The Symbol of Plainness in Contemporary Fiction


The Symbol of Plainness in Contemporary Fiction in Literature

Symbolism has always played a significant role in literature, providing readers with depth and meaning in a story. Throughout the ages, authors have utilized various symbols to convey powerful messages and evoke emotions in their readers. In contemporary fiction, one symbol that has emerged and gained prominence is “plainness.” In this article, we will explore the use of plainness as a symbol in contemporary fiction and its importance in reflecting the realities of our modern society.

Plainness, in the context of literature, refers to the lack of embellishments or complexities in a character or setting. It is often associated with simplicity, ordinariness, and even dullness. However, when used as a symbol, plainness takes on a deeper meaning and serves as a commentary on the state of our society.

One of the most prominent ways in which plainness is used as a symbol in contemporary fiction is through the portrayal of characters. In a world that is constantly seeking perfection and glamor, plain characters stand out. They are unassuming, unremarkable, and often overlooked by society. In Colson Whitehead’s award-winning novel, “The Nickel Boys,” the protagonist, Elwood Curtis, is described as a plain and unremarkable boy. He is unassuming and lacks the charisma or charm that would make him stand out among his peers. However, it is this very plainness that makes him a relatable character for readers. Elwood represents the average person, the one who is often forgotten, but whose story is worth telling. Through Elwood’s plainness, Whitehead sheds light on the struggles of the marginalized and forgotten individuals in our society.

Similarly, in George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo,” the ghosts in the cemetery where Lincoln’s son is buried are portrayed as plain and ordinary people. They are not the terrifying, otherworldly creatures often depicted in ghost stories. Instead, they are simply individuals who have passed away and are stuck in a state of limbo. This use of plainness as a symbol for the afterlife challenges the conventional beliefs and ideas surrounding death, highlighting the mundanity of the afterlife and, by extension, the meaninglessness of societal constructs and expectations.

Moreover, in contemporary fiction, plainness is also used to portray settings or environments. In J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” the small town where the protagonist grows up is described as a plain and uneventful place. With abandoned factories, empty storefronts, and run-down houses, the town is a symbol of the economic struggles and decline of the working-class in America. The plainness of the town serves as a stark contrast to the flashy and fast-paced cities, highlighting the growing inequality and neglect of small-town America.

Additionally, plainness can also serve as a commentary on our societal obsession with material possessions and appearances. In Sally Rooney’s “Normal People,” the protagonist Marianne is described as plain and unattractive. She does not conform to the conventional standards of beauty, and as a result, she is often overlooked and mistreated by those around her. Marianne’s plainness serves as a critique of how superficial our society has become and how individuals who do not conform to societal expectations are treated as outcasts.

In conclusion, the symbol of plainness in contemporary fiction has emerged as a powerful tool in reflecting the realities of our modern society. Through the use of plain characters and settings, authors are able to comment on societal issues such as inequality, materialism, and the struggles of the marginalized. Plainness serves as a reminder that there is beauty and meaning in the ordinary, and that sometimes, it is the most unremarkable things that hold the most significance. As readers, it is important for us to recognize and appreciate the symbolism of plainness in literature and how it can shed light on the complexities of our world.