Permalink for this paragraph 0 After reading a few blog posts, particularly Seve’s “Underlying Lessons in Fairytales,” I revisited Wayne C. Booth’s The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction because I’m still curious about what it means to apply ethical criticism to literature. The questions of whether or not a fairytale is required to have a moral led me to question: do books have to include morals too? Specifically, does a good book carry a moral message? (to clarify, I’m thinking about novels here) I know these questions have large and varied answers, but I think it is important to explore what makes literature ethical beyond whether it teaches or purports good or bad behavior, because I think one of the primary ways people learn about life is from books…and books are not always so black and white about what is good and bad. Consequently, I think the more pressing question (which we discussed briefly in class) is: how do books teach us to live for the better and alter our worldview?
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Booth explains that in academia the impact literature has on a reader is rarely emphasized compared to the meaning of the literature itself–independent of the reader. However, this seems to be a misstep. We need to account for how literature affects readers, largely because if we claim literature is important, then the reading of it will certainly carry some weight by the influence it has in shaping the reader’s perspective. Booth raises questions like: “Is this poem morally, politically, or philosophically sound? Is it likely to work for the good or ill of those who read it?” (5). Generally, these questions indicate that poems and pieces of literature can shape the way we live–morally, politically, or philosophically–and so simply by reading a person can access an alternate view of the world. Simply by reading–which is crazy.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Albeit, whether or not someone adopts a way of life wholeheartedly is up to them; but I would like to think that even exposing yourself to a book or movie or play changes your thinking in subtle and sometimes unconscious ways that are not “chosen.” Therefore, I think that a good book should in fact portray positive morals and ways of being because it is highly likely that people adhere to those worldviews that they find inspiring, or conversely that are subconsciously influencing them.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Finally, one of the most important things I took away from the reading is that choosing not to teach a particular book is ok. While this is not the same as saying that refusing to read a book is acceptable (because everyone knows you cannot judge a book by its cover…you have to woman-man up and read it) it is saying that someone’s choice to dislike a book or refuse to spread its message to others is an informed and educated decision. Because books impact the way we live by offering up alternative ways of being, I think professors and teachers and parents (whoever!) have some right to say that books should not be taught based on the negative message they provide.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 I may be a little extreme on this, but I think that claiming a book is a “good” book implies that the book shares some sort of genuine knowledge about the world, some way of being that makes you want to live that way. I can concede a little to say that good books may also show other darker sides of life that are not necessarily meant to be adopted by the reader. But concerning ethical criticism, I believe that books are influential in ways beyond our imagining, so we must be careful with the knowledge we spread and hold up for others.