What is Literature – Definition, Types, Examples

What is Literature



Literature refers to written works of imaginative, artistic, or intellectual value, typically characterized by the use of language to convey ideas, emotions, and experiences. It encompasses various forms of written expression, such as novels, poems, plays, essays, short stories, and other literary works.

History of Literature

The history of literature spans thousands of years and includes works from many different cultures and languages. Here is a brief overview of some of the major periods and movements in the history of literature:

Ancient Literature (3000 BCE – 500 CE)

  • Ancient Mesopotamian Literature (3000 BCE – 2000 BCE): This period includes the earliest known writings, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian epic poem that explores themes of friendship, mortality, and the search for immortality.
  • Ancient Greek Literature (800 BCE – 200 BCE): This era produced works by legendary writers such as Homer, known for the Iliad and the Odyssey, and playwrights like Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, who wrote tragic plays exploring human nature and the conflicts between gods and mortals.
  • Ancient Roman Literature (200 BCE – 500 CE): Roman literature included works by poets like Virgil (known for the Aeneid) and historians like Livy and Tacitus, who chronicled the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

Medieval Literature (500 CE – 1500 CE)

  • Early Medieval Literature (500 CE – 1000 CE): During this period, literature was mainly religious and included works such as Beowulf, an Old English epic poem, and The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, an Italian epic poem that describes the journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.
  • High Medieval Literature (1000 CE – 1300 CE): This era saw the emergence of troubadour poetry in Provence, France, which celebrated courtly love, as well as the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, such as The Canterbury Tales, which combined diverse stories and social commentary.
  • Late Medieval Literature (1300 CE – 1500 CE): Notable works from this period include Dante’s Divine Comedy, Petrarch’s sonnets, and the works of Christine de Pizan, an early feminist writer.

Renaissance Literature (14th – 17th centuries)

  • Italian Renaissance Literature (14th – 16th centuries): This period witnessed the flourishing of humanism and produced works by authors such as Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio, who emphasized the individual, the secular, and the revival of classical themes and styles.
  • English Renaissance Literature (16th – 17th centuries): This era saw the works of William Shakespeare, including his plays such as Hamlet and Macbeth, which explored complex human emotions and the human condition. Other notable writers include Christopher Marlowe and Edmund Spenser.

Enlightenment Literature (17th – 18th centuries)

  • This period marked a shift towards reason, rationality, and the questioning of established beliefs and systems. Influential writers during this time included René Descartes, John Locke, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot.

Romanticism (late 18th – mid-19th centuries)

  • Romantic literature emphasized individual emotion, imagination, and nature. Key figures include William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats.

Victorian Literature (19th century)

  • This era was characterized by the reign of Queen Victoria and featured writers such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, and Oscar Wilde.

Modernist Literature (late 19th – early 20th centuries)

  • Modernist literature emerged as a response to the social, political, and technological changes of the time. It is characterized by experimentation with narrative structure, language, and perspective. Notable modernist writers include T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust.

Postmodern Literature (mid-20th century – present)

  • Postmodern literature challenges traditional notions of narrative and reality. It often incorporates elements of metafiction, intertextuality, and fragmented narratives. Prominent postmodern authors include Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Salman Rushdie, and Margaret Atwood.

Contemporary Literature (late 20th century – present)

  • Contemporary literature encompasses a wide range of diverse voices and styles. It explores various themes and addresses contemporary issues, reflecting the cultural, social, and political contexts of the present time. Notable contemporary authors include Toni Morrison, J.K. Rowling, Haruki Murakami, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Zadie Smith.

Types of Literature

Types of Literature are as follows:

  • Poetry
  • Prose
  • Novel
  • Novella
  • Short story
  • Graphic novel
  • Electronic literature
  • Nonfiction
  • Drama


Poetry is a form of literature that uses language to convey emotions or ideas in a concise and often rhythmic manner. Poetry has been around for centuries, with many different cultures creating their own unique styles. While some people may view poetry as difficult to understand, there is often great beauty in its simplicity. Whether you are looking to read poems for enjoyment or to better analyze literary works, understanding the basics of poetry can be very helpful.

Examples of Poetry in Literature

There are countless examples of poetry in literature, ranging from ancient works to contemporary masterpieces. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot (1915): This modernist poem explores themes of alienation, identity, and the human condition.
  • Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas (1951): This villanelle is a powerful meditation on death and the struggle for survival.
  • The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot (1922): This epic poem is a complex and multi-layered exploration of the modern world and its spiritual emptiness.
  • The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (1845): This famous poem is a haunting and macabre exploration of grief, loss, and the supernatural.
  • Sonnet 18″ by William Shakespeare (1609): This classic sonnet is a beautiful and romantic tribute to the beauty of the beloved.
  • Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats (1819): This ode is a sublime exploration of the power of beauty and the transcendent experience of art.
  • The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (1916): This famous poem is a contemplative meditation on choices, regrets, and the uncertainties of life.

These are just a few examples of the many works of poetry that exist in literature. Poetry can explore a wide range of themes and emotions, using language and imagery to create powerful and moving works of art.


Prose is a type of written language that typically contains dialogue and narration. In literature, prose is the most common form of writing. Prose can be found in novels, short stories, plays, and essays.

Examples of Prose in Literature

The Essays” by Michel de Montaigne (1580) – This collection of prose is a seminal work of the French Renaissance and is credited with popularizing the use of personal reflections in prose literature. Montaigne’s writing style in these works is informal and conversational, and covers a vast range of topics including morality, philosophy, religion, and politics. The prose is notable for its intimacy and personal nature, as Montaigne often uses his own experiences and thoughts to illustrate his ideas.


A novel is a fictional book that is typically longer than 300 pages. It tells a story, usually in chronological order, and has characters and settings that are developed over the course of the story. Novels are often divided into chapters, which help to break up the story and make it easier to read.

Novels are one of the most popular genres of literature, and there are many different types of novels that you can read. Whether you’re looking for a romance novel, a mystery novel, or a historical fiction novel, there’s sure to be a book out there that you’ll love.

Examples of Novels in Literature

  • “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes (1605) – This novel is considered one of the greatest works of Spanish literature and is a satirical take on chivalric romance. It follows the adventures of a delusional knight, Don Quixote, and his loyal squire, Sancho Panza.
  • “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe (1719) – This novel is considered one of the earliest examples of the English novel and is a tale of survival and self-reliance. It follows the story of a man named Robinson Crusoe, who is stranded on a deserted island for 28 years.
  • “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen (1813) – This novel is considered one of the greatest works of English literature and is a romantic comedy of manners. It follows the story of Elizabeth Bennet and her complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy, a wealthy landowner.
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1960) – This novel is a classic of American literature and deals with issues of race, class, and justice in the American South during the 1930s. It follows the story of a young girl named Scout and her experiences with racism and prejudice.
  • “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) – This novel is considered a masterpiece of American literature and is a social commentary on the decadence and excess of the Roaring Twenties. It follows the story of Jay Gatsby, a wealthy and mysterious man, and his obsession with a woman named Daisy Buchanan.


A novella is a work of fiction that is shorter than a novel but longer than a short story. The word “novella” comes from the Italian word for “new”, which is fitting because this type of story is often seen as being between the old and the new. In terms of length, a novella typically has about 20,000 to 40,000 words.

While novels are usually about one main plot with several subplots, novellas are usually focused on one central conflict. This conflict is usually resolved by the end of the story. However, because novellas are longer than short stories, there is more room to develop characters and explore themes in depth.

Examples of Novella in Literature

  • “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad (1899) – This novella is a powerful and haunting portrayal of European imperialism in Africa. It follows the journey of a steamboat captain named Marlow, who is sent to find a man named Kurtz deep in the Congo.
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway (1952) – This novella is a Pulitzer Prize-winning story of an aging Cuban fisherman named Santiago and his epic struggle to catch a giant marlin. It is a testament to the resilience and determination of the human spirit.
  • “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka (1915) – This novella is a surreal and disturbing tale of a man named Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. It explores themes of isolation, identity, and the human condition.
  • “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck (1937) – This novella is a tragic story of two migrant workers, George and Lennie, who dream of owning their own farm but are thwarted by their own limitations and the harsh realities of the Great Depression. It is a powerful commentary on the American Dream and the plight of the working class.
  • “Animal Farm” by George Orwell (1945) – This novella is a satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism. It follows the story of a group of farm animals who overthrow their human owner and create their own society, only to be corrupted by their own leaders. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of totalitarianism and propaganda.

Short story

A short story is a work of fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents.

The short story is one of the oldest forms of literature and has been found in oral cultures as well as in written form. In terms of length, it is much shorter than the novel, typically ranging from 1,000 to 20,000 words.

The short story has often been described as a “perfect form” because it allows for greater compression and variety than either the novel or poem. It also allows writers to experiment with different styles and genres.

Examples of Short Story in Literature

  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe (1843) – This classic horror story is a chilling portrayal of a murderer who is haunted by the sound of his victim’s heartbeat. It is a masterful example of Poe’s psychological and suspenseful writing style.
  • “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (1948) – This controversial short story is a commentary on the dark side of human nature and the dangers of blind adherence to tradition. It follows the annual tradition of a small town that holds a lottery, with a surprising and shocking ending.
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (1905) – This heartwarming story is a classic example of a holiday tale of selflessness and sacrifice. It follows the story of a young couple who each give up their most prized possession to buy a gift for the other.
  • “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway (1933) – This minimalist story is a reflection on the existential angst and loneliness of modern life. It takes place in a cafe late at night and explores the relationships between the patrons and the waiter.
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) – This feminist short story is a powerful critique of the medical establishment and the treatment of women’s mental health. It follows the story of a woman who is confined to her bedroom and becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper on the walls.

Graphic novel

A graphic novel is a book that tells a story through the use of illustrations and text. Graphic novels can be based on true stories, or they can be fictional. They are usually longer than traditional books, and they often have more complex plots.

Graphic novels first gained popularity in the 1970s, when publishers began releasing collections of comics that had been previously published in magazines. Since then, the genre has grown to include original works, as well as adaptations ofexisting stories.

Graphic novels are now widely respected as a form of literature, and they have been adapted into many different mediums, including movies, television shows, and stage plays.

Examples of Graphic Novels in Literature

  • Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-1987) – This graphic novel is considered one of the greatest works of the medium and is a deconstruction of the superhero genre. It follows a group of retired superheroes who come out of retirement to investigate the murder of one of their own.
  • Maus” by Art Spiegelman (1980-1991) – This Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel is a harrowing and poignant account of a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and his strained relationship with his son. The characters are depicted as animals, with the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.
  • Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi (2000-2003) – This autobiographical graphic novel is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. It follows the author’s experiences growing up in Iran and then moving to Europe as a teenager.
  • “Sandman” by Neil Gaiman (1989-1996) – This epic fantasy series is a masterful exploration of mythology, literature, and human nature. It follows the story of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, as he navigates through the world of dreams and interacts with characters from across time and space.
  • “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller (1986) – This influential graphic novel is a gritty and realistic portrayal of an aging Batman who comes out of retirement to fight crime in a dystopian future. It is credited with revolutionizing the Batman character and inspiring a new era of darker and more mature superhero stories.

Electronic literature

Electronic literature, also known as e-literature, is a genre of writing that uses electronic media to create works of art. This type of literature often includes elements of interactivity, hypertextuality, and multimedia.

E-literature has its roots in early computer games and interactive fiction. These early works were created using simple text-based programming languages like BASIC and HTML. Today, e-literature has evolved into a complex form of art that incorporates multimedia elements such as audio and video.

Examples of Electronic Literature in Literature

  • Afternoon: A Story” by Michael Joyce (1987) – This hypertext fiction is considered one of the earliest examples of electronic literature. It is a nonlinear narrative that can be read in multiple paths and contains multimedia elements like images and sound.
  • Patchwork Girl” by Shelley Jackson (1995) – This hypertext novel is a retelling of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” that uses digital media to explore the themes of identity, gender, and creation. It contains animated graphics, video, and sound.
  • The Dreamlife of Letters” by Brian Kim Stefans (2000) – This work of interactive poetry uses computer algorithms to generate new poems based on the user’s input. It combines traditional poetic forms with digital technologies to create a unique reading experience.
  • Flight Paths” by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph (2007) – This work of electronic literature is a collaborative multimedia project that explores the lives of immigrants and refugees. It combines text, video, and audio to create an immersive and interactive experience.
  • “Inanimate Alice” by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph (2005-2016) – This interactive digital novel follows the story of a young girl named Alice as she grows up in a world of technology and media. It uses a combination of text, video, animation, and sound to create a unique and engaging narrative.


Non-fiction in literature is defined as prose writings that are based on real events, people, or places. Non-fiction is often divided into categories such as biography, history, and essay.

Examples of Non-fiction in Literature

  • The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin (1859) – This landmark book is one of the most influential works in the history of science. It lays out Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and provides evidence for the descent of all living things from a common ancestor.
  • “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965) – This autobiography is a candid and powerful account of Malcolm X’s life as an African American civil rights leader. It explores his journey from a troubled youth to a powerful orator and activist, and provides insights into the social and political climate of the time.
  • The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan (1963) – This groundbreaking book is a seminal work of feminist literature. It critiques the idea of the “happy housewife” and argues that women’s social roles and expectations are limiting and oppressive.
  • “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander (2010) – This book is a powerful critique of the criminal justice system and its impact on communities of color. It argues that the system perpetuates racial inequality and provides a call to action for reform.


Drama is a genre of literature that tells a story through the use of dialogue and action. It often has a strong plot and characters who undergo change or development over the course of the story. Drama can be divided into several subgenres, such as tragedy, comedy, and farce.

Examples of Drama in Literature

  • Hamlet” by William Shakespeare (1603) – This tragedy is considered one of the greatest plays ever written. It tells the story of Prince Hamlet of Denmark and his quest for revenge against his uncle, who murdered his father and married his mother.
  • A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen (1879) – This play is a landmark work of modern drama. It explores themes of gender roles, marriage, and personal identity through the story of a married woman who decides to leave her husband and children in order to discover herself.
  • Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller (1949) – This play is a powerful critique of the American Dream and the pressures of modern society. It tells the story of a salesman named Willy Loman and his family, as they struggle to come to terms with the realities of their lives.
  • Fences” by August Wilson (1985) – This play is part of Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle,” a series of ten plays that explore the African American experience in the 20th century. It tells the story of a former Negro League baseball player named Troy Maxson and his relationship with his family.

Also see Literature Review

Examples of Literature

Examples of Literature are as follows:

  • Novels:
    • “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides
    • “Normal People” by Sally Rooney
    • “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
    • “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Plays:
    • “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
    • “The Ferryman” by Jez Butterworth
    • “The Inheritance” by Matthew Lopez
    • “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage
  • Poetry:
    • “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman (inaugural poem at the 2021 U.S. presidential inauguration)
    • “The Tradition” by Jericho Brown
    • “Homie” by Danez Smith
    • “The Carrying” by Ada Limón
  • Film:
    • “Call Me by Your Name” (2017) directed by Luca Guadagnino (based on the novel by André Aciman)
    • “The Great Gatsby” (2013) directed by Baz Luhrmann (based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    • “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001-2003) directed by Peter Jackson (based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien)
    • “The Handmaiden” (2016) directed by Park Chan-wook (based on the novel “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters)
  • Music:
    • “Lemonade” (2016) by Beyoncé (visual album with accompanying poetry and prose)
    • “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015) by Kendrick Lamar (rap album with dense lyrical storytelling)
    • “I See You” (2017) by The xx (album inspired by themes of love and connection)
    • “Carrie & Lowell” (2015) by Sufjan Stevens (folk album exploring personal and familial themes)
  • Digital platforms:
    • Blogs and online articles that discuss literary analysis, book reviews, and creative writing
    • Online literary magazines and journals publishing contemporary works of fiction, poetry, and essays
    • E-books and audiobooks available on platforms like Kindle, Audible, and Scribd
    • Social media platforms where writers share their works and engage with readers, such as Twitter and Instagram

Purpose of Literature

The purpose of literature is multifaceted and can vary depending on the author, genre, and intended audience. However, some common purposes of literature include:


Literature can provide enjoyment and pleasure to readers through engaging stories, complex characters, and beautiful language.


Literature can teach readers about different cultures, time periods, and perspectives, expanding their knowledge and understanding of the world.

Reflection and introspection

Literature can encourage readers to reflect on their own experiences and beliefs, prompting self-discovery and personal growth.

Social commentary

Literature can serve as a medium for social criticism, addressing issues such as inequality, injustice, and oppression.

Historical and cultural preservation

Literature can document and preserve the history, traditions, and values of different cultures and societies, providing insight into the past.

Aesthetic appreciation:

literature can be appreciated for its beauty and artistic value, inspiring readers with its language, imagery, and symbolism.

The Significance of Literature

Literature holds immense significance in various aspects of human life and society. It serves as a powerful tool for communication, expression, and exploration of ideas. Here are some of the key significances of literature:

Communication and Expression

Literature allows individuals to communicate their thoughts, emotions, and experiences across time and space. Through various literary forms such as novels, poems, plays, and essays, writers can convey their ideas and perspectives to readers, fostering understanding and empathy.

Cultural Reflection

Literature often reflects the values, beliefs, and experiences of a particular culture or society. It provides insights into different historical periods, social structures, and cultural practices, offering a glimpse into the diversity and richness of human experiences.

Knowledge and Education

Literature is a valuable source of knowledge, as it presents ideas, concepts, and information in an engaging and accessible manner. It introduces readers to different subjects, such as history, science, philosophy, psychology, and more, allowing them to expand their understanding and broaden their intellectual horizons.

Emotional and Intellectual Development

Literature has the power to evoke emotions and provoke critical thinking. By immersing oneself in literary works, readers can develop a deeper understanding of complex emotions, empathy for diverse perspectives, and the ability to think critically and analytically.

Preservation of Cultural Heritage

Literature acts as a repository of a society’s cultural heritage. It preserves the history, traditions, myths, and folklore of a particular community, ensuring that future generations can connect with their roots and learn from the experiences of the past.

Social Commentary and Critique

Literature often serves as a platform for social commentary and critique. Writers use their works to shed light on social issues, challenge societal norms, and promote positive change. By addressing controversial topics and presenting alternative viewpoints, literature can spark discussions and inspire activism.

Entertainment and Escapism

Literature offers a means of entertainment and escapism from the realities of everyday life. Engaging narratives, compelling characters, and vivid descriptions transport readers to different worlds, allowing them to experience joy, excitement, and adventure through the pages of a book.

Imagination and Creativity

Literature fuels the human imagination and nurtures creativity. It encourages readers to think beyond the boundaries of their own experiences, envision new possibilities, and explore alternative realities. Literature inspires writers to craft unique stories and ideas, contributing to the expansion of artistic expression.

Personal Growth and Self-Reflection

Reading literature can have a profound impact on personal growth and self-reflection. It provides opportunities for introspection, introspection, and self-discovery, as readers identify with characters, grapple with moral dilemmas, and contemplate the deeper meaning of life and existence.

The Enduring Impact of Literature

Literature has an enduring impact that transcends time and continues to influence individuals and societies long after it is written. Here are some ways in which literature leaves a lasting impression:

Cultural Legacy:

Literary works become part of a society’s cultural legacy. They shape and reflect the values, beliefs, and traditions of a particular era or community. Classic works of literature, such as Shakespeare’s plays or the novels of Jane Austen, continue to be studied, performed, and celebrated, preserving their impact across generations.

Influence on Other Art Forms:

Literature has a profound influence on other art forms, such as film, theater, music, and visual arts. Many famous literary works have been adapted into films or stage productions, reaching new audiences and extending their influence beyond the written word. Artists and musicians often draw inspiration from literary themes, characters, and narratives, further amplifying their impact.

Shaping Worldviews:

Literature has the power to shape and challenge worldviews. Through stories, ideas, and perspectives presented in literary works, readers are exposed to different cultures, experiences, and ideologies. This exposure fosters empathy, broadens perspectives, and encourages critical thinking, ultimately influencing how individuals perceive and understand the world around them.

Inspirational Source:

Literature serves as an inspirational source for individuals in various fields. Writers, artists, scientists, and thinkers often draw inspiration from the works of literary giants who have explored the depths of human emotions, grappled with existential questions, or challenged societal norms. Literature provides a wellspring of ideas and creativity that continues to fuel innovation and intellectual discourse.

Social and Political Change:

Literature has played a significant role in driving social and political change throughout history. Many literary works have addressed pressing social issues, advocated for human rights, and challenged oppressive systems. By shedding light on societal injustices and encouraging readers to question the status quo, literature has been instrumental in inspiring activism and fostering social progress.

Universal Themes and Human Experience:

Literature explores universal themes and the complexities of the human experience. Whether it’s love, loss, identity, or the pursuit of meaning, these themes resonate with readers across time and cultures. Literary works offer insights into the depths of human emotions, dilemmas, and aspirations, creating a shared understanding and connecting individuals across generations.

Intellectual and Personal Development:

Reading literature stimulates intellectual growth and personal development. It encourages critical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to empathize with diverse perspectives. Literary works challenge readers to reflect on their own lives, values, and beliefs, promoting self-discovery and personal growth.

Enduring Literary Characters:

Iconic literary characters have a lasting impact on popular culture and the collective imagination. Characters like Sherlock Holmes, Hamlet, or Elizabeth Bennet have become archetypes, influencing the portrayal of similar characters in other works and becoming a part of our cultural lexicon.

Preservation of History and Memory:

Literature plays a crucial role in preserving historical events, experiences, and cultural memories. Historical novels, memoirs, and eyewitness accounts provide valuable insights into past eras, allowing future generations to learn from and connect with the past.

About the author

Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer