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Is literature a good medium to convey messages, and to what extent do authors try to convey a message?

I wonder if literature is a good medium to convey messages with, and how good it is compared to other methods. I understand that comparing the effectiveness of literature to other mediums is hard, but it doesn't have to be "5/10" compared to "6/10". I ask this question because I am contemplating the value of literature. If the purpose of literature is to conveying a message, isn't the complex symbolism and similar that a majority of authors use a limiting factor for its effectiveness of conveying a message? Doesn't this limit literature to a small amount of intellectuals? Is the purpose of a literary work most often to convey a message, or is it something else?

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12 Answers

This is a great question considering I myself have debated this issue internally during much of my high school years. What I have come to conclude is that literature is a good medium to convey messages. "Why?" one might ask. It is because well-written literature can convey a message while entertaining the reader at the same time. The reason why we study literature over time is because we as readers can grow intellectually just by trying to understand what idea the author is trying to get across throughout the entire story. Yes, there are other forms of writing (prose, essays, articles, etc.) which convey messages that are straightforward and to the point. How many of those other forms of writing can entertain someone at the same time?

While I believe literature is a good medium to convey messages, it is not the only medium. Whether or not someone considers literature the best medium is up to that person.

In my opinion, literature is not the easiest method by which to convey a message, at least in the sense that good literature rarely comes out and directly says what message it wants you to take away. However, at its best, literature gives a greater and broader sense of its ideas by showing them interact with a world and characters. Why is this better? A person can be told something very easily, like "the Industrial Revolution created a great deal of poverty and woe in addition to prosperity," but if they read a book by Charles Dickens, they can truly see it in action, and feel it as the people of the era might have. It's also easy to say that "totalitarianism crushes the human spirit," but 1984 makes a reader truly terrified of that notion because they see it in action. As to how this is useful to people other than academics, I would say that not all books are written for English majors. Plenty of children's stories are good at conveying ideas and moral messages without preaching, and the children reading them certainly pick up on the ideas in question. This can serve as preparation for more complex literature and more complex ideas later in life, or it can simply help a child see morality or new ideas in action.

Long story short, abstracts are easy to hear but hard to understand, because they provide little in the way of context. Literature takes abstract ideas and puts them in detailed practice, thus giving readers an experience which, while fictional, feels real enough that one can learn from it.

As to how often literature conveys a message, I would say it depends, though most books chosen by English professors as literature do tend to be in some way relevant to their time period, suggestive of new or complex ideas, and open to some degree of interpretation about those ideas. In my humble estimation, the best of them are also entertaining.

First, I'd like to address your last question asked. Literature is not just meant to convey a message, but rather to tell a story. The message each reader receives from each piece of literature depends on the meanings, symbols, feelings, and understandings that each reader experiences alone. For instance, The Secret Life of Bees if a great Southern Literature read, which may mean a variety of different things to each reader depending on the life each one has lived. Some people feel deeply for the characters because of similar experiences that they may have faced in life, therefore they would get a different feeling from reading that specific book would than for someone who knows nothing about abuse, neglect, and the strength of women. When an author writes a book, peom, abstract piece, etc., they are mearly telling their story or a story that means something to them. Although the author is expected to get a message from their works, not every reader is expected to receive that message since every reader will understand the literature differently. This is why there are so many critics who disagree about the meanings of certain books continuously because they are all receiving the message based on how the story relates to them. We all do that when reading, even if you don't realize it.

Literature is not limited to anyone. I, for instance, am best at research writing and writing abstract thoughts for journal type documents. Others are best at short stories or poetry. Everyone can write, it's just a test to find the inner 'type' of writer that you embody. Not everyone can write a book, and not everyone can write poetry. It's in each of us to write, but in your own form. The way you write means something to you, therefore, each reader that reads it may not relate or may not even understand it because of the different lives we all live. Everyone takes in literature in a different matter, comparing and relating each piece to our own lives differently. The message each reader takes from literature is all dependant upon these same variables.

With all that said, I believe literature is one of the best ways to convey something because the person reading each piece will receive each meaning in relation to themselves, which gives more meaning to everything read. The way you think while reading something, or the reasons some people like one type of literature and not other types, is all because of the experiences that each of us experience prior to that reading. Literature and our lives are a lot more interconnected than most people realize.

I hope this helps!

 

B.

Literature is a method of conveying messages.  It has, however both advantages and disadvantages.   Literature (by which I mean all forms of poetry, song, legend, epic, tale, etc.) provides an entertainment value that a direct statement does not.  For example the message of Little Red Riding Hood is "beware of strangers."  An essay on the same subject would bore the target audience to tears.  It allows the audience to come to the decision on their own, rather than presenting them with a predetermined statement.  This allows the audience to personalize the story and remember the message.  If one has an intolerant audience (such as the Ancient Greeks or Romans) and a speaker had an unpopular message, presenting the message via a "lost history" (as Socrates/Plato did with the creation of Atlantis-a nation that resembled Sparta at its height and Athens at its destruction) or a fable (Aesop's criticism of the people via the use of animals in the place of people) or a poem (Ovid's mockery of the hypocrisy of the Roman upper classes) allows one to say unpopular things with less risk of retribution.

However, one might easily lose the message if the story is not a good one.  A story's meaning might change (The original poem Romeo and Juliet was originally a caution about disagreeing one's parents not about true love).  A poor writer might lose the interest of the audience.  And in the cases of Socrates, Aesop and Ovid they did not escape punishment by the establishment they were criticizing.  Socrates was forced to eat poison.  Aesop, legend has it. was thrown from a cliff.  Ovid suffered exile for immorality,

 

Literature exposes the reader to issues that are encountered by the characters.  These are typically man versus man, man versus self, and man versus environment.  When the reader identifies with the characters, a sense of empathy ensues.  Through the course of the story, varied perspectives are introduced, cause and effect are weighed, and the costs of action are tallied.  Literature opens the door to times past and those being conceived.  It allows the reader to enter a world of voyeurism and to gain an understanding of the complex choices and stifling restraints that have been endured by human kind.

To answer your question: Literature is a wonderful medium through which to send a message.  It pointedly asks the question "What if?" in any given circumstance and then takes the reader by the hand like a ghost of Christmas past to see the error of 'their' ways - the characters' ways - and not our own.  It is a safe perch. Literature is a saving grace.  It is a virtual reality that cautions us against making rash decisions and let's us see how the stories unfold because of or in spite of them.  Literature informs us to choose the better path even when a right one doesn't really exist.

Literature (literary fiction) has a visceral, gut element that many other forms of communication lack. Many times a good author can make you feel as if you have actually experienced what has happened in the book/story/poem. Literature has an experiential, immediate appeal. It can cause us to examine ourselves and our lives in ways that we normally would not.

As far as conveying a message, I'm not sure if literature is the most "precise" way, however, a good story can pack much more punch than a simple statement. For example, the statement "thou shall not kill" is easy enough. I understand the message just fine. But if I read "Crime and Punishment," I will have a much, much better understanding of the message "thou shall not kill."

So there are pros and cons to literature as a means of conveying a message. Usually literature can convey a message much more deeply and thoroughly than, say, a speech or note. However, this depth can come at the expense of clarity and precision that other mediums afford.

I think literature is one of the best ways to convey messages. I would say movies are another one. However, some books and movies and even messages might not be worth conveying, but we just kind of have to search for what we want. I think literature has many different purposes, not just to entertain or convey messages. Fundamentally, I would say, that it's one of the greatest ways for people to connect. I mean, by reading a single book, millions of people are virtually living through the same experience without even knowing about each other's existence. For example, think of all the people who have read Of Mice and Men or Lord of the Flies - the typical requirements in high school. All those people have lived through the same experiences and characters and learned some different concepts, life scenarios, issues, etc. It all affects and adds on to the human mentality on the global scale. Books, movies, history, etc. - these are the things that transform the human mind from one generation to another. Someone publishes a new book or produces a new film, millions of people experience it, and new ideas or concepts are added into the circulation of human knowledge. And with new things in that circulation the human thoughts evolve and change, grow. So no, it's not limited to a small amount of intellectuals. It affects the human race on a global scale. 

Carl Sagan said something very clever on this subject that I think is worth noting.

http://inktank.fi/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/carl-sagan-quote1.jpg

 

Also, here is a cute short animation about books which I think you might find interesting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VljJIQuPDSE

As an English teacher, I may be biased, but I would say that literature is the best medium to convey a message.  

Shakespeare's works convey messages about the relationships between people that have lasted over 400 years now and his works will continue to endure.  

In Spanish, you won't find a more funny, more engaging, more pleasurable work of literature than El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha).  

In French, we have Hugo's wonderful Les Miserable (The Miserable Ones), which of course is the source of a very popular musical and, most recently, movie by the same name.

These are only the very small tip of a very large iceberg of literature in which people just like you and me reveal their messages through the mechanism of characters that are quite unforgettable.

Being willing and able to engage with literature means that you can learn some of life's more difficult and enduring lessons without actually having to make the mistakes and live the years that are required to experience those lessons directly.  

It may often be thought that literature is accessible to only specially trained people, but this is not the case--with a little effort and with persistence, even the most dense literary works can be read and understood by most people.  

A good place to start is with material that interests you from a subject-matter point of view.  

As you study literature, you will find that very smart and capable people have been wrestling with the same sorts of problems and issues you face in your life for a very, very long time--and you can learn something from them through the literature they left.

I wonder if literature is less a medium for conveying messages and more a medium for asking questions. I think that literature is hard to pin down, because of all of the symbols and metaphors and whatnot, but also because each reader brings a different perspective to literature. It's very difficult to pin down what an author is "saying" with a work of literature, and frankly I don't think it's helpful to wield literature as a type of dogma or as proof of what an author thinks. Instead, I think authors write works of literature when they're puzzled or inspired by a question, and when they present that work of literature to people, they're asking them to think about those same questions (and maybe including a bit of what they think in there too). Rather than straight-up telling the reader, "Murder is wrong," literature aims to challenge our preconceptions of murder--is murder always wrong?--and ask questions that lead us to think about things more critically.

Literature is very good at conveying messages, as you have no doubt noticed from books you've read in your English class and books you may have read on your own. But here's the funny thing you need to understand: literature is miserable at conveying messages when the writer actively sets out to use it mainly for that purpose. The first job of good literature is to tell a story that appeals to the emotions. For instance, Grapes of Wrath without the vivid characterizations and memorable scenes might educate us about the Dust Bowl and might stir our anger about government policies, but wouldn't stir our hearts. And if it didn't stir our hearts, few people would pass it along saying, "here, you've got to read this."

I am a veteran of OEF OIF. I suffer from anxiety and nightmares as a result of my career. I find that writing helps relieve the tension and keeps me grounded. Though what I write is mostly fiction, I base it on verisimilitude. I am currently attending college to improve the details of writing with a 3.6GPA and 90 credits; the degree is just a stepping stone to successful authorship.

We hear "messages" all of our lives whether our mothers nag about our habits or police officers give us speeding tickets.  The question is which is more effective.  A speeding ticket speaks volumes more than a piece of literature about my immediate concerns.   Of course, I'd rather read a good book any day!  Why are talk shows and advice columns so popular?  Another person's published struggles allow us to get answers without the humiliation.  So why read literature?  Well, for entertainment mostly, but if you are alert enough to take away more, then you may have nuggets of truth that lead to a more satisfying life.  "The un-examined life is not worth living," said Socrates.  Of course, how much of your own life is worth examining? Sometimes literature can turn on the magnification of our lives to make us better people.  Perhaps the message is too great for a more simple method of conveyance.  If all you want to say is "Life is better when you love someone," then you don't need to read Great Expectations.  Unfortunately, most of have lives that are much more complicated than a cartoon strip.  So the messages revealed by literature and your questions and efforts to root out meaning prove we are human, if we're lucky!