Quotes from fiction to provoke discussion of current events

In doing reading for my blog of reviews of twentieth century bestselling novels, GreatPenformances, I often come across something relevant to some of my other interests.

Since we celebrated Independence Day in the US this week, I thought I’d share three quotes I copied down as I was reading 1970s novels. I pasted each quote against an American flag backdrop because each seems to me to raise some questions about the condition of America today.

The first quote is from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1976 bestselling novel Slapstick. The novel’s main character is a former US President, who makes this observation about history:

Surprises of history should prepare us to be surprised again.

Is this all history can do for future generations?

I’m saving the Vonnegut quote and a couple others I found in novels as openers for writing prompts about why people ought to care about history.

The next quote is from Gore Vidal’s historical novel 1876, which is an examination of America drawn largely from contemporary documents threaded together into a narrative by the addition of two fictional characters, Charlie Schuyler and his daughter.

The federal government was wracked by scandals, and corruption was rife. Charlie Schuyler sums up the situation this way; President Ulysses S. Grant could "sell the White House to a speculator, pocket the cash, and the people would still love him."

Quote from Gore Vidal's novel 1876.

Gore Vidal’s description of America on its first centennial.

I’ll take Vidal’s word for it that America in 1876 was a "vigorous, ugly, turbulent realm devoted to moneymaking by any means." But if I do that, I have to ask the question, "Has anything changed?"

What do you think? Has anything changed?

The third quote is from Saul Bellow’s bestselling novel Humboldt’s Gift.

A Saul Bellow character says education is American recompense.

Is education how we make amends in America today?

I’m not sure whether it’s true that "Education has become the great and universal American recompense," but I can see why people might think so.

When jobs disappear, the government sends people back to school.

When families can’t afford to have one parent home with young kids, the government provides preschool programs.

When college gets too expensive, public highs schools subsidize their best students through dual enrollment programs.

I hope one of those quotes is enough to make you do some critical thinking. We can’t let our brains get flabby over the summer.

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