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2021.01.25 13:23


  "Imaginative works such as novels, plays, films, fairy tales, and legends present a more accurate and meaningful picture of human experience than do factual accounts. Because the creators of fiction shape and focus reality rather than report on it literally, their creations have a more lasting significance."

  Do imaginative works hold more lasting significance than factual accounts, for the reasons the speaker cites? To some extent the speaker overstates fiction's comparative significance. On balance, however, I tend to agree with the speaker. By recounting various dimensions of the human experience, a fictional work can add meaning to and appreciation of the times in which the work is set. Even where a fictional work amounts to pure fantasy, with no historical context, it can still hold more lasting significance than a factual account. Examples from literature and film serve to illustrate these points.

  I concede that most fictional works rely on historical settings for plot, thematic, and character development. By informing us about underlying political, economic, and social conditions, factual accounts provide a frame of reference needed to understand and appredate imaginative works. Fact is the basis for fiction, and fiction is no substitute for fact. I would also concede that factual accounts are more "accurate" than fictional ones--insofar as they are more objective. But this does not mean that factual accounts provide a "more meaningful picture of the human experience." To the contrary, only imaginative works can bring an historical period alive by way of creative tools such as imagery and point of view. And, only imaginative works can provide meaning to historical events--through the use of devices such as symbolism and metaphor.

  Several examples from literature serve to illustrate this point. Twain's novels afford us a sense of how 19th-Century Missouri would have appeared through the eyes of 10-year old boys. Melville's "Billy Budd" gives the reader certain insights into what travel on the high seas might have been like in earlier centuries, through the eyes of a crewman. And the epic poems "Beowulf" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" provide glimpses of the relationships between warriors and their kings in medieval times. Bare facts about these historical eras are easily forgettable, whereas creative stories and portrayals such as the ones mentioned above can be quite memorable indeed. In other words, what truly lasts are our impressions of what life must have been like in certain places, at certain times, and under certain conditions. Only imaginative works can provide such lasting impressions.

  Examples of important films underscore the point that creative accounts of the human experience hold more lasting significance than bare factual accounts. Consider four of our most memorable and influential films: Citizen Kane, Schindkr5 LaSt, The Wizard of O~ and Star Wars. Did Welles' fictional portrayal of publisher William Randolph Hearst or Spielberg's fictional portrayal of a Jewish sympathizer during the holocaust provide a more "meaningful picture of human experience" than a history textbook? Did these accounts help give "shape and focus" to reality more so than newsreels alone could? If so, will these works hold more "lasting significance" than bare factual accounts of the same persons and events? I think anyone who has seen these films would answer all three questions affirmatively. Or consider The Wizard of O~ and Star Wars. Both films, and the novels from which they were adapted, are pure fantasy. Yet both teem with symbolism and metaphor relating to life's journey, the human spirit, and our hopes, dreams and ambitions--in short, the human experience. Therein lies the reason for their lasting significance.

  In sum, without prior factual accounts fictional works set in historical periods lose much of their meaning. Yet only through the exercise of artistic license can we convey human experience in all its dimensions, and thereby fully understand and appreciate life in other times and places. And it is human experience, and not bare facts and figures, that endures in our minds and souls.


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