What is the relationship between literature and politics? What should that relationship be? James T. Farrell asked these poignant and reverberative questions in his essay, “Literature and Ideology” (Farrell 1). I ask the same questions but channel mine specifically toward the genre of realistic fiction as I examine politics in the context of that literary genre. Realistic fiction paints a picture of events and characters as close to reality as possible. According to Farrell, writers have used literature as a weapon in class struggle (2). I agree with Farrell that fiction (as false as its name may imply) is an essential element in fighting for the narrator’s/author’s political views, even surreptitiously. I believe realistic fiction is the most effective tool in causing a revolution because of the depth of its platform, its deceptive nature, and its mass appeal. Before focusing on the three characteristics of realistic fiction, it is imperative to pause and offer a definition of literary genre, realistic fiction, and political debate.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines literary genre as “a distinctive type or category of literary composition (Das n.p.). Since no dictionary could offer a concise definition of the phrase, political debate, a condensed version of a definition would suffice. I believe that political debate is a discussion or an argument about political matters or a discussion of opposing political views. Since the focus in this section of our study is on realistic fiction, it is also imperative to offer a definition of that particular genre. From decades of teaching realistic fiction, I have gathered that it uses imaginary incidents and characters, and (sometimes) imaginary locations to portray similar and realistic events in our lives so that the reader could actually see himself or herself in the situation and recognize that such characters, such incidents, and such locations are relatable. Any topic under the sun and stars is a viable avenue for the realistic fiction writer to use as a medium to cause revolutions and change the world.
Literature (through realistic fiction) is “one of the arts which re-creates the consciousness and the conscience of a period. It tells us what has happened to man, what could have happened to him, and what man has imagined might happen to him” (Farrell 8). Because of the depth of its platform, the author of realistic fiction has no limit or page count. Passion has moved many writers to compose novels of hundreds of pages. Politics is a serious topic. In order to give political debate the honor it requires in realistic fiction, the author of realistic fiction needs to delve into the deepest realm of political issues and cause the world to turn on its axis.
Farrell states that authors can do so by “trying to smuggle ideology into literature” and thus seek to discuss and to enlighten people of serious matters in “an indirect and casual manner concerning the most serious problems which the human race faces” (6). These authors listed here were moved to unfurl their political ideologies; they sought to explore politics and wrote close to or over 300 pages: Ayn Ran’sAtlas Shrugged (1088 pages), Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (475 pages), Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (464 pages), Larry Beinhart’s Wag the Dog (392 pages), The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (384 pages), The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (311), Aldous Huxle’s Brave New World(288 pages), and George Orwell’s 1984, 279 pages (Wasson 3). These works show an inexhaustive evidence of passion, politics, and political debate mired in dialogue or stark.
By its deceptive nature, realistic fiction can morph into any genre and can have any genre embedded in it. While it seeks to entertain, it delivers a political jab, upper cut, and knock out of the offending government or political institution. Realistic fiction is transcendent. It is a chameleon. It is assimilative. Farrell recognizes its nature when he states that realistic fiction limps, even crawls behind events. “This is especially so in periods of great social crisis and of historic convulsion” (7). We could not possibly insert a realistic fiction novel into poetry, but the reverse happens all the time. Many a time, the line is blurred between realistic fiction and the other genres that attempt to portray realistic life such as historical fiction, mystery, science fiction (somewhat), drama, and narrative nonfiction or memoir. The words written in realistic fiction have the power to generate ideas, inspire revolutions, and change the way we view ourselves and our place in history (8).
As for its mass appeal, realistic fiction has had a lasting impact on people and cultures around the world. Realistic writers examine conditions and describe injustice, misery, and spiritual and material poverty. “The realistic novelist deals with the conditions which exist as they exist. The attempt to tell the truth in a precise, concrete, and uncompromising manner is demoralizing” (Farrell 8). The internationally renowned writers listed here changed the world with their pens and with their stand on political issues, with their beliefs, and with the works they created from fictional accounts. More than a few have won the Nobel Prize to prove it. Authors of international repute include William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Henrik Ibsen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Shakespeare (Bailey 24).
The realistic writer relies a great deal on his or her senses, imagination, intelligence, culture, and background to create a work of literature (Farrell 8). Realistic fiction solves political problems, even if it has to resort to allegory, symbolism, satire, parody, or any other form of bringing mankind’s folly or undesirable behavior to the fore in order to cause a change. Literature and its offshoot (realistic fiction) are a few of the most powerful means contrived by the human spirit to examine life and to cause ideological maneuvers and political revolutions. Without the restriction of space, the realistic fiction writer can explore any and all political issues in debates and outside of it.