“Art is not only a mirror to reflect the society, but a hammer to shape it”
Literature is a reflection of the society – is a fact that has been on Earth for quite a few centuries. It was Plato who first pointed out a relationship of co-dependance between literature and society. Plato was a Greek philosopher who with his teacher Socrates and student, Aristotle laid the philosophical foundations of western culture. Though Plato must have pointed it out, the “beginning”, however it said to be Madame de Stael’s paper published in 1800’s Paris. Even Joseph Hermann Muller, an American geneticist mentioned fifteen years ago that Art is the product of it’s age.
Literature is said to be the body of written works produced in a particular language, country or age. Literature, through it’s written body of works reflect upon norms, values and various ethos of culture. It shows class struggle and certain types of social “facts”. It reflects the society and social patterns with all it’s good values and it’s defects, for what is society, nothing but a voluntary association of people with common traditions and institutions but distinguishable standard of living.
Literature, as an imitation of human action, often presents a picture of what people think, say or do in society. In literature, we find stories designed to potray human life and action through some characters who, by their words, actions and reactions, convey a certain messages for the purpose of education, information and entertainment. It is impossible to find a work of literature that excludes the attitudes, morale and values of the society, since no writer has been brought up completely unexposed to the world around him. What the writers of literature do is transport the real-life events in their society into fiction and present it to the society as a mirror with which people can look at themselves and make amends where necessary. Literature, thus, is not only a reflection but also can look at themselves and find the need for positive change. In it’s corrective function, literature mirrors the ills of the society with a view to making the society realize it’s mistakes and make amends. It also projects the virtues or good values in the society for people to emulate. In May 1712, Alexander Pope, wrote a mock epic ‘The Rape of the Lock’, condemning the aristocratic Catholic society of Queen Anne’s England. Through his work he satirizes the trivialities and vanities in general of fashionable men and women. In 1949, America was suffering from victimization of workers by the capitalist employers. Arthur Miller came out with a bourgeois tragedy, ‘The Death of a Salesman’ which exposes the inhumanity of some employers against their employees, whom they use and dump without the regard of their well-being. Miss Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was directly responsible for a movement against slavery in literature and life in USA. Similarly, pre-independance Indian society in reflected in literary works like Raja Rao’s ‘Kanthapura’ or Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry and short stories. Our own modern India can be seen in the works of Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Dutta, Nikita Singh and other upcoming writers. The society of diaspora is provided it’s own reflections in the works that of Sir V.S Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahari or as old as Dante Alighieri, the author of The Divine Comedy who was exiled from his home in Florence, Italy. Modern poets such as T.S Eliot, W.H Auden, Dylan Thomas are reflected in their works, a society, disillusioned and dissatisfied with the world. They represented the society with a shaken faith in God and Life due to catastrophe of World War I.
If we take any work of literature, from any part of the world during any age or period, the result will be similar. Each work represents and reflects the social, political, economic or religious situation of the society in which it is set. Literature is an imitation of human life and action. Thus, it is reflection of the human society; a manifestation of change in the man’s perspective, crystallized and evolved with successive passing age.