Literature as the mirror of life (explained)

Some people think it is simply a deliberate exaggeration to say that literature is the mirror of life, while others think it is right but without a proper understanding of the reason, too. It is in view of this phenomenon that this piece has been put together

Whoever is conversant with both narratives will tell you how Animal Farm by George Orwell is a simulacrum of the story of the Federal Republic of Nigeria—particularly between the pre/colonial to democratic and military (authoritarian) days. It was as though George Orwell foresaw the fate of the people. 

Knowing full well the target audience for which the book was written, an attempt to reflect the political life of England, it follows to reach a conclusion that literature is not just a mirror but a deific one at that. The evidence of this complexity transcending the conceit of man makes the interpretation of the concept of literature a muddled idea. 

To duck briefly into the introductory paragraph, it helps to understand that literature being the mirror of life is a deliberate metaphor and not exaggeration since it does to man the things a mirror would in the physical, concrete sense. 

That said, how is literature the mirror of life? Literature is the mirror of life because it is a reflection of the world around us. For one, humans, not even the current residents of England would have known how literature evolved from Old English, Romanticism, and Classicism to the Victorian Period, Modernism to Postmodernism without this powerful mirror. 

It is probable this is not the best of examples because we must also take into consideration those who would not take this for more than mere art of documentation—how man keeps records. But that isn’t all, there is more to this side of the coin. 

In literature, there are different schools of criticism. The ones I would be introducing here for the purpose of our study are the Psychoanalysis and Sociological schools of criticism.

1. Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Criticism

What does this theory say? It emphasizes, among others, that every work of literature in a way reflects the mind of the author and resonates with the mind of its audience. This shows the underlying neurocognitive properties of both the writer and the reader. 

Literature as the mirror of life (explained)

Psychoanalysis, for example, implies that the poetic persona of “Vanity” by Birago Diop denotes to the reader how Birago Diop came to the realization of the hollowness of our existence when it says, 

If we tell gently, gently 

All that we shall one day have to tell 

Who then will hear our voices without laughter? 

Sad complaining voices of beggars.

It is important to note that even while his ideal intent is to inform his people about the aftermath of abandoning their culture for an alien practice, we still manage to look through the work and see the mind of the poet aligning with or believing in the idea of hereafter—a medium through which he projects his chthonic concern. 

2. The Sociological Criticism 

More like the previous school is the sociological criticism which proposes that whatever a literarian has come up with shows, whether readily blatant or not, the person’s immediate society. But why not, given that we cannot give what we do not have? 

Literature as the mirror of life (explained)

This implies that our environment can significantly influence our paradigm of thoughts which goes into literature and back to reshape society. 

Read Also: How Literature Affects Society?  

Put together, both the Psychoanalysis and Sociological theories are quite enough resources to bolster the standpoint that literature is the mirror of life. They show us how we can expect not only to see in some ways the mind of an individual through his or her work but also the influence of society on that person. 

This is the reason it is usually not hard and uncommon to tell between an American and an English (the people of England) writer by merely looking into the pattern and the style of their work. 

Read Also: How does American literature affect society? 

With the formalism school of criticism, to include also, one can look into and examine the structure of a work—and consider the written choice of words to reach certain scholarly conclusions. 

A practical example of this is being able to tell the setting of a work even without having it spelled out. In Professor Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation”, for instance, the words: 

Red booth 

Red pillar box; and 

Omnibus squelching tar,

gave the reader a crisp view that the work is set in England. In other words, the poet—who though doesn’t belong to England by any virtue — has been able to properly use words in a way that England is mirrored.

It is in this consideration that we dare to say that literature inescapably and incontrovertibly mirrors life. It is through its vast spectrum that pieces of news are written and we get to know what is happening in the world—far or near to us—even without stepping out of our comfort zone. We also see, not spatially but temporally, in the distant past, what man has experienced through the lens of literature. 

Conclusively, literature indeed performs the characteristic functions of a mirror and even more. No wonder Charles Bukowski said without literature life is hell

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