Literature as a method of understanding the past

The concept of fiction as a way of understanding the past is one that resonates with me quite strongly. Call me a Pollyanna but I don’t think I could have ever understood at all the despicable standards that slave traders and Colonial ideals subjected slaves to. The sheer depth of indignity that a slave endured during this time is still slightly unfathomable to me. To have work for a master that potentially was violently cruel, would rape and take away your offspring.
As a counter point though, I can’t imagine ever treating a fellow human differently because of his skin type, much less kidnapping them from their only home to work in servitude. If it weren’t for Toni Morrison, Sue Monk Kidd, Joseph Conrad, films like ‘The Help’ and ‘Lincoln’ I would never appreciate the scope and magnitude in which slaves suffered and even after slavery was officially abolished how hard the fight was. There are so many people who have read similar works and would have similar experiences. Literature allows us to empathise and experience another way of life.
This is the great gift that fiction gives us, the ability to see both sides of an experience and still agree that both sides are wrong in how the society was run. We are able to see how things can change for the better with the almost 20/20 vision that history gives us. (Im slightly cynical that all historical texts are all ‘truth’….. at least with fiction you can sometimes concede some artistic license has been given, forgive my cynical nature!)
What book or real life adaptation really resonated with you on the topic of slavery? It doesn’t need to be highbrow literature or even based on real life events to make an impact. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences….

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