The Didactic, Entertainment and Affective Function of Literature by Olatuja Oloyede

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Literature being a multifaceted phenomenon has never been given a univocal definition, nether is there any catholic or conventional explanation for it. Over the decades, literature has meant different things to different people. Literarily, literature is seen in its broadest sense as any written piece or document. This aforementioned position of what literature entails does not put into consideration the aesthetic content of such written piece, hence it (literature) could be political, scientific, economical or historical documentations. However, to myriad of scholars, literature is believed to be any form of aesthetic and artistic expression whose purpose of existence is to mirror and reproduce the society, by reflecting life: its paradoxes, ironies, tragedies, mysteries and events in totality. It is believed to be a set of imaginative creation engendered from the author’s cognition which draws heavily from the society surrounding men. To a very large and considerable extent, literature is primarily seen as the work of art which entertains and educates.
Unequivocally, literature as a field of study goes beyond an ordinary written document which may contain specific set of information on a particular phenomenon, rather it suggests an aesthetic and artistic creation verbally or literarily reflecting the multifarious human society. Without further ado, we must understand in lucid terms that literature does not exist arbitrarily, but being such an indispensable fragment of humanity, it serves some very crucial and overwhelming purposes. Among these functions are its affective/emotive, entertaining, biographical, historical, and didactic functions. The main focus of this paper however, is to expatiate explicitly yet in succinct terms the didactic, entertaining and emotive functions of literature.
Being a literary research, this work is mainly library based. It draws heavily from the ideologies of various scholars published in various articles, reviews, books internet materials and interviews. The paper is therefore intended to provide ample pieces of information on some salient functions of literature.


Disambiguation of Nomenclature
In the first premise, what is didacticism? Didacticism simply denotes the instructional qualities embedded in a particular thing. Didactic literature by implication portends a work of art intended to dispatch information and teach certain ideology most times on morals and ethics. Didacticism is a philosophy that emphasizes instructional and informative qualities in literature. In other words, didactic literature is a kind of literature which is intended to communicate a moral theme or other rich truth to the audience. Didacticism will therefore be considered concisely in oral and written literature.
Oral literature is used to cover a wide range of religious, social and cultural activities that sprout from the historical and social experiences of the pre-literate people which in turn make up their world view and philosophical orientation. Oral literature, according to someone like Ruth Finnegan, refers to the totality of unwritten form of believe and values of a people which are given expression to through myth, legend, folk traditions, proverbs, festivals etc.
Didacticism is incontrovertibly more pronounced in oral literature than the written form. Borrowing Pio Zirimu, a Uganda scholar’s terminology, “orature” (i.e. Oral Literature) apart from being a very vital tool of meeting the people’s aesthetical desires, it vehemently establishes itself as a pivotal source of passing salient information to the audience acquainting them with certain norms and acceptable ethics of a given society.
Just as Bode Ajuwon hinted in his essay: Oral and written literature in Nigeria, “Telling stories is used by narrators to instruct the young and teach them to respect the dictates of their custom: as a result, a large body of moral instruction, of societal values and norms are preserved for posterity.” George Joseph similarly in his African Literature in Understanding Contemporary Africa posits thus: “Literature does not imply an artistic use of words for the sake of art alone… traditionally, Africans do not separate art from teaching. Rather than write for beauty in itself, African … use beauty to help communicate important truths and information to the society. Indeed, an object is considered beautiful because of the truth it reveals and the communities it helps to build.” Palpably, oral literature in Africa plays a crucial role in educating the populace about African cosmology and philosophy. Finnegan espouses this in her lauded book, Oral Literature in Africa by expounding on the fact that morality is inseparable even from daily life of an average African society. The moonlight stories, festivals, ceremonies etc are fundamental sources of communicating to the younger generation the essentials of a given society.
Didactic literature are set of literary works created with the intention of teaching morals, relaying certain instructions the author deems crucial, exposing certain things for the purpose of educating its audience. Around the 19th century, didacticism became a term in criticism used to denote works that are over-burdened with instructive, factual or otherwise educational information. Though contrary to Allen Poe ideology (in his The Poetic Principle) about didacticism being the worst heresy, didactic literatures are often times characterized with idiosyncrasies. That is, as societies varies so do its set of believes varies.
However, literature being an aesthetic expression is a versatile ground in which writers from inception recourse to establish their moral believes, academic philosophies, sociopolitical ideologies and even economic idiosyncrasies. Some of such didactic literatures are John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress (1878) and Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism (1711). Alexander Pope for instance advises about the critics and criteria that are best adopted in scholarly researches. On the other hand, Bunyan in his allegorical literature establishes vehemently the Christian values, moral uprightness, and the just judgment of the most high and holy God. Consider the extract below from Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress
“In my own eyes and the eyes of others, I was once an honest and flourishing professor of faith. I consider myself a good candidate of Celestial City and at that time, I even had joy of living there…I am now a man of despair…I have stopped being alert and self controlled…I let loose the reign of my desires. I sinned against the Light of the Word and the good God. I’ve provoked God to anger and he has left me. I have hardened my heart that I cannot repent. I’m guilty of crucifying Him again. I’ve despised his position, I’ve hated His righteousness, and I’ve treated His blood as an unholy thing. I’ve insulted the Spirit of Grace. So I’ve excluded myself from all the promises and now there remains for me nothing but threats, which will devour me as an enemy of God” pp 42-43
It is crystal clear from the aforestated extract that Bunyan with no intrepidity intends to acquaint his audience with the unbearable and insufferable pangs of being separated from God. Surmising it all, didactic literature are literary works with instructions aimed at influencing people’s disposition to certain things. Example of didactic literature include: Sophie’s World (1991) by Jostein, The Adventures of Nicholas Experience by Ignacy Krasicki (1776) and John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress (1878).
Unequivocally, Babatunde Omobalawe caps it all by affirming that “two things at least are indispensible to the creation of work of art. The first is it is the representation of life whose creation is propelled by a host of other factors. Second, it is created to serve a pragmatic purpose, which is usually didactic in nature”

Disambiguation of Nomenclature
Indubitably, entertainment in its broadest sense is a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience, or gives pleasure and delight. Moreover, entertainment in literature goes beyond just activities which sustain the interest of an audience, entertainment being a multifarious fragment of literature gives life and vitality to literary artifacts. Hence, we have scholars of ‘Art for Art sake’ and crusaders of ‘escapism’ who rigidly insist on the artistic quality of any literary piece. It is expedient to state that a total demystification of the term ‘entertainment’ is practically impossible but without mincing words, literature remains to a great extent an unparallel medium of meeting the peoples’ creative desires.
‘Orality’ being the forbear of the world literature has at its core the important rudiments of entertainment. The legacy of the bards, the raconteur, the griot, the masque motif performance has entertainment as its basis and fundamental purpose of existence. Bode Ajuwon exposes this in his essay Oral and Written Literature in Nigeria thus:
“Pre-literate society once enjoyed a verbal art civilization which at its high point was patronized by traditional rulers and the general public… The Oral artists, freelancers or guild-associates, enjoyed reference as the keepers of the people’s ancient wisdoms and beliefs. The Oral artist frequently entertained their audiences dramatically, providing relaxation and teaching moral lessons”
In nexus with that, Peter Widdowson observes that:
“West African audiences participate noisily and bodily in some genres, commenting upon the poet’s style and behaviour of the fictional protagonists; in other genres, they are required to be silent while the drummer set the rhythm and the syntax for the performers to follow.”
Oral literature is a form of entertainment which fosters the feelings of solidarity with others who have similar experiences. Being the repository of artistic expression in the society, its beauty resonates cultural frontiers.
“If I am not entertained by a book to some level, I’m not reading it.”
___Mirabell, in (World Literature Forum)

It is neither strange nor arguable to affirm that literature offers a great deal of entertainment and relaxation to its audience. Many a times, people recourse to literary text for the pleasure and the fun of it. As a matter of fact, there are literatures created solely for the purpose of entertaining the audience. All the comic plays of Olarotimi such as Our Husband has Gone Mad Again and Grip Am and the farce of Femi Osofisan such as Midnight Hotels, Yungba-Yungba and the Dance Contest etc are good examples of such works which readily comes to mind.
The musico-dramaturgical presentations of Osofisan for instance have been lauded over the decades for the wide range of satirical entertainment it offers. Just as Kole Omothosho reveals in his Theatrical into Theater, good theatrical presentations are often interpolated with musicals, dance and every other forms of aesthetic extravaganzas for the amusement and enjoyment of its audience. No wonder Thomas Ligotti in an interview posits that “literature is entertainment or it is nothing.”
Just as the Roman Poet, Horace says, “Literature is sweet and useful”, and it has even progressed from providing mere pleasure to its audience to offering an escape route from mental pressure, situational distresses, emotional traumas and conditional depressions. The school of thought who holds such ideology has been termed escapism.
Escapist fiction is the fiction which provides a psychological escape from thoughts of everyday life by immersing the reader in exotic situations or activities. Escapism as a literary term is the mental diversion by means of entertainment and recreation, as an “escape” from perceived unpleasant or banal aspect of daily life. Without doubt, literature occupies the leading role of relieving people of persisting feelings of depression or general sadness.


Disambiguation of Nomenclature
Affective and effective quality of anything (be it an idea or action) is solely determined by the external expression, psychological reaction and emotion response it is capable of effecting in its recipients.
Overtly, literature is one thing which affects the conducts of man, and contributes immensely to the construction of certain ideology and world view in the society. Diachronically, literature, right from time immemorial, has in no small measure affected humanity; their inter-personal relationship, perception of their cosmology and divinity, sociopolitical conceptualization of their immediate environment and understanding of their personal and corporate existence.
Taking a cursory look at the rich works of the 5th century BC of the ancient Greece such as the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, or the artistic works of the Old Roman Empire which include the works of Horace, Luvius Andronicus, Gnaeus Naevius and Seneca, it is readily obvious why the general belief and ideology then is that of predestination. Sophocles’ King Oedipus for example re-emphasizes the fact that man is a victim of fate and destiny.
With the conception of such geniuses like William Shakespeare and John Milton in the literary scene, this idea is gradually decimated and finally dilacerated with the works of such Victorian writers like Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Manfield, Viginia Woolf and George Orwell. Just as a critic once commented:
“Literature in the period 1870-1945 reflects a world in transition, but literary writing in itself became a force in changing the way that world could be represented, valued and reflected on. This was also the era in which artists revolutionized the forms of their arts and in relation to the society, tradition and reality. Then, issues which continues to define our times _ access to education, question of democracy, gender equality, race and imperialism, sexuality, individualism _ were at the core of social upheaval. And at this time, ideas which have dominated twentieth century intellectual life___ including the thought of Darwin, Marx, and Freud _ first entered the wider cultural and political areas.”
Even apart from literature being capable of transmogrifying man’s perception of his cosmology, it can also instigate such emotional response like bravery, fear, cowardice, pity, empathy, sympathy, resentment, affection, etc in the audience. However, these responses are determined by the author’s dexterous use of words and ability to communicate his heart and intentions effectively. For example, one could hardly read Sophocles’ or Aeschylus’ plays without being caught up in perpetual fear of the unknown. Neither is it usually possible to come in contact with the divine afflatus imbedded in Shakespeare’s plays without loving his artistry and choice of words. Most of Achebe’s novels have also been deemed to initiate a feeling of empathy in the reader as it acquaints them with the situational dilution and confusion of a given ‘geographical expression.’ Similarly, Femi Osofisan’s comic histrionics, scatological jokes and musico-dramaturgy has been a good source of massive relief to his audience and admirers.
Therefore, the judgment of a literary piece based on its effectiveness in terms of how it affects the audience’ emotion remains the domain of psychoanalytic critics. However, contrary to the proponents of impressionalist fallacy, who argues that the readers’ response to a literary piece is the ultimate indication of its value, critics like W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley came up with the idea of affective fallacy (a term used to refer to the suppose error of judging or evaluating a text on the basis of its effects on the reader.) For Wimsatt, a view of literature based on his putative emotional effects will always be vulnerable to mystification and subjectivity. It is believed that such impressionistic approach poses practical and theoretical problems. Nevertheless, the extremism of Wimsatt’s approach is ultimately judged untenable by a number of critics.
A conscious effort has been made to expatiate on the didactic, entertainment, and affective function of literature though in a very concise and precise language. However, as it is shown in this paper, the aforementioned function of literature remains the ‘major’ reason for its continuous existence. Literature is the most effective tool of educating, entertaining and affecting the world.
Abrams, M. H. Glossary of Literary Terms
Ajuwon, Bode. Oral and Written Literature in Nigeria
Bunyan, John. Pilgrims Progress (1878)
Finnegan, Ruth. Oral Literature in Africa
Joseph George. African Literature in Understanding Contemporary Africa
Jostein (1991). Sophie’s World
Krasiski, Ignacy (1776). The Adventure of Nicholas Experience
Ligotti, Thomas. Literature is Entertainment or it is Nothing: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti by Dr Bentham (8/13/2005)
Obafemi, Olu. 50 years of Nigerian Literature (2012)
Omotosho, Kole. Theatrical into Theater
Osofisan, Femi. Midnight Hotels
Osofisan, Femi. Yungba-Yungba and the Dance Contest
Owonibi, Sola. The Political Consciousness in African Literature: A Critical Analysis of Selected Plays of Femi Osofisan: Emerging Perspective.
Oriakhi, Braimah. Introduction to Theater and Drama
Poe, Allen. Poetic Principle
Pope, Alexander. An Essay on Criticism (1711)
Rotimi, Ola. Grip Am
Rotimi, Ola. Our Husband has Gone Mad Again
Wehmier, Sally. Oxford Advance Learner Dictionary
Wimsatt. W. K. with Monroe Beardsley (1954). The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. University of Kentucky Press.

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