“Ugh, I hate this. What does this even mean?!”
I could probably pay for (just the ten thousands digit) of my college tuition if I had to count the number of times I’ve heard this from my peers with regards to reading and studying literature.
Growing up, I barely got to interact with people my age who were even remotely interested in literature. Over the past four years, I’ve been surrounded by people who are mostly inclined towards business, science, and mathematics. Coming from a graduating batch of around 20 students, it hasn’t been too difficult for me to see that a lot of students hate reading and writing in the same manner that I hate solving math problems and taking science tests. There are those who think the study of literature is a hassle to deal with because of how difficult it can be to understand or relate to certain texts. In reality, however, the “answers” are usually contained within us and easily relatable to our own lives.
When you think you can’t understand what you’re reading, try as hard as you can to make personal connections with the characters and what they’re going through. If you’re reading something like Shakespeare and the language scares you, just calm down and try to read without stopping to obsess over the meaning of every obscure word. Try to get a sense of what’s happening and how the situations portrayed in the work might be similar to what you’ve experienced.
I’ve studied a lot of literature in the past two years, and I noticed that people are usually intimidated by non-colloquial language and unfamiliar settings. The poems in works like Tales From Ovid by Ted Hughes can seem difficult to read and relate to at first, but they deal with themes like love, pride, and transformation that we unknowingly confront in our minds on a daily basis. Similarly, there are works like Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie that some refuse to deal with because of how “exaggerated” everything is. The play contains scenes that are likely to be familiar to anyone who struggles with being misunderstood or itching to get away from familiarity and monotony. The next time you feel like screaming and throwing required reading material at a wall, just remember that the values, philosophical questions, and human truths in literature are no different from those that you think about and deal with each day.
There are so many people who dismiss the study of literature as something that can only be done through Sparknotes and other online guides. Instead of searching for analyses and interpretations online, remember that all the answers are already contained in your head. All you have to do is get over the fear of not knowing and being unable to understand or relate to the works you’re presented with.