15 March 2014
The Reader As An Active Participant in Literature
In both Harriet and Irving Deer’s “Satire As Rhetorical Play” and Mary Rose O’Reilley’s “The Peaceable Classroom”, all authors work to covey the power of literature and the role that it plays in shaping our experiences, perspectives, and subsequently, our world. These essays also emphasize that—as readers—we must willingly and actively “participate” in the literary realms that are presented to us in literature. Deer and Deer explain, “a work of art becomes an activity . . . and then an activity, a process, in which we can and must participate if we are going to make any sense of it”(713). As we often discuss in class, we have noticed several distinct differences between reading books now (this semester) opposed to when we had read them previously--in middle school or high school. The central difference being that as college students—specifically English majors—over the years we have cultivated our interests in literature and have grown passionate for learning. While we may have read these books in high school and did not like them, it was because they were required, forced upon us, and often taught to us by unfavorable teachers. However, as we read these same books again for a second time, it is because we are choosing to do so. In addition, reading these books the second time around has been more enjoyable, mainly because we are reading them in the way that they are intended to be read—that is—we are not only cast in the role as readers, but we are also active participants within the text, delving into and exploring the social issues, moral complexities, and societal implications that these literary worlds may elicit. O’Reilley explains, “the literary text itself constitutes a moral world in which students and teachers live for a time and learn, inevitably”(103). This immediately reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, specifically when Aslan tells Lucy, Edmund and Eustace, “knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there”. In other words, Aslan (/Lewis) is saying that the knowledge and the experience that his characters have gained from Narnia can also be used and applied to their own world—and by extension to our world as readers. It is only when we come to know and accept the conditions within Narnia-- within the context of literature--that we are able to accept similar conditions that exist within our world--within reality. Authors such as Lewis and Vonnegut are aware that their audience members will most likely never experience Narnia or the Tralfamadores, however, they do hope that the lessons learned within their carefully constructed fictional realms will transcend spheres into our own world: spreading awareness and providing a new perspective that which we can view reality. Most importantly, through our close relationships with literature—as English majors-- we have learned a lot, matured a lot, and we have certainly read a lot!! However, with every book we read, we are one step closer to understanding the world in which we live—in coming to know reality.