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Why Study Global Literature?
Ann R. Breitman
Supervisor of Language Arts/Literacy
West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District

Why read world literature? A simple question with a complex answer! Writers have long attempted to define, to describe, and to understand themselves and the world around them through the poetry, fiction and drama they create. As writers they see the humor, the tragedy and the hope that characterize our lives as human beings. The traditional literary canon is no longer recognized as sufficient to represent the range of poetry, fiction and drama that represents the human condition with all of its challenges, conflicts and accomplishments. Instead, the perception of world literature has evolved during recent years into a new and more complex concept. The literary canon that now exists recognizes the scope, quality and value of literature from the many cultures of the world as their writers struggle to create meaning from their observations of their worlds. Selections include literature ascribed to various religious, ideological and ethnic groups within and across geographical boundaries and throughout the ages.

World literature is as diverse as we are as human beings and represents a way to illuminate and illustrate other modules and the questions they seek to address. When studying the immigrant experience and the challenges faced by the millions who have moved from their homes to build new lives in other countries, what better way to understand these challenges than to follow a single character in a story, play or novel as he/she struggles to create that new life? When reading about civil war, the ability to share the fears and victories of the battlefield firsthand through a character's experiences there helps students to understand the internal and external conflicts he/she faces. When these experiences transcend time and geography to illustrate similar uncertainties, students see and experience these situations as if firsthand. By providing a means to make these connections, we enable students to gain greater perspective on historical events and the people involved by recognizing the attitudes and emotions that are embodied within specific characters in literature.

Literature reflects who we are as human beings and the complex relationships we establish with other human beings. One of the most familiar relationships is that of family. How do we interact as members of a family? The literature of the world demonstrates that family is a universal concept and that the sometimes happy and sometimes difficult interactions among siblings, between parent and child and across the generations frequently reflect the same issues and feelings regardless of time, nationality or beliefs. Each of us is a member of a larger society. How do we interact as members of that society? Once again, characters reflect the same concerns about maintaining individual identity, responsibility to self and to the group, and loyalty within and to the larger group. As societies, how do we interact with one another? Do we struggle to coexist, do we try to overwhelm one another, or do we learn to work together in the larger world? Examples through the ages and among diverse peoples show that the struggles are not so different although the outcomes might possibly change as we work to understand ourselves and others.

By recognizing the scope of responses to the issues we face as citizens of the world through a wide range of literature, we accomplish several goals. First, we acknowledge the scope of selections available. We no longer limit ourselves to a restricted view of the world in which we live. Instead, we recognize that today's rapid communication and travel ensure and sometimes force us all to live in the same global village. Gone is the parochial view of whose voices represent us as people of this village. We also acknowledge the excellence that exists in the poetry, drama and fiction of all cultures. The selections included in the World Literature module represent language that is vivid and strong. Pieces have been carefully crafted to challenge the reader to think critically about the characters, the conflicts, the beliefs and the emotions conveyed. Finally, the appeal of the stories and their characters, the poetry and its voices and images, the plays and their drama and immediacy depict snapshots, panoramas and paintings of the world we are coming to know. As readers we learn we can see and understand a part of the world and its people without physically traveling the necessary miles or through the ages. We can begin to sense what our world has been and might become by reading the lines of those poems, stories or plays.

Just as real events and their real participants move us to anger, to tears, to laughter or to insight, literature can accomplish the same.


To learn more about the influence of Global Literature on our global society, click on the links below:
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