The Art of Social Commentary

Why Charles Dickens should be our social commentary muse.

“Where Dickens wielded a pen, today we wield a smartphone.”


“Please, sir, I want some more.” These are the famous words of the hungry orphan, Oliver Twist. The novel, so named after the main character, is one of Dickens most popular, and if you don’t know anything about the novel, you have probably still heard those words.

But beyond simply writing and creating a great story around Oliver Twist, Dickens created him for a purpose beyond the page of a book. Twist became a form of social commentary.

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Classic Summer Reading: In with the Old, Out with the New

{This blog post contains affiliate links.}

Forget about The New York Times Bestsellers list this summer; invest your hours into some classics. There’s nothing wrong with reading popular literature, but it’s good to offer your reading palette some variety. It’s also good to be challenged.

Maybe you think the classics should stay buried in the past and aren’t relevant today. But behind the dated time periods and language are unchangeable universal themes. There are questions presented in classic literature that are still being asked today. The characters are still relatable, because they have the same inward struggles and feelings of present day people.

Many titles from the bestsellers list are inspired knowingly or unknowingly from classic authors. Today’s literature is built off of the pen of classic literature. What else can I say? They are called classics for an obvious reason: quality and timelessness, just to name a few.

Here are lightning reviews of some (emphasize some) of my favorite classic pieces of literature:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Written by Harper Lee in 1960, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel is set in 1930s Alabama. A small town steeped in racism is seen through the eyes of two small children, Jem and Scout Finch. Their father, Atticus, represents in court a black man accused of raping a white woman.

Along with a host of other interesting characters, Lee explores the towns hatred and kindness and their blind irrational thoughts and behavior. Lee begins her novel portraying innocence, but progressively leads us to the climactic court scene where innocence is undone.


Fahrenheit 451: A Novel

Written in 1953 by Ray Bradbury (one of my all time favorite authors), this short novel is set in an imagined future. A future where firemen don’t put out fires, but start them. What are they burning? Books. Why? Because in Bradbury’s future world censorship is taken to the extreme.

This future world slightly resembles our present world and sends off an alarm of warning to readers. The protagonist is fireman Guy Montag who meets a 17 year old girl telling him of a past when people were not afraid. Montag then meets a professor who tells him of a future where people can think for themselves, which is exactly what Montag begins to do.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Written by Oscar Wilde in 1890, this book tells the tale of a beautiful and wealthy young man named Dorian Gray. Wilde gives us a complex look at art, morals, and beauty through his three main characters: Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward, and Lord Henry.

The book starts off with Basil painting a portrait of Dorian. As we continue to read we find out the painting is not ordinary. In fact, it appears the painting is bound to Dorian in a supernatural way. An exchange occurred through the painting; an exchange of soul for youth and beauty. Dorian remains young and beautiful, while his inward corruptions are transferred  to the painting. The question is… how does it end in this dark and seedy tale?


Great Expectations

Written by Charles Dickens in 1861, this classic stars an orphan boy named Pip. The tale opens with Pip in the marshy mists of a village churchyard where he encounters a convict on the run. Pip then meets Estella, a snobby rich little girl who captivates Pip with her beauty. Estella belongs to the richest lady in town, Miss Havisham. A decrepit old lady who appears to be frozen in time on her wedding day and living in a run down mansion.

Estella is an unrequited love and represents all Pip can’t have, so he becomes disenchanted with his poor lifestyle and his future as a blacksmith. He longs for the life of a rich gentleman, so he can be closer to Estella. What ensues is Miss Havisham becoming the marionette puppeteer for Pip and Estella as they grow up. Pip finally does achieve the lifestyle he wants, but is haunted by his true self represented in the ghostly convict from the opening scene.