Justice in The Round House: Literary Language as a Tool for Social Justice
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Type of Work64 pages
This project explores the way literature functions as a tool for social justice by analyzing Louise Erdrich’s 2012 novel The Round House, a work that addresses the issue of sexual violence toward Indigenous American women. This project is not strictly a literary analysis; the focus is not on what is happening within the text, but what this text is doing in the world around it. In The Round House Erdrich is creating thoughtful, conscientious readers; she creates a space to feel, to think, and to imagine solutions so social problems. Readers of The Round House emerge armed with both the knowledge and sensitivity necessary to navigate issues of sexual violence in their own lives. This is the power of literature in a fight for social justice— it prompts mental and emotional engagement with issues one is otherwise distanced from, and it provides a space in which one is free to imagine different endings. Words hold the power to either allow for or inhibit justice. It is important to see how language has shaped the past so that we can use it effectively in shaping the future. It creates a sort of simulation, a world that is similar to ours but not bound by the same rules. In this world we can imagine the people we’d like to be, how we’d like to act, how we would like the world to change. The novel, at its best, is intended to provoke interaction with the reader. The reader has a responsibility to either approve of or condemn the actions within the text. Literature is entertaining and can distract us from the details of our own lives, but its real social value is in how it reflects reality. Literature gives us tools that we use to interact with the world around us. The Round House is a work of fiction but its value lies in its truth. This novel alone will not undo centuries of violence and oppression, and it will not undo the harmful legislation that is still affecting contemporary Native communities. What we learn and experience while reading literature is not limited to that sphere; we take it with us out into the world.