Political fiction employs narrative to comment on political events, systems and theories. Works of political fiction, such as political novels, often "directly criticize an existing society or present an alternative, even fantastic, reality." It overlaps with the social novel, proletarian novel and social science fiction. Highly influential earlier works include Gulliver's Travels (1726), Candide (1759), and Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).
Political fiction frequently employs satire, often in the utopian and dystopian genres. This includes the totalitarian dystopias of the early 20th century, such as Jack London's The Iron Heel and Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here.
Greek playwright Aristophanes' plays are known for their political and social satire particularly his criticism of the powerful Cleon in plays such as The Knights. He is also notable for the persecution he underwent. Aristophanes' plays turned upon images of filth and disease. His bawdy style was adopted by Greek dramatist-comedian Menander, whose early play Drunkenness contains an attack on the politician Callimedon.
Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal (1729), is an eighteenth century Juvenalian satirical essay in 1729, where he suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocks heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general.
More recently George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) is an allegorical and dystopian novella which satirises the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin ("un conte satirique contre Staline"), and in his essay "Why I Write" (1946), wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, "to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole".
Orwell's most famous work, however, is Nineteen Eighty-Four and many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and memory hole, have entered into common use since its publication in 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four popularised the adjective Orwellian, which describes official deception, secret surveillance and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state.
19th century novel
An early example of the political novel is The Betrothed (1827) by Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian historical novel. Set in northern Italy in 1628, during the oppressive years of direct Spanish rule, it has been seen sometimes as a veiled attack on the Austrian Empire, which controlled Italy at the time the novel was written. It has been called the most famous and widely read novel of the Italian language.
In the 1840s British politician Benjamin Disraeli wrote a trilogy of novels with political themes. With Coningsby; or, The New Generation (1844), Disraeli, in historian Robert Blake's view, "infused the novel genre with political sensibility, espousing the belief that England's future as a world power depended not on the complacent old guard, but on youthful, idealistic politicians." Coningsby was followed by Sybil; or, The Two Nations (1845), another political novel, which was less idealistic and more clear-eyed than Coningsby; the "two nations" of its sub-title referred to the huge economic and social gap between the privileged few and the deprived working classes. The last in Disraeli's political novel trilogy was Tancred; or, The New Crusade (1847), promoting the Church of England's role in reviving Britain's flagging spirituality.
20th century novel
The Quiet American (1955) by English novelist Graham Greene questions the foundations of growing American involvement in Vietnam in the 1950s. The novel has received much attention due to its prediction of the outcome of the Vietnam War and subsequent American foreign policy since the 1950s. Graham Greene portrays a U.S. official named Pyle as so blinded by American exceptionalism that he cannot see the calamities he brings upon the Vietnamese. The book uses Greene's experiences as a war correspondent for The Times and Le Figaro in French Indochina 1951–1954.
The proletarian novel is written by workers mainly for other workers. It overlaps and sometimes is synonymous with the working-class novel, socialist novel, social problem novel (also problem novel or sociological novel or social novel), propaganda or thesis novel, and socialist realism novel. The intention of the writers of proletarian literature is to lift the workers from the slums, by inspiring them to embrace the possibilities of social change or a political revolution. As such it is a form of political fiction.
The proletarian novel may comment on political events, systems and theories, and is frequently seen as an instrument to promote social reform or political revolution among the working classes. Proletarian literature is created especially by communist, socialist and anarchist authors. It is about the lives of poor, and the period 1930 to 1945 in particular produced many such novels. However, there were works before and after these dates. In Britain the term working class literature, novel etc. is more generally used.
A closely related type of novel, which frequently has a political dimension, is the social novel – also known as the "social problem" or "social protest" novel – a "work of fiction in which a prevailing social problem, such as gender, race, or class prejudice, is dramatized through its effect on the characters of a novel". More specific examples of social problems that are addressed in such works, include poverty, conditions in factories and mines, the plight of child labor, violence against women, rising criminality, and epidemics because of over-crowding, and poor sanitation in cities.
An example of a social protest novel is John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which is a passionate depiction of the plight of the poor. However, many of Steinbeck's contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Bryan Cordyack writes, "Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book's depiction of California farmers' attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a 'pack of lies' and labeled it 'communist propaganda'". Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel and argued their inhumane nature destroyed the settlers' spirit.
This is a list of a few of the early or notable examples; others belong on the main list
- The Republic (ca. 360 BCE) by Plato
- Panchatantra (ca. 200 BCE) by Vishnu Sarma
- Utopia (1516) by Thomas More
- The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys (1578) by Jan Kochanowski
- Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes
- Simplicius Simplicissimus (1668) by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen
- The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan
- Persian Letters (1721) by Montesquieu
- Gulliver's Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift
- Candide (1759) by Voltaire
- The History and Adventures of an Atom (1769) by Tobias Smollett
- Fables and Parables (1779) by Ignacy Krasicki
- The Return of the Deputy (1790) by Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz
- The Partisan Leader (1836) by Nathaniel Beverley Tucker
- Barnaby Rudge (1841) by Charles Dickens
- Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens
- Fathers and Sons (1862) by Ivan Turgenev
- The Palliser novels (1864–1879) by Anthony Trollope
- War and Peace (1869) by Leo Tolstoy
- Demons, also known as The Possessed or The Devils (1872), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Gilded Age (1876) by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
- Democracy: An American Novel (1880) by Henry Adams
- The Princess Casamassima (1886) by Henry James
- The Bostonians (1886) by Henry James
- Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy
- Pharaoh (1895) by Bolesław Prus
- Resurrection (1899) by Leo Tolstoy
- NEQUA or The Problem of the Ages (1900) Jack Adams
- Nostromo (1904) by Joseph Conrad
- The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair
- The Iron Heel (1908) by Jack London
- Under Western Eyes (1911) by Joseph Conrad
- The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists (1914) by Robert Tressell
- The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka
- The Castle (1926) by Franz Kafka
- Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley
- Walden Two (1948) by B. F. Skinner
- Dark Green, Bright Red (1950) by Gore Vidal
- Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand
- The Manchurian Candidate (1959) by Richard Condon
- The Comedians (1966) by Graham Greene
- Cancer Ward (1967) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
- Washington, D.C. (1967) by Gore Vidal
- Burr (1973) by Gore Vidal
- The Chocolate War (1974) by Robert Cormier
- Guerrillas (1975) by V. S. Naipaul
- 1876 (1976) by Gore Vidal
- Vineland (1990) by Thomas Pynchon
- From the Fatherland with Love (2005) by Ryu Murakami
- United States of Banana (2011) by Giannina Braschi
- Occupied (2015) by Joss Sheldon
- The Little Voice (2016) by Joss Sheldon
- Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein
- The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Mars trilogy (1990s) by Kim Stanley Robinson
- American Neolithic (2014) by Terence Hawkins
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