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Should politics be in our pages?

Written by Arts

In a post truth world, where everything we read seemingly has a political agenda to it, why should literature not also be conveying a political message? 

As an English Literature student, we constantly have it drilled into us that the narrator of the book is not the author. We have to look at the author as creating a fictional world where they themselves do not appear in it. If this is the case, then we cannot definitively see a book as portraying a certain political message. Surely it depends then on how we, the reader, responds to a novel?

If we think that it conveys a communist message then we will find evidence in it to support that claim. If we think that it conveys a stance that we should all vote for the Conservative Party, then we will do the same. 

All books arguably have a political message, but it is up to us to decipher what we want it to mean

So, if this is the case, then all books arguably have a political message, but it is up to us to decipher what we want it to mean.

Some books are very openly an allegory for a political message. A classic example of this is Animal Farm by George Orwell. Allegorising communism, all the farm animals play a part in a communist society. Despite this only talking about communism, if we were to read this book as a child then surely we would think that it was purely about talking animals. So, when we become older and understand more about politics so as to understand the message behind it,  it is only then that we understand that it is political. Surely this means that we have to find this evidence as the reader for a book to have a political stance?

If we read a book we expect to finish it having gathered some sort of knowledge or to be able to understand a point of view on a subject more thoroughly

These perceived political messages are important in literature. When we start trying to prevent them from happening, then we are stopping democracy. In a society where we can voice our own views, and we can argue and debate with others over political policies and then put this to use by voting, then surely when we read literature we know that we are being opened to new perspectives? If we read a book we expect to finish it having gathered some sort of knowledge or to be able to understand a point of view on a subject more thoroughly. Political messages are no different: if a reader thinks that their book hints at something then they can use this to become informed of a certain matter. It is not being rammed down their throats, nor is it being forcefully imposed on them. They are choosing to engage in conversation with a narrator’s view on a topic that the author has carefully decided on. 

When books are not allowed to portray a political message, we are halting the conversation about politics among the masses

The very fact that we are asking if politics should be in books is scary, I believe. In totalitarian states, like that of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, books were banned for their political messages. Doctor Zhivago and Nineteen Eighty Four were just two. When books are not allowed to portray a political message, we are halting the conversation about politics among the masses. Allowing a reader to take a political message away from a book is powerful. It is the reader engaging with the characters in a novel, and transferring these beliefs held by characters and actions undertaken by them into the reader’s very life. This creates a reflection on their life. They compare these two societies, fictional and real. It allows the reader to think about how their society could be critiqued, and how their society could be improved. And if the reader themselves have to be the ones who decide what this political message is, then we are encouraging the discussion of politics among readers, and this is no bad thing in world with chaotic politics. 

Last modified: 13th November 2019

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