Twitter. Facebook. You Tube. We live in a now society. Nothing can happen without being captured on a smart phone. Instant access is available everywhere. Anyone can start a blog or website to express their opinion.
In the past, it wasn’t this way. People were often jailed for their opinions or worse. A few weeks ago, I wrote about John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrims Progress, and spent much time in prison for his opinion of the state-run church.
Writers in the past discovered the use of popular storytelling as a way to express beliefs or cry against injustice. These novels, so deeply wrought with the sentiments of their author, often became best-sellers and are viewed today as classic literature. Three that I want to bring to your attention are Animal Farm by George Orwell, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
Animal Farm was published in August 1945 after being repeatedly turned down by publishers. It is the most blatant work of protest of the three, exposing and strongly condemning what Orwell saw as the Stalinist corruption of the original socialist ideals. Many publishers were actually “encouraged” by government officials to steer clear of the work. It was published in 1945 to mixed reviews and four years later he wrote another novel decrying government entitled “1984.”
In the preface, Orwell also described the source of the idea of setting the book on a farm:
…I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.
A Christmas Carol is a novella written by Charles Dickens and published in December of 1843. Its publication met with instant success. The tale has been viewed by critics as an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism. It has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and somberness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, stage, opera, and other media multiple times.
As a child, Dickens’ father was jailed and Charles was forced to quit school and work in a factory. The poor conditions and child labor deeply affected him. Dickens was keenly touched by the lot of poor children in the middle decades of the 19th century. He began to speak for the children and considered writing a pamphlet describing their plight.
In a fund-raising speech on 5 October 1843 at the Manchester Athenæum (a charitable institution serving the poor), Dickens urged workers and employers to join together to combat ignorance with educational reform, and realized in the days following that the most effective way to reach the broadest segment of the population with his social concerns about poverty and injustice was to write a deeply-felt Christmas narrative rather than polemical pamphlets and essays. It was during his three days in Manchester, he conceived the plot of A Christmas Carol.
He wrote to Dr. Southwood Smith saying, “You will certainly feel that a Sledge hammer has come down with twenty times the force – twenty thousand times the force – I could exert by following out my first idea.” [Speaking of switching the original pamphlet to a novel] And he was right. A Christmas Carol was but the first of many works protesting the conditions of the poor in England.
Our last classic of civil resistance is surprisingly about a horse, Black Beauty. Written in December of 1877 by Anne Sewell, it became an immediate bestseller, and with 50 million copies sold, is one of the best-selling books of all times. While forthrightly teaching animal welfare, it also teaches how to treat people with kindness, sympathy, and respect.
Anne Sewell said that her purpose in writing the novel was “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.” Her sympathetic portrayal of the plight of working animals led to a vast outpouring of concern for animal welfare and is said to have been instrumental in abolishing the cruel practice of using the checkrein (or “bearing rein”, a strap used to keep horses’ heads high, fashionable in Victorian England but painful and damaging to a horse’s neck). Black Beauty also contains two pages about the use of blinkers on horses, concluding that this use is likely to cause accidents at night due to interference with “the full use of” a horse’s ability to “see much better in the dark than men can.”
A young woman, who lived in poor health, and died only five months after the publication of her only novel forever changed the way people treated horses. The “bearing rein” was abolished in England and other legislature introduced in England and the United States to stop cruelty to horses.
The list is long of classic novels that speak through civil resistance in book form including Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When you write, do you consider addressing relevant issues in society and religion? Many of the classic writers did and were persecuted for it. But their work still stands today.
Today’s writing prompt: Think of an issue that deeply affects you: abused animals, civil war in third-world countries, or maybe prejudice in the work place. Write a short story and pour your feelings about the issue into it.