“Why Literature”, Mario Vargas Llosa

Published 31 May 2017

In the essay “Why Literature”, Mario Vargas Llosa provides some very unique insight into the reasons why people read literature as well as why they do not. This has the consequence of examining the perceived value of literature from a number of perspectives. If we were to split these perspectives into their smallest denominators we would have two camps: those who read literature and those who don’t. Now, there are many reasons (nee: excuses) why people do not read literature. However, all of these reasons return to a common denominator: they do not enjoy reading. If they did, they would do it more often. This is simply the way human beings approach their leisure time. For some, reading literature has a number of values and, as such, possesses an enjoyment factor. But what is the root of this enjoyment?

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To a certain extent, all literature is a form of escapism. That is, way a person decides to invest a little time reading a novel they are escaping actual reality. For some, this can be a minor diversion designed to reduce stress. For others, an intellectual facet is added to the equation as the material found in a good work of literature can provide much food for thought. This type of reading can lead to much self study and self examination both of which have the potential to enhance personal growth.

Then, there are those who take escapism to further extremes. They may imagine themselves in the role of the novel’s hero or heroine. Often, they will look to live their own lives through these imaginary heroes as a way of finding meaning in their own lives. Honestly, there really is very little wrong with such an approach unless this is taken to extremes.

These individuals may suffer from outright personality disorders they do not wish to deal with. Or, more accurately, the affects of their personality disorders on their relationships with other people is causing them much pain. So, they will delve further and further into their reading as a way of avoiding life. This, however, is truly indicative of bad judgment since it never addresses any of the ways the person can seek real help. However, such actions are commonplace with certain genres possessing higher number of “Walter Mitties” in their midst than others.

However, one of the most informative points that Llosa makes is the notion that this escapism and introspection is not performed in isolation. Actually, it is a form of communication. This is because in order for there to be a reader, there must be an author. Therefore, literature is really a means of communication. Granted, the communicative devices of a novel are not as expositional as a newspaper. Yet, both follow the exact same format: print media.

Llosa points out a significant amount of information are presented in a work of literature. This information can provide the reader with different opinions on various subjects; an introduction to a variety of cultures; a multitude of philosophical thought processes; and basically anything else that the author can provide to stimulate the intellect or the subconscious of the reader. Again, none of this occurs in isolation. There is presentation of information from one party to another in the form of the author/reader relationship.

Of course, there are many other important things occurring in the experience of reading literature. Llosa does a fine job pointing these aspects out. Upon examining Llosa’s insight, one gains a greater understanding of literature as a result.


  • Vargas Llosa, Mario. (May 14 2001) “Why Literature” in The New Republic v. 224 no20 p. 31-6
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