Reading literature may be a very pleasantly instructive and educational activity but understanding literature is always a painstaking one.
The main goal of literary works, communication, has changed with the times, authors, and styles, not to mention that it has also changed within the same author’s works, according to his own ideas or principles. With time, the reader felt the need to interpret the piece of literature, now according to his/her own ideas and principles, and most of the times, even according to the geographical background of the production, if that was different from his/her own. This interpretation always involved serious general knowledge on the culture of the original area the literary work belonged to, varied and even unexpected associations, as well as an inquisitive mind and linguistic abilities. But a reader cannot be competent and appreciative unless s/he knows what to look for in a literary work, and this is where education and the teacher intervene.
The multiple advantages of using literature in the language class have been presented by many authors who have studied the complex task of teaching literature. According to some of them , a list of arguments in favour of literature teaching may include such points as:
- Literature is motivating material
- It helps students to understand the target culture
- It encourages language acquisition
- It expands the language awareness
- It represents valuable authentic material
- It develops the students’ interpretative abilities, critical and creative thinking
- It involves emotions as well as intellect, which adds to motivation and contributes to personal development
- It has general educational value
- It encourages students to talk about their opinions and feelings, being a good starting point for discussion or creative writing
- It develops students’ interest in reading in general, and reading in the target language in particular
The paradoxical role of the literature teacher derives from the fact that the relation between the reader and the text is a direct one, the presence of an intermediary being sometimes felt as superfluous. If the approach to literature relies heavily on the teacher – who paraphrases, explains, clarifies the text, the students will become dependent on the ready-made commentaries and will probably see no use in reading the literary text itself.
The danger of spoiling literature by over-teaching it appears in a language-based approach, too. If the analysis is undertaken in purely linguistic terms, with heavy emphasis on meta-language and little chance for personal interpretation, the students lose the best part of the literary text – its emotional value – and become demotivated.
Even if we may use literature for language enrichment in the language course, we should be aware of its intrinsic aesthetic and educational value, and help our students to read for pleasure and enjoyment.
 Brumfit, C., Carter, S. – Literature and Language Teaching, Heinemann, 1983;
Gower, R., Pearson, H. - Reading Literature, Heinemann,1985
Widdowson, H. G. - Stylistics and the Teaching of Literature, OUP, 1990