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Steps to Success » New Cultures

Counterculture and Literature

The counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70s is widely considered to be at the forefront of many important social changes in the Western world, which in its aftermath rippled across the globe, impacting people even to this day. The word counterculture explains itself: it is essentially an anti-establishment/mainstream cultural phenomenon. There have been many countercultural movements throughout history, but the one that still has significant impacts on us arose from 1950s opposition to the Vietnam War, later extending to other areas of social life, particularly racial segregation.

The literature that sprang from this period and was inspired by it reflects the dramatically shifting attitudes of the period. Reading these texts can teach us a lot about the dramatic changes brought by the countercultural movement. Taking two significant books as examples, let’s look at how they demonstrate the impacts of literature, which can create tangible change in our very lives.

The first of these is Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. Published in 1984, it is a collection of Lorde’s essays and speeches from 1976 to 1984: important reflections and deliberations that explore the themes of oppression pertinent to counterculture. They include but are not limited to sexism, classism, racism and homophobia. One of the more important essays is The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, which offers the insightful critique that the structures that create systems of oppression cannot be utilised by marginalised groups to achieve true liberation. For that to occur, one must seek alternatives.

The second of these takes a step away from the epicentre of counterculture, but is nonetheless influenced deeply by it: 100 Years of Solitude, written by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez in 1967. Reacting similarly to the dynamics of the Cold War as to the Vietnam War in the US, anti-imperialist sentiments brewed and formed the climate in which the Latin American Boom occurred. In the novel, Márquez was able to render the complex lives of the Buendía family with his masterful use of magical realism, in which reality is depicted in conjunction with curiously magical moments. Rather than diminishing the violent realities of war and colonial capitalism that runs through the novel, it actually enhances and sublimates them.

These two books had significant impacts when they were published and continue to do so today. Lorde and Márquez have inspired countless readers to consider the societies in which they live in new and interesting ways. Reading texts such as these helps us ask questions about how and if society changes and what our responsibility is to make the world a better place.