Literary critics, philosophers and others have answered this question in various ways. Literature gives readers a window into another’s soul, encouraging them to empathize with people whose experiences of the world may be very different from their own. Literature deepens our understanding of history, allowing us, as the Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt puts it, to “speak with the dead.” Literature allows us to imagine a better world--or, conversely, reveals the limits of our political imagination.
There are more pragmatic answers to this question. Employers say they want graduates who can think critically and communicate effectively: two skills that are fundamental to the study of literature. As twenty-first century global citizens, the ability to decode the subtle messages of the sea of texts that surrounds us is crucial: literature classes teach the skills of close reading and analysis necessary to navigate the information age.
Here’s another answer: because you can. For most of human history, literacy was a privilege of the elite. In the nineteenth century, the idea of a liberal education--that exposure to the best of human thought and culture was a precondition for effective participation in a democratic society (and in the more exclusive professions)--took hold; still, access to that education was denied to the majority. Now, you are the beneficiary of that democratic ideal, of a privilege that has eluded, and continues to elude, most of the world’s population. What does that privilege amount to? Above all, perhaps, it is the privilege of time: time to reflect on your life, to explore your interests, to read a book. We encourage you to enroll in one of RVC's literature courses and embrace this privilege.
It is always recommended that you talk to an academic advisor about your educational goals and to learn more about specific programs.