Fiction and Its Significance in Society

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By: Benita Xavier, Journalist

Most of society describes reading fiction as an activity for people to escape their daily lives, however, there is much more to it and its outreach. Fiction is creative writing where situations and ideas presented, though perhaps based on reality, have not actually occurred in real life; the writer uses his or her imagination to create characters, settings, and plot points. But how can these stories of imagination affect living in reality?

Well, to answer that question one will have to start from the origins of fiction in the 12th century, specifically in England. In that day and age, it was common to write about the valiant and selfless actions of others (mainly in war), these concepts being the highlight of Anglo-Saxon culture. However, where people found worth in brave acts good intention was nothing. This is the main reason fiction could not be available then because fiction focuses on the development of people’s mentalities and emotions. Regardless of the genre, from fantasy to historical to mystery, if there is no personal motivation of the main character, there is no story. So, since people had no interest in the inner life of an individual, mainly because no one knew the thoughts of others and claimed only “God” knew, the concept of fiction did not exist, and writings were taken as fact. People believed literature as truth so much that when the Latin prose piece “History of the Kings of Britain” falsely retold British history as what is known today as the stories of King Arthur several people fell for it. The piece was so popular that it was being translated into French as a poem. The translator, however, changed something that shifted society’s views of the inner lives of people: he wrote that love is the reason for self-sacrifice. At the time love was not presented in a necessarily positive light being termed as a dangerous force or illness in most times or an indication of success when receiving a hand in marriage. However, the translators’ lines stated that love is the reason for heroic action, that the action was from both self-sacrifice to serve others and self-fulfillment to protect loved ones. This statement caused people’s inner desires and wishes to be more accepted and, therefore, novels could be made.

Of course, as society progressed so did fiction and its impact on humanity, especially because of its connections with inner mentalities. One way fiction affects people is that it spreads awareness of social issues effectively. This is because of the attachment to the main characters as they go through their daily lives. When these characters come across these social issues and conflicts we become irritated or sad with them because of our emotional attachment and relatability to them – it’s the emotion and relatability of fiction that allows its ideas and words to impact us on a deeper level. One example of fictional literature that influenced the public is Harriet Beacher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin which shifted the views of slavery for many Americans.

Fiction can also affect people on an individual level. For one, fiction, because it intertwines different characters and the common use of a victimized villain, can teach people to be open-minded. It shows us different perspectives through characters and why they may have these perspectives. This allows us to have a better understanding of human emotions and motives, therefore, allowing us to better comprehend other people and their opinions. Reading fiction also helps build observational and information processing skills because one’s mind creates theories and ideas as they read more details and information from the text. For example, when a character is fidgeting, one would assume they are nervous and then theorize the character’s role correspondingly. Lastly, fiction teaches people how to deal with their conflicts in life effectively. When a character makes a mistake or goes through a problem one gets to see certain consequences and solutions for this situation. One case of this is when the main character has problems misunderstanding her loved ones it can educate people on the importance of proper communication.

Fiction has and will continue to play a significant role in society by affecting people’s mindsets and perspectives.