Current Promotions
Refine by
 

 

Worldview in Literature

By Jubilee Barker

Would you like to be able to appraise (judge the merit or significance of) literature and, perhaps, regard the classics not merely with admiration for their magnificent language - "terrible as an army with banners - "but as sources from which you derive personal application; gain insight about authors and their societies; and evaluate writers" themes, values, and perceptions in light of Scripture? Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) declared, "The aim of literary study is not to amuse the hours of leisure; it is to awake oneself, it is to be alive, to intensify one's capacity for pleasure, for sympathy, and for comprehension. It is not to affect one hour, but twenty-four hours. It is to change utterly one's relations with the world." What made Bennett's converse with the "kinsmen on the shelf" so stimulating? How can we profit likewise?

One method for enhanced literary study is determining the author's worldview, which is revealed or implied in his work. By asking five questions about the author's perspective and citing passages from his writings to support your answers, you can deduce his worldview. Determining the writer's worldview enables you to gauge his convictions and discover whether they are representative of his society. He may be the oracle of his society, the sage of his times; conversely, he may possess a private perspective from the masses'or even write to censure society. I recommend approaching timeless literature in this way! (Note that all of the answers may not be supplied by a given book or poem, but sometimes must be acquired by appraising an author's works as a whole. Also, there may be multiple responses to some questions.)

1. What is reality? What is most important, the material or the immaterial?

In Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817), the genteel heroine embarks on a charitable errand to the poor accompanied by a friend: "These are the sights, Harriet, to do one good. How trifling do they make everything else appear!" Yet Emma is swiftly entwined again in all the petty conquests of Highbury society. Austen's indolent upper classes flit in an empery of afternoon teas, gossip, and gavottes with all the felicity of a sonata. Their lives mainly revolve around transient hopes and the preservation of their worldly comfort. Is this the extent of Austen's vista? Not entirely. Virtuous character always triumphs, and self-delusion is perpetually purged by mercy and truth.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) proffers the Christian perspective that we are citizens of another country: "Since we stay not here, being people but of a day's abode, and our age is like that of a fly, and contemporary with a gourd, we must look somewhere else for an abiding city, a place in another country to fix our house in, whose walls and foundation is God, where we must find rest, or else be restless forever."

2. What is man, created or evolved?

This is verily a provocative topic - man's concept of man as portrayed in literature. Many medieval writers embraced man as humble, anonymous, and ethereal. Shakespeare (1564-1616) extols man's godlike virtues and capacities in a Renaissance vein in Hamlet: "What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god." The Biblical concept of man is balanced: man is sinful and fallible, yet "fearfully and wonderfully made."

In Paradise Lost, Milton (1608-1674) expounds man's transgression and fall, which affected nature and the rest of humanity. Pope (1688-1744), in An Essay on Man, maintains that nature and man were created perfect and remain perfect, and he advocates contentment with the order of the universe. Pope also rejects the dignified Renaissance view of man and relegates man to an evolutionary order, a link in the "progressive life."

3. How should we live? What is the basis for morality, God's Word or man's rationalism?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen endorses many principles of integrity: retaining a meritorious reputation, prudence, chastity, sincerity, humility, and wisdom in parenting.

In A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law (1668-1766) addresses a society scrupulous to deport themselves with elegance and urbanity but spiritually cold and morally decadent. Law cites specific infringements of conduct, which are premised on Scripture. He raises an argument against professing saints of his day committed to "impertinent entertainment" and "men that profess religion, yet live in swearing and sensuality - clergymen given to pride and covetousness, and worldly enjoyments -women who profess devotion, yet living in all the folly and vanity of dress, wasting their time in idleness and pleasures, and in all such instances of state and equipage as their estates will reach." Law recommends absolute dedication to God as exemplified by his character Miranda, who believes "that the trying herself every day by the doctrines of Scripture is the only possible way to be ready for her trial at the last day."

 

4. What is man's purpose for living?

In Religion the Only Basis for Society, William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) avers that human existence would indeed be meaningless, integrity would have no recompense, and the injured would never be avenged, if "this brief life is everything to us, and death is total, everlasting extinction." He proceeds: "Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man - Virtue, duty, principle, would be mocked and spurned as unmeaning sounds. A sordid self-interest would supplant every feeling; and man would become, in fact, what the theory in atheism declares him to be - a companion for brutes." Isn't this reflective of much modern literature (leavened with pessimism and purposelessness) when reverence for God is no longer upheld?

5. Where are we going? What is our destiny?

Be vigilant for intimations of heaven, hell, purgatory, or other beliefs in literature.

May your study of authors' worldviews be stimulating and rewarding as you read those books that best "represent the hope and energies, the dreams and the consummation of the human intelligence in its most enormous movements" (Morley).

Jubilee Barker is a homeschool graduate and the editress of the literary magazine, Rose of Sharon.  Rose of Sharon is published to enrich literary awareness and provide edifying literature in the spirit of Philippians 4:8.  It contains classic book reviews, poetry, literary articles and old-fashioned inspiration written by readers as well as writers of the past.  Subscription is $10 for four issues.  Please write Jubilee Barker, 2809 Marshall Way, Sacramento, CA 95818.

 

Copyright 2003.
Originally appeared in Spring 2003. Used with permission.
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.
www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com

 


 

 Classic Literature

Emma
Emma

Pride And Prejudice
Pride And Prejudice

Jeremy Taylor: Selected Works (Classics of Western Spirituality)
Jeremy Taylor: Selected Works (Classics of Western Spirituality)

Hamlet
Hamlet

Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV Part I
Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV Part I

A Serious Call To A Devout And Holy Life
A Serious Call To A Devout And Holy Life

A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities


 

Homeschool Article Center