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The rules and regulations of our society are governed by some mystical forces we don’t know of. Still, our lives go on, we take birth and we eventually die. There are some new rules while some old ones outlive the rest. On pondering, we do realise, that, books published in certain corresponding eras, have shaped the society and people’s’ thoughts and actions. They decided how people felt feelings, thought thoughts and acted as they did. Inconspicuously, books crept into people’s’ lives, and still continue to do so, influence the subconscious and thereby, frame the society. They narrate the story of our lives.

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For instance, classical literature greatly influenced the society in terms of gender biasedness and gradually led to the concept of gender equality, which has been carried forward till date. A lot of women writers wrote about women, portraying them strong, fierce and independent! Also, classical romance stories influenced the way people expressed their love. Getting down on one knee, roses, kisses, are all gestures from the classical era!

Contemporary literature is no longer “innocent,” but ironic, and so is our society today. It reflects our political, social, and personal disillusionment, and no longer dares to believe it can create anything new. It can only cast the old in new forms.  A second trend in contemporary literature is a new cynicism about the role of art and literature itself. For previous generations, literature and other arts were meant by their creators to be “anti-Establishment”–that is, to repudiate and subvert established values and traditions.

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In other words, Art set itself apart from Society, seeing the masses as people who needed to be enlightened, but who were so bound by social and religious tradition and apathy that they probably couldn’t be.  In a third trend, contemporary literature accepts as given the idea, handed down from the early 20th century, that everything we know is dependent on our perspective. I see things one way, and you see them another. Thus, since there is no truly objective observer, there is no such thing as “Truth.” There is only my truth and your truth, and those can change at any moment with the addition of more facts.

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But contemporary literature takes this idea a step or two further, calling into question facts themselves, and arguing that “facts” are unreliable, influenced by culture, historical perspective, language games, and other undiscovered or deliberately omitted facts. Thus, contemporary literature argues, two contradictory “truths” can (and often do) exist side by side. Because of this ability to encompass contradictions, contemporary literature, like contemporary society, sometimes seems schizophrenic. Even as it questions and denigrates the use and value of language, it uses language carefully and precisely to illustrate its ideas. Even as it documents fragmentation and disintegration, it draws all the fragments into a cohesive whole. Even as it celebrates human diversity and laments human alienation, it reveals the universality of human character and emotion.

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Written by

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Arjita Bhan

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