Literature in the Service of the Society: Uncovering the Hidden Facts

    Citation: Sama, K. M. & Sani, A-U. (2018). Literature in the Service of the Society: Uncovering the Hidden Facts. In Asigbo, A. C. et al. Journal of Linguistics, Language and Culture. Vol. 5, No. 1, PP 58-72, ISSN: 2408-5421. 

    Khadijat Muhammad SAMA (Ph.D)
    Department of Curriculum Studies and Educational Technology
    Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria

    Abu-Ubaida SANI
    Department of Educational Foundations
    Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria
    (+234) 08133529736


    The paper is primarily concerned with the role of literature to the society. In an attempt to do justice to this topic, the concept and nature of literature is carefully examined with a view to unveiling its fundamental value to the society. The focus however is on contemporary Nigeria. Several works of art by novelists, poets and playwrights in relation to their services to the society were examined. Some these literatures are: “Man of the People” of Achebe (1996), “A Walk in the Night” of Alex (1968), “Sacred Apples” of Gimba as well as “Building the Nation” Of Umukoro (2001) among others. It is observed that, literature serves as a social commentary indulging in pleasure and leisure to the bulk of humanity. The paper concludes that, literature can influence positive changes on the part of the individual as well as the society in general.


    The indisputable value of literature to man’s social existence can hardly be ascertained. This is owing to its numerous functions in the society. A part from its intellectual value in speeding up the horizon of mans’ intellect, literature provides both leisure and pleasure to the reader or the audience. Of its main enduring forces, it is capable of influencing changes which are not only veritable to the taste of time but also to man’s corporate existence in his social realm. It pierces through the surface of things to reveal their deep structure or their underlying realities. This is done with the aid of both creative and imaginative abilities of the writers who are well nurtured and informed about the cultural, social, economic and political terrain of their societies. Armed with these experiences, the writer is poised to practice his art with the sole aim of compelling man to act right in accordance with the dictates of the norms and values of the society in question. It is against this background that this paper draws from various literary works of art to throw more light on their services to man as a social being.

    The Nature of Literature

    The term literature has been assigned different definitions by various scholars viewing it from different but similar perspectives. Ojogan, (2004) described literature as medium of communication which has, as crucial to its nature, an artistic value, it must be purposeful to the extent of being instrumental to a change in the behavior of the target audience. In this regard, literature should not only make meaning or appeal to the audience but must also contain useful messages that could captivate and urge the individual or the society to have a rethink and possibly change his mindset, behavior or actions towards the right track.

    It has been noted that, by its nature, literature tells more about people, society, a situation, an experience in one compressed whole than any other record can. The printed word is certainly one of the most enduring ways of preserving ideas and memories (Vincent in Agoamanam, 2004). In like manner, Ikupa, (1996) viewed literature as the systematic study of man in his social and physical environment through artistically created stories, written or unwritten that have emotional appeal and reflect or portray the way man lives, has lived, can live, should live and may or will live.

    Similarly, Sani &Tsaure, (2017) noted that, literature of whatever kind sharpens the intellects, morale and attitudes of thereaders or the audience. What one writes and what one reads are invariably intertwined and or interwoven together. Thus, one cannot draw a line of demarcation or a kind of dichotomy between what one writes and what one reads. More so, crystal as it is, according to the words of Aristotle literature stands as the mirror of the society. It really x-rays the happenings of the society thereby depicting the life as it was, as it is and as it ought to be.

    Going by the above scholarly definitions of literature, it becomes very clear that literature is like a mirror placed on man in his environment. The reflection is thus portrayed through imaginative and creative ideas curved or fashioned out to educate, entertain, redirect, shape and inform both the individual and the society he lives. Literature is often categorized into three genres, namely prose, poetry and drama. Within these categories however, there exist numerous varieties occasioned by style, form and purpose. These may include novels, short stories, essays, songs, biographies, music, films, etc. All these are most of the time characterized by imaginations, meaningfulness of repression, good form and technique. Most literary works in modern times are written and printed, but there is also a long-standing history of oral literature.

    The writer, armed with his weapon (pen) diagnoses the society and spells out the best prescription of the multifarious ills facing it. He wields his sword to call to order and advocates his viewpoints be it social, cultural, economic, or political in nature. The message often conveyed is simple, “righteousness.”

    Among the numerous functions of literature to man is its emotional, intellectual and aesthetic value. Apart from informing and entertaining the reader or the audience, personal joy, pain (feeling) are expressed and shared through it. Perhaps, the most enduring and judicious role of literature to humanity is its power to influence positive change. In this connection, a literary piece is a force that affects people’s live and compels them to change their attitude and outlook in life. It stirs responses in them, rouses their emotions and argues for ideas that might change their minds. In support of this assertion, Agoamanam, (2002) is of the opinion that, through a mechanistic reflection of social reality, “the work of art does shape our attitudes to life to the daily struggle with nature, the daily struggle within a community and the daily struggle within our individual souls and selves.”

    Effect of Literature on Human Behavior

    Literature and human behavior are mutually interrelated and they influence each other respectively. It is obvious that the influence of literature is indispensable in human mind. (A’azamiyyun, 1962; Shirley, 1969; Helmut& Jurgen, 1991; Sani &Tsaure, 2016). Yet, what is written in literary works has a lot to do with the writer’s behavior, background, environment and personal philosophy (Sani, 2016). Bloom’s ideology of poetic influence is also salient here. Bloom affirms the influence of one’s literary write up on individuals, by concluding that: "one poet helps to form another" (Bloom, 1973:5). However, Helmut& Jurgen (1991) believed that, literature writings do not only influence the readers, rather they affect the ideology and thoughts of other writers.

    A series of studies have been conducted on the impact of fictional narrative experience on human behaviours (Green, Strange, & Brock, 2002). On the other hand, researches on different aspects of literature have been conducted in relation to different fields. For instance, such researches were conducted in organization studies, cognitive psychology and communication sciences (Appel; Appel & Richter in Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011). The studies however, show that the experience and events in literary works may alter people’s beliefs about the world in different ways (Wheeler, Green, & Brock, 1999; Marsh, Meade, & Roediger, 2003; Appel, 2008; Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011).

    Human attitudes, values and characters are sharpened as a result of literary works such individuals read. This is indeed one the reasons of motivating the production of more books that teach morals, humility, humbleness and kindness among others. Such books were used for teaching moral lessons to children (Eric, in Helmut& Jurgen, 1991).

    Shirley (1969) conducted a study on effect of reading on concepts, attitudes and behavior.  420 Arizona High School students were asked to report any changes in concepts, attitudes and behavior that they had experienced as a result of reading. Result of the study shows that, though the overwhelming number of changes occurred in the cognitive areas, about 15 percent of the reading influences results in behavioral changes.

    Similarly, Schneyer (1969) conducted research on effects of reading on children’s attitudes.  The research shows that, children’s stories have a positive effect, at least for a while on children. Similarly, Ferguson (2014) asserts that mass media (TV and Movies) is noted to have effect on children’s attitudes. Nonetheless, there have been contentious phenomenon as to “crossing the borders between the disciplines of law and literature” (Chompson, 2012:8). Mutual and inter disciplinary relationship is observed to exists between the field of law and literature (Anthony, 1999; Richard, 2002; Gwen, 2004; Chompson, 2012).

    Miall & Kuiken (2002) have proposed a typology of emotional reactions to fiction reading consisting of four types of feelings: evaluative, narrative, aesthetic, and self-modifying feelings.

    1. Evaluative feelings are reported by readers when they experience joy, pleasure, or satisfaction as a result of carrying out the activity of experiencing the narrative.

    2. Narrative feelings differ from evaluative feelings in that these are the feelings that are evoked by the events, characters, and the setting of the story within the narrative. Narrative feelings arise from the content of the narrative, that is, the events and characters in the imagined world of the text (Matthijs, Olivia, &Arnol, 2011). Example of such feelings is empathy with a character or resonance with the mood of a setting.
    3. Aesthetic feelings are reported by readers in response to the formal components of a narrative (e.g., the stylistic features of the text) (Matthijs, Olivia, &Arnol, 2011). An instance of such feelings is when a reader is struck by a particular metaphor that is used in the narrative.
    4. Self-modifying feelings refer to those feelings people have when a narration changes the image people have of themselves. They restructure the understanding of a text and simultaneously the understanding of the self.
    Notwithstanding, literary works could on the other hand definitely be affected (to some extent) by the central setting of the community (CNRS in Science Daily, 2014). Perhaps, “The central setting of the community in one way or the other is likely influenced by the writer’s mental power and experiences. Whatever the writer might say could then have elements of cultural influence” (Sani, 2016: 11-12).

    Literature in the Service of the Society

    The subject matter of literature as a work of art centers around the vicissitudes of life in the society. In Africa, it functions as a kind of social commentary. The artist, in a bid to re-orient, re-educate, inform, entertain, criticize, express a viewpoint, joy, anguish or tell history, uses his pen in a more passionate way to send the message across. Using any of the genres of literature, he explains and interprets the nuances of the society to those within and without. Literature being basically reflections of particular social conditions and relationships exposes the social happenings of the time. Agoamanam, (2003) is of the opinion that: “Although they have an autonomous existence and are produced by individuals who may hold divergent views about life, they have a more or less direct relationship with historical development.” However significant features of the role of literature in the service of the society can be vividly seen in many works of art of some African writers.

    In A Man of the People, for instance, Achebe (1996) gives expression to the disgust that most Nigerians in particular and African in general have felt with the mess that their elected representatives had made of their countries. The hypocritical double standard roles by the people are subtly unveiled for all to see. The trend still obtains today where the people hypocritically praise, sing and dance to the tunes of corrupt leaders; an evident display of strong moral decadence. Incidents involving corruption and the misuse of public funds are portrayed in a restless search for a new form of society. Alex, (1968) creates a powerful impression of the rhythm of violence which characterizes South African life under the apartheid system of government in his short novel A Walk in the Night.

    However, The Sacred Apples by Abubakar Gimba portrays an image of Northern Nigeria’s women as well as gender-based controversies. Nonetheless, most of such controversies are introduced to Northern Nigerian women by the teachings of the Western world. Such assertions could be considered anti-religious as well as anti-cultural ideologies. This is because, religious scriptures – The Qur’an and The Bible, as having majority of followers in Nigeria – have prescribed how individual’s lives should be in general. Gender issues not excluded, thus all prescriptions are made on the rights and obligations of both men and women accordingly.

    In his contributions, Barlow cited in Umokoro (2001) used irony and contrast in his poem Building the Nation to exposes the idea of cheating the nation while claiming to be building it; a common feature in African nations. In just seven stanzas, the artist exposes the ruling elites who engage in trivial self-serving pleasures under the guise of building the nation, while the masses, (cooks, drivers, body guards) who serve them closely witness the way the wealth of the nation is being squandered at lavish and wasteful parties, which contribute nothing to the economy. In a similar development, Armah, (1968) treats the societal ills of bribery and corruption, which has eaten deep into the fabrics of many African countries with particular reference to pre and post independent Ghana. In the light of the above Iwuchukwu (2000) posits that: “The entire study is a mass of mental photograph of the very bruises and intractable decay and corruption which Ghana, nay, Africa has been bespattered with.”

    With the aid of his kutigi (a Hausa musical instrument) Dan Maraya has sung for the total liberation of South Africa. Today his songs discuss many social evils and happenings. To the audience, Dan Maraya provides both amusement and enlightenment with his wonderful performance. In the same vein, the play; The Lion and the Jewel, by Soyinka (1984), explains the sharp contrast between western and African cultures. Accidents of history made Africans hold at high esteem the new culture brought about by the so-called modernity (Europeans). In a bid to reawaken Africans to value their traditions, Soyinka portrayed the triumph of African cultures over western ones.

    Ethnicity, social exclusion and disadvantage, illiteracy and religious intolerance remain the major hindrances of national integration in Nigeria, socially. (Ferguson, 2008; Etim& Wilfred, 2013; Edosa, 2014; Udoh, 2015). However, in his Hausa language poem ‘WakarHadinKan Africa’ (Poem for African Integration), Abubakar Ladan Zariya calls for integration thus shunning such differences, so as to promote sustainable national and or regional development.

    From the foregoing discussion, it becomes clear that, an artist is an influential force to reckon with as he shares in the burdens of the society, appreciate their problems and seeks solutions to the problems. In his own right, he serves as the voice of the voiceless and powerless in the society. The message he sends across does not only revolves around the social vices in the community but extends to issues of religion, heroic praises and expressions of love to provide both information and entertainment to the readers and or the audience away from the many struggles and hustles in life. Some of these beautiful pieces of literary art dwells in putting smiles on the faces of the people through either their themes or narrative styles. Full of moral and useful lessons, literature is resplendent in all the finery the society can provide.


    Literary works in Nigeria and of course in Africa as a whole could serve as good channels towards re-education and re-generating the society to meet the desired target. The artist in his quest to chart a new course of actions needed for the betterment of his community resort to the use of his weapon (insight) to provide what could best be described as a criticism of the ills of the society. The beautiful process serves as a message of hope in the searchlight for a better society. This paper has thus, examined the nature of literature and its relevance to the society. Some literary works were carefully highlighted to reveal the vast hidden messages of the skilled artists in their bid to put things right. Conscious of their divergent messages, one could only imagine the benefits of these work had they for once not only been looked into but adhered to.


    Going by the above discussions, it is only evident that literature can influence positive changes at both the individual and societal levels. Conscious of the fact that with a few exceptions, literature is poorly appreciated or embraced in the country, the paper cannot but make some suggestions for literary appreciation in such states as Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara. The suggestions are:

    1. There should be training and retraining of teachers to equip them with the necessary techniques and competences to handle literary works in their classes thereby motivating the learners to excel in it.

    2. More writers should be encouraged to write by a show of keen interest in reading by the society. In this connection, the grit should make use of contemporary works in their institutions of learning via the primary, secondary and even tertiary levels.
    3. The novelists, poets and playwrights should deal directly with the current issues affecting the African continent in general and Nigeria in particular. Issues like politics, economic crises, corruption, security, power supply, child abuse/labor, women trafficking, hooliganism (area boys and girls), double standard games, lip and eye services, unemployment are some of the many areas that need further flogging literature wise.
    4. Students should be made to benefit from literary diet by making sure that literature is taught in schools. Many schools do not encourage the learning of literature. This is quite unfortunate because they could benefit immensely with it as it could enhance mastery of the language and provide popularity and gainful employment for the students.

    5. The problem of cultural alienation on the part of the teachers and the parents (especially in the northern part of the country) should be adequately checked. Literature is much more important and relevant to almost every society. The English language is only a means of communication in this respect. It is therefore left for the society to fine tune it to suit its needs in line with the dictates of the religious and socio-cultural terrain or way of life of their people.

    6. Though it is common place to find Hausa literary work in Kano state of northern Nigeria, the themes in most cases revolves around love and family issues. We need to take a giant stride to tackle issues (too numerous to mention) eating the backbone and deterring sustainable development of the Nigerian society.


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