Great Literature is Great Because It’s Sticky
I’ve been thinking about Antigone all morning. She’s the heroine in the ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles, and though the story was written over 1000 years ago, Antigone is a fresh, vibrant, unforgettable character. Her story raises more questions than it answers, and it sticks in my mind because those questions are about some of the most important issues that humankind can consider. A few of the questions raised in Antigone’s story are:
- To whom do we owe loyalty?
- Should the demands of the state supersede responsibility to family?
- Should loyalty to one’s faith come before loyalty to family or state?
It’s possible, even easy, to discuss these questions as abstract issues, then quickly forget them. However, when Sophocles paints them in the context of Antigone’s loyal desire to care for her brother’s body and Creon’s demand that he remain unburied, those questions become “sticky.” They’re clothed in intense emotions we can all understand, and they stay in our mind. We see them through the eyes and the pain of another human, and the questions become our own, and are joined by others:
- How would we react in a similar situation?
- What circumstances could lead to this sort of stalemate in the 21st century?
- What do we truly believe?
It can be fun to occasionally read “twinkies for the brain,” but our minds need more in order to grow. A steady diet of trivia will cause us to become more and more shallow, while a diet that contains generous helpings of great literature will help us grow both mentally and spiritually. We need to think about big issues so that we can absolutely know where we stand when confronted with difficult situations. Great literature should be part of every student’s preparation for life. It’s good, and good for you!
[If you haven’t yet read Antigone, and you’re using Excellence in Literature, you’ll study it in the second unit of World Literature.]