Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

Didactic Literature




etymology: < Greek "apt at teaching"

definition: Having the character or manner of a teacher or instructor; characterized by giving instruction; having the giving of instruction as its aim or object; instructive, preceptive. (Oxford English Dictionary)

The primary intention of didactic art is not to entertain, but to teach the audience a moral or a theme.



much children's literature; religious literature; parables


Thirty Days hath September poem

Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
February has twenty-eight alone
All the rest have thirty-one
Except in Leap Year, that's the time
When February's Days are twenty-nine.



There Were Twelve Disciples

(Sunday School song)

There were twelve disciples Jesus called to help him:
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his brother John,
Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus,
Thaddeus, Simon, Judas, and Bartholomew.
He has called us, too. He has called us, too.
We are His disciples, I am one and you!
He has called us, too. He has called us, too.
We are His disciples, I am one and you!


The A-B-C melody

(The use of rhymes in these examples = mnemonic rhymes

mnemonic = for memory

since didactic literature often involves learning something from memory, like the ABC's)


In Literary Criticism

The term "didactic" may criticize work that appears overly burdened with instructive, factual, or otherwise educational information, to the detriment of the work's artistic integrity or the enjoyment of the reader.

Students in English classes sometimes think the "theme" of a text is "the moral of the story," only to find their teachers are not impressed!

Most English faculty regard overly moralistic literature as simplistic and overdetermined, for children rather than adults. The author's intention too heavily limits the meaning of literature to the moral or lesson. The reader can only accept or reject.

Serious, non-didactic literature treats serious themes from real human life. The difference is that serious literature explores problems without pretending to simple solutions, so that an accurate representation of human life in all its complexity is achieved.

Some great literature is didactic, but the other qualities of the text make the didactic element less overwhelming.


Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (1866)

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1862)

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-2)

Rudyard Kipling, If (1910)


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