Sunday, June 2, 2013

Does Great Literature Make Us Moral?

The New York Times has a column here discussing the issue of the effect of great literature on a reader:  specifically, does it make us more moral?

What all fiction does is pull the reader into another person’s view of reality, either through a first person narrator, or a third person narrator who describes what the  characters are thinking.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this in our video culture.  We see what characters say and do on a screen, but cannot see inside  their minds.  Only books take us inside the minds of characters.

As a high school English teacher for 37 years, my avid readers seemed to be more aware of the complexities of both moral issues and social situations.  I put this down to their exposure to hundreds—indeed, thousands—of viewpoints different from their own.  I rarely saw a violent avid reader, or an avid reader who was a simplistic thinker. And I've always thought the ability to process the world in a complex way is at the heart of morality.

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