Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can a Story Change a Mind?

In the aftermath of Bin Laden's death, with thoughts of war and terrorism and extremist violence on my mind, I have been wondering:  Can a Story Change a Mind?
Not all stories are intended to influence the reader's thoughts or instill a message.  Many stories are written purely to entertain.  But some stories have a message - a theme.  Sometimes the theme is the whole reason the writer sat down and put pen to paper - the story exists to explore the writer's theme or message.  But some stories are first and foremost a story and theme is something that emerges but not necessarily the sole intent of the writings.
As a writer, all the stories I write have a theme or message within the pages.  Most often I am not aware of the "theme" until after the story has been written.  As I edit and rewrite and reflect, I see that a theme emerged.  The message is there, now clear before my eyes.
For me, this is one of the great joys of writing.  I love seeing how my subconscious created the story that I didn't know was there, without me even knowing about it - a subconscious conspiracy!  I was just the transcriber for my subconscious who knew where it was going all along.
But the question I have, does the message matter?  Are readers truly affected by the theme?  Do books change minds?
I thought about what I've read and reflected on what, if any, stories had such a profound impact on me that it changed my mind.  I don't mean change a person from the far right to the far left or convert them from Islam to Christian or such other big, whole life changes.  I mean even a subtle change - a little shift in perspective.  Have any stories changed your perspective?
My thought is that there have been a lot of stories that have changed my perspective, if only a little.  We take in a lot of media and stories in our lives and there are probably subtle effects of which we aren't even aware.  But here are two that I know had a specific impact on me:

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle:  I read this book in late elementary school and I read it over and over.  I read a lot of stories as a kid, but this is THE one that I remember the most.  Why?  Because it gave me a glimpse of another world and the possibility that things are not always as they seem.  I was a kid who always felt intuitively that there was more to our world than meets the eye but to catch hold of a book that spoke of it - well, that was life-changing.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee:  This was part of the curriculum in 8th grade for me.  I grew up in an all-white school in the Midwest.  I lived with an "Archie Bunker."  I can pinpoint this book with opening my eyes to ideas about racism in a way no other book had (or has since). Perhaps it even influenced my decision to become a lawyer.  I know for certain that it was around this period that I became interested in social justice.  Harper Lee's story changed my mind.  

There are many others that I'm sure will bubble up to the surface now that I've asked the question, but these are the two most prominent ones in my mind.
Have books changed your mind?  If so, which ones?

Stories are thoughts and thoughts have great power, even the power to change a mind.  Now, more than ever, we need stories.

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