Why English?

Many times people ask why someone would choose to study English, take English classes, or become an English major or minor. Richard Jacobs, the author of Literature in Our Lives, offers 12 reasons to study English literature. Here are some additional perspectives from students and professors in our department.

Why Read?

Students in Dr. Carr’s Fall 2020 ENG 110 Literary Perspectives course were asked to consider the question ‘Why read?’ in relation to the course texts. Here are some of their answers about the significance of literature and writing to our everyday lives.

Sara Frosolone, “Literature as Enlightenment”

As a society, we have been reading books to educate ourselves in ways that some classrooms cannot. It is a mode of escape from reality to intricately digest information that we have not been previously exposed to. However, what is so special about a literary perspective? Many authors carefully craft works such as Homegoing, The Handmaid’s Tale, and “The Metamorphosis,” to share their uncovered messages with the public eye. The ideas contained in literature shed light on contemporary issues, such as stigmatization, by offering a range of possible futures that our society may experience if we do not fully understand all aspects of these problems before trying to find a solution. This deeper knowledge is found through the different viewpoints exemplified in writing. . . . . . . . literature allows readers to understand complex emotions and events without having to experience them first hand. While reading a novel or short story, it is human nature to compare the encounters of the characters with our own knowledge. In this way, we can be exposed to perspectives that alter our previous ways of thinking. The ideas of systemic racism in Homegoing, female oppression in The Handmaid’s Tale, and societal ostracism in “The Metamorphosis” brings out new understandings in readers that can elicit change for a better world.

Catherine Larrow, “Born in Literature”

Our perspective of the world is so individual to ourselves. We experience the world through our own eyes and our own interpretations. It is a human tendency to be very biased based on our experiences and therefore very isolated in our own mind. Writing develops your story and your identity. Reading cures loneliness, letting us relate to something bigger than just ourselves. Altogether, it is both the reader and the writer that creates this harmony in the world. One can not exist without the other, that is why literature is essential. Language shapes our world, allowing billions of vastly different stories to come together to create one cohesive unit. Literature is the mode by which humanity is created, and in order to connect to the world we must consume and contribute to the literary world.By writing, you share your mind. You show how you see the world, the insights that others might not have, opinions others might not agree with, and stories others might see differently. To tell your story is saying, “my self is a thing I must now compose,” I must tell my story because my story is unique and my identity is distinct (Atwood 66). . . .

. . . Reading the stories which other individuals have written allows us to connect our story to theirs. It is the reader’s responsibility to hear the story being told, allowing the writer to share their point of view. The writer creates to tell the story to someone, as if “because I’m telling you this story I will your existence,” (Atwood 268). This dependence on the reader is why literature is so essential to humanity. Without the reader, is anyone listening? Without the reader, is there even a story? Stories, ideas, and imagination would be lost into the void without the reader being there to capture them. Reading does not necessarily preserve these stories in their original form, rather it emphasizes what is important to the reader. Writers put into the writing what they need to express, while readers take out of the readings what they need to hear. It is the remedy for loneliness because no matter the story, you will find similarities to your own life since we are designed to think about ourselves in relation to things. In Charles Yu’s essay, titled ‘Systems,’ he writes, “community is how it spreads. Community is how it is solved,” (Yu 20). While this quote was designed to understand the current pandemic, I believe this is the core of humanity. If we view the nonexistence of humanity as a pandemic, literature is the cure. Literature is how humanity spreads. Literature is how humanity is granted. We make each other human, sharing our differences, our ideas, our stories. It is vital to share, and to receive, to be totally invested in this community to create humanity.

Why Choose English?

At the 2011 Sigma Tau Delta (English honor society) induction, Dr. Laurel (associate professor emeritus) gave an excellent speech about "Why English?" which makes some strong statements about why English is a great choice as a major. At the fall 2011 induction, Dr. Laurel gave another excellent speech titled "Three Revolutions," which also has some good information about why English is a great choice, even now.

How can a major or minor in English or minor in writing studies help you now and throughout your career? What does it mean to be an English major/minor or writing studies minor? Do English majors get jobs? There are some common myths about English majors that just aren't true.  

Five Common Myths about English Majors

  1. All you can do with an English degree is become an English teacher!
    Not true! (However, there's nothing wrong with becoming a teacher!) English majors work in many diverse fields besides education, including: editing and publishing, freelance writing, journalism, library and information science, Web design, business, law, and medicine. English majors often go on to professional school in English (obviously), but also pursue professional degrees in law, business and even medicine.

  2. English majors don't get jobs, or they only get jobs that require you to say, "Would you like fries with that?"
    English courses teach you to read critically and write well. Plenty of employers are eagerly seeking employees with those skills. Also, you can explore careers and make employment connections while still an undergraduate by doing an internship at a local business or organization. You'll even get course credit! Or, check out our English Major Job Help site written by one of our NU majors for lots of resources about possible employment for English majors.

  3. English courses are all about reading boring books that have no relevance to your life!
    Well, if you find books boring, English is probably not the major for you. However, our literature courses are designed to help you understand how other people saw our world through literature and to acquire a variety of critical and theoretical perspectives. Our writing courses teach you about the theoretical, rhetorical, and practical aspects of producing different types of writing such as science writing, ethnography and travel writing, classical rhetoric, editing and publishing and writing for the Web.

  4. You have to have perfect grammar and spelling to be an English major!
    Part of your education should be improving your writing skills and English courses will certainly help you to be a better writer. However, we don't ask that you be perfect when you join us.

  5. An English degree won't help me go to law, medical, or any professional school!
    Plenty of English majors have gone on to law school, medical school, or business school. Advisors can help you choose courses in other fields that mesh well with an English degree and prepare your applications.