[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
[00:00:12] Now, it might sound strange, but what I want to start with today is a discussion of protest literature. Now don't worry, I'm not advocating that we all start writing protest literature, that's not the goal here.
[00:00:26] Instead though, what I want to do is show you how important our roles are as storytellers. And the truth is for as long as there have been uprisings and problems in culture and sicknesses that need to be resolved in society, it's the writers and the artists and the storytellers that have been there to point the way, to lead the charge, to shine a light on the things that are sick in our society.
[00:00:55] Now, this can get a little confusing because by saying that, I may be saying that everything that's coming out of, say, Hollywood, means that they're the ones that are shining a light, so we should really look and see what are they pointing at. But the problem is there is a problem in Hollywood. Hollywood leans very, very far left. And there are good reasons for that, that we will discuss another time.
[00:01:21] So I'm not necessarily saying that. I am simply saying that we have an opportunity here to make a difference with the stuff that we're creating.
[00:01:32] And protest literature is not necessarily specific type of literature that we are called to write. I mean, usually protest literature refers to some sort of work that addresses a real sociopolitical issue and expresses objections against those issues. Well, that's great. Right? That's great. But it's also been described as any form of communication that engages social consciousness to move someone to action.
[00:02:04] So for example, in 1939, John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath and the point of The Grapes of Wrath was to personalize the plight of thousands of families, all those people who journeyed west during the Great Depression and the hopes of making better lives for themselves and their families.
[00:02:25] And yet, California did not turn out to be the promised land. Most of the workers were exploited by the farm owners. There was terrible, terrible suffering at every turn, and there seemed to be no end. There were large corporations who were behind it all. It was a terrible, terrible plight that because of Steinbeck's novel, we were brought into the flawed system. And we got to see it. And then corrections got to be made.
[00:02:56] Steinbeck himself stated that he wrote the novel with the express intention of shaming those in power, those who were responsible for the misery that had been caused by the Great Depression. He even said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags."
[00:03:18] And Steinbeck's novel did raise awareness of the extent of the damage that was done to farmlands on which the country depended for food and the people that lost them.
[00:03:31] So The Grapes of Wrath would be considered a wonderful example of protest literature by this definition.
[00:03:38] So recently in April, there was a panel discussion that had been assembled to talk about protest literature. This was at the New England Modern Language Association, which was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now, the panel included all sorts of scholars from different universities who were speaking on the topic. And one of these scholars argued that it shouldn't just be protest literature that's considered protest literature because photography and art also does the same thing.
[00:04:12] Photographs of emaciated Union soldiers held in Confederate prison camps during the Civil War, for example, were meant to be distributed by the news media of the day in the hopes of calling to account the person that was in command at that prison camp and convict him of crimes against humanity.
[00:04:36] And I agree with this. This is why this is a podcast for artists and storytellers, not just writers, because the artist community are the leaders of this charge. We are meant to call to attention the things that are wrong, where we've gotten off, no matter what kind of story we're telling. Even if it's a love story or a romance or a romcom. Ultimately what you are doing is showing where the characters were in error.
[00:05:09] In every single romcom. One of the characters makes a fundamental mistake in, in the way that they assess something or look at something and they have to correct it. It's always about correction.
[00:05:23] The same thing happens in every story. At some point along the way, your character has to correct something. If they've gotten off target, they have to correct it. This is the whole thing with story structure. Ultimately, every single story follows this arc in some way. They have to reassess. They have to reevaluate. They have to get on track. They have to figure out what they need to do, and then they have to pursue it relentlessly.
[00:05:48] Now, it's interesting because what we have forgotten, by the way, certainly in our society today, is how long it often takes to change the tide of public opinion. What we are seeing today, the change, the shifts in language, for example, or the current sort of adopted value system that exists in our society today that seems to be prevalent and it happened, oh my gosh, it seems to have grown up overnight. It didn't grow up overnight. This has been, this is the fruit of insidious seeds that have been planted for years and they're finally coming to fruition. It takes years to change the tide of public opinion. Just ask an abolitionist.
[00:06:35] At this particular panel discussion one of the gentlemen even talked about that. He spoke about the 40 year campaign that the abolitionists and their creation of a broad print culture engaged in in order to argue against slavery. They committed to it for a long time. How long? How long did they commit to it? How long did it take from the first ideas to the actual fruit of the abolition of slavery?
[00:07:09] And he said that this is not happening today to the same extent. Those people were relentless, but today we are weak. We are weak. And part of the reason we are weak is because we are now bowing to the idol of political correctness. We are genuflecting to the God of political correctness, and that needs to stop. We need to stop doing that.
[00:07:33] So going back to the premise of this podcast, which is protest literature, one of the panelists said that protest literature is any form of communication that engages social consciousness and may move someone to action.
[00:07:50] Now such works might shock us or bring to our awareness problems of which we weren't aware. Others may cause us to doubt our preconceived assumptions or our prior assumptions or our preconceived ideas through the use of satire or absurdity. Something like Joseph Heller's, Catch 22, for example. But in the end, all protest literature is meant to cause change in the audience.
[00:08:20] Now, to that end, I would argue that all literature is protest and so would Richer Wright, he said, "All literature is protest. You can't name a single literary work that isn't protest."
[00:08:33] And that is because at the end of the day, it's all about trying to convey what we value and what we think needs to be fixed in society to some degree. Greater or lesser. Even if it's a very, very, very small thing. Even if it's a small thing. We are the harbingers of morality. We're the pedalers of morality in our society.
[00:08:59] Now, even though I would say every piece of literature is protest literature, there are specific pieces of literature that are intended more for the purposes of causing change in society. In fact, they've been written specifically by the author for that purpose.
[00:09:15] And so what I wanted to do today, just for fun, is kind of go through some of what I believe to be the greatest examples of protest literature that we have. And these are in no particular order. But the first example that we've already discussed is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which was published in 1939.
[00:09:34] We've already discussed this, but the point of this classic novel was to personalize the injustice that was being dealt to many migrants on the road during the Great Depression, and to hopefully raise awareness, and lead to political activist movements to change.
[00:09:55] Another fabulous piece of protest literature was of course, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Now, Uncle Tom's Cabin was meant to do the same thing. It was meant to call to our attention, to personalize the struggle of the slave, and then, call for reform.
[00:10:18] Bring attention to the plight, and then call for reform. Personalize them'. Bring empathy. Not separation, but empathy.
[00:10:28] Now it is responsible for furthering the early anti-slavery cause in the United States. That's how powerful it was. And in the years before the Civil War, it is said that Stowe's novel was the turning point. It's what brought public attention to the daily horrors that were being endured by slaves in a way that hadn't been done widely before.
[00:10:53] Rumor also has it that President Lincoln even credited the novel with being the final tipping point that started the Civil War to begin with.
[00:11:01] That's the power of literature. That is the power of words. That is the power of art. That is the power of painting a picture with characters rather than just a speech, rather than a message driven agenda. You show the truth of the human condition and we cannot ignore it. We must take action.
[00:11:27] Here's another one, one of my favorites of all time, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Now it's considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. Now, this novel is primarily about the dehumanization that passes for justice in a corrupt society that has been separated by the elitists, the haves and the have nots—a complete divide that happens as a result of the corruption of the ruling class.
[00:12:01] Now, the novel follows the lives and interactions of several characters, but particularly the struggles of ex-convict, Jean Valjean, and his experience of redemption.
[00:12:13] Now, Hugo himself explains the overarching structure of his novel. He said, "The book, which the reader has before him at this moment, is from one end to the other in its entirety and details, a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life, from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter. Destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end."
[00:13:05] Through his characters Hugo shows the dignity and heroism that emerges from the absolute worst misery and wretchedness that can happen on earth.
[00:13:18] And we learn a lot from the villains. I've talked about Javert before and how he struggles with the law. It's a contrast between law and grace, right? Justice versus mercy.
[00:13:34] And in Javert's case, he believes that there's no redemption. If you are one way, you're one way forever. There's no nuances. There's no taking into account both the flawed nature of humanity and the inherent dignity of humanity. He has no ability to counter it. He just believes he's righteous because he hasn't been a criminal, and Jean Valjean is a criminal and always will be. People cannot change.
[00:14:02] And when he is finally forced to look at the falseness of his beliefs. He cannot handle it because his righteousness, his Pharisee like conviction that he is good, crumbles. And he doesn't know how to live in that society, so he kills himself.
[00:14:20] But he, too, is a victim of society because those were ideas that were passed on to him that he didn't question or he didn't have the thought ability to think through, which I think mirrors a lot of what's happening today.
[00:14:38] In 1862, Victor Hugo responded to an Italian minister, arguing that his work—thank you, Lulu. arguing that his work was meant to express universal themes and ideas for all time.
[00:14:56] He wrote, "You are right, sir, when you say that the book of Les Misérables is written for all people. I don't know if it will be read by all, but I wrote it for all. It speaks to England as much as Spain, to Germany as much as Ireland, to republics that have slaves, as well as to empires that have surfs. Social problems know no borders. The wounds of the human race, those great wounds which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map. Wherever man is ignorant and despairs, wherever woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of a book to instruct him and a hearth, which to warm him, the book, Les Misérables, knocks at the door and says, open to me. I come for you."
[00:15:50] Today, 150 years later, works like this are still necessary, and they still speak to what is happening today. They still speak to the fundamental problem of the human condition. These are the works that endure.
[00:16:05] The narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by Frederick Douglass, published in 1845.
[00:16:14] Frederick Douglass was obviously an abolitionist, devoted to the cause, the struggle for freedom. And he was involved in a lifetime battle for equality in America. And he wrote this story based on his very own life.
[00:16:29] And here's what he had to say. "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle."
[00:17:02] Now for those of us, and I'm saying us because it is scary, but to those of us who are afraid, I would say the time has come for us to be brave. Too many of us are being silent. We're not saying the things that need to be said. We are kowtowing to the new lingo, the new speak that exists in society. We're afraid to stand up against cancel culture, against woke culture, against these many problems that are existing, transgenderism.
[00:17:36] And the problem that is happening in our society as a result, we're refusing to look at the common sense of every day and the long-term implications of the new morality that's being touted in our society.
[00:17:53] We're really in trouble and it's going to take us being brave to speak up. Now, Frederick Douglass knew what it meant to struggle, but we are afraid of it. We are afraid of it. We've become too nice, too politically correct. What is going to happen?
[00:18:11] All right, number five, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This was published in 1859. Now we have often heard the very first line of that, but I want to read a longer section to you and really, really, encourage you to listen to this
[00:18:28] It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of in incredulity. It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us. We were all going direct to heaven. We were all going direct the other way. In short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received for good or for evil in the superlative degree of comparison only."
[00:19:16] Now reflect on that opening for a bit. Think about how much that reflects what we're seeing today. Holy cow. There are so many overlaps.
[00:19:27] A Tale of Two Cities represents a very nuanced view of the French Revolution. Nuanced because on the one hand it's looking at the aristocracy and how it's abusing their own power and bringing suffering to the people of France, as well as the world in general.
[00:19:46] So the narrator describes how on inanimate nature as well as on the men and women who cultivated it, a prevalent tendency towards a dejected disposition to give up and wither away.
[00:20:01] While Dickens criticizes the social injustice and suffering created by the ruling class, he also shows the horrors perpetrated by the revolution.
[00:20:14] He talks about how the revolutionaries are so fixed on vengeance and they've been so hardened in the furnaces of suffering that no touch of pity could be found on them. There was no mark of pity in them. They were just mean and cruel. So even if they had good reasons to try to change the system, they became dehumanized in their violent struggle to do so.
[00:20:42] And unfortunately, we see a lot of this today. The leftists in our country today are mean and they will destroy you. They are strong. We are weak. We are kowtowing to it. They are not. They are speaking out, but they have lost their humanity.
[00:21:01] I remember in a recent post on Facebook how I mentioned that I had concerns with the woke movement and what it means because it seemed to be resulting in a reverse racism where white people were being discriminated against.
[00:21:19] And one of my friends who happened to be African American responded saying, "White people just don't like it that the tables are turned."
[00:21:28] And so I challenged him and I said, "Wait a minute. If it was wrong for white people to apparently discriminate in this way, why is it now right for you to discriminate against us? Isn't the point to change this altogether? Isn't that the goal? Universal improvement?"
[00:21:51] It doesn't make it right, just that the tables are turned. And this is something that can and has been portrayed beautifully in a novel. Look at the Hunger Games.
[00:22:01] What happens in the Hunger Games? A particular people group is beaten. You've got the one class who is abusing. They're gluttonous. They're corrupt. They are greedy. They have plenty to eat.
[00:22:15] And then you have these other areas that are starving to death and compete in something called the Hunger Games. This is what's happening, right?
[00:22:24] But when the revolution finally comes, what do the people in these little organizations, what do they do? They want to now make the society compete in these hunger games. They want to do the same thing. And that's the problem. That doesn't fix anything. That doesn't fix anything.
[00:22:43] The goal should be to eliminate all such discrimination, but what's happening in our culture right now is that in this effort to "fix" these problems, new ones are being created, and worse ones.
[00:22:57] Our civil liberties are being stomped on and denied. We're being oppressed. We're being silenced. We can't even enjoy free speech. because it doesn't fit the agenda or the goals, the social goals, the social pursuit of justice that the leftists have set, that agenda that has been set. So anyone who speaks out against it is automatically touted a hater, a bigot, a criminal. They are silenced and canceled. Their accounts are eliminated on Facebook and Twitter and all sorts of things. This is wrong. This is wrong.
[00:23:37] A Tale of Two Cities is a critique, both of the conditions leading up to revolution and of the revolution itself in terms of the violent demands for justice that the revolutionaries often have.
[00:23:56] So it's about critiquing the cold and selfish behavior of the ruling class and the way the revolutionaries demand justice. They're violent, it's unjust. Both forms ultimately become exploitive, and that is something we want to avoid.
[00:24:18] Okay. There are of course, many other wonderful pieces of protest literature. I hope you will join me again next week when we will be diving into one of my favorites and one that I think speaks very much to today, which is 1984.
[00:24:36] In the meantime, I want to thank you so much for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.