Relationship between literature and society in detail

Relationship between literature and society

The relationship between literature and society is symbiotic in nature. Sometimes, literature works as a mirror where many of the features of a society are reflected, for example, the novels of manners. But also, some publications can serve as role models, as in the case of self-help books.

Thus, in this relationship, there is two-way feedback: speculate and model. Literature is a reflection of the society that reveals several of its values ​​and shortcomings. In turn, society has always reacted and has even changed its social patterns thanks to an awakening of consciousness as a result of literature.

Precisely, the most obvious relationship between literature and society is that corrective function. Many authors intentionally reflect the evils of society so that human beings realize their mistakes and make the necessary corrections. Similarly, they can project virtues or good values ​​for people to emulate.

On the other hand, literature constitutes a simulation of human action. Their representations often reflect what people think, say, and do in society. Relationship between literature and society

In literature, stories are designed to portray human life and action. This portrait is made through the words, action and reaction of the different characters.

Literature has a social character since the writer lives in society, creates a work that reflects, criticizes or praises that society and seeks an audience that will read his work also immersed in a given society. For all these reasons, literature and society are two elements that interact, are a reflection of each other and maintain a complex dialectical relationship.


Literature maintains a deep relationship with the society that surrounds it at the time it is created. Later, a literary work influences other times and other societies because it serves as a reflection that allows readers to situate themselves in those moments and get to know them. But let’s not forget that the true objective of a literary work is not only to be a social mirror. Literature seeks aesthetic pleasure, that the reader enjoy reading.

Let us now see the relationships established between literature and society; the role of the author and the reader, the teaching of literature as an educational element, the importance of literature as a maintainer of traditions and customs, and the social elements that encourage or discourage literary creation.


Literature is a social phenomenon : it is produced in society, part of society and its destiny is society.

In other words: society is the subject of the literary work, also the object and, finally, the recipient of it.

Literature and society influence each other. Society conditions literary creation, influences themes and forms. In turn, literature influences the society of its time and literature itself.



An author creates his work from his point of view, his perspective, his character: but he also writes it as part of a society and a specific historical moment. The author cannot isolate himself from everything that surrounds him. Customs, religion, ethics, ideology, economy and politics condition literary creation.

There are two social factors that directly affect an author when creating :

-Being persecuted for his ideas, the appearance of censorship that will mutilate or prohibit his works.

-On the contrary, the support of the institutions that will facilitate their work.

Faced with the social norms and values ​​that prevail in it, the author can adopt several positions :

– Conformism . Accept the dominant ideology and morality.

– Nonconformity . He disagrees with the established values ​​and openly criticizes them, for which, in many cases, he ends up being persecuted or exiled.

– Evasion . He escapes from the social problems that surround him and settles in other worlds (imaginary places, his childhood, a better future…).


Every literary work needs a reader for the communication process to be completed: author (sender)-work (message)-reader (receiver) .

This process may encounter some obstacles.

– The level of linguistic competence writer-reader is different ; thus, some readers find themselves unable to read and enjoy literary works such as Don Quixote or One Hundred Years of Solitude .

– Distance and historical diversity between the writer and the author . To fully understand some works we must know the sociocultural context in which they were written, on the one hand, and the sociocultural context they describe, on the other. If we are too far removed from the culture, society, history and language in which a work was created, we will not fully enjoy it.

Theories about the relationship between literature and society

Many authors have explored the issue of the relationship between literature and society. From their reflections, they have proposed several theories to try to explain it. Some of them are detailed below.

Reflection theory

Traditionally, reflection theory has been the central perspective for sociologists studying literature. They have basically established its use as an information base about society.

According to this theory, the relationship between literature and society is speculative. That is, literature acts as a mirror that reflects the virtues and vices of human societies. According to its defenders, it stores information about the behavior of humans and their social values .

In this way, literary texts are written as a reflection of the economy, family relationships, climate, and landscapes. There are also endless themes that motivate its production. Among them are morality, race, class, political events, wars, and religion.

However, today, this reflective theory as an explanation of the relationship between literature and society has its detractors. Thus, a group of sociologists assumes reflection as a metaphor.

They argue that literature is based on the social world, but selectively, magnifying some aspects of reality, and ignoring others. Relationship between literature and society

Despite these considerations, some sociological studies maintain the perspective of a mirror relationship. This is especially used in research related to social studies where, with some restrictions, literary evidence provides information.

Structural reflex theory

The theory of structural reflection is another attempt to explain the relationship between literature and society. In this theory we speak of a more sophisticated type of reflection. In this sense, it is argued that it is the form or structure of literary works rather than their content that incorporates the social.

Among the most prominent proponents of this theory is the Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács (1885-1971). Indeed, Lukács affirmed that it was not the content of literary works that reflect the author’s social world, but the categories of thought contained in these productions.

Very soon, other philosophers joined this current of thought, and made their contributions as well. Among them, the French philosopher Lucien Goldmann (1913-1970) proposed the concept of a homologous relationship between the structure of literary works and the structures of the author’s social context.

Goldmann’s work, while influential at the time of its publication, has been eclipsing with the emergence of more recent theories.

These developments have cast doubt on whether literature incorporates unique meanings that identify social levels. However, this theory still has a following and is still under investigation.

High culture / popular culture theory

This theory, as an expression of the relationship between literature and society, has its origin in the schools of Marxist thought of the 1960s and 1980s.

According to its postulates, there are two types of socially divided culture. On the one hand, there are the ruling classes and, on the other, the dominated (exploited by the ruling class).

The proponents of this philosophy saw culture (including literature) as a mechanism of oppression. They did not see it as a reflection of what society was, but as a view of what it could be.

In his opinion, the ruling classes through a popular (or mass) culture alienated the rest of society for economic reasons

Thus, mass culture was seen as a destructive force, imposed on a passive audience by the machinery of a capitalist culture industry. Relationship between literature and society

The objective was to achieve the apathy of the dominated classes before their own social and economic problems. In this way, their social behavior was shaped.

For their part, the detractors of this philosophy argued that mass culture was the origin of progressive human movements such as feminism, conservationists and human rights , among others. According to them, this was an example of reaction and not of behavior shaping, as the theory preached.

Theory of implicit reflection

Followers of implicit reflective theory are convinced that the relationship between literature and society is one of molding. They consider that literature is exemplary of sociological concepts and theories that are replicated in society. They base their affirmation on spontaneous facts of the society as a result of literary writings.

Proponents of this theory cite numerous examples to support its basic principles. One of them is the ecological reaction of society to futuristic literary writings.

In this class of texts, the authors usually present a world impoverished of natural resources. The landscape of these works is characterized by deforestation and the disappearance of species. In this way, these theorists refer to the reaction of communities in defense of their environment as model induced behavior. Relationship between literature and society

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