Human Dignity in the Eye of Fiction

The art of weaving words together, turning them from phrases into long meaningful sentences, evolving into a complete collection of words, making up a prose, poetry or essay – had always excited me ever since I was a child.

I had always wanted to be a writer. To tell a delightful story, to be the reason why someone had to smile, to lend my voice to a generation – I had always wanted to be a writer. But as I grew older, something kept striking my heart – a question – a poser, “Where do stories come from?”

For the writer, we know that stories are everywhere – from personal experiences, personal contact with people, quick flashes, an insatiable reason to share a particular belief, and the list goes on. But one truth remains evident for every writer – stories are woven around four letters: an IDEA. Stories are all about ideas. It’s more than just fiction – mere delight. For the writer, it’s a tool to spread a message.

How powerful books are; they have the capacity to spur our minds, to open our eyes, to make us understand things differently, to bring answers to conundrums in our mind, to unleash our potential, to give us a reason to support or reject a motion, to query the status quo and generate a new understanding. Books are powerful.

But let’s not forget that stories are all about ideas – the writer’s idea.

During my Track A training, I learnt about how the walls of communism was broken down in Poland. It was stated that one of the most sensational events during the solidarity decade was how the émigré poet – Czesław Miłosz, used his poems to highlight the ills of the communist government, and strengthen the ideology of the people that freedom was imminent. Social awareness grew, and the understanding of the human dignity came to the fore, and this truth helped to shatter communism in Poland.

Over here in Africa, we also have great writers who have used their works to advance the dignity of humans and the freedom of man, and one of such is Chinua Achebe. Nelson Mandela in one of his speeches loudly praised this legendary work of fiction as the book that broke down the prison walls. The ideology behind ‘Things Fall Apart’ wafted into the prison walls where Mandela was incarcerated, and affirmed the truth that not even colonialism or apartheid could restrain the human freedom or crush the human dignity. This shows how strong the writer’s idea, wrapped around the writer’s quill, had the capacity to spur the human mind towards the ideal direction.

But the affirmation is not the same for every writer’s work. The idea behind every work varies. Today we read award-winning works that foster violence, moral decadence, banality, and all sorts of writing that places the desire for individual gain above the human dignity. The story idea determines the narrative, while the narrative determines the underlying message. Fiction is at the mercy of the writer – and the writer, like an omniscient being uses his/her narrative skills to plot the story – while the reader at the receiving end is also at the mercy of the writer’s ideology.

But I believe that just as human dignity precedes human right, so does human dignity should stand at the centre of fiction. The writer should consider the dignity of man above personal gains. But it is also noteworthy to state here that it is only the writer who understands the value, worth and dignity of humans that would cherish this ideology, and be guided by it. Man is the greatest of God’s creation, and should not just be used as a tool or an entity meant to just drive the writer’s plot forward.

I published my first novel in 2011, with a good understanding about the human person. But I had quiet fears that such work wouldn’t gain public acceptance. But when I came across the World Youth Alliance last year, and completed my Track A training this year, my understanding about the dignity of man was brightened and my faith was reaffirmed to place the dignity of the person at the centre of fiction.

By Ayodele Oyeku. If you would like to learn more about Track A training, click here.