In this chapter, Frye writes about the two different perspectives in literature- the vertical and the horizontal. There is a vast difference between the two perspectives and literature is commonly only written in the vertical. The two perspectives can be pictured as a compass on a map. From north to south is where the vertical perspective lies and from east to west is where one would find the horizontal. The north and south on the compass represents the top and bottom half of literature.
“The top half of literature is the world expressed by such words as sublime, inspiring, and the like, where what we feel is not detachment but absorption” (Frye, 60), which is where we would find romance and comedies. Subsequently, the bottom half of literature is filled with tragedy, irony and satire that might alienate a reader from the way the world is supposed to be. This is where one might find King Lear, known as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy where we watch bad things happen to good people such as Lear losing everything including his mind or Gloucester being blinded.
The horizontal perspective ranging from east to west on the compass has no highs or lows and is rather flat, dull and boring in comparison to the vertical perspective. This is the writing of the everyday, mundane life and is not commonly used in literature because it is boring for readers. Frye says “to write anything in literature, we can’t be lifelike; we have to be literature-like” (Frye, 56).
He says this because readers generally turn to literature for something they aren’t getting in the real world. For readers, literature is an escape from life- a world of make believe to balance the world of the mundane that the reader lives in. Although many elements of the world we know are incorporated into literature, the extreme outcomes and nonsensical happenings let us imagine a more ideal and pleasant world or perhaps one even more angry and devoted to suffering than we already know.
The vertical perspective is only bound by the limits of imagination and therefore allows the reader to visit a world much better or worse than the one they are presently living in. “Literature gives us an experience that stretches us vertically to the heights and depths of what the human mind can conceive” (Frye,61) which is why a reader is drawn to the vertical perspective; no matter how much life experience one has, it will never compare to the dimension of experience that is brought by imagination.
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