Why Do We Read Fiction?

I have always loved stories but I have always hated to read. Fiction, in my experience, has always been intriguing, however I believe my dislike for reading is rooted in my impatience. If I pick up a book and am not interested within the first five pages; I immediately get frustrated and often occupy myself with what I see as a better use of my time. I have realized, however, that when I do attempt to read, I often enjoy the ride. My favorite part of fiction is its ability to dramatize situations and consequently teach people lessons that can be applied to their non-fiction lives. I would like to become more of a reader, and a large part of why I chose to take this course was as a way to experience literature that challenges me.

As a child I enjoyed the classics. Books like Where the Wild Things Are and my favorite, Dinosaurs in the Dark have always triggered my imagination, and seemingly brought me to new worlds that were far more exciting than the one I lived in. These children’s books have taught me basic lessons that will always reside in the depths of my subconscious. They have changed me and made me daring, explorative and curious just like the fictional characters in these books. As I got older, Harry Potter became the new big thing and my mother began to read the series to my brother and me at night before bed. This was an escape from reality for the three of us. With the turn of each page, we became more and more engulfed in this magical world of wizards and witches and less a part of the stressful world that surrounded us.

Then came high school. As the stress of reality increased, conveniently the depth and complexity of fiction increased. I took several English and creative writing courses which further opened my eyes to the wonders of fiction. We read books like “The Catcher in the Rye” from which I learned about the conformity that society imposes on people, and what happens when you try and escape it. In high school I often had to write my own fiction, which I preferred to reading. Writing was a gateway to free expression. It allowed me to create a world and share my own thoughts in a dramatized and comfortable manner. I recall once for an assignment I was asked to create a story explaining how the iceman “Otzi”, who was found mysteriously frozen in the Alps with spear wounds from over a thousand years ago. I have never had as much fun writing as I did for this assignment. I named the iceman after my older cousin Yanis; an interesting character whom I had met for the first time in Greece the previous year. Magically, Yanis had gone from just my charismatic big cousin, to a ruler, with character flaws that eventually lead him to his icy death in the Alps. Like most authors, I enjoy disguising my feelings and ideas in fictional tales. People can learn so much from fiction and this has so far been my favorite part of English 109.

In English 109 I have enjoyed the opportunity to continue reading more lesson packed tales. Reading the assigned stories and directly applying them to situations in my own life has been my favorite part of the course. I much enjoyed reading “The Story of an Hour” because of its rich and vivid imagery, and its underlying message. As Mrs. Mallard spent time alone, after hearing of her husband death, “she saw beyond that bitter moment, a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin, 85). This independence, sense of self, and consequential bliss that she achieved after the death of her husband is conceptually rather interesting. Chopin was showing us what relationships can often do to people. I do not believe Mr. Mallard was a bad husband, but I do believe that Mrs. Mallard grew dependent on her husband for her own happiness, when the only true happiness can be found within one’s self. This story spoke to me because of its relevance in my own life. Many of the characteristics of Mrs. Mallard’s relationship with her husband mirrored characteristics of a a relationship I once had. I realized that I was looking for my happiness in someone else, but in reality what I needed was to be happy with myself. Chopin beautifully illustrated the beauty of independence in this short tale and this in itself is beautiful to me.

Another short story that we read for class that I enjoyed reading was “Words, Sweet Words” by Jacqueline Guidry. The division that occurred between the French and the American English speakers in Louisiana was interesting and somewhat foreign to me. One thing that the author illustrated that was troubling was the codependence between culture and language. It seemed as if you could not have one without the other. Does the loss of one imply the loss of both? The narrator seems to imply this when she states, “But then I am only an old Women who hears French in her dreams and longs to hear it from her children and their children and their children to follow, a long unbroken stream of soft, rolling sounds” (Guidry, 6). She shows us that with her children’s loss of her beautiful language, her culture and even her happiness are being lost. As a first generation Cuban-Puerto Rican American this is sad for me to read because although my parents both speak Spanish I am not fluent in it and rarely speak it. Sometimes I wonder if my parents long to hear the language of their childhood in my voice. One thing that was interesting was the prejudice that was apparent between the narrator’s father and the small American salesman (Guidry, 6). Immediate negative judgment was apparent. Growing up in New York, the people who I surrounded myself with were very open to different languages and welcomed them. It is interesting to see that prejudice can actually cause someone to dislike an entire language.

In reading “The Scarlet Letter” I have gained inspiration from the character Pearl, a character that seems to be affected by prejudice as well. It is incredible that the adversity that she has gone through is forming her into a strong, fearless, and independent woman. Her mother’s alienation from society and consequently her own, has allowed her to be free from society’s constraints and free to believe what she wants to. This idea is exemplified when the narrator explains, “ Throughout all, however, there was a trait of and if, in any changes, she had grown fainter or paler, she would have ceased to be herself-it would have been no longer Pearl” (Hawthorne, 85). Her isolation from society has allowed Pearl to be herself without the influence of others imposing ideals. It is clear that the society that Hester and Pearle find themselves in has a questionable moral code, that the society’s idea of what is right and what is wrong is skewed. This is exemplified in chapter 5 when Hester does charity work to help the less fortunate and is still continually ridiculed for her Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne, 79). With this, Hawthorne is showing us that sometimes the collective knowledge of a society can change and even corrupt people; it is intrinsic to believe that someone who is charitable, regardless of the mistakes she has made in the past, should be respected. I think that he is showing us that sometimes, even if just mentally, we should remove ourselves from society and question our beliefs in order to be our true selves, just as Pearl has been able to be her true self.

Fiction is a process and there are many ways to interpret a single story. Much of what we know and believe as human beings is taught to us through fictional tales. People have always taught lessons and expressed themselves through fiction. Whether it was around a fire after a hunt, or in a 400-page book in a library, authors have always given their audience the privilege to digest the stories that reside in their heads. We as the audience should take advantage of this and attempt to sincerely learn from fiction.



Works Cited

Chopin, Kate, and Kate Chopin. The Story of an Hour. Logan, IA: Perfection Learning, 2001. Print.

Guidry, Jacqueline. Words, Sweet Words. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1984. Print.