Discovering Ourselves Through Great Books
by JORIS HEISE
1st ed., January 1995, 262 pages, $26.95
As you use this book you will gradually become more acquainted with three people.
The first person is the narrator of this book chatting with you about other books, other poems, authors and movements. A second person will be the "narrative voices," a chorus of poets and authors who tell stories, recite poems, and reveal some truths that surprise you. A third person is you yourself — your older, wiser, growing-up self starting to explore the deeper pool of truths into which we step as adults and in which we start swimming. We discover an environment better for us than was childhood's small horizon.
These three persons engage in a discussion of what is true — truth that is found not "out there, " but in personal dialogue. As you listen with the narrator of this book to the various literate voices of authors down through the centuries, you will be accepting, objecting, and considering partial truths. From this discussion between yourself and the narrator, you will come to recognize and acknowledge people, ideas and other things we hold in common. You will meet persons like Hamlet, ideas like survival and fate, tensions like sex and money — a vast fund of spiritual meaning.
Meaningful truths that are Felt and Common form our shared ground and our cultural home. In the process of building ourselves — our interior castle and our private den, your experienced voice and mine meet and in the meeting put together brick and mortar, wall and floor, context and adornment of our minds.
This book starts by exploring traits we need to enjoy insight into any literature. These same psychological traits seem necessary to appreciate those books many persons have called "great." Specifically, "great books" refers to the constantly growing, multi-cultural, and open-ended inheritance of important books in our Western Tradition. Other great books are becoming available to us, but we are still learning the cultures that produced them. In the Western Tradition, we already live in the continuous stream.
Second, this book offers "tools of the trade" — specific ways to study characters and themes, points of view and settings of the works. These tools build on and presume your high school studies, but surpass them in their inclusion of your experiences in adulthood.
The final section of the book offers you a fast-forward look at your literary tradition — from the Greeks about 2500 years ago. In that section, we pass quickly through various ups and downs of literary story-telling into our present day.
This in NOT a survey of literature; it is rather an opportunity for you to look over and learn some elemental things about the literature that has shaped you and your world. Significantly, some authors, such as the unknown creator of Gilgamesh and Latin writers like Ovid and Seneca, have profoundly affected our world, although few persons realize their importance. Other authors, famous and very popular in their day, have long since gurgled down the drain of history.
When you finish the book you will know more about great writers — the chorus of narrative voices. You will hear them say some things with which you may agree — or sharply disagree. I hope you find them like the Chorus of a Greek Play, speaking insights, suggesting feelings, offering directions and voicing popular opinion.
You will also know more about the whole picture of our literature — its sweep and diversity, its openness and its relevance, its contradictions and — yes, its personality. And you will know more about yourself — that you share common conclusions with a literate community, a sense not so much of common values, but common problems, common tensions, common mysteries.
The Greek motto, "Know Your Self," is the emphasis of this book. All our writings mirror your Self — your growing spirit and your open heart. This book is for that part of you which seeks to explore the realms of your human existence, by going where someone "has gone before" and is surprised to find wonderful ever fresh new worlds.
PART I — PREPARATIONS FOR READING LITERATURE
Chapter 1: Imagination is the Power to Create a World for Others and Sustain its Believability
Imagination Means Creating a Fictional World that Enlightens Our Real One
The Western Tradition and the Individual Person
Chapter 2: Literature in General — Its Role in Our Lives
The Quality of the Creator's Imagination
The Quality of the Reader's Readiness
PART II — TOOLS OF LITERATURE
Chapter 3: Character Study
Character — Coming to Judgment
What Kind of Person is this Character
Character — How Real Does the Character Seem
Characters — Evidence and Evidence Traits
Character — Growth and Change
Example: The Grapes of Wrath
Chapter 4: Setting
Importance of Setting
Example: The Divine Comedy
Expressing the Importance of Setting
Setting Can Affect Us
Chapter 5: Point of View
Importance of Point of View
Examples of Point of View
Point of View if NOT the Author
An Example: The Scarlet Letter
Chapter 6: Imagery
Kinds of Imagery
An Example: "Dover Beach"
Chapter 7: Themes
Patterns of Themes
Self vs. God
Self vs. Others
Self vs. Self
Self vs. Nature
Chapter 8: Plot
What is a Plot?
Kinds of Plots
Chapter 9: Uniqueness
PART III — LITERATURE FROM THE GREEKS TO THE PRESENT
Chapter 10: General Information
History and Literature in General
Developments of the Western Tradition
Chapter 11: The Greeks
Development of the Greek Way of Life
The Trojan War
Greeks — Daily Life
The Sixth Century B.C.E. and the Age of Pericles
Greeks and the Western World
Specific Greek Works
Specific Literary Elements
Chapter 12: Latin Literature
Roman History to the Empire
The Pattern: A Conclusion
Chapter 13: Literature of the Anglo-Saxons and the Legend of Arthur
Arthur, the Myth and the Man
Chapter 14: The Middle Ages
Literature of the Middle Ages
Religion in the Middle Ages — Guide to its Literature
Chapter 15: The Renaissance
Literature of the Era
Chapter 16: The Age of Reason, or the Neo Classical Era, The Enlightenment, The "Augustan Age"
Culture of the Times
Literature of the Age of Reason
Chapter 17: The Romantic Era
Connections Between Romantic and Neo-Classical: A Final Word
Chapter 18: The 1800s on Both Sides of the Atlantic
England the Victorian Era
The United States
English-speaking Writers in Common
United States Poetry
Fiction Became Very Popular
Chapter 19: Post Victorian and Modern Eras
Traits of Modern Literature in Western World
Modern Literature — History and Suggestions