What are they?
Literary protests are an author’s way of rebuking aspects of society through novels, short stories, poems and movies. The author/director will often have a specific issue in mind and will
shape the narrative, message and form of their work around educating the reader on the problem and/or evoking thought in the reader about the issue to allow individual minds to come to individual conclusions of the workings of society. Although the narrative and message of a storyline are relatively obvious tools used by authors to invoke emotion and thought, form is often overlooked or seen as a side note to communicating the author’s point. However, as the saying goes, the medium is the message.
The medium is the message:
This phrase was created by Marshall McLuhlan, a Canadian communication theorist, in the first chapter of his book ‘The Extensions of Man’ (published in 1964). It explains how the form of the medium is rooted in its message, creating an interdependent relationship between the medium and the message as the form of the text influences how the message is received. So, if an author puts so much effort into evoking multiple layers of individual and purposeful perception, it’s important to consider all these layers when trying to understand the true meaning behind a story.
With that in mind, here is my number one literary protest:
The Handmaid’s Tale:
This novel was published in 1985 and was written by Margaret Atwood. It is a dystopian novel formed an account of the protagonist and narrator Offred during her time in Gilead, the new name for New England, set in the near future. Handmaids (of which Offred is one) wear long red cloaks with white screens on either side of their faces to shield their bodies from prying eyes, including their own. These handmaids have one sole purpose in life, to reproduce. This novel details the internal conflict of Offred in her struggle to survive, thus giving in to the confining, sexist regime of Gilead, and her desire to rebel against such female degradation and detention. From the plot and setting of the storyline, the novel has a very clear feminist focus. However, the purpose of this focus is seen through the form. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is narrated from the perspective of Offred (as previously mentioned), but due to this limited point of view, the narration is unreliable so the reader doesn’t get a full character arc or narrative arc as one person, Offred, cannot know the thoughts and feelings of those around her. This invokes intrinsic human curiosity in the reader and allows the reader to think of the faults in humanity which could have led to a dystopian society. Thus, Atwood created a literary protest as, through the feminist narrative and the confined storyline paired with the dystopian setting, she creates negative connotations with female restraint.
Some other literary protests I would recommend:
The Bell Jar (novel by Sylvia Plath - feminist focus with perceptions of being alienated from society resulting from rebelling against societal conventions)
Avatar (movie directed by James Cameron - focuses on the inherent human instinct of the survival of the human race and the lengths of destruction humanity will go to for survival to be achieved)