Art imitates life, and life imitates art. Art, whether it be music, paintings, sculptures, theater, short stories, or poetry, reflects on the lives we all live.
Pieces of art, including literature, can help us understand who we should be in relation to society. Literature does this through the use of parallels with the story and our own lives. As a result of the parallels being connected with our lives, each of us can take a unique meaning from the same text. This meaning may come as a question we choose to ask ourselves, or it may come as an answer to a question we asked ourselves before we encountered the writing. Either way, the personal meaning we can take from a piece of literature can help us better understand ourselves and our role in society.
Throughout the play A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family is tried by a variety of different hardships. The primary cause of many of these trials is the different goals that Momma, Beneatha, and Walter all have for themselves. Each member of the family wishes to hold steadfast on their own goals causing them to forget the values they once held in the highest. Beneath continues on her course to become a doctor, and in doing so, defies her mother by speaking ill of God. Similarly, on his quest to do well by his son, Walter forgets the importance of his own family of Beneatha and Momma. We can learn from both of their mistakes. The play can serve as a reminder to the reader that he or she may wish to hold family above all. If reading this play while faced with a tough decision, the reader can use it as a reminder to help guide them into the decision that would be best for themselves, and his or her family. This guidance allows us to choose who we wish to be in society and answer the question of family versus self for ourselves.
The Lottery can serve a similar role. In The Lottery, we see many characters who are experiencing a tradition that has been long observed by their town. This tradition is a yearly stoning of a single member of the town. Most of these characters support the tradition, with one going as far as to say the other towns who stop it are regressing their societies, but some characters do question the tradition. The people who question are those with whom the reader may identify. Oftentimes, we get caught up in the general goals or traditions of society, but the characters in The Lottery can serve as a reminder to think for ourselves. The story can help further the idea that we should not blindly follow the mob; rather, we should think and decide on our own values and moral guidelines. By furthering this idea through reading The Lottery, we are able to question how we act in relation to society and how we can think and decide for ourselves.
Another piece of literature with a similar potential effect is Traveling Through the Dark by William Stafford. This poem details a man who encounters a dead deer on a road which is traveled by many. The deer was hit and killed by a car, but she was pregnant. Her fawn was still alive, and it was warming her side. The man goes into thought; he considers his options, but ultimately, he decides against helping the fawn. While they may not be life or death as is the case in Traveling Through the Dark, we are often asked to make tough decisions. William Stafford’s poem can remind us to remember ourselves and those around us when we make these decisions. The poem’s narrator questions whether he should save the fawn or roll it off of the road, subsequently leaving it to die. He considers the others who drive the road; this is specifically shown in the phrase “to swerve might make more dead.” After reading Stafford’s poem, we can be reminded that a tough decision may be the better decision. It is hard to redefine one’s own version of success, and even harder to have it stray from society’s definition. Traveling Through the Dark can help us to confront that decision, and by doing so the poem allows us to understand our role within society.
Art and life are intertwined together, and people naturally draw parallels between the two. Literature is no different. We, as people, can use literature to both guides and fulfill our personal role within society. All three of these literary works, while different mediums, have potential to fulfill the purpose of guidance. It is simply up to us both to connect the events in the stories we read to the events going on in our day to day life and to act on this connection.
Also published on Medium.