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Does Fiction Reveal Truth That Reality Obscures?

Maia Popa, XII A

The very essence of humankind lies within fiction.

From the beginning, the characteristic that set Homo Sapiens apart from the rest of the species on the planet was its ability to employ fiction. While the rest of the species were limited to the real, tangible world, Sapiens developed the ability to conceive imaginary entities, common myths which eventually led to them climbing to the top of the chain through the collective belief of such imagined realities.

We have come to unwittingly live in a world surrounded by fiction, a social “narrative”: money, corporate jobs, the social system - all are fragments of the human imagination gathered over centuries, resulting in something that seems tangible, but is, in fact, far from it. Having become so accustomed to them, we no longer realize that many of the concepts around us came from humans’ imagination - we created coinage, we created societal hierarchy, and we created the jobs that now drive us off the edge. Through the power of our mind, we slowly built up the world we currently live in. Yet does this mean that fiction and reality unequivocally overlap? Moreover, are they congruent? While Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary seems to patently contradict this claim by evincing the dangers of confusing reality with fiction, it seems that, in most cases, the two go hand in hand.

The tendency of many over the years has been to dismiss fiction in favor of science. After all, fiction is fiction, and science is reality - and one cannot deny the patent facts of reality. But when all that surrounds us is a concept created by the human mind, isn’t it all fiction? If we all collectively stop believing in money, will it still exist? If we believe that “there is no spoon”, will we be able to bend our perspective so that the spoon itself bends in our hand?

Listening to my grandparents’ stories about the society they lived in during the communist times in my country always intrigued me. Watching my grandmother absent-mindedly recall her memories, as if still caught up in the past, urged me to discover more about the adversities of the late 1970s - I grasped the way they had to whisper to each other the latest real piece of news, how they were forbidden to discuss anything that went against the country’s official views at the time, how anyone could turn on you and report you to “Securitate” when you least expected it. 

In a plethora of instances, fiction achieved what reality simply could not. During the communist period in Romania, few were able to speak up and express opinions that went against the current ideologies. Marin Preda, however, did what many others were afraid to. His second volume of “Morometii”, published in 1967, was a written “mouthpiece” for intellectuals who were humiliated and scolded by the communist “working class”. In the novel, the Romanian writer created characters that ironized communist and socialist figures who were in charge of the country at the time. After its publication, citizens pushed and shoved to get a copy of the book, to read between the lines, and find comfort in characters that could laugh out loud at what they didn’t dare laugh! Whereas speaking up about such societal ideologies in real life would most likely bring about calamity upon the maverick (even Preda endured his part of threats and censorship), fiction allows covertly the controversial contesting of reality. 

People all around the world have the ability to contrast the realities of their own lives with fiction. Fahrenheit 451 showed us a world driven by technology and irrational equality, a world toward which it seems likely that we are heading. George Orwell’s 1984 cast light on the mendacious truth of a communist reality and totalitarian society, evincing just how much our lives are controlled by those in power. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening played a significant role in the women’s movement of emancipation - it helped them become aware of the societal restraints imposed upon them, their inability to be in control of their own lives and the vicious circle of the seemingly inescapable system. 

Hidden meanings have infiltrated not only novels, but other means of fiction as well. The pseudo-children’s book and movie “Mary Poppins” used the cover of a nanny with magical powers to convey larger issues - gender inequality, capitalism, the gap among the working classes. While the wondrous Mary Poppins sang to the children about charity, beauty and freedom, Mrs. Banks struggled and fought in the women’s suffrage movement,  Mr Banks spent all of his time conforming with the capitalist ideologies and perfecting his status as an “exemplary, serious and composed” stereotypical British man with century-old imperialistic British values, and Bert struggled to make a living as a chimney sweep.

Similarly, in art, the morphing of reality only serves to enhance more clearly certain ideas and messages that are latent in the real world. M.C. Escher’s “Impossible Worlds” and Salvador Dali’s surrealist melting clocks employ the distortion of reality to create another reality - one in which the complexity of the human mind or the omnipresence of time are the main objects of observation. Likewise, le théâtre de l’absurde (the Theatre of the Absurd) arose as a means of criticizing society through existentialism, repetitive and irrational dialogues lacking in sequence, and, finally, silence. Romanian playwright Eugen Ionescu, also known as Eugène Ionesco, evinced, through his globally recognised plays “Rhinoceros” and “The Lesson,” the absurdity of human reality, underscoring the incongruity of thinking and acting, ideologies and actions - hence why, for a long time, his works were greeted by the public with empty seats and cold reprimands. 

By juxtaposing reality with works of fiction, we begin to create parallels between the imagined world and the one we live in. Fiction played a paramount role in developing our society - it redefined the rules of our “fiction-reality,” much like a writer changing a scene’s setting in their novel. In John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. Triology, the use of four narrative modes in the form of a kaleidoscope presented reality as multidimensional, rather than the flat one literature had seen beforehand. Similarly, Dorris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook was among the first to depict the experience of human life as nonlinear, but rather a melange of different perspectives and experiences merged into one. With each revolutionary novel published that was initially repudiated, then brought about a significant societal change, and then came to be glorified, humanity modified another and another outline of its rules, bending them, reimagining them, retracing them in accordance with the present times.

Authors have the ability to scrutinize social or political issues through the lens of fiction, by dissecting and transposing them into the context of an imagined story. In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the allegories to the society’s working class slaving away their lives and the way modern society isolates individuals from one another are evinced through the absurdity of the protagonist’s transforming into a helpless cockroach.  Delving into the essence of the human condition and experiences, storytellers create a haven for the obscure truths of reality, establishing a medium for accessing them.

It is patent that fiction can ease the way in which certain words dissolve on our tongues and echo in the world around us. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” As Shakespeare suggests, however, fiction’s ability to reveal the nebulous truth is simply a mirror of reality - things remain the same, whether we hide behind crafty metaphors or tell their name as it is. 


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