An introduction to literature : fiction, poetry, and drama by Sylvan Barnet; William Burto; William E Cain

By Sylvan Barnet; William Burto; William E Cain

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Example text

Frost went into the lions’ cage, did his act, and came out unharmed. Significance We’ve been talking about Frost’s skill in handling words, but we have said only a little about what Frost is saying. One of the things that literature does is to make us see—hear, feel, love—what the author thinks is a valuable part of the experience of living. A thousand years ago a Japanese writer, Lady Murasaki, made this point when she had one of the characters in her book talk about what motivates an author: Again and again something in one’s own life or in that around one will seem so important that one cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion.

Jesus here recounts a parable, a short story from which a lesson is to be drawn. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. “And when he came to himself he said,‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger?

Whose fault? When we read a book of fiction, however, we do not expect to encounter literal truths;we read novels and short stories not for facts but for pleasure and for some insight or for a sense of what an aspect of life means to the writer. Consider the following short story by Grace Paley. While raising two children she wrote poetry and then, in the 1950s, turned to writing fiction. Paley’s chief subject is the life of little people struggling in the Big City. You write about what’s mysterious to you.

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