The Novel as a Tool for Survival

Much of what Krystal writes about the novel also applies to drama, but the difference is that theatre presupposes a community. The writing, editing, manufacture, sale, and criticism of books is, of course, a communal endeavor, but the novel as an artifact can be experienced in isolation.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.53.38 AMFiction, speaking very generally, is about the individual in society, about the expectations and conflicts that color a life when an obdurate reality stands in the way of one’s self-image or desires. Novels don’t have to be overtly political, but they do, in one guise or another, reflect the civilization that helped shape them, and, as Orwell liked to say, “Inequality [is] the price of civilization.” The invisible centerpiece of every great novel is the protagonist’s rebellion or coming to terms with his or her place in the scheme of things.

Novels, of course, communicate a lot more in carrying out their design, but what seems to me beyond dispute is that literature, when undertaken seriously, is a celebration not of life but of awareness, an awareness of the human condition, which is both communal and individual and inevitably strikes a balance, palpable or barely perceptible, between the two. — Arthur Krystal, The Chronicle of Higher Education