can fiction be seen as history?discuss.can fiction be seen as history?discuss.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Hmmmm, I don't think fiction can be seen as history simply as a result of the definiton of fiction (which is generally writing that is invented or imagined, but never true).

However, fiction can be used to teach history in some of the best ways possible!  Just off the top of my head, ... and not generally appropriate for the high school students I usually teach, but very appropriate for my eight-year-old, is the American Girl series of books. Little Felicity growing up during the revolutionary war!  Addie running from slavery!  Kirsten growing up as an immigrant on the American frontier!  These are all great stories and can inspire a love of history at a very young age!

Further, who can look past the American "history" in Uncle Tom's Cabin or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or even The Great Gatsby?!?  I absolutely adore the section of eNotes Summary & Study Guides that's called "Historical Context" because it deals with this very subject.  In fact, I can't seem to teach any literature in high school without talking about the history behind it!  I find it one of the joys in life!

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

All great books have one thing in common--they are truer than if they had really happened.   -Ernest Hemingway

Indeed, there is much history in fiction, the history of the human experience.  In Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, for instance, the novel is based upon the author's experiences in World War I and was partially influenced by the war novel, Le Feu Journal d'une Escouade (1916) of Henri Barbusse, written while the war was yet being fought.  In Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, there are episodes that parallel Ernest Hemingway's own experiences as an ambulance driver in World War I.  And, Leo Tolstoy's epic novel of the Napoleonic Wars contains much discussion of the battles of Moscow. Having read Thomas Carlysle's The French Revolution:  A History, Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, a novel that records the mentality of the bonnets rouges [the Jacques] of France and the pervading evil of the period, Dickens depicts the emotion of this terrible moment in history. 

Time and time again, philosophies, historical events, are examined in fiction, and are, thus, recorded.  Jonathan Swift's satirical writings such as A Modest Proposal probably did more to bring to light the treatment of the Irish by the English better than any historical document.  While they may alter some of the historical facts, fictional works, as Hemingway affirms, are truer than historical accounts because they record the interior of the hearts of those involved as well as the facts.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

All books are a product of their historical context.  By reading fiction, we learn a lot about history.  We also need to know history to truly understand fiction that takes place in another time and world.  Fiction represents not just historical events and day to day life, but also the attitudes and social constructs of the people and place.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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History inspires fiction, but fiction cannot be history. History has happened and fiction is false. Even writers of "historical fiction" pick and choose the "facts" that are incorporated into the fictional account. In addition they embellish the historical account to make the fiction more entertaining.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Yes, it can be, but you have to be careful.

The best way to use fiction as history is to think about what it tells us about the lives and the attitudes of people at the time and in the place that it was written.  For example, we can read Uncle Tom's Cabin to tell us more about the attitudes of people in the 1850s in the USA.

However, we must be careful about how much we believe what the authors say.  In the example of Uncle Tom's Cabin we have to be sure not to think that all people in the US felt the way Stowe did towards slavery.  We have to realize that the book's portrayal coincides with one woman's opinion (and perhaps that of those who bought the book).  We cannot simply assume that all people at a given time shared the opinions and values of a given author.

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