Long before human civilization started in this world, stories are found among the constellations, beneath the depths of the oceans, and within the woodland realm. Long before language was invented, stories were told and engraved upon stone tablets and wall carvings. Long before humans began to know how to read and write with the words that our ancestors created, literature already existed.
Literature is the foundation of humanity’s cultures, beliefs, and traditions. It serves as a reflection of reality, a product of art, and a window to an ideology. Everything that happens within a society can be written, recorded in, and learned from a piece of literature. Whether it be poetry or prose, literature provides insight, knowledge or wisdom, and emotion towards the person who partakes it entirely.
Life is manifested in the form of literature. Without literature, life ceases to exist. It is an embodiment of words based on human tragedies, desires, and feelings. It cultivates wonders, inspires a generation, and feeds information. Even though it is dynamic, endless, and multi-dimensional, literature contributes significant purposes to the world we live in.
Literature in History
Literature is present during the era of the ancient world. Even without the invention of words and language, literature was already manifested in the earliest human civilizations. Carvings and paintings on walls inside caves of stone give evidence about the lives of prehistoric people. They explain their way of life.
Literature is also a tool for the foundation of a religion. The Holy Bible, one of the oldest written scriptures, is a compilation of tales, beliefs, and accounts that teach about Christianity (for both the Old and the New Testament) and about Judaism (for some selected books in the Old Testament). Within a span of more than a thousand years from the Prophet Moses to the Apostle Paul, the Bible was written by numerous authors believed to be inspired by God’s divine wisdom and tries to explain about the mysteries of life as well as setting rules for one’s personal faith. The same goes with the Qu’ran for Muslims, Torah for the Jews, and the Bhagavad-Gita, Ramayana and Veda for the Hindus.
Literature explains human values. The works of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle (the most famous Greek philosophers) contain virtues that promote perfection to a society if only human beings have the willingness to uphold and practice them. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave speaks about the importance of human wisdom and the penalties that one would face to achieve a higher level of understanding. Through these philosophers’ contributions to literature, not only did they craft an artistic convergence of words, but exposed logic and ideas as well.
Literature in Revolution
Literature is an instrument of revolution. Political turmoil, societal injustice, and genocidal conquest can all be ended and resolved in the form of literature. A writer can be a warrior with his words as his weapon. He can be a revolutionist by writing a literary piece that exploits corruption in his nation yet fosters development for his fellow countrymen. Not all revolutions have to be fought in blood.
In Europe, Martin Luther, the German monk most famous for the reformation of the Christian church during the Renaissance Era, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of a cathedral to inform the townspeople about the Roman Catholic Church’s corruption of riches and tithes. Although he was excommunicated eventually because of this mere and blasphemous attempt of protest, the Christian church was then divided into two sectors: Catholicism and Protestantism. Victor Hugo, a notable French writer, gave us a vivid view of the French Revolution in his novel, Les Miserables and an epitome of French romantic literature in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who was a victim of the Holocaust during the reign of Hitler in Nazi Germany, was only an innocent youth when she wrote a diary that details her life and struggles as a captive during that time. The diary became known as The Diary of a Young Girl and was one of the most read books in the twentieth century, with the readers sympathizing the victims of the genocide geared towards the Jews in the Second World War.
In America, the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet-Beecher Stowe, and the memoir, 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, spoke about the cruelties and the hardships of the Negro slaves in the southern states. These books gained attention and eventually ignited the Civil War that paved the way to the abolition of slavery and the freedom of the African-American people. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, I Have a Dream contains the revolutionist’s desire for a new America – a country filled with liberty, not only for the Whites but for the Blacks as well. With courageous effort and an ambitious zeal, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his speech and recited it in front of the masses during the Civil Rights Era (1960’s). Another cultural revolution that happened in the late 1960’s made possible the transition of conservativism to modernization in societal norms when the Hippie Movement was practiced. John Lennon’s song, Imagine, basically tells us about the philosophy of the hippie community – make love not war.
In my motherland, the Philippines, or national hero, Jose Rizal, was a revolutionist as well as a writer. He wrote novels that aimed to threaten the Spanish Empire during the colonization of the Philippines by Spain. His best works, Noli Me Tangere and its corresponding sequel, El Filibusterismo, were two of the many revolutionary tools that contributed to my country’s independence from Spain. Both of which didn’t involve violence and bloodshed. They were pieces of literature.
In addition to being a tool for revolution, literature can also be a device for an adoration to a nation. It can do so much for one’s own country. Numerous poems, songs, sonnets, ballads, and odes were written by famous writers as manifestations of their love and patriotism towards their own country. A national anthem, with its sole purpose to praise a nation, is a form of literature. A national anthem is a lyrical verse. Not only does it praise the country, it also emphasizes its beauty, acknowledges its history, and signifies its majesty.
Literature in the Modern Era
Literature in the present generation still exists as an expression of art, a source of knowledge, and an instrument of entertainment. Books are being read seriously by readers who crave for information and recreationally by those who are passionate in exploring their imagination. Literature kindles new ideas. It gives voice to the people who want to express their opinions about certain things in life – whether it be in politics, health, religion, and the like. Literature is the heart of songs, rhythmic and harmonious pieces that give message and inspiration to people. Films are visual representations of literature, they give life and action to the words written on a page. Magazines, newspapers, the television, the radio, and even the internet contain literature. It is found everywhere and anywhere. The power of literature affects all of us. It is complex, intergenerational, and long-lasting.
Literature is found in the beginning of all things, this is what I am truly certain about. It continues to live throughout the ages. It connects human beings and mirrors reality in an artistic way, in a profound value. As long as our world lives, so does literature flourish.