Often, it is easy for us to take for granted much of the literature we read as simply a source of amusement or entertainment. There is no denying that, in most cases, this is one of the main purposes for which literature is written. However, the majority of literature also performs many social functions which can have a vast impact on the way members of the community live there lives and interact with those around them.
"Literature is part of the fabric of society" (DU Study Guide, 2003, p.24). Any form of literature, be it a Greek tragedy, a medieval romance, a Shakespearian play, or even a fairy tale, is coloured by the social experiences of the author. We all belong to a particular social or ethnic group, are in a particular class (whether we like the idea or not) and live in a particular time. These things help to make up the world we know, and shape our attitudes, values, beliefs, and opinions.
Our every thought and action is influenced by our experiences within the society in which we live. Therefore it is impossible for an author to create a piece of work that does not reflect these influences in some way.
This leads us to an important social function of literature. Literature works to reflect and examine the ways in which particular societies or social groups view the world. This, in turn, helps us to better understand other cultures, classes and/or times. By questioning beliefs and attitudes, and examining differences and similarities between cultures and classes we are able to gain an increased understanding of "the range of human experience in its continuities and possibilities" (Lyle, 1996, p2).
Another, possibly negative, social function of literature however, is that it often "makes the agenda of the privileged classes the...