Recovering American Literature, by Peter Shaw
One of the peculiar luxuries that literature has always afforded us is the chance to experience to the full the kind of conflicted emotions we often have to suppress in our daily lives. Confronted with a painful dilemma in our own experience, we are forced to shut out certain perceptions, longings, sympathies in order to act upon others. Confronted with a painful dilemma in the life of a fictional character, we need shut out nothing; since no action is required of us, we can respond to all the competing claims on our sympathies.
This is surely at least part of what was meant when it used to be claimed that reading was a broadening experience. And by this reckoning, the greatest novelists are those who make us feel most intensely the conflicts their characters face, conveying both the anguish and the necessity of making impossible choices.
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