Why Stories?

Caspar David Friedrich — Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818)

Almost every time we read a story, they are all different in some way or another. Every story has a different setting, conflict, or purpose. But these stories are all built in a similar way in that we follow the journey of the people that traverse through this unique world and face their unique conflicts. An author’s way of getting their message across to readers is through these characters and their journey. This message will then inspire the readers to make meaningful connections with other experiences they’ve had, come up with their own message, and then share that message with other people in their life. All of these events will stem from following these fictional characters in their own stories. But what if we take the characters out of a story? Will the story still fulfill its purpose? Haruki Murakami said that “The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on The System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them.” Following an individual helps the story fulfill its purpose very well because you can see how The System creates conflicts for the character and how it impacts them emotionally. However when a character is taken away from the story, how will we “keep a light trained on The System?” We can’t. A character creates a more detailed understanding of The System more than a description or criticism of the system ever could because the reader can understand a character’s plight and emotion rather than just learn about The System. Stories work because humans are built to understand humans, not systems.



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