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World Literature: Life -Lessons Through Story

Updated on April 8, 2012

The Beginning

Having taught World Literature and Humanities now for over ten years I never cease to enjoy the contemplation and life lessons embedded in story. Story never preaches, but it definitely teaches.The beauty of reading World Literature is that it shows us the similarities not only throughout the differing cultures, but also the ravages of time. There is nothing really "new" in the richness of story, but there will be always be those storytellers that can tell the story more rapturously and with a differing bent. Every storyteller brings to his or her story that which is richly their own, tempered by their experiences, education and points of view. To critique a writer by telling them that their story is not "aligned" with the proper format is akin to restricting creative process, in my opinion.

Since we live in a more global society, one that is accessible at the tips of our fingertips, the stories World Literature offer us ways to examine the whole world we live in, not just the American “agenda”.

Martha Nussbaum, a Professor of Law and Ethics wrote several books detailing the importance of literature as a tool to understanding ourselves and our values and morals. I think you will see exactly what I am referring to when reflecting on the pieces we have discussed in this course. Movies are also instrumental in assisting us to reflect on the emotional and moral dilemmas in our society. Using story to assess ones own feelings about moral issues serves two goals.

#1. Supply further information for future debate, as we have done in the discussion boards.

And #2. Inspire you to examine these stories in their original form, not some outline or synopsis, which does not have the same impact.

Students rarely understand why they need to read World Literature or any Literature as a part of their undergraduate experience. If not for any other reason it is helpful to understand emotions, Nussbaum argues, we must read stories. Again, the entire story, not a synopsis of a story. Why? They lack the rich texture that makes the story an experience we can relate to. Novels, like life, are open ended. They preserve the mystery and indeterminate quality as our lives do. We can rely on our own life story to learn things of course, but one human life is not enough for us to understand the myriad ways of being.

Nussbaum states:

“ We have never lived enough. Our experience is, without fiction, too confined and too parochial. Literature extends it making us reflect and feel about what otherwise be too distant for feeling..All living is interpreting; all action requires seeing the world as something. So, in t his sense no life is “raw” and...throughout our living we are, in a sense, makers of fictions. The point is that in the activity of literary imagining we are led to imagine and describe in greater precision, focusing our attention on each word, feeling each event more keenly-whereas much of actual life goes by without that heightened sense of awareness, and is thus, in a certain sense, not fully or thoroughly lived!” (Martha Nussbaum. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions”)

It is harder to talk about our own live events than it is to discuss events in stories, although many of you have come to do that very thing over time! Nussbausm’s theory becomes a key to open a part of us that heretofore has remained hidden, understanding ourselves and others motivations and actions and accessing the emotions we hold tightly within.

This is why I believe World Literature should be a course everyone takes. At least it is a rational explanation why it is required for all students to take literature courses, and in the choice of World Literature, you open yourself to the global stories, not just the stories your own culture tells!

Some of my favorite World Literature Stories


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    • Aley Martin profile imageAUTHOR

      Alice Lee Martin 

      6 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

      thanks so much dear! Always love having your words and mine on the same page. Thanks for coming by and being truly human. Hugs.

    • profile image

      Edwina Peterson Cross 

      6 years ago

      I combined several Education degrees with Humanities minors and like Master Teacher and Great Human Aley Martin (above) I have never been sorry. From preschool to college, I have always found what the Humanities gave me completely compatible,useful and truly indispensable in teaching. What the Humanities teach is essential for where we hope our future is going. Business and Science got us where we are. It is time to remember that we are Human, and that is what the Humanities teach. I don't know your rules here, but I'm going to risk sharing a poem. It says it better than my prose can. May we always remember the essential nature of story, character, plot and all the rest ~ as well as the power and wonder of words.

      What is the sound when Art dies?

      As magic melts into mundane?

      Is a miracle something that cries?

      As it rusts in a workaday rain?

      Do creative sparks rip the sky,

      If they fall to the cold ground unused?

      Do dreams scream when they die,

      When the dreaming’s been bruised and abused?

      What is the sound when Art dies?

      Can you hear a soul wasting disease?

      Can you hear breath and bone turn slowly to stone?

      Can you hear when a heart starts to freeze?

      What is the sound when Art dies?

      Can’t we hear with a pin-point acumen

      The sound of a massive demise

      If humanity kills what is human?

      ©Edwina Peterson Cross

    • Aley Martin profile imageAUTHOR

      Alice Lee Martin 

      8 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

      Thanks Jean. I have never regretted my choice of the humanities. It is central to a richly integrated life! I wish him well in his career and graduation!

      thanks for commenting.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      8 years ago from New Jersey

      My son is graduating college in NJ as a teacher--grades K-5, though he hopes to teach K or l,2. He had to declare another major besides the teaching program, and when he chose Humanities, I wondered if that was a good idea at first. I grew up at a time where everyone was encouraged to take "business." But when I thought about the multicultural mix of children he has taught during all his student teaching and volunteering, I realized he made the right choice for our times. We have to live in the day, even though we recall the lessons of the past!


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