Saturday, October 8, 2016

Striving for the better

Life is unfair. Bad things happen to good people; justice is often not served. Hard work doesn't always reap proportionate rewards.

It occurred to me that stories are one way we deal with this. Some of the earliest stories I ever read were fairy tales and Aesop's fables. The good people lived happily ever after, while the ones who were cruel or deceptive suffered. The tortoise won the race by working hard--never mind that the hare was born to be faster. Every event had its lesson to teach.

As I grew older, I encountered stories in which the good weren't always rewarded. Things got more complicated. Yet I still looked to stories for insight and comfort. Even if the scales didn't balance in a story, I looked for the author to signal his or her awareness that the scales didn't balance. Atticus Finch loses the big trial in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the defendant ends up dead, but every reader knows that the book is, in a larger sense, calling out injustice. This outcome isn't supposed to be a happy ending.

In stories we often strive for our better selves, the best world we can imagine. Even when we show it by using the worst world we can imagine as a counter-example or warning (as in dystopian literature). Characters change and grow, and even the darkest stories usually end with some ray of hope, the hope we all need.


  1. My argument in favor of an occasional evil triumphing over good story is to show how good people can move on from something bad and unfair. Perhaps that can be the ray of hope?

    1. Yes. Books don't have to end happily, and the good guys don't have to win, to make a larger, more hopeful point.
      That said, there are books that are just completely bleak, but they are rare. Mostly, we want to be uplifted somehow, some way.