The Great Gatsby, 1984, Romeo and Juliet, The Road Not Taken -- do these titles ring a bell to you? You have probably read a line or two aloud in class or have been tasked to write a review or a critical analysis for at least one of these titles, so it is no surprise if they do seem familiar to you. You may wonder why these titles, together with several other works from long ago are always part of your Literature class 101. Well, the answer is simple: all these literary works are considered as classic literature. The previous statement, of course, raises other questions. Why are they considered classics? Who decided that they are all classics? And most importantly, what, exactly, are the qualities of “classic” literature? Up until now, the characteristics of what makes a piece of literature a classic is still up for debate, especially since there is technically no one correct view of the classics. However, there are core qualities that seem to never leave the criteria of what makes a classic literary work. So without further ado, here are the central qualities of classic literature:
The ability of a piece of literature to be relevant in any era is undeniably one of the key qualities of classic literature. It explores themes that are timely when it was created and continues to remain timely for future generations. You may have noticed that most of the works in the classics list aren’t quite recent, and this is mainly because of the fact that classic literature must be considered timeless. Not every story, novel, poem, or play has the ability to stay important to its readers for a long time, but a classic does. The following qualities shall also explain how classic literature remains timely and timeless.
Reflects and presents truth
It is no secret that the greatest literature written reflects the human condition--the truth and rawness of it all. Additionally, they tackle very real conflicts and capture how we respond and may respond to them. Greed and ambition in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, justice and injustice in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserablés, and morality and racism in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are excellent examples of themes and works that present true conflicts we struggle with. By presenting such themes and struggles, characters in classic literature feel human and become more human to its readers.
Readers do not necessarily connect with the bravest, kindest, nor the most cunning characters. Instead, the most well-written characters and voices in literature are the ones who feel most human--the ones who are imperfect and flawed, unsure and doubtful, and overall characters who go through many battles and not win all of them, just like a normal person experience in the walk of life. Alternatively, readers also rarely feel connected to narratives that are simple and black and white, and this is why it is important for literary works to present substantial conflicts that further reveals the depth of the human condition. By having its characters respond to different kinds of scenarios with authentic human emotions and wit, classic literature allows readers to have a genuine experience of living different but still incredibly relatable lives through the eyes of others.
Generates a never-ending discourse
One of the best things about classic literary works is that they never fail to generate a continuous discourse. Classic literature does not only evoke strong emotions, but it also keeps its readers thinking. It has layers of meaning, and may most likely convey something new through every discussion or after every read. These little nuggets of discovery we come upon with every read of a literary piece is what makes classic literature more intriguing and appealing. Overall, it is safe to say that these qualities of classic literature are what makes it universal and loved by countless of readers for all time.