Modern Literature and the Christian Writer

Sandra Ardoin_HeadshotBy Sandra Ardoin

Literature took a turn in the early twentieth century. Frankly, whether it was for the better or for the worse depends on your outlook toward each author and work.]

Some of the most notable authors of the beginning decades used their imaginations to influence culture and shine a light on injustice. In many cases, fiction went from the engaging story written by nineteenth-century writers like Mark Twain and Jules Verne to barely disguised podiums for social change.

Don’t get me wrong. All writers employ themes, even Mark Twain, and Jules Verne. Every writer slips a message of some type into the story. As Christian authors, we like to preach, too (in a good and publishable way, of course).

But getting back to the more modern literature of the last century …Literature

People like John Steinbeck took up the cause of migrant workers in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, pointing out the ills of a greedy society determined to squash the little guy. Harper Lee dealt with racism as witnessed through the eyes of a child in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ayn Rand wrote of the struggle between those with unique ideas and those who think alike in The Fountainhead. George Orwell’s 1984 warned against totalitarian power, propaganda, and “big brother” becoming too intrusive into our lives.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The only one of the above I’ve read is To Kill a Mockingbird, which I loved, by the way. But I didn’t love it for the lesson it taught about racism. I loved it for the characters and their interactions. I loved it for Scout and Jem and poor Boo Radley. My guess is that most people have read those classics for the story and not a lesson on society’s ills, but the theme is part of what tugs at the heart.

Today, some readers insist on “edgier” Christian fiction that speaks to deeper issues. The question is how do we treat that edgier subject? As the world might treat it, with dysfunctional or immoral characters, dark settings, and gloomy endings, or as the Bible treats it?

BibleGod’s Word is filled “edgy” stories that involve murder, adultery, war, death, greed, oppression, illness, envy—anything we’d find inside the covers of today’s bestsellers. But underlying each book in the Bible is the theme of hope.

In this century’s modern literature, what do you want to include in your works of fiction and poetry? Do you want to provoke anger, protest injustice, inspire thought, change the culture? How do you want to deliver the message, in a way that jars the spirit or uplifts it? Do you want to leave the reader realizing that life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but it’s not completely gloom, doom, and ultimate destruction? (Okay, even the Bible talks of ultimate destruction, but even then there’s hope for those who grasp it.)

The answers to those questions rest with you, the writer. Whether or not you succeed rests with those who may be reading your work into the next “modern era.”

 

Sandra Ardoin writes inspirational historical romance such as her Christmas novella The Yuletide Angel and her January 2016 release A Reluctant Melody, both set in the 1890s. A wife and mom, she’s also a reader, football fan, NASCAR watcher, garden planter, country music listener, and antique store prowler.

Visit her at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Sign up for her newsletter to receive quarterly updates and specials.

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6 thoughts on “Modern Literature and the Christian Writer

  1. I’m not sure what “turn” literature took in the 20th century. Mark Twain went beyond themes, using satire to confront many social ills. Harriet Beecher Stowe took on one of the greatest social ills of them all, slavery. Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and other 19th c. novelists also confronted social ills in their narratives. Your point about Christians and their writing goals is well taken, but I would suggest that writers (and other artists) have always been concerned about social change. Christians can learn a lot from “secular” writers.

    • Thank you, Lora. I agree. We writers always have our themes. My differentiation had more to do with a feeling of hope we have the ability to bring to others–at least, that was the idea. 😃

  2. I have to agree with Lora that even in the 19 century novelists were writing about social injustices, for example Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell writing about the cruel conditions for factory workers. In the twentieth century, however, people’s notion of social justice has taken a much more liberal, progressive turn – particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality – and literature reflects this. Look at almost any book contest winners and runners-up today and you will see examples of this. Before modernism people derived their notion of social justice from the Bible, and I think that’s why I am still drawn to 19th century books and find modern literature unappealing.

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