In Defense of Fiction, Part One: Novels That Changed Society

Perhaps these folks aren't aware of the numerous novels that have changed society ... and the world.

I’ve often heard well-meaning people say they don’t read fiction. They believe stories and novels serve no good purpose except to entertain, and that nothing can be learned from them. As one who writes both fiction and nonfiction, I disagree. Perhaps these folks aren’t aware of the numerous novels that have changed society … and the world.

A Few Novels That Changed Society and the World

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

In the early 1900s, Chicago’s unsanitary stockyards posed a serious health risk to meatpackers. Sinclair, after going undercover in its meatpacking plants for several weeks to research the situation, wrote his famous novel to draw attention to these workers’ plight. Because of The Jungle, President Theodore Roosevelt launched an investigation which led to the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act (1906).

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell loved horses and wanted England’s upper classes to quit using “bearing reins.” These reins, designed to keep the horse’s head close to its chest, abused the animal. They made it hard for the horse to breathe. Such abuse led Sewell to write her novel from the horse’s, Black Beauty’s, point of view. When people read this book, many quit using these reins. This one work of fiction, Sewell’s only book, changed a feature of nineteenth-century British society, ending this abusive practice.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Christmas was never the same after Dickens wrote this novella. Prior to its publication, many Protestant Christians didn’t celebrate this holiday because it was too Catholic and rowdy. However, thanks to Tiny Tim and other characters in Dickens’s story, Christmas became more family-oriented. So, do you enjoy a wholesome Christmas with your family? Well, we can all thank Mr. Dickens for it.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

This novel gave lawyers a good name in its protagonist, Atticus Finch, who defended a Black man unjustly accused in twentieth-century rural Alabama. It inspired many thousands of young men and women to pursue a legal career and become as good and honest a lawyer as Atticus.

A Final Thought

Those listed above are but a few of many novels that have impacted society in one way or another. Many others, such as Beloved (Toni Morrison), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe), The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) … Well, I’d best end here, because the list is long. Even in this technological society, fiction writers can influence their culture and, perhaps, change the world. Who knows, that next great, influential novelist may be you.

Sources

Ron Charles. “12 Novels That Change the Way We Live.” The Washington Post, May 7, 2020. 12 novels that changed the world – The Washington Post

Nicholas E. Barron. “How ‘Black Beauty’ Was Written and Changed History,” Bidwell Hollow(blog), July 13, 2021. How ‘Black Beauty’ Was Written and Changed History | by Nicholas E. Barron | Bidwell Hollow | Medium

Next week: In Defense of Fiction, Part Two

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