By its very nature, the artistic community is a liberal force. At the same time, however, artistic works are open to interpretation and can provide insights into ideas that go well beyond what the artist intended. The "intentional fallacy" holds that since no one can say for sure what the author's true motivation was for writing a given story (not even the author), critics are free to interpret textual meaning as they please, without the bonds of "author intention" to hold them back. The novels below are overtly political in some cases and subtle in others. Either way, they're great reading for conservatives.
As a political statement against totalitarianism, Animal Farm is widely considered Orwell’s magnum opus, even surpassing his other masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty Four. Set in an English barnyard, the novel is written as if it were a children’s story. Its dystopian themes, however, are purely adult. After pigs Snowball and Napoleon convince the other farm animals that their existence is woeful, they join together and overthrow the farmer, Mr. Jones. Following their successful revolution, the animals work out a system of governance that puts the pigs in charge. As social classes begin to emerge and the pigs’ promises of freedom and liberty begin to fade with each passing year, the animals are left to wonder whether they are truly better off.
Set in a future where The World State regulates every aspect of people's lives to ensure the continuation of a peaceful, mundane and functionary society, Brave New World examines the loss of individual identity and the threat posed by an overreaching government. In Huxley’s novel, traditional reproduction is no longer necessary since children are born in hatcheries, and class struggle is eliminated by the stratification of society into five castes, each of which knows its role and isn’t inclined to question it due to a conditioning process that has replaced learning. As one of the most important political novels of all time, conservatives will find eerie similarities between it and contemporary society long after they've put it down.
Rand’s novel about architectural genius Howard Roark’s conflict with bourgeoisie society and his arch-rival Peter Keating is widely seen as the manifestation of her philosophy of objectivism, which holds that true morality should be motivated by reasonable self-interest as opposed to artificial mandate or societal imposition. Roark begins the novel as an intense idealist willing to sacrifice creature comforts to pursue his architectural passions. The political complexities necessary to bringing his visionary works to fruition are nearly impossible for Roark to navigate, however. The process, which is wracked with corruption, dilutes the purity of his designs. Roark’s ultimate act of defiance is at once shocking and poetic.
One of American literature’s most celebrated novels, The Red Badge of Courage is Stephen Crane’s story of a young man’s search for courage under fire. The novel’s main character, Henry Fleming, deserts his battalion after concluding that the Civil War is un-winnable. During his escape and his subsequent adventures, Fleming learns that courage is as much about compassion as it is about bravery, and that it isn’t a quality that’s easily recognized or defined.
Although much of Go Tell It on the Mountain deals with race and racism, the story’s central plot is about a black teenager’s crisis of religious identity in 1935 Harlem. Drawing heavily on Biblical imagery, Baldwin uses a unique division of chapters to tell the story of John Grimes, the 14-year-old protagonist, as well as those of his resentful father, his loving mother and his protective aunt. While the novel takes place over the course of a single day – John’s birthday -- Baldwin uses clever flashbacks to reveal an intense back story. Conservatives will appreciate Baldwin’s spare prose and cultural conservatives in particular will enjoy this unique perspective on American life in the early 1900s.
To Kill a Mockingbird centers on Scout and Jem, the children of protagonist Atticus Finch, who all live in the pre-World War II segregationist Southern town of Maycomb, Ala. The main conflict of the novel is the trial of Atticus’ client, Tom Robinson, an African American who is clearly innocent of the spurious charges against him. As Scout and Jem struggle to understand the dark side of human nature, they become enraptured by their mysterious neighbor Boo Radley, with whom they have several notable encounters. The frailties of justice, the cruelties of human nature and the difficult, but rewarding aspects of moral correctness are all explored in Harper Lee’s literary masterpiece.
The Great Gatsby, published four years before the crash of ‘29, chronicles the collapse of the American dream in the 1920s. Although its initial reception wasn’t great, Gatsby was adapted into a Broadway play and a Hollywood film within a year of publication. The novel is written from the point of view of Nick Carraway, a dapper Yalie and veteran of World War I. Carraway becomes fascinated by his gregarious, wealthy and excessive neighbor, Jay Gatsby. The Great Gatsby presents a number of contradictory concepts and explores a variety of themes about life and love and underscores just how fleeting prosperity can be, and how important it is to pursue one’s authenticity.
One of the most important novels of the 20th century, Kerouac’s literary masterpiece is the story of Sal Paradise, a depressed writer who finds happiness and love thanks to his friendship with the reckless Dean Moriarity. The story takes place over three years, from 1947 to 1950, during which Moriarity marries three times, divorces twice and has four children. Sal is the sobering yin to Moriarity’s raging yang, and as the two men crisscross the country together, they experience a variety of adventures. Many of the characters in On the Road are based on real people from Kerouac’s life and much of its plot is derived from the author’s actual experiences. On the Road embodies the American spirit like no other work of fiction before or since.
After her husband is inexplicably delayed for more than a year on his migration from England to Puritanical Massachusetts, Hester Prynne, gives birth to a daughter. Hawthorne’s iconic female protagonist is tried before a court, which finds her guilty of adultery and forces her to wear a scarlet “A”. Her lover, the well-respected minister Arthur Dimmesdale, finds himself unable to admit to his indiscretion and publicly acknowledge his paternity of Pearl, Hester’s daughter. Hester, meanwhile, accepts her sentence with dignity and eventually comes to be a vital member of the community as she embodies the novel’s themes of perseverance, self-reliance and moral clarity.
A cautionary tale about the pitfalls of decadence in the 1980s, Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities revolves around Sherman McCoy, a young, wealthy investment banker with a 14-room apartment in Manhattan. After being involved in a freak accident in the Bronx, he is accosted by prosecutors, politicians, the press, police, clergy and a variety of thugs, who all epitomize varying strata of America’s “me-first, gotta-have-it” society.