by Olivia Madreperla, Staff Contributor
Over the past few months, the United States has seen an overwhelming amount of tragedy. There have been over 100,000 American deaths due to the Coronavirus outbreak, in addition to deaths caused by issues tangential to the stay-at-home order. However, an issue that has finally reached the forefront of every American's mind has contended with the epidemic for front-page attention: police brutality. I, as a white American, have had the privilege to turn a blind eye to the tragedy that exists beyond the cushy walls of my suburban home. In fact, I was able to ignore the gross indescrepencies in arrest rates in my own home town. However, the recent release of footage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a racist police officer has forced everyone to stare the issue in its face, despite the discomfort such aggressive contact causes. Despite the epidemic, protests have bloomed across the country and even across the world as human-beings fight for not equality, but equity amongst their fellow men.
Literature has played a pivotal role in social and political revolutions throughout time. Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” managed to foster and perpetuate an entire revolution against the most powerful state in the world. Paine managed to fuel the fire enough to inspire not just a revolution, but a successful one. John Locke provided America with the political philosophy it has depended upon for the past 244 years of its existence. So, obviously, literature has had a large impact on American government as well as the American way of life.This begs the question: how do we use our position as American artists to positively influence our country and provide a push in the right direction? The answer to this question is actually quite blurred, as what may help now could be detrimental later. For instance, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” seems to be an effectively progressive novel that proclaims the humanity of the American slave. However, Tom’s submissive nature towards his owners only assists in preserving the supremacist view that a black man will always fall victim to the white man. Literature can actually often distort the past to an unrecognizable polished surface. For example, in elementary schools, children are handed picture books and beginner literature proclaiming the benevolent nature of Abraham Lincoln and his tragic murder. However, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the abolitionist that these story books describe. Abraham Lincoln was actually of the Free-Soil party which sought not to eliminate slavery in the south, but to halt its expansion westward to guarantee the good, hardworking white Americans,who displayed their patriotism by moving themselves and their families across the country, were met with open opportunities for work. Abraham Lincoln did not protest the morality of slavery as a concept. He simply wanted to keep it from expanding to ensure that slavery wouldn’t take jobs from white people.
So, how can we ensure falsities such as these aren’t further perpetuated? Our job as artists is to unapologetically highlight the flaws in society through creative storytelling and metaphors. We stop them from being further perpetuated by creating works that create a world in which the current issues continue to exist and examine how they will ruin the lifestyles we currently enjoy. An amazing example of using such a tactic is Margaret Atwood's “The Handmaid’s Tale”. In her acclaimed work, Atwood describes a world in which a theocracy overtakes the American government in an attempt to bring society back to the values of the bible. The new government believes that the sharp decline in birth rates is a result of societal perpetuation of the idea that women should be allowed to control their bodies as they please. In order to combat the decline in fertility rates, each household is provided a “handmaid” who has been proven to be fertile, and whose sole purpose is to bear children for the household to which she has been assigned. It is a brutal tale of rape, murder, and abuse that can only be described as utterly terrifying. Hence, those who read the novel, are inclined to believe that reproductive rights are a necessity to a humane society.
In brief, being an American author is not simply a profession, but a reclamation of responsibility for society’s indiscretions. It is a promise of using your power to move the world in a positive direction. Having such a coveted role in society can be dangerous if not used wisely, as the impact of literature has proven to be substantial throughout American history. So, in an attempt to add my slightest bit of altruistic intention to the writing I provide, I beg of you, when you write, to think about what you are saying because you have the ability to change the mindset of an entire country or even the entire world.