What’s the point of learning literature?

Picking your brain - or feeding it?

tldr: Study literature if you enjoy reading fiction texts. The benefits – growing intellectually, emotionally and having career options for the future.

Someone asked me this on Formspring and I thought the answer was worthy of a longer reply.

Just to clarify, I’m using literature and language here generically unless I state otherwise, because I think what I have to say is applicable to any language e.g. French and consequently, the literature of that language i.e. French.

  1. For the higher-order thinking skills of analysis and evaluation in a familiar setting.
    Here, I’m assuming that you like reading and you want to practice thinking critically as a means of personal development. If you don’t, this doesn’t apply to you.

    Now, you can derive these skills from studies in almost any discipline. The advantage of deriving these skills while doing literature is that you get to derive these skills in a domain you are comfortable with and enjoy i.e. fictional texts, drama and/or verse.

    Having said that, I must say that literature consists of a whole range of genres and periods. Not everyone is comfortable in learning higher-order skills in texts from ‘strange’ genres or older periods.

    For example, I only really started understanding what literature was about when I started doing contemporary texts in my last two years of university.

  2. For the humanity!
    All aspects of literature deal with the study of human beings – the ways human beings think, the ways we interact with other people, and our motivations for doing these things.

    I think this is very important in anyone’s education – it provides perspective and (hopefully) reduces chances for conflict between human beings.

    If your question is: But how does it benefit me?, then this is my answer: life is not about you.

    Life is learning about other people which in turn helps you – you learn to reflect on your actions, you learn how to communicate to reduce miscommunication, etc.

    And that helps you be a better person so that you can be a better person to other people.

    Once more, most humanities/social science courses offer this perspective, so choose literature as the vehicle to help your growth only if you like reading fiction texts.

  3. For the future, because that’s what we’re all working toward.
    Besides degrees or careers in education or the arts, the sensitivity to language and language use provides good training for degrees or careers in:

    • law,
    • the media,
    • public relations,
    • advertising and
    • marketing,

    to name a few industries that are not commonly associated with learning literature.


    Success in these degrees/careers depend very heavily on communication skills, and one very important aspect of these skills – put simply – is knowing what word to use at a certain point in time and why you have to use that particular word at that point in time instead of another word.

    Again, you don’t have to do literature to gain these skills if you have a good command of the language, so it really boils down to personal preference.

Have a question for me? Head over to my Formspring page to post your query.

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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