Introduction of Literature Eng 125
September 8, 2008
Admittedly, without a good deal of experience in reading fiction, poetry, and drama judgments about the values supported in a story and about its aesthetic worth need to be made cautiously. But we must begin somewhere, since evaluation is inevitable. We cannot really avoid judging the stories we read any more than we can avoid judging the people we meet. The process is natural. What we should strive for in evaluation fiction, poetry, and drama is to understand the different kinds of values it presents, and to clarify our own attitudes, understand the different kinds of values it presents, and to clarify our own attitudes, dispositions, and values in responding to them.
We read stories for pleasure; they entertain us. And we read them for profit; they enlighten us. Stories draw us into their imaginative worlds and engage us with the power of their invention. They provide us with more than the immediate interest of narrative—of something happening—and more than the pleasures of imagination: they enlarge our understanding of ourselves and deepen our appreciation of life.
The Experience of Fiction
Our experience of fiction concerns our feelings about the characters, our sense of involvement in the story’s developing action, our pleasure of confusion in its language, our joy or sorrow at its outcome. We are concerned, in short, with what the story does to us, how it affects us—and why.
It is important to remember that readers respond to stories in different ways. When you compare the reactions of your classmates and teacher to “The Prodigal Son,’ you will discover different perceptions, attitudes, and feelings about it. Why is this so? Essentially, it is because we bring to our reading a wide range of personal experience, social attitudes, religious beliefs, and cultural dispositions that influence our responses. We do not read a story in a vacuum: Our...