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Developing Self-Expression Through Literary Study

Instructor: Anna Hiller

Anna has taught world literature in several universities and has a Ph.D. in Spanish Literature.

This lesson discusses the ways in which studying literature can help us to discover more about our personal tastes, values, worldview, and ultimately develop our means of written and verbal expression.

What Does a Selfie Tell Us?

Have you ever taken a selfie? Of course you have! Selfies are great for showing off our smiles, our style, and how we live. It's so easy to take a selfie, and they are all over the internet. But why do we take them, and so frequently? Even though it's simple to snap a selfie, they only capture our physical selves (and maybe what we are eating that day). What does a selfie say about who we are as people? For all the selfies we take, they can only partially capture what we value and what we find beautiful in life. And not a single selfie can show what we are thinking at the moment we take it. For that kind of in-depth portrait of who we are, we need something more than a selfie to demonstrate our own uniqueness to the world . By studying literature or even by writing our own literature, we can obtain a sense of ourselves and express ourselves more clearly than any smartphone camera ever could. Through literature, we can develop better ideas about our individual tastes, our personal values and worldview, and we can also find means for our own written and verbal self-expression.

What Does Literature Have to Do with My Style?

Literature, for one, entertains us. We can see into other worlds that have been created by authors with vivid imaginations. We can then let those alternate worlds inspire our own. Maybe we like something as small as Harry Potter's scarf, so we learn how to knit one just like it. Or perhaps we read what Ernest Hemingway wrote about Spain in The Sun Also Rises, and the book inspires us to take a backpacking adventure through the sun-drenched plateaus of Castile and the beaches of Barcelona. Regardless of what it is that inspires us, reading gives us a chance to explore our individual tastes. Knowing what we like is a big part of knowing who we are. Literature can help us to discover and confirm the best parts of ourselves, as well as tell us about the things we would rather avoid.

How Can Literature Tell Me What I Value?

Personal values are sometimes hard to articulate. When someone asks you about what matters most to you, it can be difficult to give an easy answer. Literature helps us to better understand what it is in life that matters to us. As we read literature, we might find that we object to a certain character's actions. That disapproval may carry over into our own lives. Or, on the other hand, perhaps we have read about the feats and good deeds of a hero or heroine. Maybe we choose to emulate them a little bit in our own lives. For example, maybe we find Atticus Finch's stand against racism in To Kill a Mockingbird to be very heroic. Our reaction to the novel tells us that, perhaps, racial equality is something that is more important to us than we realized before. Reading widely makes us see the big picture, and how our own personal values mesh or clash with greater society. The values we have that we carry out in our actions demonstrate our personal worldview. A worldview is the collection of values and opinions about society that informs our actions on a greater scale. By reading literature, our own worldview takes on new dimensions, broadening and incorporating elements from the texts we read. Having a flexible worldview in this manner keeps us engaged with developments in society and in ourselves as we grow and change.

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