Faith and Fiction: Didacticism in Contemporary Novels

Faith & Fiction
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Sometimes critics denounce Christian authors for their explicit use of didacticism, which is the literary form of teaching of morals to readers. However, while didacticism has become unpopular in the last century, Christian authors can use didacticism without being preachy.

“Preachy” is telling the readers how they should live their lives, as exemplified by a novel’s characters, and some critics think that Christian authors go too far in creating stories that exemplify Scripture without regarding what really happens in life. One example of a didactic novel is William P. Young’s The Shack, which reveals the healing process of a father, Mackenzie Allen Phillips, who forgives a serial killer for murdering his daughter. The novel ultimately shows that when one forgives one’s wrongdoer, one will be healed within one’s spirit.

While Christian authors should be commended for promulgating Scripture, some critics denounce them for their blatant Christianity. It’s as if the novels are compelling readers to obey the novels’ biblical morals, and these critics seem to think that Christian novelists should show readers what the Christian life is like without telling them how to live a Christian life. However, Christian authors will inspire their readers no matter how explicit the use of didacticism is, and whether the use of didacticism is inappropriate for the novel is up to the author to discern.

Flannery O’Connor, a Southern Christian author, says that Christian authors can still portray morals without being preachy. In her essay, “The Church and the Fiction Writer,” O’Connor explains that some Christian authors tend to create their plots around a certain theological message that they believe their readers need to hear. While this evangelism is not wrong in itself, O’Connor says the job of evangelism should belong to the evangelist, while the storyteller should reveal the story’s morals through the plot of the story itself. In her own short story, “Good Country People,” O’Connor writes about a middle-aged woman who loses her wooden leg to a Bible salesman who runs off with it after she flirts with him. This plot seems awkward, O’Connor admits, yet from the life of the lonely woman, readers infer that the wooden leg carries more meaning than simply an object of transportation. It symbolizes how the woman values herself, and when the salesman steals it from her, he is essentially stealing a part of her personality.

When authors write their novels, their faith will show through no matter what they write, even if they don’t mention God. Novelists don’t necessarily need to quote Scripture to be Christian or didactic, but they shouldn’t infuse Scripture or biblical references into their books if their readers are unaccustomed to such references. Instead, the authors should make the spiritual references or moralistic themes flow within the context of the story. Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie reveals the hope of a 10-year-old girl, Opal Buloni, who finds that even when her mother leaves her, she is loved by her “preacher” daddy, who comes out of his reclusive “shell” and becomes the father that Opal wants. Although the novel doesn’t necessarily gives Opal what she wants, it satisfies her with the thing she needs most: love and support from her family. Further, DiCamillo portrays Christianity in a subtle manner. While most of the characters in the small Floridian town are Christian, they do not necessarily preach (except for the “preacher”) or lecture each other on goodwill. The only instances when Christianity peeks through is when the town’s dame, Gloria Dump, gives Opal the advice she needs about reconciling herself with her mother’s absence, and when Opal finally accepts that fact and becomes closer to her father, she says her heart is “full all the way up,” and the readers are assured that all is well.

Sometimes didacticism is acceptable in literature. It seems that no matter how many biblical allusions or Scriptural references are in the novel, some readers will resonate with these morals, because they accept the fact that these morals are appropriate within the chosen genre. DiCamillo’s novel shows what didacticism ought to be: It doesn’t always mean the characters receive what they want, nor out of their piety do they get what they deserve all the time; but almost always, didacticism shows that by honoring one’s God or one’s people, one will be blessed in some fashion even if the circumstances do not always align with one’s desires.

Some authors portray the world in a way that compels readers to admire the characters’ integrity, and by creating characters with seemingly flawless faith, even when the characters endure suffering trials, the authors paint a picture of Christian life that some critics think is inaccurate. But what may seem inaccurate or too moralistic may be the perfect thing that will attract readers to those kinds of novels. If the readers are blessed by the novel, who is to judge how the author should tone down the use of didacticism? That is up to the authors to decide, and when the authors remain true to their convictions, the readers will respect the authors’ decisions.

“Deep in the Sand” – a novella of a freshman girl finding her love

To all college freshmen out there, this was me in your place. A few years ago, I got the inspiration for this story when I was homeschooled and daydreaming about a young girl whose teacher was distant and odd, but she grew an admiration for him, and this story is the culmination of that bond between them.

I presented it to the class BIB3235 Genesis for Dr. Boyd Seevers at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, as a final project for this Fall 2013 semester.

Deep in the Sand

“Comfort in Solace”

Published in Creative Communications, Inc., this poem was written for the Teen Writers’ Group at the Wescott Library in Eagan, Minn. Every week, we create stories or poems based on exercises our teen librarian gives us. This is a product of those exercises.

 

My parents were gone, and I was taken away

And placed in the orphanage, to my miserable dismay,

Yet I would often leave the building and quiet my thoughts

And escape the wretched place, to where I knew not;

I would run to the field, and there I would stop,

For I saw such wonderful beauty from beyond the hilltop.

 

The flowers I spotted from the golden plain

Gave me thoughts of gladness that flushed out my pain

Though I was full of sorrow at my going away,

I was content with staying here until the coming of my day;

The sunlight sparkled and shone unto my face

Breathing in the warm air, I basked in this solace.

The beauty of the brightness,

The freshness of the air—

These were my comforts that wiped out my despair.

 

Though I knew this was but a fantasy and a dream,

I gazed at the sun and its glorious sunbeam,

And I knew that I would return to this place

And breathe in the fresh air, and bask in this solace.

“Coming Back to Traditional Art”

I’ve always been an art fan, but never a modern art fan. Give me Rembrandt. Give me Michelangelo. But never give me Rothko or Picasso.

In this essay, I explore a brief excursion on the transition from traditional art to modern art, and the reasons why our artists today should consider the art of centuries ago. This essay was published in the Summer 2010 edition of Celebrating What’s Important to Me, an anthology of children’s essays published by Creative Communications, Inc.

 

To some people, modern art is a wonderful, creative display. There are many cases in which the modern painting or sculpture evokes a sense of admiration from the audience. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, for instance, has attracted thousands. The Saatchi Gallery of London hosts some of the best-known works of any era across the globe.

However, when modern art is compared to traditional art, particularly that which was created between the Renaissance and the nineteenth century, there is a huge difference. Traditional art prompts clarity, details, and purpose to convey some story or meaning that reflects the hardships or triumphs of people. Modern art has not done this. In the areas of paintings and sculptures, it has not achieved fine detail or high quality. It has obscured the detail and hidden the meaning so that most viewers are left to wonder, “What is the purpose to the art that we’re looking at?”

Art is a portal through which the artist expresses his emotions and feelings. It has a definite purpose and meaning to it. It conveys an idea or story through crafted, time-honored means. If artists and viewers wish to know how to attain or discern excellent art, they must study the arts from centuries ago. They must see the results that have come from nearly five thousand years of work to see the beauty, excellence, and clear purpose that can be defined as excellent art.

“Simply Bask”

Published in Inkstone, the literary magazine of the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, this essay describes my tranquility as I traverse the campus in autumn dusk.

IMG_0543
Northwestern campus, spring 2012,
view from my dorm

I finish my charts early this day, as I close the evening’s assignments and head to my dorm. Burdened by Environmental Science and Elementary Physics, I drop my backpack onto the concrete stairs and plop onto my favorite bench, oak slabs knit from curves of wrought-iron, resting between the sidewalk and the parking lot. White pines line the street with straw-colored needles and meander past the Ericksen Center down to the unnamed pond.

Fog hovers above it as a hazy line nesting across the spots of dark water poking through the cracked ice. Near the shore, tangled weeds merge among mucky pebbles abroad distilled mud. Layers of pines form a web with their boughs, each branch splayed at acute angles like bristles from a comb. They fade into a whitened blur.

The lamppost shines brighter than the hidden sun, accents the bristles’ silhouettes, stark against fading gradient. Blush meshes with gray like sooty ice. Clouds the color of peach puff then fade as if soaked into the mesh, while hazy lines of pines stick like spokes behind naked maples.

Near my bench, a bonfire blazes for the Ericksen athletes. Teen guys in jerseys whoop as they commemorate some athletic success. Streaks shoot like firecrackers as flames crack open the logs in mini explosions, curling the bark from dirt to smoke to ashes leaping onto my bench as I brush away specks of soot. Elms glow golden as shadows flicker. Umber leaves, still clinging since autumn, flake as if rusted from winter’s frost. Whippoorwills squeak like a piccolo out of tune. Skateboards clip-clop over dents and cracks in the sidewalk. Cars whizz by on crunching gravel, their lights an interruption, their sudden flash illuminating the forest in a quick blaze like pale sulfur.

There is a certain restfulness in this place. A certain refreshment that though deadlines have crammed me into boxes and dates, there is a beauty even in the momentary sitting, when I ease myself from these burdens. I sit on the bench, breathe in this sulfur, and simply bask.