AP English 12
March 17, 2014
Phase Seven: The Fiction Debate
A comparative essay between the merits of literary and genre fiction as it pertains to audience and style Skimming through the collections of books at a local Barnes & Nobel, one might be stunned to find a copy of the popular fiction The Hunger Games sharing the shelf with the literary classic, The Canterbury Tales. But why should this come as a surprise? Don’t the authors share the same last initial? One could only conclude that this is due to the literary and genre labels placed upon two books. But does being long-winded and verbose necessarily constitute a quality novel? Does having an audience consist of mostly adolescent girls mean that a novel is poorly written? In order to gain a complete understanding of the debate, one must first comprehend the terms that are used to describe the two sides. The term genre fiction refers to popular fiction, which is often described as plot-driven and written with the intention of fitting into a specific genre. Literary fiction, on the other hand, claims no specific genre. Literary fiction is placed within a genre, based on technique, tone, content, and length of the individual piece. Literary fiction is often distinguished as a more serious type of fiction and professes more merit with regards to style, character development, and plot. Genre fiction generally can be said to place less emphasis on characters, and focuses it efforts on development of plot. Genre fiction is sometimes called commercial fiction, perhaps because it sells in great volume relatively quickly. While some audiences are typically attracted to literary fiction for its “academic” appeal and others to genre fiction for its stimulating plot, they both possess scholarly merit, and have mass appeal through conveyance of universal themes and should be judged on an individual basis rather than as a whole.
Having read how literary experts weigh in on the debate, it is apparent that while literary and genre fiction share similarities, one is not consistently superior to the other. Both the novels The Inheritors by William Golding and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis are two books that appear on either end of the spectrum of this debate. The Inheritors is considered a piece of literary fiction for its deep insight into the human and Neanderthal mind. Golding means for us to understand his themes through the perspective of his characters. This novel contains universal and high interest themes. It is written in the simple language of the natives and does not really have a lot of grammatical sophistication. It can be understood best through the biographical and historical aspects of Golding’s life and the time period. The Great Divorce also employs literary devices found in literary works. However, it is categorized as genre fiction. It is a short book about Lewis’ ideas regarding Heaven. Like Golding in The Inheritors, Lewis’ approach may seem simplistic. As in The Inheritors, The Great Divorce, and its significance can be experienced through biographical and historical perspectives. This work also contains themes of high interest, common to the human experience. To those who argue that popular culture makes a slave of the genre writer, one could counter that the genre writer simply mirrors what is taking place in popular culture. The contemporary works of genre authors document current thinking and trends in society. How does incorporating modern thought and events make this literature less valuable than literary fiction? These universal themes appeal to the masses because they are common to the experience of humankind. To further enhance this type of writing, authors of genre fiction frequently employ well-respected literary devices. As previously mentioned, the genre title, The Great Divorce, embodies these characteristics of quality lirerature. In one particular scene, the nameless protagonist is talking to his...
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