Great literature is honest, embodies a moral truth that is transferable and seeks to improve a flawed humanity.
The Little Prince comes to mind.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
My short fiction “Pinewood Home” which I plucked out of a larger collection (They Think That I am Somewhat) which has 4 and 5 star reviews (not counting the one star that referred to it as “brilliant” but “profoundly uncomfortable”) has not been received well. What’s intriguing is the degree of anger it evoked in one reviewer. Thought I’d share my bad review:
This book is only 25 pages long. It is set in an insane assylum in 1968. The first few pages are about a four year old boy. The rest are about two young women. It is a description of the way they think and act. The editing is less then desirable. I think the treatment of the boy is child abuse. I hated this short story. I know hate is a strong word, but this book is really, really bad. I can think of nothing positive about it. AD
Pastor Jon Nitta’s question for me:
I think that’s right Elizabeth. Dystopian literature generally has to pull us back to some sort of unifying center that helps make sense of the world. What’s interesting is that it’s not enough to call this center, “You do your thing and I’ll do mine” or “Everybody has their own version of right and wrong.” What’s clearly portrayed in dystopian literature is the pull toward a common moral center that offers hope. Maybe you know this, but can you think of any dystopian literature that ends in greater hopelessness or greater moral chaos? Just curious…
My response after careful thought to the notion of hopelessness at the end of a dystopian novel:
Yes..most end with a hopelessness- Lord of the Flies, 1984, to name a few. Winston claims “it was all right” because he “loved Big Brother”. The once moral and hopeful transform when faced with self-preservation. Or they are simply stamped out, defeated. The righteous are unified but smaller in numbers so what you are left with is a disturbing sense that not enough moral ones are on board. It is an echo of our own current societal mores. The end is barely hopeful but rather an ominous warning. The moral center to which you refer is obscured or conquered by the bigger tragedy and decline that has occurred. The hope, then, is embedded in our potential, recognizing how we might avoid deteriorating morally and spiritually through adherence to faith in humanity. And other times, it seems like there is no turning back, and we are doomed. The Hunger Games, for example, is a sadistic portrayal of human savagery taken to a new level. That the books and movies are so popular and applauded is a comment on our own moral fragility in our desire to view the darker sides of ourselves. To justify it by pointing out the unified center that upholds a moral stance is irrelevant to the bigger picture of blatant disregard for each other’s well being. That’s why the audience is held captive. Virtue is and remains a mere shadow on the grimy wall of poverty. The ones who embrace it, wholly, despite fear and suffering, they are the chosen ones (maybe) exceptional, not the norm.
The ordinary is always shortlived in dystopia. The scene that begins as plain becomes extraordinary, intriguing and suspensful with a dynamic flow: Lenore notices the butcher chopping, the smock smeared with blood, and, meanwhile, conversation revolves around the weather, the order of meat, the cost, the mundane idle chatter that is polite and plain but masks a bigger issue, a darker more sinister reality such as Lenore being held captive and silenced by her Sire, Adam. It is the trigger– the butcher chopping, slapping flipping the bloody meat onto its side, that elicits a repressed thought to emerge. And when it does, there is no turning back. An ordinary trip to the butcher on a Thursday to pick up an order of meat goes awry.
Dystopian fiction is plot driven–movement, suspense. But the stalling on a moment is priceless, salient, if done right. Like one simple moment when you imagine how you are perceived In another’s eyes. And a flicker of light in a candle you recall as a child, that mesmerized and held you captive, is what you see staring back. Tangential. Stream of consciousness. Bradbury reminds me to stay true to the art of pausing, straying a bit, at the right moment, in order to illuminate a character’s mindset and set the tone, capture a feeling.
EXCERPT FROM FARENHEIT 451
He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but-what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle. One time, when he was a child, in a power-failure, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son, alone, transformed, hoping that the power might not come on again too soon ….
And then Clarisse McClellan said:
“Do you mind if I ask? How long have you worked at being a fireman?”