Understanding Arguments in Literature

While most people associate arguments with disagreements, the literary definition of an argument differs. In academic and literary contexts, an argument represents a writer's stance on an issue, typically presented as a thesis statement supported by reasoning and evidence. In literary writing, an argument is a concise summary that precedes a chapter, book, or canto.

Usage of Argument in Literature

The use of arguments became common during the Renaissance to help readers navigate extensive literary works. These succinct summaries often appeared in prose at the beginning of a poem or section. Arguments enable readers to anticipate the text's meaning and understand the writer's intentions.

Common Examples of Arguments

In literature, as in everyday life, arguments are used to convince others of a viewpoint. This involves stating a belief, such as "The internet is a valuable invention," and then building an argument to support it with logical reasons like "It provides endless information" and "It offers entertainment." The argument concludes with a verdict.

Examples of Arguments in Literature

Example #1:

David Copperfield (By Charles Dickens)

Charles Dickens opens his novel David Copperfield with the following literary argument:

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

This statement serves as the central argument of the novel, with the story revolving around the narrator, David, and his journey. It explores the idea that one's life can be influenced by various individuals, not just the protagonist.

Example #2:

Paradise Lost (By John Milton)

John Milton sets the purpose of his epic poem in the opening lines of Paradise Lost, Book I:

“Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat…”

Milton explains why humanity was banished from Eden, the source of its suffering, and how the arrival of "one greater Man" (Jesus Christ) brought redemption. The poem proceeds to elaborate on this argument, aiming to "justify the ways of God to men."

Example #3:

Pride and Prejudice (By Jane Austen)

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice starts with an argument:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

The plot of the novel revolves around this argument, highlighting societal expectations and the pursuit of advantageous marriages.

Example #4:

Rime of the Ancient Mariner (By S. T. Coleridge)

S. T. Coleridge includes an argument at the beginning of his poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

“How a Ship having passed the Line was driven by storms to the cold Country towards the South Pole; and how from thence she made her course to the tropical Latitude of the Great Pacific Ocean; and of the strange things that befell; and in what manner the Ancyent Marinere came back to his own Country.”

Coleridge provides a concise summary of his poem's content, offering readers an initial insight into the narrative.

Function of Arguments in Literature

Literature is not merely for entertainment; it serves as a tool to influence and reform our thinking. Arguments play a crucial role in this process. Writers use words, reasoning, and examples to persuade readers to adopt their viewpoints, shaping readers' perspectives while providing enjoyment.

Let's Talk About It

Have you encountered any compelling literary arguments that left a lasting impact on you? How do you feel about the role of arguments in literature, both in conveying messages and entertaining readers? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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