The Truth of Fiction – Good and Bad Fictions?

Are there such things as go0d and bad fictions? What do you think?

In Chinua Achebe’s essay “The Truth of Fiction” (1978), he writes:

“The great virtue of literary fiction is that it is able, by engaging our imaginations, to lead us to discovery and recognitions by an unexpected and instructive route. It helps us locate again the line between the heroic and the cowardly when it seems most shadowy and elusive, and it does this by forcing us to encounter the heroic and cowardly in our own psyche.

How often do we hear people say: “Oh I don’t have the time to read novels,” implying that fiction is frivolous? They would generally add – lest you consider them illiterate – that they read histories or biographies, which they presume to be more appropriate to serious-minded adults. Such people are to be pitied; they are like a six-cylinder car which says: Oh, I can manage all right on three sparking-plugs, than you very much. We it can manage somehow but it will sound like an asthmatic motorcycle!

The life of the imagination is a vital element of our total nature. If we starve it or pollute it the quality of our life is depressed or soiled.

We must not, however, celebrate the beauties of imagination and the beneficent fictions that are spun in its golden looms without mentioning the terrible danger to which it can be exposed.

Belief in superior and inferior races; belief that some people who live across our frontiers or speak a different language from ourselves are the cause of all the trouble in the world, or that our own particular group or class or caste has a right to certain things which are denied to others; the belief that men are superior to women, and so on – all are fictions generated by the imagination. What then makes them different from the beneficent fictions for which I am making rather large claims?

What distinguishes beneficent fiction from such malignant cousins as racism is that the first never forgets that it is fiction and the other never knows that it is.


One thought on “The Truth of Fiction – Good and Bad Fictions?

  1. Beneficient fiction: may open doors into unexplored territory, provide opportunities to broaden one’s own limited understanding of the world, help to recognize and respond to a sense of a shared humanity

    Malignant fiction: can be seen as the opposite of the above – limiting one’s intellectual and imaginative potential, erecting mental (and often physical) barriers, abusing power to perpetuate structures which clearly disadvantage certain groups or individuals

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