Didacticism can also refer to visual arts. While information is the main point of this kind of art or literature, it can also have other features that readers enjoy. For example, a didactic piece of art can also be beautiful, just as a didactic piece of literature can be transporting and entertaining.
Definition of Didacticism
Often, the word “didactic” is used as a pejorative. Meaning that a text described this way is overly informational. The information is compromising the other elements that might be more interesting. The writer chose to go down a more didactic path rather than focusing on the beauty of the words, the storyline, characters, or the emotional impact of a piece of writing.
The same can be said for visual arts. It’s possible for a literary text to be entertaining and didactic, but it’s a thin line to walk. Contemporary authors are less likely to try to moralize with their writing. Meaning, they aren’t trying to teach readers a lesson unless the piece of literature was expressly written to inform, such as in non-fiction writing.
Examples of Didacticism
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
The Pilgrim’s Progress is a commonly cited example of didacticism. Bunyan tries to convey a specific allegorical lesson through the text. He describes Christian, the main character, who is trying to make his way to Mount Zion. In the following lines, he is describing his origin city and alluding to the various obstacles in his path:
Here is a poor burdened sinner. I come from the City of Destruction, but am going to Mount Zion, that I may be delivered from the Wrath to come; I would therefore, Sir, since I am informed that by this Gate is the Way thither, know if you are willing to let me in?
Throughout the story, Bunyan alludes to Biblical stories and conveys his morals quite easily. While it is still an interesting story to read, the moral lesson is at its heart. This makes it a great example of didacticism.
Explore John Bunyan’s poetry.
If by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling’s most famous poem, ‘If,’ is directed at a man’s son. It goes through the ways that this young boy should consider his life and how he’ll eventually grow up into a man. The speaker addresses some of the many obstacles this boy will face and tries to lay out the best way of conquering them. In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker uses the following lines:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.
He does not fill the poem with poetic language, metaphors, or other examples of flowery language. Kipling directly addresses the topic and provides information. This poem is a good example of how didactic writing can still be impactful on other levels.
Discover more Rudyard Kipling poems.
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
In Hesse’s best-known novel, the author explores the teachings of Buddha. This book serves as a great, popular example of a didactic text that focuses on eastern ideologies rather than specifically western or Christian. Here are a few lines from the novel that demonstrate its didactic qualities:
Siddhartha learned a great deal from the Samanas; he learned many ways of losing the Self. He traveled along the path of self-denial through pain, through voluntary suffering and conquering of pain, through hunger, thirst and fatigue.
Siddhartha considers what he’s learned and what he needs to feel and experience to change himself in these lines. Hesse goes on to use the following lines:
He traveled the way of self-denial through meditation, through the emptying of the mind through all images. Along these and other paths did he learn to travel. He lost his Self a thousand times and for days on end he dwelt in non-being. But although the paths took him away from Self, in the end they always led back to it.
Siddhartha knows that he has to lose his “Self” in order to achieve Enlightenment. He stepped away from his “Self” a “thousand times,” but he always ended up back there.
Read Herman Hesse’s poetry.
Why Do Writers Use Didacticism?
Writers use didacticism when they want to teach something with their writing. This might be in order to convey a moral, such as those related to a specific religion, or to speak about the struggles of life more generally. In the examples above, the writers chose to convey specific, clear information in their texts. While these poems and stories are still interesting, it’s quite easy to slip into text that reads overly preachy or uninteresting. This is part of the reason why this style of writing has fallen out of favor.
Today, one is far more likely to encounter stories and poems that imply a specific meaning, but the reader has to figure it out for themselves. It requires more thought and more time to uncover why a writer has used a specific setting, name, or elements of characterization. How didactic one piece of writing depends entirely on what the writer wants to accomplish.
Related Literary Terms
- Literary Argument: the argument of a piece of literature is a statement towards the beginning of a work that declares what it’s going to be about.
- Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.
- Metafiction: stories in which the characters, author, or narrator acknowledge the fact that they’re parts of fiction.
- Simile: a comparison between two, unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as.”
- Stream of Consciousness: a style of writing in which thoughts are conveyed without a filter or clear punctuation.