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Why Study Literature?

Updated on April 9, 2013

What's the Point of Analyzing Literature, Anyway?

Reading and analyzing literature, especially the literature of our mother tongue, is valuable for several reasons. First, it gives us insight into the minds of the people who have shaped our culture and civilization, showing us how they thought and what principles they valued. Secondly, analyzing literature hones critical and creative thinking skills, equipping people with the ability to assess other opinions and points of view, as well as their own. Thirdly, literature can be very powerful; pointing out what is both detestable and noble in human character and interactions. Written from a Christian perspective, the following highlights three classic works of English literature, demonstrating their value to a modern reader.

"The original image of the Beowulf manuscript comes from the anonymous Anglo-Saxon scribe who wrote the 'Nowell Codex', Cotton Vitellius A.x.v. 129 r...this image is public domain." - Kip Wheeler
"The original image of the Beowulf manuscript comes from the anonymous Anglo-Saxon scribe who wrote the 'Nowell Codex', Cotton Vitellius A.x.v. 129 r...this image is public domain." - Kip Wheeler | Source

What Beowulf , The Rape of the Lock and Paradise Lost have to Teach Us

Beowulf is an example of a text that can lend insight into a past so distant that its details would be lost to us, without handwritten manuscripts painstakingly preserved throughout the centuries. Dating back to the 8th or 10th century, Beowulf provides, if not an accurate historical record, at least a window into the Teutonic roots of the English language and people. In Beowulf, we see a people, mostly warlike, who value honor, kinship, courage and generosity, and who also love a good story. We also see a people who have probably already been introduced to the gospel. If we look closely, the author’s efforts to adapt the truth of a loving, compassionate God to fit the Teutonic ideals of heroism become clear. Not only Does Beowulf provide us a glimpse into the heritage of several nations, but it can also provide a reminder that change comes slowly, and that sometimes, a little creativity is needed to preach the gospel.

Pope’s The Rape of the Lock at first seems like a lighthearted attempt to bring peace to two feuding families. It is that, and more. By writing a mock-epic in which the most frivolous activities are treated with the utmost seriousness, Pope also painted a picture of the decadence of 18th century aristocratic society. The sort of people who, in Pope’s satire, treated the stealing of a lock of hair as gravely as if the lady had been despoiled, were in real life destined to be overthrown by a barefoot rabble in France. Though The Rape of the Lock is a poem, and not a snapshot of reality, it still serves as a caution against becoming so wrapped up in the pursuit of pleasure and the trappings of power that important things are forgotten, like feeding the peasants.

Paradise Lost was designed to serve what is perhaps the highest purpose of literature, that of glorifying God. Milton wrote a blank verse allegory of epic proportions, providing his English countrymen with a great literary work comparable to those of Homer. Paradise Lost also stands as a foremost work of Christian literature, the characters of which are so cleverly imagined that readers are still debating over the nuances of their personalities. Ultimately, Paradise Lost and its companion works challenge readers to think- about the nature of God, the true cause of evil, and man’s dependence on God’s love and forgiveness for our very survival.



Greenblatt, Stephen. Ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 26,27. Print.

John Milton.”Paradise Lost”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Greenblatt, Stephen. Ed. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 723-743, 811-835. Print.

Pope, Alexander.”The Rape of the Lock”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Greenblatt, Stephen. Ed. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1136–1155.Print.


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    • MeagDub profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Western NY

      diamond1mo: I am one of the people who thinks the book is almost always better than the movie. And I agree that Beowulf holds a great deal of value because it is so old, and belongs to a heritage shared by several cultures.

    • diamond1mo profile image

      KE Morgan 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      I am not sure of the value of analyzing literature- but there is inherent and qualitative value in reading and comprehending literature. The most important reason to read Beowulf is that it is perhaps the earliest Anglo Saxon literature. The true value is comprehending the ideas behind the writer's purpose, but English teachers should value early literature for the evolution of the language and the mechanics. Watching a movie or the video rarely affords the appreciation reading and comprehending literature offers.

    • MeagDub profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Western NY

      Eric: The is not the version I cited, but you can get a pretty good, free version of Beowulf here.

      The Rape of the Lock is a mock epic, so it's pretty funny. I think parts of Paradise Lost are required reading for most of us. I sometimes think it's a shame they cover so many authors in a single literature class, since it means you don't have time to explore any of them thoroughly.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 

      6 years ago from USA

      I've read Beowulf in college. I remember enjoying it, but wishing that the translation were more modern. I didn't understand all the language in it, and so could not understand the entire story. I tried watching the new movie Hollywood made about it recently, which was cartoonish and weird, but I gave up on it as stupid after about ten minutes. I should probably find a newer translation and read it again. I've never heard of The Rape of the Lock, but it sounds interesting. As for Paradise lost, I've only read selections of it in college, but have secured a copy of the entire work and plan to start reading it soon.


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