Tag Archives: experience

Experience, Race, and Gender in Fiction

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Stein’s Melanctha (1909), Anand’s Untouchable (1935), and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) all explore the relationship of class and race. Through the 38 year span in which these novels were published, the gradual expression of race relations changes drastically.  Conrad explores the racial tensions tied to imperialism through Marlow’s close observation of Mr. Kurtz.  Stein stays close to home in her interperspective novel Melanctha, yet ties gender and class together while still depicting an ethnic alternative lifestyle.  Anand, while his novel was published much later, gives the audience a sense of what life is in India’s harsh caste system.  Untouchable explores class closely, but to an English audience, which introduced them to a world other than post-WWI American society.  Finally, Hurston thoroughly captures the relations of gender and race together in Janie Stark.  The novel focuses on her tribulations, instead of a broad sociological effects, allowing the harsh scenes of domestic abuse to expose hidden inequalities other than race.  Over time, fiction writers presented more topics that were not necessarily common knowledge, bringing them to the public eye.  While tackling cultural obstacles is nothing new in writing, the modernists relied on firsthand experience,  allowing for more raw, realistic stories that related to the audience.

Hemingway’s Experience: Death

“‘Is dying hard, Daddy?’
‘No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends.’
They were seated in the boat. Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning.  In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing; he felt quite sure that he would never die.”

It seems as though writing from experience is a common technique for modern fiction writers.  Not only does Hemingway write from his war experience, but he isn’t afraid to include gore (Indian Camp).  Not only does Hemingway enhance the text with descriptive morbid scenes, but he contrasts the melancholy with a glimpse of optimism while tying in the dawn of a new day.

 

 

James on experience

“Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particles in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind; and when the mind is imaginative-much more when it happens to be that of a man of genius- it takes to itself the faintest hints of life, it converts the very pulses of the air into revelations.”

Henry James, The Art of Fiction in Majors stories and essays. Literary classics of the United States, New-York, 1999, p580.

 

Experiences made into convention?

“Selection will be sure to take care of itself, for it has a constant motive behind it. That motive is simply experience. As people feel life, so they will feel the art that is most closely related to it. This closeness of relation is what we should never forget in talking of the effort of the novel. Many people speak of it as a factitious, artificial form, a product of ingenuity, the business of which is to alter and arrange the things that surround us to translate them into conventional, traditional moulds. This however, is a view of the matter which carries us but a very short way, condemns the art to an eternal repetition of a very short way, condemns the art to an eternal repetition of a few familiar clichés, cuts short its development and leads us straight up to a dead wall. Catching the very note and trick the strange irregular rhythm of life, that is the attempt whose strenuous force keeps Fiction upon her feet. In proportion as in what she offers us we see life without rearrangement do we feel that we are touching the truth; in proportion as we see it with rearrangement do we feel that we are being put off with a substitute, a compromise and convention.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” Major Stories and Essays. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1999. pp. 586.

James discusses the importance of when a novel contains truth verses that which has been fabricated. The genuine portrayal of experiences is how Fiction thrives; it is art in its most relatable form.