Today, whilst walking with a friend, I got thirsty, so popped into a small deli we passed. I selected the cheapest bottle of water, 99p, and proceeded to the cashier. I handed over a pound coin knowing my change would be a penny. I picked up the bottle of water and thought; I may as well put the penny into the charity collection pot next to the till.
The cashier retrieved my lowly penny from the till and I held out my expectant hand, smiling pleasantly. Then she asked “Shall I put the penny into the charity collection?” Her penny clad hand hovering over the collection tin she looked at me questioningly giving me no choice but to say yes. Now, what if I had needed that penny, what if I had planned to buy something for which that penny was the difference between me being able to purchase said item, and not being able to?
By putting me in that situation she deprived me of my choice. How presumptuous! It’s not the point that I was planning to put the penny in there anyway. By putting me in a social situation where I would have felt uncomfortable saying no she has crossed a line. The same line that is crossed by charity collectors who when I am sitting in a nice restaurant eating a nice meal, or enjoying a coffee with a friend, stick their bucket in my face and interrupt a conversation just as it’s getting to the interesting part! Then make you feel uncomfortable when you tell them you have no change or some other excuse. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not an uncharitable person.
Whenever I can I buy a big issue, and do contribute to charities which I know are genuine. The judgemental look from the apparently well-meaning collector is the very look that is designed to guilt you into parting with your hard earned cash. With so many opportunists out there self-protection is worth the social embarrassment of appearing uncharitable, in theory anyway…
Recently I attended my work’s Christmas party. While there I had a conversation with a fellow student and writer. He told me that he originally took combined honours Creative Writing and English Literature but dropped English Literature. He told me, “we were all just sitting around analysing all these books and trying to figure out what they really mean. What was the writer really trying to say? When I thought what if they don’t mean anything, what if it was just a story?” I just nodded and smiled but reflecting on that conversation I have since realised what a ridiculous sentiment this is.
Literature, as with Art, is a medium of both self-expression and reflection. As such it becomes a vehicle essential for exploring the human condition, it cannot be undervalued. Through literature we are able to explore the world, culture and – fundamentally – what it is to be human. It is though this self-analysis that we understand our gifts, our flaws and what motivates our behaviour.Only through this self-exploration can we strive towards better things, and improve humanity as a whole. Who can honestly read a book like Crime and Punishment and say it meant nothing? So, now I am able to answer the question. What does Literature mean? The answer is simple: Literature means everything!