– by Christy Moceri

I once spent 19 hours arguing with a guy on the internet about a subject that touched me personally. I admit that’s a little extreme – but who among us can’t relate, at least occasionally, to the feeling that we’re talking to a brick wall? People seem more resistant than ever to understanding where we’re coming from. They are committed to their one narrow version of reality, and our arguments, however impassioned, are unlikely to make an impact.

Perhaps there is another way.

In 1906, an American journalist and novelist wrote a book about an immigrant man named Jurgis Rudkus struggling to make ends meet in the meat-packing district of Chicago. The author, Upton Sinclair, formulated his argument carefully, layer by layer, not in the form of academic discourse but through construction of a character who would be the living embodiment of the immigrant plight of that era. Rather than appealing to their logic, he transplanted them into the worn-out shoes of the immigrants themselves. Readers rose early in the morning, worked themselves to the bone in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, and came home with little to show for it but an aching body and empty pockets. Just by nature of inhabiting Jurgis Rudkus and his unfortunate family members, readers were challenged to consider how they might endure similar injustices – and if anyone ought to endure them at all.

The Jungle turned out to be one of the most influential novels in American history. While Sinclair intended it as an attack on capitalist abuse, the result was sweeping change in the working conditions and sanitary practices of the meat-packing industry. Sinclair did not consider this a perfect win. As he famously said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Still, I can’t help but view Sinclair’s work – and others like it – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example – as prime examples of the power that we have as writers. With well-wrought stories, readers can’t help but drop their guards. We lead them to inhabit other bodies and realities, and to see the world in a whole new way. This is one reason it’s so important to embrace diversity in the publishing world. Journalists and school-teachers will do in a pinch, but stories are best told by the people who lived them. Who knows how The Jungle might have transformed society if the story were told by someone who had lived the immigrant experience? Every one of us has a unique perspective and the power to bring that perspective to the page in a way that nobody else can. How will we wield that power?

I’ve always written about the issues closest to my heart, not really with any sort of agenda but as a natural expression of my own worldview. I’m a social worker, and I spend much of my time engaged with issues of poverty, sexism, racism, exploitation, and so-on. This stuff naturally crops up as a major theme in my work. I can try to explain what it’s like for someone to be marginalized, to be financially destitute or sexually assaulted, or I can just let readers experience it through my characters’ lives. Which is going to have the greater impact? I think the moral of the story is that the next time I feel that hot-button internet drive to set someone straight, I’m best served by popping open Scrivener and getting back to work.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.


8 responses to “The Power of Perspective”

  1. GD Deckard Avatar
    GD Deckard

    Thanks, Christy. As Isabel Allende said, and as you are no doubt aware, “All fiction is ultimately autobiographical.” Bringing attention to a need for social change is an excellent reason/motivation for writing.

    Awareness precedes action. Both must occur before change happens.
    We sometimes forget how technology changes our world socially. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out, it wasn’t just knowing that people should not have to work from sunup to sundown that caused factories to change to eight-hour shifts. It was also the invention of the electric light bulb that allowed them to do so.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Liz Gauffreau Avatar

    I remember reading The Jungle. What an incredibly powerful book (although it did turn toward polemic at the end).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    (NOTE: I’m done fussin’ with Word Press’s buggy font controls. It decided to make the latter half of this post boldface–so be it!)


    I enjoyed reading this blog post. (I think we’ve all had the experience of arguing with someone on the internet over a topic we’re passionate about, be it for 19 . . . 90 . . . or 190 hours, heh!)

    Re: “Journalists and school-teachers will do in a pinch, but stories are best told by the people who lived them.”


    Three such works that have forever haunted me post-reading are:

    If This Is A Man, Primo Levi

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X

    Change Me Into Zeus’s Daughter, Barbara Robinette Moss


    Three more books written by expert writers who did not live these experiences, but got the details right from those who did:

    The Boy Who Picked The Bullets Up, Charles Nelson (Actually, the author later claimed “25% of the novel is based on my life.” He refused to say which 25% of the book.)


    The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

    The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

    Perhaps some future blog post could explore the tiresome artist-skill-&-empathy-vs.-life-lived-experience argument re: the criterion of a compelling work of social realism. Or not . . .

    PS. I have provided links for two of these lesser-known works. I think you’ll find exploring these links rewarding.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. victoracquista Avatar

    Thanks for your post! I resonate strongly with what you have written. I have a presentation on “Socially Conscious Science Fiction” and mention other works of fiction that call attention to social ills. “The Jungle” is one of several examples I use to illustrate how fiction highlights what is happening in such a way to not just raise awareness, but to give readers an experience through another’s eyes, a walk in another persons moccasins as the Native Americans might say. “Johnny Got Your Gun” is another classic I remember reading in high school and still cringe at the reality and horror portrayed in that novel. “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” is another memorable such book.
    Robert Heinlein is famous for incorporating social themes into his stories and characters. That’s partly why he is among my favorite authors. I think it can be challenging for authors to include the social messaging without getting preachy or up on a soapbox. I like your statement on writing “…about the issues closest to my heart, not really with any sort of agenda but as a natural expression of my own worldview.” Who better to share your unique perspective than you?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    I had hoped others besides Victor and myself would chime in here with their personal favorites’ lists of social-realist fiction and non-fiction.

    Does anyone else have anything to add to Christy’s original blog post? A particular book, short story, or article (perhaps) that moved them?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. mimispeike Avatar

    I’ll work on it. My mind’s in a muddle at the moment, trying to register for the online version of my pension plan. Aggravating as hell! They just moved it online.

    I’ll come up with some titles by and by. For now all I can think of is Tobacco Road. (Relax, that’s a joke)

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    @Mimi: Helluva contribution, heh! For those who might want to read more about your tongue-in-cheek suggestion (and what’s wrong with a sly, lurid suggested read, BTW? I argue: nothing–if that’s what you’re in the mood for at the moment) I have provided the following link:


    Liked by 3 people

  8. mimispeike Avatar

    Meanwhile, I’m still thinking (What song is that out of?) . . . about socially conscious stuff.

    That article, fun! “Tobacco Road was banned for decades in high-school libraries in Caldwell’s home town. The local police chief said that if Caldwell ever came crawling back, he’d run him out of town on a rail.” I love T–Road, and I read it as black humor. I reread it every few years. I’ll have to look for some of his later stuff. He went downhill into ‘Pulp’ territory? I have to see what that’s about.

    Liked by 2 people

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