Fiction has a variety of genres and sub-genres, one of these is cultural fiction. This type of fiction illustrates past and present cultures, and enlightens the problems in society. With Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day, I felt like this was appropriate. Literature plays a large part in defining and reforming culture.
For examples in cultural fiction, look to Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, and Victor Hugo. These authors artfully portray the societies and cultures they experienced, including the good and bad. Jane Austin’s novels seem to frequently compare and contrast attributes valued by society to show the pros and cons of each. While Charles Dickens has a pattern of raising awareness of the awful state of poverty. Victor Hugo’s infamous Les Miserables is about revolution in France and the struggles of an entire cast of characters from varying backgrounds and social standing.
In all genres, strong characters are a representation of real people in their uniqueness. But, like real people, they are a part of a society and culture. Imperfection in characters is a mirror of the faults in real life. Dystopias, medieval fantasies, and contemporary novels are all representing societies and cultures. The culture is a great source for conflict!
Fitting in the Cultural Genre
All stories represent a culture, but not all would fall in the sub-genre. The major difference is how large of an aspect the culture plays in the plot. A prince that saves his princess from a dragon doesn’t portray any social aspect unless he had interactions with the old woman and the pauper along the way. When the prince marries a servant girl, the social norms are disrupted. But what would add the rich cultural genre to the story is showing what happens when the prince leaves his socks on the floor. The conflict and contrast of social status or different cultures are what exposes real issues and then provides a solution in the ending of the story.
Since characters are likable when they are relatable, it makes sense that a cultural story should be relatable as well. Contrast and issues portrayed in the story should ring true to real life. Seeing value and being kind, learning to understand and appreciate differences, these are themes of cultural fiction. A story in the sub-genre should illuminate ways to improve a society.
Representation VS Racism
To Kill a Mockingbird is a controversial book as it represents social and racial aspects. However, the intent of the book is to illustrate the problems of the culture. The main characters actually address the absurdity of the injustices of the society and culture. Portraying prejudice isn’t cruel and wrong unless it is glorified and distasteful. In fact, portraying the wrongful beliefs in a story allows the reader to recognize and understand when they might not see it in themselves on their own.
Stories allow us to learn a centuries of lessons within a month or two it takes to read a book. A few of those lessons are about cultures different than our own and about the problems present in our society. Diversity is a beautiful thing and involves a lot more than just skin color. Many of us do need to improve our acceptance and appreciation of others. One of the best ways to do that is through cultural fiction. The bonus, is that we are able to improve ourselves and our culture as we read.