There has been some debate throughout literary history on whether or not literature is valuable and if it can teach its readers anything of value. In Plato’s Ion, Socrates implies that there is no value in literature and that nothing can be learned from indulging in it. However, in many other works there are strong arguments that oppose Socrates’ view. Sir Philip Sidney raises the arguments in his work “An Apology for Poetry”.
Lisa Zunshine has a strong argument in “Theory of Mind and Experimental Representations of Fictional Consciousness” as well. The arguments Sidney raises in “An Apology for Poetry” and Zunshine’s view in “Theory of Mind and Experimental Representations of Fictional Consciousness” can be applied to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to show that literature is valuable because it can educate readers, present a moral lesson in a way that can be learned best, and strengthen readers’ cognitive abilities.
The first argument that Sidney raises is, “Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in his word mimesis, that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth – to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture; with this end, to teach and delight” (139). This argument is stating that poetry can educate a reader on many different things by providing a scene, passage, or example that can essentially be imitated.
This argument can be applied to the scene in “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge approached one of the gentlemen who was asking for donations for the poor and the destitute. Scrooge hoped that the gentleman achieved what he aimed to do yesterday and then offered money of his own. Scrooge told the gentleman, “Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you” (73-74). This scene from “A Christmas Carol” symbolizes the generosity that has overcome Scrooge after meeting with the three ghosts.
Many people are raised with exposure to generosity. However, some people may not know in which ways they can be generous. In the case with this scene from “A Christmas Carol”, the reader is allowed to read and visualize a scenario where generosity can be implemented. Thus, because literature was able to give an example of how people can be generous it is clear that literature can educate readers, as Sidney suggests. In conclusion, this is valuable because it shows that literature can educate readers.
The next argument Sidney raises is the argument that states that a philosopher can tell someone what to do in a certain situation but cannot get the point across unless an example is given. Thus, the poet is superior because it gives the example that is needed to get the point across in the best way possible. This argument is, Now doth the peerless poet perform both: for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it in someone by whom he presupposeth it was done; so as he couplet the general notion with the particular example.
A perfect picture I say, for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description: which doth neither strike, pierce, nor posses the sight of the soul so much as that other doth (142). This argument can be applied to the quote, “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world” (Dickens, 76).
This quote shows that Scrooge not only knew what he should do but that he actually did what he should do and then some. Scrooge could have easily told the spirits that he planned to change his previous way of living, however, his words would have meant nothing unless he acted on them. This shows that literature is valuable because it can impact someone far more by allowing the readers to experience the process of how Scrooge changed and became better overall than by a philosopher simply giving someone facts about why changing would be better.
Essentially, this means, that literature is valuable because it is the best way to present a moral lesson. Zunshine’s strong argument is, “The very process of making sense of what we read appears to be grounded in our ability to invest the flimsy verbal constructions that we generously call ‘characters’ with a potential for a variety of thoughts, feelings, and desires, and then to look for the ‘cues’ that allow us to guess at their feelings and thus to predict their actions” (1092). Essentially this means that through the description of the characters we are able to interpret what their state of mind is.
If we can interpret their state of mind then we can go one step further to predict future actions. This can be applied to the description of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. His description is, “External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow as more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him” (8). This description allows the reader to infer that Scrooge is cold-hearted, bitter, and foul.
Thus, it easy to infer that Scrooge is unhappy and typically unhappy people feel better with themselves when they make others unhappy. So when Scrooge doesn’t donate to the charity or give his clerk the day off the reader is not surprised. This ability to interpret and infer based on the mere description of a character is valuable. This is valuable because the readers’ cognitive abilities are strengthened enabling them to interpret and infer on more challenging works. Despite arguments against literature, literature has been proved to be valuable.
Literature can educated readers and can present a moral lesson in a way that can be learned best. This can be seen through Sidney’s “An Apology for Poetry”. Literature can also strengthen the readers’ cognitive abilities. This can be seen through Zunshine’s “Theory of Mind and Fictional Consciousness”. Both Sidney’s and Zunshine’s work can be applied to “A Christmas Carol”. The scenes and passages in “A Christmas Carol” that these works can be applied to are examples of why literature is valuable.