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Confronting Social Norms: The Role of Literature

Literature has strived to confront the conventional values and norms of society for centuries on end. It utilizes emotional bonding, and story-telling, a fundamental part of humanity and the nature of humans, to battle existing societal issues. From the Grand Scribe’s records, written by the influential, ancient Chinese scholar, Ssu-ma Ch’ien, promoting its view on the moral philosophy of the gentlemen of Han, to the countless greek philosophers of the West, such as Socrates and Plato, who challenged the government with their unique, philosophical views such as “morality”, “justice”, and “peace”, and paved the foundation for modern systems of governments. Therefore, it is only true that literature, with all intents and purposes, ultimately confronts the traditional values of society and its issues such as racism, sexism, and governmental control.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird, though controversial in many countries, has left a decades-long legacy and impact on our society, thanks to its realistic views on racism, racial justice, and racial discrimination. This novel paved the way for racial equality in the American justice system. As opposed to the use of simple statistics and numbers, the novel has placed a relatable story, filled with countless emotions, perspectives, and themes, into the daily lives of students, addressing the racial issues of the South, promoting racial justice in the American society through a perspective of a young child. The author, Harper Lee illustrates each character—and victim—of racial prejudice as human beings, whilst demonstrating the issues in the United States Justice System and in the American society of the 1960s—during the time this novel was published. Hence, the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, as a piece of literature, demonstrates a fundamental aspect of literature that cannot be replaced by any other form of writing—emotions—it is only literature that has the potential to relay such thought-provoking themes, often entrenched in our society, through such a sophisticated presentation, thereby overcoming the audience’s preconceived opinions.

The Awakening: Struggle Against Society and Nature

Secondly, The Awakening: Struggle Against Society and Nature, written by the influential author, Kate Chopin, has confronted the norms of society in numerous ways, most notably in the fields relating to women's rights, stereotypes (based on gender), femininity, freedom, and motherhood. The plot of this novel depicts a young mother’s struggle to obtain sexual and personal emancipation from the oppressive environments of the Southern United States and from the societal expectations placed on women. It clearly demonstrates the detrimental consequences of societal expectations, as well as its harmful mental and physical effects. In the twenty-first century, this novel is considered to be the landmark work of feminist fiction and is considered to have paved the way for sexual equality in America and in the West, as it confronted the traditional, patriarchal norms and values of society, despite the controversies it received at the time of its publication. Therefore, as seen through The Awakening, though it remains to be a fictional tale, has the potential and the power to confront the traditional values and to thus influence others to take appropriate measures against the conventional values of society.


Lastly, 1984, a classic of dystopian fiction and a novel written by George Orwell, has confronted the conventional values and the issues of our modern society, including the use of propaganda, censorship, and technology, an underlying part of our modern society. The plot depicts the life of Winston Smith, a low-ranking member of the “Party” and their frustration towards the “Party” and its ominous ruler, “Big Brother”. “Big Brother”, along with their mass-media control, government surveillance, and totalitarianism, controls nearly every aspect of the lives of the general public. Although this may seem as if the author is depicting a dystopian/communist society and its consequences, the novel, 1984, remains relevant to modern society, several decades after its publication. We, humans, living in a modern society, consume substantial amounts of media every single day, from social media and the internet, to the ubiquitous amounts of streaming services and television (and radio) broadcasts. It is a world where absolutely nothing is or can be “perfectly” hidden and a world where information is at our fingertips. Surveillance is easier than ever before and media control—and influence—has become facilitated and normalized. Therefore, as 1984 strives to inform the globe in regards to totalitarianism, the role of truth and facts within politics, and the ways in which they are manipulated, it demonstrates that, not only can literature warn and inform the general public in regards to (possible) future events, but can also display the consequences of our decisions.

In conclusion, to a great extent, literature challenges the norms and issues of society. Literature, under the most oppressive and controlling environments, along with other forms of artistry, provided and continues to provide a voice to the general public to express their views, and concerns, and to inform others of possible future outcomes.

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