Fiction, Storytelling, and a Mirror to the Real World
By Annaliese Bennett
When I was in the sixth grade, I had all but convinced myself that I was basically Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. I wanted so badly to be exactly like her; I learned how to do the signature braid, wore a “mockingjay” necklace religiously, and even developed a very middle school crush on a boy in my class who my adolescent brain believed was a dead ringer for her “star-crossed lover” Peeta.
But beneath my surface-level admiration lay the undeniable fact that the novel had fundamentally shaped how I viewed myself and my place in the world. I learned how to find my voice and use it to speak up for the things I cared about. I learned how to develop resiliency in the face of oppression and injustice. And I learned how to be fiercely independent while still caring for and deeply valuing my loved ones.
These are lessons I have carried with me, molding my personality and perspective into who I am today. Lately, I’ve found myself contemplating how my love for the series prepared me for what has felt like an increasingly dystopian year. 2020 thus far has felt a bit like a rollercoaster you can’t get off and there have certainly been moments where I’ve identified with some of the conflicts and struggles I previously believed could only be found in fictional worlds.
While I might not be physically picking up a bow and arrow and starting a revolution, I’ve found that certain elements from the story have been unconsciously prevalent in my thoughts and actions all along. My internalization of the theme of rebellion in the face of inhumanity has helped guide my journey of political activism in the wake of recent events. Immersing myself in the thoughts of a strong female lead who grapples with self-doubt and trying to find her purpose gave me the inner strength that has served as a foundation for how I’ve adapted to the radically different landscape of 2020.
All this is to say that fiction can have a deeply profound impact that translates across everything we do. When we read stories and novels that place us in worlds so vastly different from our own, it creates a framework around which we can rationalize seemingly irrational scenarios or thoughts. Storytelling can give us a dialect to describe what we may have previously been at a loss of words to explain. By forcing ourselves to imagine the unimaginable, we develop a sense of adaptability and open-mindedness that can help us make sense of our surroundings.
The more we read and engage with fictional narratives, the bigger our toolkit grows for tackling the curveballs life may throw at us. Reading and internalizing how characters have reacted to adversity gives us the power to imagine more creative alternatives to combat our own struggles. No longer are our solutions limited to our own experiences, but a wealth of innovative approaches and mindsets are at our disposal to guide our actions.
By getting into the nitty-gritty details of the strife and range of emotions experienced by characters throughout a narrative, we simultaneously develop a sincere sense of compassion and empathy that can be difficult to find elsewhere. Getting up and close and personal with characters’ unique perspectives allows us to understand the thought processes and motivations guiding them, in turn making us more finely attuned to understanding the inner machinations of others’ minds. When we are more cognizant of considering how others’ internal thoughts shape their actions and decisions, we can relate to one another on a deeper level from a place of empathy, rather than our own self-serving interests.
And on a more fundamental level, fiction can validate our struggles and experiences, helping us feel seen in a way we might not otherwise find. While our friends and family may try to serve as resources of support, sometimes seeing the emotions you didn’t know how to express put into words by someone else can be the best source of comfort. Knowing that someone else has made it out alright to the other side of their journey can give us the confidence to carry on with our own.
While turning to fiction certainly won’t help solve all our real-world dilemmas, continuing to read and share stories can help us develop an invaluable skill set that allows for a more critical reflection of ourselves and the world around us.