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INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE

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THE THEORY OF LITERATURE

Meaning of Literature

There is no single definition that suits the meaning of literature. As a result there have been various attempts to define the term literature. Some of these attempts are;

Literature is the work of art that uses the language creatively to portray the message to the intended audience.

Literature is a work of art that uses the language creatively to express human realities to the society.

Literature is an imaginative work of art that uses language to reflect social realities.

Why is literature said to be an art?

Language use

The language of literature is different from the language of everyday use (normal language). Literature uses figures of speech and words are assigned an extra meaning than what they ordinarily imply. Some words carry literal meaning and others have symbolic meaning. It is therefore advised not to take words for granted in literature. You need to dig a bit deeper before you settle and say this is what it means.

Characters and characterization

Literature uses real people or other characters that represent real people in the outside world. Inanimate beings may be personified in a way that they represent human qualities and act accordingly. This adds artistic effect to the literary work. (more details are given in subsequent chapters)

Choice and presentation of incidents

Literature is not just a collection of facts and stories to be reported. Incidents in literature are presented in artistic way that makes the audience think that they are actually happening. There is the use of skilful narrative technique like point of view, flashbacks, foreshadowing, suspense, etc all these help the readers to visualise the events as though they are just unfolding before their eyes. (more details are given in subsequent chapters)

Why is literature said to reflect social realities?

Social realities are the things that human beings experience in their daily lives. It is not mandatory that all the incidents discussed in one literary work should be found in one society all the time. Some issues become relevant and exist across time and space and later become obsolete. So the themes that were once relevant in one society may be irrelevant in the same society as time passes by.

Likewise, the themes that are relevant in one part of the world may be irrelevant at another part of the world. However, there are issues like corruption, classes, humiliation, betrayal, FGM, HIV/AIDS, conflicts, position of women in the society, oppression, exploitation, identity and awareness, effects of European culture on African culture,  etc which are common in African literature.

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