Dr. Ganiu Bamgbose(PhD)
The axiomatic definition of literature is that it serves as the mirror of life. In line with this definition, concepts in the field of literature could be veritable tools for the assessment of one’s life and living. Few of such literary variables for self-assessment will be discussed in this piece.
First off, a renowned scholar of English literature, Ojo Olorunleke, opines that literature has just two concerns: MATTER and MANNER. For every literary work, the reader is concerned with what the work is about (matter) and how it is presented (manner). Every human is equally expected to understand WHAT purpose they are created to serve in life and HOW this purpose can be achieved.
Within the WHAT of literature, concepts such as subject matter, theme and conflict are foregrounded. Subject matter is the overall preoccupation of a literary work while themes are the chunks of messages that are all used to foreground the central message. So, while the subject matter of a text could be corruption, the themes could include bribery, nepotism and malpractices.
Similarly, every life needs a subject matter which can be likened to a person’s area of fulfillment. Life is too wide to run around wanting to be this and that. Everyone should have an identity while other similar and related activities could be engaged in. A professor of Theatre Arts such as Sola Fosudo who is equally a renowned actor can be said to have identified his subject matter and a compatible theme.
Young people must avoid being professionally flirtatious. Wanting a bit of Sam Adeyemi and a little flavour of Naira Marley is a way of becoming nothing in life. Focus must be identified and only things that are related should be simultaneously pursued just as bribery and nepotism still sustain the image of corruption.
Conflict, in literature, is the struggle between opposing forces. Every artistic piece (play, novel, and poem) must have its conflict(s) which in the end should be resolved or deliberately left unresolved. Every life too has got its conflicts which can be likened to challenges. To think of a life without challenges is to desire an end to one’s life. We must have our ambition and be prepared to face the challenges that come with such desire.
Moving on, the HOW of literature encompasses elements such as plot, setting, characterisation, point of view (perspective) and diction (language use). Plot deals with the order in which the ideas in a piece are presented. While the linear plot presents ideas chronologically, that is, in the order in which they happen, the complex plot picks a story from any part of the event and moves around it dexterously. This suggests that our lives may or may not follow the supposed order. You may get married before me and I bag a PhD before you. In the end, it should be written that we are both fulfilled and that is what matters.
Setting addresses the place and time of an action, and luck has been defined as preparation plus opportunity. Everyone who desires success must, therefore, strive to be in the right place at the right time. Characterisation talks about the participants in a piece of art, and just like we read about the protagonist, the antagonist, the major and the minor characters in a play, everyone who wants to succeed should be mindful of those who feature in their lives and the roles such people play.
Perspective deals with the angle from which a story is narrated. Scholars have talked about first-person and third-person narrative styles. Note too, in life, your way cannot be the only way: live and let live. Finally, diction is the choice of language we use in literary works. Success demands knowing what language should be used with what person in what situation.
Now, shall we undertake a literary assessment of our lives?
Bamgbose (Dr GAB) is of the Department of English, Lagos State University.