Literature means something that is written for refreshing and inspiring the mind. It records the thoughts and feelings of great minds. It attracts in two ways—through its matter and through its manner. The matter must be such that those who read it are interested in some way. The manner must be such as will be pleasing to the reader and adds to his fund of knowledge.
We live in a society. That is, there are relations and interrelation between men who live in the society. We like to hear about our fellow men who live in society, their thoughts and feelings, their likes and dislikes.
Naturally, if we have the power of language to express the feelings, we are well on the way to creating literature. In other words, the subject matter of literature is society in some form or other. The poet expresses his feeling and we who read his poetry are interested and feel at one with him and ourselves. After all, society is this bond of fellowship between man and man through communication that the poet or writer seeks.
If literature expresses social sympathies, naturally it is bound to exercise some positive influence on our mind and attitude. Society reacts to literature in a living way. An inspiring poem creates general influence on society. It rouses our feelings and enthusiasm for welfare.
Shelley has called poets the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. The function of a legislator is to lay down the law, a settled course of action that men may follow. Poetry and literature generally do this in a quiet and unobtrusive way. Novels are known to have changed the direction of the human mind and set in motion movements that have altered our ways of life.
The influence of literature on society is felt directly or indirectly. Thus Miss Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin' was directly responsible for a movement against slavery in literature and life in USA of those days. The novels of Dickens had an indirect influence in creating in society a feeling for regulating and removing social wrongs, calling for necessary reforms.
Sarat Chandra's novels have gone a long way in breaking conservatism as regards women in our society. It is, however, clear that if we are interested in literature, and its influence is bound to move us amply. Literature is made out of the lore of life. No doubt, the realistic artist brings to a focus the oddities and cruder aspects of life overmuch. But to know life fully, not only the bright side but also the seamy and dark side of life is to be known.
Thus, society creates literature. It may be described as the mirror of the society. But the quality and nature of the reflection depends upon the writer's attitude of mind, whether he is progressive in his outlook or reactionary.
Naturally, conservative-minded writer will stress those aspects of social life, which put the traditional ways of life in the best possible way. For example, he will set a high value on reverence for age-old ideals, respect for religion, chastity of woman and so on. On the other hand, a progressive writer will tend to show how old ideals act as restraints on the natural freedom of the human mind, cripple the free movement of man and women in an unrestricted atmosphere, set for liberating new ideals and moving society that looks forward to newer ways of life.