The relationship between literature and society is symbiotic; literature affects society and vice versa. And no country’s literature is an exception to this, so the question is not whether American literature affects society, but rather how it does that.
First, how is America affected by its literature? Throughout history, American literature has been an agent of social transformation. The works of several writers in the country have, over the years, influenced a lot, ranging from triggering Americans’ cravings for change to helping people unwind.
From Randall Fuller’s speech on how American literature was affected by the civil war, we gathered that the American civil war, which had a great impact on the country, was as a result of the effect of literature; a piece written by Sydney Smith. It challenged people of the country to be themselves. Barely three decades after the piece reached most Americans, the civil war started. And there was a quest for change.
By the time everything went down and America would start to be the independent country it is, with not only clearly defined but advanced culture, governance, technology, and science, we saw literature at work again. The likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson cheered and piqued Americans to wake up and see that they could do it on their own. This made the post-war American literature focus on a strong desire for uniqueness and total independence. The people no longer had to let the English man’s conventions and norms define theirs.
Further, through works like “The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” American literature helps shape the collective identity and narrative of the nation. It mirrors the beliefs, values, and social norms of the time period in which it was written. This helps readers understand the historical and cultural context of a particular era in the country.
Similarly, some American literary works, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” played a role in shaping public opinion and influencing policy. Because literature, as we already know, has the power to inspire social change and activism.
For this reason, we shall say that American literature is able to affect American society because it is an effective medium through which the people communicate their common dream, predict the future, and preserve their identity.
How American Literature Affects Society
Broadly speaking, American literature has been significantly impactful on not only Americans, but also on people of several other countries— not to hyperbolize ideas.
This proposition is evident in the fact that the United States is one of the top countries dominating global book production, after China. In 2015, the International Publishers Association published a report confirming that the United States is the second of the two countries dominating global book production with about 339,000 new titles that year.
What is the implication of this? People do not read because they just want to read, they read because they want to learn. This, coupled with the point that society affects literature, as we have learnt earlier, depicts that: to some degree, there has to be Americaness in every American literature.
So, in some ways, when we read an American book, our paradigm of thoughts may be affected by American ideologies, beliefs, and philosophies. By increasing everybody’s chances of coming in contact with it, American literature can affect society significantly.
By and large, this premise drives us to conclude that by being one of the most read countries— with high book production ability, American literature has a good chance of affecting us as individuals and as a society at large.
Disclaimer: Talking of how American literature affects society, our viewpoint shall be divided into two aspects; considering the answer to the question in the two ways people may have in mind. Because in this context, by society, some people want to know how the American literature affects America, while on the other hand, it should be realised that together all countries make a society; society.