Contemporary Novel as a Representation of the Modern Post-Democratic Society Essay
Western democracies, such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Australia, among the others, are regarded as the worlds where people enjoy the most favorable environments for their lives. Individuals living in those countries share democratic values and proclaim the sacredness of a set of human rights. The twentieth century was specifically important for people who lived in many regions as some of the basic rights became exact norms that tuned into a part of nations’ agendas (Smith 293).
The political struggle of that period and the development of democracies could not but affect authors and their literary works that explored political issues that existed or were emerging. However, the twenty-first century is witnessing another trend as postmodern people living in post-democratic societies are less concerned about political aspects but concentrate on their lives and their development. Individuals are ready and sometimes willing to pass any authority they could have in order to enjoy the right to meet their needs. The contemporary novel is a representation of this trend, which will be discussed in this paper based on the novels by Melissa Lucashenko and NoViolet Bulawayo.
The two novels are two accounts of females pertaining to underprivileged groups. In her book We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo narrates about Darling, a girl living in Zimbabwe, who later comes to the USA. Her childhood and adolescent years were rather hard as her family lived in poverty, so the girl had to steal fruit from a neighborhood where well-off people lived. The novel Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko dwells upon an Indigenous woman living in Australia, Jo Breen, who works hard to buy some land, which will enable her to improve her life.
Although these novels depict life on different continents, they have much in common. One of the similarities in the protagonists’ acceptance of the established norms and rules, as well as their focus on their personal issues. In their adulthood, Darling and Jo live in post-democratic societies, which places their self-actualization agenda far from the political domain.
The protagonists’ feelings and thoughts are central to the narrative, and these ideas revolve around such issues as financial security, relationships with other people, and satisfaction of different needs. Darling shares her memories concerning her childhood years in Zimbabwe with a great emphasis on the poverty that reigned in her neighborhood. It is noteworthy that some scholars believe that the depiction of life in Zimbabwe is rather dramatized for marketing purposes (Ndlovu 133).
Even if some exaggerations are present, the narration is still rather realistic. The author reveals the poverty of her country or rather her community through her childhood memories. For instance, food had the highest value for the protagonist of the novel, and she even retrieved the “broken pieces of God” from the “dustbins” of her soul when she saw the plethora of products in America (Bulawayo 238). In the USA, Darling and her friends “saw more food” than they had seen in their entire lives (Bulawayo 238). It is clear that scarcity of resources was of the major issues the people of Zimbabwe had to face.
The distribution of gender roles and females’ vulnerability are also depicted with the help of childhood stories. For example, one of Darling’s friends, Chipo, is a pregnant teenage girl who is likely to become a single mother. Children asking the girl about the father of the child see “a tear in her eye, but it’s only a small one” (Bulawayo 4). Chipo does not talk, which suggests that she could have had traumatic experiences that are common for vulnerable populations.
The description of the hardships of Darling and other African adolescents is linked to certain political aspects. For example, the lack of resources and the poverty of the population of the country can be a result of ineffective management of the authorities, as well as the corruption of the country’s officials (Wilkinson 123). Children’s low access to high-quality public services such as education or health care also points to certain political problems.
Likewise, the vulnerability of females who can be exposed to violence and abuse also shows the lack of governmental support of adolescents and families. Wilkinson claims that the author discusses the political issues of the country through the lens of childhood experiences (124). Since the situation in the country is described, the author places a political agenda to the fore (Wilkinson 124). However, this statement is rather one-sided as a mentioning of some aspects does not translate into its proper discussion.
The author does not take parts or even reveals her attitude towards the existing situation. The narrator provides a child’s realistic portrayal of life with its complexity. There is no evaluation or attempt to change something, but the author remains concerned about her personal issues and her emotions. The novel is depoliticized since the author takes the issues existing in the country for granted. She does not display any interest in trying to take responsibility and improve the lives of her peers in any way.
Moreover, Darling leaves her home and chooses a path of illegal immigrant rather than exploring the opportunities she could have in Zimbabwe. Her personal life and achievements seem to have a higher value. In simple terms, the novel reveals people’s reluctance to be active in political terms and try to make authorities be responsible and effective.
The novel by Melissa Lucashenko is another product of the post-democratic society. In the Australian context, the political aspects touched upon in the book are linked to land issues and the distribution of resources among diverse groups. Lucashenko depicts the hard work of an Aboriginal woman who has to bring up her daughter with no support from anyone. The protagonist had to spend “enough time among the silent majority” which resulted in her “worrying less about tomorrow, and more about today” (Lucashenko 3).
This line represents all the difficulties a female pertaining to a minority group has to address. Moura-Kocoglu argues that the challenges Jo meets and the measures she undertakes to solve the problems can be regarded as the manifestation of female empowerment and the struggle for gender equality (241). Of course, Jo has a job and makes major decisions for herself and her small family, which is a form of empowerment. The protagonist of the novel is also free sexually as she freely starts romantic relationships with the man she likes.
Nevertheless, all this empowerment is related to personal domains rather than the society at large. Jo is marginalized, which is likely to be a result of her ethnicity and the political landscape of the country she lives in. The woman has a low-paid job, and, similarly to Darling from Bulawayo’s novel, has little if any support. Low access to educational or healthcare opportunities is also the by-products of Australian political background.
The description of the problems an Aboriginal woman faces may seem to be an exploration of political issues. Nevertheless, this depiction is confined to personal desires and expectations. Jo seems to accept the established world order. She is not willing to change it but is prepared to adjust to the norms and rules that can be unjust. Again, personal feelings and goals are put to the fore. The protagonist gives away certain rights related to the political shifts in the country to be granted the right to live her life the way she wants.
This readiness to entrust the future of the country into the hands of a person who is willing to take responsibility is the primary peculiarity of the post-democratic individual. Smith argues that authoritarian forms of rule are becoming increasingly viable in western democracies due to people’s focus on their needs rather than the future of their country or nation (292) This attitude towards the future and political aspects is prevalent in the novels under consideration.
Armstrong uses an expression that can become a term defining the primary peculiarities of the contemporary novel (10). The researcher states that bare life has become the primary focus and even the purpose of the contemporary novel (Armstrong 10). Authors tend to concentrate on the description of individuals’ lives and perspectives. Although larger contexts can be present in the contemporary novel, they serve as the background of people’s inner worlds.
The exploration of political agendas and opportunities has become a feature of the novel of the twentieth century. The authors invited readers to respond to various questions regarding the political issues that emerged throughout that period. Democracy and authoritarianism were also a matter of exploration for writers. The focus on personal issues and bare life is a peculiarity of the novel of the 21st century. People are no longer willing to fight for their rights or even explore the political domain.
Authoritarian rule is not viewed as the most dangerous way of the development of western society. People seem to be tired of political activism or being alert as to political opportunities and frameworks. They pass their right to those who are ready to take this responsibility without any fears that they can lose more, and even all of their rights (Smith 292). This low interest in the political future of the country is manifested in the contemporary novel. Authors explore the ways people use to adapt to the existing frameworks rather than change the vices of modern society.
The wrongs of the society do not face any opposition or the desire to change the established rules. Authors do not try to start the discussion of current political issues or opportunities. People learn how to adapt to the new environment. Writers also choose to focus on individuals’ inner worlds and patterns of adaptation. The novel of the post-democratic society is a narrative completely devoted to bare life. Armstrong emphasizes that the life and perspectives of individuals have become a higher priority compared to the focus on the family as a representation of society (8). However, the family is present in the modern novel and serves as the authors’ opinion regarding contemporary society.
The families in the novels under analysis do not possess the features of a conventional family. Single mothers have to live in hostile environments to help their children to find an opportunity to escape. Modern society is a bigger picture of this kind of family where citizens have no willingness to construct strong conventional models. People are eager to escape from the responsibility to contribute to this construction of a democratic society.
In conclusion, the novels by Lucashenko and Bulawayo are illustrative examples of the contemporary novel that, in its turn, reflects the shifts taking place in western societies. The novel of the post-democratic era dwells upon individuals’ perspectives and people’s inner worlds. People’s eagerness to receive an opportunity to live the life they dream of in exchange for their political rights is described in the novels in question.
Novels still serve one of their major purpose, which is to reflect the trends emerging in society. However, authors, being post-democratic citizens, give up their roles as facilitators of the development of just societies. It is possible that the current focus on individual gains can ensure the evolution of human civilization, perhaps bringing to new models. However, the past experience of nations shows that people’s passiveness and authoritarian rule are likely to bring nations to serious issues or even global conflict. Therefore, it can be necessary to reconsider post-democratic values and become more responsible. The contemporary novel can be a warning to people who still have time to turn back to activism and control over their own future.
Armstrong, Nancy. “The Future in and of the Novel.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 44, no. 1, 2011, pp. 8-10.
Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names. Random House, 2013.
Lucashenko, Melissa. Mullumbimby. University of Queensland Press, 2013.
Moura-Kocoglu, Michaela. “Decolonizing Gender Roles in Pacific Women’s Writing: Indigenous Feminist Theories and the Reconceptualization of Women’s Authority.” Contemporary Women’s Writing, vol. 11, no. 2, 2017, pp. 239-258.
Ndlovu, Isaac. “Ambivalence of Representation: African Crises, Migration and Citizenship in Noviolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.” African Identities, vol. 14, no. 2, 2015, pp. 132-146.
Smith, Rachel Greenwald. “The Contemporary Novel and Postdemocratic Form.” Novel, vol. 51, no. 2, 2018, pp. 292-307.
Wilkinson, Robyn. “Broaching ‘Themes Too Large for Adult Fiction’: The Child Narrator in Noviolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.” English Academy Review, vol. 33, no. 1, 2016, pp. 123-132.
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