How To Compare And Contrast Literary Merit Of A Poem And Short Story?


1 Answers

Jeremy Cairns Profile
Jeremy Cairns answered
Merit is extremely subjective. Questioning the merit of an artist is shaky ground. Take for example the poets William Wordsworth and Saul Williams. Both are highly accomplished poets with contrasting styles and content. They are of different literary ages and bring to each period a distinct definition of the age in which they exist.

Merit certainly has it's qualifiers:

Language is one. Is the use of the language in which the artist is writing elicit a mastery that sets them apart from their peers? For example, comparing a Mark Twain story to an O'Henry story. Both are excellent writers from roughly the same period, but the mastery of the language clearly swings in Mark Twain's favor (in O'Henry's defense, he was 30 years younger than Twain).

Content is another. Does the content speak beyond generations or help the reader define the period? For this example I would like to compare Emily Dickinson and Zitkala Sa. Emily Dickinson wrote in an formal style, it sung, it often rhymed, and was demurely solemn. It spoke to the soul and connected everyone in respects to the human condition. In contrast Zitkala Sa's style was colloquial, direct, and powerful. She spoke of the atrocities committed upon her people and the cruelty of her time period. Emily Dickinson is considered the author of merit in this comparison, but there are millions of native people and people of color who would disagree.

Originality is the last one I'm going to mention. For it's time, was the piece fresh, original, and did it go on to inspire a genre? For example we can contrast (this is going to be a good one) Johann Goethe and Arthur Conan Doyle. Johann Geothe, in The Sorrows of Young Werther, unleashed a period of fool hearty young romantics roaming Europe, emulating the main character, and welcomed in the Age of Romanticism. Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes to us and of course, an age of brilliant detectives and of course a laundry list of stylistic and formulaic copycats. Neither of those authors are considered authors of "merit", but yet you can't seem to read a romance novel or watch a episode of CSI without their influence.

If you ask me, I say "Merit-schmerit". If you like it and it speaks to you then who cares whether it's considered mediocre or "not of merit". You can keep your Milton, I'll sit by the fire and read scifi any day.

Answer Question