from the tasks of today, and can broaden your perspective by taking your gaze off your own life for just a little while."
"When you read, think about the words, and let the words work in you and on your feelings because they may help you make a right decision."
"Literature in Latin means words...Since words are powerful when they are connected to one another in the form of sentences, they can have an effect on the reader; thus, literature is any written text that a person can relate to it because it represents a part or parts of life to the reader. Therefore, literature's role is to affect the reader and cause him or her to think deeper, better and evoke the reader's emotions."
"Literature is a form and expression of words that anyone can write, to tell stories or give insight to complicated questions in life. It is combined with different nouns and sounds that give the reader insight into the thought process of an author. Our lives are broadened by theirs. To understand this course subject is simply to come in with an open mind ready to learn."
"In reading literature, you gain a love for language, a lot of information about new worlds, and most important, you get to develop your imagination."
"Coming in to this class I thought only long books could be literature, but now I know that it can be any form of creative writing from short stories, to poems, to comic books, to screenplays. Look, I'm a Psychology major, and I thought this class was going to be a pointless waste of time. But this class surprised me. I never realized how much I enjoyed reading and writing before I took it, and now I've declared a minor in English with a Writing emphasis."
"You could say that literature is any type of written work, but that is not truly what lit is. Lit is the connection books are trying to make with you. To quote Jhumpa Lahiri's short story 'Gogol,' it's about 'adventure without ever leaving your home.' It's about the emotions involved inside of you while reading."
"To me, literature is a door to experience another person's life...Literature offers you more than what you give."
"On day one we learned that the word literature comes from the Latin meaning 'acquaintance with letters'; I would define literature as the art of written work. I liked the word 'acquaintance' because it makes literature sound delicate, and it is."
"Reading literature is me taking the time to appreciate the author's work."
"Lit opens the reader's eyes to some of the brokenness in our world. I found myself growing in compassion."
"Literature, to me, is a story where the reader applies what he or she reads to his or her own life. The reader does this through analysis of the characters as he or she begins to see him or herself in the character. Because of the fact that you'll learn things about yourself through the characters, it is essential to understand that litearture is applicable to all fields of study, helping character development, and through understanding who one is, one can grow and succeed in any career."
"I've come to give it the definition: any type of printed work that turns society's hand mirror on itself. There needs to be a reason for this art form and literature is made by us every day."
"Literature much like music, movies, and art is a creative outlet for a person to pour their soul out. It is a way that people can express emotions they often keep locked inside. Taking this class helps you to be in touch with your emotions better (and being in touch with your emotions is a great way to meet ladies!)."
"Literature would be defined as a creative or imaginative work in writing, but doesn't have to be published. Only in modern times has literature been published."
"Literature is anything from a song lyric to a three-hundred page novel masterpiece. Anyone can writing literature. Sure it may not be good but if you are really passionate about writing what you believe in then literature will help you grow. That's what this class has done for me. It gave me a chance to grow and become more open minded about the world."
"Literature seems to be a creative work of art meant to send a message or draw out emotion. It needs meaning."
"Pages in a book are more than pieces of paper. They have worth because the author sent a message to every individual who reads them."
"[Literature, specifically Greek tragedy,] gave me the perspective that what I have now can go down the trainhole in the blink of an eye and I should act blessed every day of my life that I do not have something tragic happening in my life."
"Athletes aren't supposed to be fond of poetry. Ironically, I gained a respect for very old poetry more than the new stuff. The way it is written with strict guidelines and perfect diction. Also the way poets are so precise with their words drew me in. They could find a few words that could give more detail than 3 of my sentences. Not a word is wasted."
"It is something the author wrote so that you and I can use our imagination to think about it like art."
"Literature is a body of written works that contains imaginative or personal interest that highlights specific themes that are meaningful to the author or their background, culture, or history. To be completely honest, literature is what YOU want it to be and what you make of it. Don't just check off the box when you take this class, invest yourself."
"Trust me, I know literature is a complex term and scary word. I thought it was just all about books, but it is much more than that. It is a work that is put together coherently and creatively to make you think about the world. It is based off of human experience and values. It makes you think about yourself. It is the 'story you've never heard but always knew.' Even if it doesn't apply to you directly, it can always affect you. It can make you feel to the people around you. Ltierature can also make you more aware of the world and issues around you in a creative manner that you might not have known about or thought about before. Thus, it can spark interesting conversations. Everything can be related back to literature."
"I have learned that literature is an accumulation of words strung together to express a belief or reveal something to the reader."
"Based on what I now know it is something like this: any written work that expresses feelings, attitudes, or creative desires of the author."