Most of the time, political allegories aren't all that hard to spot. I mean, we all know that the book Animal Farm isn't just about animals who live on a farm (it's about animals who live on a farm who practice Stalinism). But there are still quite a few books out there with subtler political messages—you might have read them once or twice without ever considering the deeper political meaning. And now more than ever, it's time to think critically about everything we read, be it a beloved childhood classic or a late night tweet from our commander in chief. So here are a few books that are a bit more political than you might think.
Of course, there's no such thing as apolitical literature. Every story, no matter how innocuous, exists in a larger context. Remember that adorable kids' book about Ferdinand the bull? Yeah, that book was banned by Hitler for pushing the radical message of pacifism. Ditto to Bambi, which was banned for being an allegory about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Sorry folks, all of your favorite books are radically political.
Here are just a few novels that are a whole lot more than meets the eye:
1'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding
"But wait," you say. "I already thought that Lord of the Flies was political. It's about how all humans are terrible, right?" Ah, but read it again. Lord of the Flies isn't a simple commentary on human nature; it's a very specific commentary on the nature of privileged, English boys. Golding wrote Lord of the Flies to criticize the white supremacist, colonial mindset by turning the well behaved, British school boys into "savages."
2'Yertle the Turtle' by Dr. Seuss
Almost every one of Dr. Seuss's children's books is deeply political. In fact, Seuss started out as a political cartoonist (Horton Hears a Who was written as an apology for his racism in some of those cartoons). But one of his more overlooked stories, Yertle the Turtle, deals with overthrowing an expansionist government. The turtles at the bottom of the heap are tired of supporting the one turtle on top.
3'Flatland' by Edwin A. Abbott
OK, so Flatland might primarily be an allegory about geometry, but there's some cutting satire of Victorian social mores in there, too. The residents of Flatland are all two dimensional shapes, who spend a lot of time and energy sorting themselves into a rigid social hierarchy based on the number of their sides, which... seems pretty silly when you put it like that. Plus, all the women in Flatland are lines who have no voice in society. Abbott makes the social order of his day look utterly unfair and ridiculous (all the while making math fun).
4'Superman' Comics by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
So, yes, there have been many Superman comics, and sure, it's hard to call every issue of Action Comics a cohesive "book." But Superman is undeniably a huge part of modern American literature, and he's also Jewish. Despite the film adaptations casting Superman as a Christ figure (his magical sky father sends him to Earth to save humanity), Superman was created by the children of Jewish immigrants. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wrote and illustrated a superhero for people like them: he's a refugee who fled the destruction of his home, he comes to America as an immigrant, and he fights for truth and justice for all people.
5'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams was a environmentalist who dedicated his life to protecting Earth's wildlife... which is a little ironic, since Hitchhiker's begins with the planet Earth being demolished entirely. The book is an absurd road trip through space, sure, but Adams also sneaks in biting critique of governmental bureaucracy throughout. And he's very clear on the point that "anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job."
6'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley
If you think the moral of Frankenstein is "don't try to play god" or "science is scary," then I suggest you read the actual book. The monster isn't all that monstrous — dude learns French. He just wants his dad's approval, but Victor Frankenstein is too busy being a colossal doofus to parent his damn zombie child. So Shelley's work is much more about taking responsibility for the effects of our actions and learning to empathize with those who seem "other" than it is about scary science.
7'Dawn' by Octavia Butler
A novel about tentacle aliens can't possibly be political... right? (Let me save everyone a lot of time and just say that 100% of science fiction is allegorical, even when the aliens are very silly). Butler's Xenogenesis series is a post-apocalyptic story, yes, but it also explore themes of consent, gender as a construct, and who we consider to be deserving of full personhood.
8'Calvin and Hobbes' by Bill Watterson
I don't think it's controversial to say that Calvin and Hobbes is the greatest comic strip of all time. But besides being a heartwarming, hilarious series about a boy and his tiger, Calvin and Hobbes offers sharp critiques of consumer capitalism and institutional education. Not to mention all the discussion of moral philosophy, death, and tigers' rights.
9'The Wizard of Oz' by L. Frank Baum
There's a lot of debate about what L. Frank Baum "meant" when he wrote The Wizard of Oz. Many scholars believe that the story is an allegory about the gold standard debate (with the Yellow Brick Road as the gold standard and the silver shoes as the bimetallic standard). But even if you don't get excited about 19th century economic reform, the story is still essentially about a diverse group of friends overthrowing a dictator.
10'Harry Potter' by J.K. Rowling
Rowling has been pretty damn clear about the fact that the Harry Potter series is a political allegory against fascism. But even without Jo's tweets, the books stand alone as a fairly strong argument against bigotry, totalitarianism, and blindly following authority. The whole fifth book is about Harry fighting against "alternative facts." If you remember the series as a cute little story about wizard kids, then you might want to revisit some of the chapters in which the cute wizard kids engage in organized civil disobedience.
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