Analysis for Characteristics of Social Protest Literature Social protest literature is rooted in 18th century literature that addressed social problems, but which, more often than not, did not present a solution. Protest literature of this nature became most prominent in the mid-20th century, after the Japanese forfeit of World War II and ranged from the Vietnam and Cold War through hippy and civil rights movements and still continues today.
The extent of topics discussed in this era of literature cover a wide variety of topics ranging from the mentally disabled to technology’s effect on nature to the implications of weapons of mass destruction.
“Average Waves in Unprotected Waters” by Anne Tyler, “Traveling Through the Dark” by William Stafford, and Hiroshima by John Hersey discusses all three of the aforementioned topics respectively. Key factors of these social protest texts are the inclusion of a set of characteristics that act as the deliverers of the main theme in a text of this type.
Contained in these three works are elements of social protest literature that include direct and indirect characterization, the use of foreshadowing and suspense, tone, symbolism, the use of setting, implied theme, and objective and subjective perspectives. “Average Waves in Unprotected Waters” by Anne Tyler is a prime example of social protest literature through its heavy use of indirect characterization, foreshadowing, and suspense. “Arnold went on looking at the ceiling, but his gaze turned wild and she knew he’d heard” (Tyler 1063).
Arnold’s character is a severely mentally challenged child, but rather than telling this information to the reader directly, Tyler reveals this through Arnold’s actions and responses; his constantly absent expression and his, often violent, abnormally induced fits. In the first paragraph of Tyler’s short story, she writes, “As soon as it got light, Bet woke him and dressed him, and then she walked him over to the table and tried to make him eat a little cereal. He wouldn’t, though. He could tell something was up” (Tyler 1063).
The last sentence of this quote is an excellent example of foreshadowing, a key element in social protest literature that subtly suggests the outcome in a story. At the end of the story, Arnold’s mother, Bet, is at the train station where her train back home has been delayed and she is asking herself, “What am I going to do? ” (Tyler 1070). The delayed arrival of Bet’s train creates a disturbance in her plans and the question she asks herself helps to raise questions in the reader’s mind as well, all of which creates another key element of this short story: suspense.
Anne Tyler’s short story easily demonstrates important characteristics of social protest literature. William Stafford’s poem, “Traveling Through the Dark,” is another work that display’s common characteristics of social protest literature, such as a specific tone, strong symbolism, and a significant setting. In this poem, Stafford uses an uncomfortably simple choice of words to describe an event that would typically be of little interest to most people, exemplified when he said, “I dragged her off; she was large in the belly” (Stafford 1054).
In using this uncomfortable and interesting choice of words, Stafford creates a dark and serious tone that clearly signifies the deepness that is meant within his simple words. Although the poem is short, the car and the deceased doe on the side of the road have a much deeper meaning beyond what they appear to be (Stafford 1053). Stafford incorporates symbolism, another characteristic of social protest literature, into his poem through the ideas of nature and how severely and negatively human manufacturing and machinery has impacted it, represented by the deer and the car.
The setting of the poem is described in the first four lines: Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead. (Stafford 1053) The use of setting in this poem, as in all other literature as well, is significant because without it, the poem would lose much of the darkness and seriousness that is established initially by the setting.
Through this poem, William Stafford sets the standard for elements of literature necessary in that of the social protest variety. In John Hersey’s novel Hiroshima, the author illustrates other characteristics of social protest literature not yet mentioned, including implied theme, an objective perspective versus a subjective perspective, and direct characterization. Hersey’s novel about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II gives personal accounts on the moments before the blast of several real Japanese citizens who survived it (Hersey 1199).
The purpose of giving such personal accounts of the blast is to give the reader the idea that this act was a personal act to the Japanese people, and the stories tell of the great destruction that it caused, which make up the implied theme of the novel. Hersey also avoids sharing his own personal opinions about this event and gives only the facts and the stories of the people that are talked about (Hersey 1199).
In writing his novel this way, he gives an objective perspective of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which means that he keeps his own thoughts and opinions out of the text, rather than the opposing subjective perspective, meaning to include personal thoughts and feelings in the text. The novel begins by giving information on the people to be talked about in the next part by saying: A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these [four] were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died.
Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition – a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next – that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything. (Hersey 1199) Giving information about the characters as it is given in the quote above is a clear example of direct characterization and its use in social protest literature.
John Hersey, as a major contributor to social protest literature, demonstrates important characteristics of this type of literature well in his texts, such as in Hiroshima. The three texts analyzed above accurately and clearly display significant characteristics of social protest literature. Social protest texts written about the mentally disabled, conflict between nature and human technology, and the use of dangerously powerful weapons easily utilize these characteristics in a way that define them into their category. In using certain elements of literature, any form of text can be made into one of social protest.
Cite this Analysis for Characteristics of Social Protest Literature
Analysis for Characteristics of Social Protest Literature. (2016, Sep 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/analysis-for-characteristics-of-social-protest-literature/