Politics and Literature Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Politics and Literature

Politics have been a fertile source for literature since ancient times. Because the success or failure of any one political ideology depends so heavily on the ability of adherents and detractors to promote or defame it, literary pursuits—both fiction and nonfiction—have frequently coincided with political pursuits. The literature of politics has for hundreds of years taken the explicit form of journals, magazines, and newspapers, in which writers openly engage in propaganda or protest. From the early to mid-twentieth century, proponents of socialism and fascism in Europe, the United States, and the newly formed Soviet Union established newspapers in order to spread information about and gain further support for their causes. African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s found that literary journals with a political orientation allowed them an outlet for both protest and creativity, and the number of black political poets quickly grew. Many writers have taken a less direct approach in their political works, often for fear of social or legal repercussions under repressive governments. Political satire first appeared in Greek theater; by the late seventeenth century it had become a sophisticated tool of protest and discontent, employed with much effect by such writers as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Twentieth-century political satirists like Joseph Heller have often turned to black humor to critique what they consider grossly unjust governmental policies. Writers have also used allegory to voice their dissatisfaction with political regimes and, in Latin American countries in particular, have often added magical realism to their allegorical tales to expose governmental corruption indirectly. The great popularity of novels since the nineteenth century has allowed writers the most versatile medium for promoting their political beliefs. From George Eliot's extended tracts on English law in her novels to the openly racist propaganda of some writers in the American South, novelists have successfully integrated their art and their politics. Nevertheless, writers around the world continue to risk punishment, exile, and even death when they publish their political works, regardless of the literary genre they choose.