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What is Considered Literature: An Essential Guide to Understanding Literary Works

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that you lost track of time? Or felt a profound connection to a character’s experiences, even though they lived in a different time or place? That’s the power of literature. It’s a vast and ever-evolving world of written works that capture the human experience in all its complexity, from the joys of love and friendship to the depths of grief and despair. But what makes a piece of writing “literature”? Is it the timeless themes it explores, the beauty of its language, or something else entirely? In this article, we’ll explore the many facets of literature, from its historical roots to its modern-day evolution. So grab your favorite book and get ready to dive into the fascinating world of literature.

Defining Literature

Subjectivity and Merit

Defining literature is often challenging, as it is highly subjective and open to interpretation. Literary literature can be understood as a collection of written works with artistic and intellectual merit. The vast literature landscape comprises different texts and genres, such as novels, poems, and plays. The value and merit of a piece of writing may vary greatly depending on the reader’s background, experiences, and personal preferences, making it challenging to create a single, all-encompassing definition.

Age can also play a role in determining what is considered literature. Older texts that have stood the test of time, like the works of Shakespeare and Homer, are often universally acknowledged as literature. However, contemporary works may take time to be accepted into the literary canon, as it takes time for their significance and influence to become apparent.

Universal Interest and Cultural Relevance

Another aspect to consider when defining literature is the concept of universal interest and cultural relevance. Works that capture the imagination of their audience and have a lasting impact on society are more likely to be seen as literature. For example, texts that address timeless themes or explore the human experience are often regarded as more “literary” than those with a narrower focus.

Cultural relevance is crucial, as literature reflects society’s values, beliefs, and shared experiences. In this sense, literature provides a window into various cultures, helping readers gain insight into different perspectives and ways of life. This diversity contributes to the overall richness of the literary canon.

Defining literature is a complex and multifaceted task, depending on subjectivity, merit, age, universal interest, and cultural relevance. By considering these aspects, we can begin to appreciate the vastness and variety of the written works that fall under the literature umbrella.

Types of Literature


Fiction is literature based on imaginary events, characters, or settings. The author’s imagination creates it and can include various forms such as novels, short stories, and lore. Some popular fiction genres include romance, science fiction, mystery, and fantasy. Fiction can range from classic works to modern-day novels and often varies in language and style, making it an ever-evolving form of literature.

  • Novel: A long, written work with a plot, characters, and a narrative structure. Examples include “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
  • Short Stories: Brief fictional works, usually focused on a single event or character. Examples include “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe and “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.


Non-fiction is literature that presents factual information about real-life events, people, or topics. This category includes various forms, such as essays, biographies, and letters. Non-fiction works are written in a clear and informative style that aims to convey the subject matter accurately.

  • Essay: A short writing on a specific topic, often expressing the author’s opinion or perspective. Examples include “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf and “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau.
  • Biographies: Written works that tell the life story of a real person. Examples include “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” and “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson.


Poetry is a form of literature that uses language and style to create a unique experience for the reader. Poems often rely on rhythm, rhyme, and figurative language to convey emotions or ideas. Poetry can range from traditional forms, such as sonnets and haikus, to experimental styles.

  • Sonnet: A 14-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and structure, often expressing a single theme or idea. Examples include “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare and “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • Haiku: A traditional Japanese form of poetry consisting of three lines with 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively, often focusing on nature or the seasons.


Drama is a form of literature that tells a story through dialogue and actions, typically intended for performance on stage or in other mediums like film or radio. Dramatic works often explore human emotions, conflicts, and relationships within a particular setting. Playwrights use language, style, and staging techniques to enhance the impact of their work.

  • Tragedy: A dramatic genre that typically involves the main character’s downfall due to a tragic flaw or external forces. Examples include “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare and “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles.
  • Comedy: A dramatic genre often uses humor, wit, or irony to entertain the audience and explore human folly. Examples include “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare and “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde.

Historical Perspectives

Evolution of Literature

Literature has evolved significantly over time, taking into consideration societal changes, technological advances, and different writing styles. Early forms of literature can be traced back to ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, and Chinese literature, which dates back to the Shang dynasty.

During the Renaissance, a significant shift in literature occurred. In this period, writers began exploring the human experience, emotions, and individualism, steering away from religious themes. The period witnessed the emergence of influential works, such as those by William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Margaret Cavendish.

As literature evolved, more diverse writing styles, genres, and themes emerged. For example, Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” published in the mid-19th century, reflects American Romanticism, addressing themes such as individualism and the inherent unpredictability of nature.

Influential Periods

  • Classical Period: Notable for the masterful literary works of ancient Greece and Rome, including the epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” by Homer, as well as plays by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.
  • Middle Ages: This period witnessed the spread of Christianity, which heavily influenced literature. Key examples include Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” and Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”
  • Renaissance: Marking a rebirth of art, architecture, and literature, this period featured a renewed interest in human experience, emotion, and individualism in works by authors like Shakespeare, Milton, and Marlowe.
  • Enlightenment: The 18th century was characterized by reason, logic, and intellectual exploration. Significant works from this period include Voltaire’s “Candide” and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.”
  • Romanticism: Focused on emotion, imagination, and individualism, this literary period birthed works such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”
  • Modernism: Literary works from the late 19th to the mid-20th century aimed to break traditional narrative styles and experiment with new storytelling techniques. Examples include James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”

From the evolution of literature in its early stages to its advancement through historical periods like the Renaissance and Romanticism, the concept of what is considered literature has constantly evolved. The works of authors like Herman Melville and the growth of Chinese literature reflect the ever-changing nature of literature, offering readers insights into different cultures, periods, and perspectives.

Literary Elements and Techniques

Construction and Invention

Constructing and inventing a literary work involves several key elements, such as plot, characters, setting, and theme. The format of the work typically falls into one of the main categories, such as a short story, novella, or novel:

  • Short story: A short work of fiction that focuses on a single incident or idea, often involving limited character development.
  • Novella: A longer work than a short story but shorter than a novel, typically focusing on a more complex plot and character development.
  • Novel: A lengthy, fictional narrative usually includes intricate plotlines, multiple characters, and diverse settings.

The invention of these literary works entails drawing on imagination, creativity, and inspiration to develop unique stories and ideas.

Tone and Style

An essential aspect of literature is its tone and style, which portray an author’s attitude and emotional disposition toward the subject matter. These qualities can reflect the author’s perspective and evoke specific emotional responses from readers. There are different types of tones and styles used in literature:

  • Descriptive: This style uses vivid sensory details to convey precise images, evoking a strong sense of place or character.
  • Narrative: This style engages readers by telling a story and developing characters and events chronologically.
  • Persuasive: This style aims to sway readers’ beliefs or opinions on a topic through logical arguments and evidence.
  • Expository: This style explains or informs readers about a subject, often relying on clear and concise language.

Selecting the appropriate tone and style for a literary work helps establish the desired atmosphere and mood, ultimately enhancing the reader’s experience. Combining these elements and techniques and the inventive construction of stories contributes to what is considered literature.

The Role of Literature in Society

Education and Appreciation

Literature plays a significant role in education and appreciation of written and oral language. In colleges, it is often integrated into the curriculum, covering various forms of composition such as essays, drama, and poetry. Studying literature allows students to develop critical thinking skills and engage with the broader world by exploring diverse perspectives and cultures. This understanding and appreciation for the complexities of language serve as a foundation for developing strong grammar and communication skills, enabling individuals to express themselves effectively in different contexts.

Moreover, as a reflection of society, literature offers insights into the human experience that transcend time and place, making it a permanent record of the evolution of cultures and ideas. Through research and analysis of literary works, individuals gain a deeper understanding of various societies’ values, beliefs, and traditions and imbibe a sense of empathy and compassion for others.

Communication and Expression of Ideas

Literature serves as a medium for expression and communication, creating a bridge between the author and the reader or audience. Authors use literature as a powerful tool to convey their ideas, beliefs, emotions, and worldviews. From the personal and subjective to the philosophical and universal, literature allows authors to explore and question various aspects of life and society.

In the context of pop culture, literature often reflects contemporary social issues and trends. As such, it becomes essential for engaging in dialogues on topics relevant to society, promoting understanding and tolerance among different groups.

Through the nuances of literary works like drama, poetry, and belles-lettres, authors bring myriad experiences, interpretations, and expressions that contribute to the rich tapestry of human narratives. Literature thus serves as a mirror, reflecting the society in which it was created and the human spirit’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

In conclusion, literature has an unparalleled role in developing and enriching society. By fostering education, appreciation, communication, and expression of ideas, it can simultaneously challenge and unite individuals in their pursuit of understanding and empathy. Studying and appreciating literature remains crucial for a well-rounded education and the growth of any vibrant and diverse society.

Analyzing and Evaluating Literature

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism is an essential aspect of evaluating literature. It involves examining a written work, such as an article, biography, or information leaflet, to assess its quality, meaning, and impact on the reader. There are various approaches to literary criticism, including analyzing the text’s language, structure, and themes and considering its historical and cultural context.

For those involved in the production and occupation aspects of literature, such as authors, editors, and teachers, understanding and applying literary criticism is crucial for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their own or others’ works. This will help to improve future productions and contribute to a greater appreciation of literature.

The Impact of Expert Opinions

Expert opinions from literary critics, scholars, and educators can significantly influence how a piece of literature is received and interpreted by the public. These specialists possess deep knowledge of various literary forms and genres, allowing them to provide insightful analysis and highlight key aspects of the texts.

In academia, expert opinions are often used to support or challenge theories and perspectives, contributing to the ongoing discourse and appreciation of literature. Additionally, expert analyses can inform educational practices by providing educators with a better understanding of what makes certain texts significant and worth discussing in the classroom.

When analyzing and evaluating literature, it is essential to consider multiple perspectives, including expert opinions, and engage with various aspects of the text, such as its language, themes, context, and potential impact. This will contribute to a richer understanding and appreciation of literature.