The truth in fiction

Fiction, labeled as fiction, can be every bit as powerful as good journalism for stirring the imagination and mobilizing support.  In yesterday’s post, I cited Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as example, but obviously there are many many more.  Philip Cohen (at Family Inequality) identifies Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which was instrumental in promoting regulation of the meat industry.  (To my knowledge, even the libertarians support keeping meat inspection as a federal responsibility.)

Peter Weir’s Gallipoli is the most powerful antiwar statement I’ve ever seen, but it was no documentary.  The screenwriter, David Williamson, invented two sprinters (Mel Gibson and Mark Lee) and made them messengers at the British siege.

George Orwell, who wrote polemics and journalism as well, is best known today for his anti-totalitarian fiction, most notably 1984 and Animal Farm.

I wonder if a work of fiction requires a higher level of artistry and execution to be a powerful mobilizer.

Probably not.

My Congressman, John Campbell (R) reports that he gives copies of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to departing interns, and that Rand’s rather artless novels were the inspiration for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisconsin) political career.  Rand’s fiction was obviously an effective conduit for her ideas.

You can list your favorites.

In the meantime, call it a novel or fantasy or allegory if it’s moral truth, rather than factual accuracy, that you’re after.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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