Disappearance of Poverty in American Fiction

Laila Lalami writes on the marginalization of the poor in contemporary American fiction. The percentage of those living below the poverty line in the US us about 12%, which is the highest in the developed world.In comparison with,say, South Asia, where the percentage of the poor living below the poverty line is three to four times that of the US in terms of percentage and runs into tens of millions, surely greater than the entire population of the United States, the absence of the poor in contemporary American literature is relatively explicable.

Someone needs to do a similar check on desi literature being written in English. Hindi and other Indian languages I suppose are more sensitive to the issue of poverty.

Like terror, poverty is a global phenomenon. According to the United Nations, one out of every six human beings lives on less than a dollar per day. Nearly half the world’s population lacks basic sanitation, and malnutrition remains a leading cause of death for six million children every year. In Morocco, where I was born and raised, poverty affects 20% of the population. Unemployment is very high and it disproportionately affects the young, regardless of education level. It is an all too common experience in cities like Casablanca or Rabat or Marrakech to walk down the street and see cafés packed with jobless university graduates. The solution? Increasingly it seems to be immigration. A favorite joke among school kids in Morocco is this: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “An immigrant.” Yet for every immigrant, legal or illegal, who makes it, a hundred others stay home, making do with whatever they have.

There can be no doubt that terrorism is a threat to Americans as well as to millions around the world. But, as Hurricane Katrina has shown, poverty is as much, if not a greater threat. And yet, despite the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots that affects the entire world, where is the talk of the state of fiction in the age of poverty? Where are the novels that address class divides? Why aren’t people wondering whether fiction can truly reflect a reality where the richest monopolize media attention while the poorest are seen only in times of crises?

One thought on “Disappearance of Poverty in American Fiction

  1. Poverty in a capitalist world is measured in tax-breaks, dumping loose change in the homeless bowl, after swooshing back a warm gulp of Starbucks latte….

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