As the saying goes, “If you can see it, you can be it.”
While this possibly is more commonly used in relation to TV and cinema, literature also plays a role in how certain people or groups are represented.
While looking back to the ‘classics’, the likes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen and slightly more recently, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), it is clear to see that societal norms of the time expected the woman to be in the home.
With this being said, literature has also shown its usefulness at challenging societal ideals, particularly in relation to class and gender norms.
So, while the Victorian woman reading a novel that challenged her long-held place in society might have felt empowered by a book that told her that there was a place for her in the world other than at home where she was always told she should be, what impact does modern literature have on how certain groups are represented?
It is all too easy to get caught up in your own world and assume that everyone sees the world the same way you do, but this is far from the case.
We all know the power books have to make us forget our own lives and escape, even if only for a little while, but more than this, books can force us to challenge our own ideals and can present us with an alternative view on life.
Books like Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper of Aleppo (2019), tells the story of refugees fleeing the Civil War in Syria.
While The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a fictional story, it is based on real events and literature like this can show us the horrors that those fleeing from situations such as war or famine suffer.
Stories like the ones told in Lefteri’s book, and in ones like Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand (2008) show us lives and situations that we would hardly ever know about unless we went through them ourselves.
This is shown in The Other Hand as it features two main characters, a Nigerian refugee, Little Bee and Sarah, a middle-class Englishwoman, who had a chance meeting during Sarah and her husband’s holiday a few years previously.
This is a deliberate bringing-together of two worlds which are too often kept separate and characters like Little Bee can help to make us aware of the fact that stories like Little Bee’s are happening as we speak, and that we in fact, know very little about the terror they face.
It may not be comfortable to hear of stories like Little Bee’s, or Nuri’s in The Beekeeper of Aleppo, but this does not mean they are stories that should be shied away from.
Rather, the stories of those who have been oppressed are never comfortable stories to deal with, be it women’s rights in the 1800 or 1900s or the experiences of migrants and refugees in the modern day, by telling them within popular literature can make people from these backgrounds feel included and seen within society.
Beyond that, by having minority groups accurately represented in literature makes them visible to a wide audience which can challenge a person’s viewpoint and make them more open to the fact that we all have different lived experiences.
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