There have been countless protests around the world in recent weeks against the evils of racism and police brutality. Many of the admirable participants have been young people of all colors, providing hope for a future where…Black Lives Matter.
Protests also happen in books — often nonfiction ones, but novels, too. Think about it enough, and a person can remember rallies, marches, strikes, and other actions in a number of novels — along with nasty pushback by cops, the military, politicians, and the owner class.
In American literature, memorable protest actions include the narrator in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man rousing a crowd to confront cops evicting an elderly black couple in New York City. Later, that narrator speaks at rallies on behalf of the “Brotherhood” group. And further on in the 1952 novel, riots break out in Harlem over grievances African-Americans face in the U.S. — grievances that in many cases haven’t gone away nearly seven decades later.
There’s also William Styron’s historical novel The Confessions of Nat Turner, about the man who led the real-life 1831 rebellion against the moral travesty of American slavery.
Moving to another country, the French mining strike that’s the centerpiece of Germinal helps make Emile Zola’s novel as dramatic — and heartbreaking — as can be.
Also heartbreaking is the Colombian army’s mass-murder of striking workers in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The horrific event, like the real-life “Banana Massacre” of 1928 it was based on, was virtually wiped out of the history books. Also the case with a white mob’s slightly earlier 1921 massacre of African-American residents in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street” neighborhood.
Then there’s the fruit workers’ strike in In Dubious Battle, one of the few John Steinbeck novels I haven’t read (yet). And an Oregon loggers’ strike plays a prominent role in Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion.
In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, one secondary character (Joshua Chalfens) becomes an animal-rights activist.
Protesters are not always admirable. For instance, doomed revolutionary Udayan Mitra of India is not the nicest or most responsible guy in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, though he’s certainly brave like most people who oppose “the powers that be.” Another part-problematic guy is Sonny, a courageous anti-apartheid activist who cheats on his wife in My Son’s Story by Nadine Gordimer. Sonny’s more-principled family also joins the fight against the oppressive white South African regime.
I’m now on the eighth of Diana Gabaldon’s eight Outlander novels as my pandemic reading marathon continues (most of the books are over 1,000 pages). The 1770s section of the series partly focuses on one of history’s ultimate protests: the thirteen colonies’ successful uprising against monarchical British rule that was commemorated yesterday, July 4th. Of course, the resulting United States became a democracy mainly for monied white males while African-Americans and Native-Americans were treated horribly and women had few rights…
Novels you’d like to mention that include protesters and protest scenes?
Here’s “March March,” a new song by The Chicks — formerly The Dixie Chicks.
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about a new Township Council sworn in after an election that saw many votes not counted — is here.