The Instigator
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3 Points
The Contender
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0 Points

Literature is highly influential in society.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/1/2012 Category: Society
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,316 times Debate No: 20156
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (1)




First off, allow me to define the key words in my topic so as not to create an argument lost in a muddle of semantics.

Literature: Written works, esp. those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit. (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd ed., revised).

Though literature is generally considered to be a work of fiction, many works that have been traditionally considered literature are based in nonfiction (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Jack Kerouac's On the Road) and as such should not be excluded on the basis of their nonfiction content.

Influential: having great influence or something or something.
Influence: the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.
(Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd ed., revised)

When I say society, I mean both modern society as well as society of the past. I will focus primarily on American literature (and thus American society) as I am more knowledgeable in both American literature and American history, but as my argument does not rest on a diverse selection of literature I do not find this to be problematic.

For this portion of my argument I will explain how literature has worked to bring about social and political change in society, followed by examples therein. If my opponent chooses to refute this claim, I will turn to other methods of "influence" in my rebuttals.

Contention 1: Literature has the ability to bring about social and political change in society.

Example 1 - Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

This novel was the best-selling book of the 1800s, after the Bible, so its influence cannot be disputed for lack of circulation. The work was exceedingly controversial, insofar that a bookseller from Alabama was forced out of town for selling the novel and Stowe herself received a multitude of threatening letters and messages. I am not going to offer a plot synopsis, but the work condemns slavery. Abolitionists utlilized the novel in order to gain emotional-driven support from the general populace, and scholars cite the novel with the alteration of the slavery issue from a matter of state's rights to one of morality (a change that was key in the Civil War). American historians cite the novel as one of many factors that increased tensions between the North and the South, resulting in the Civil War, which in turn resulted in the abolition of slavery.

The Classic Text: Harriett Beecher Stowe. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library. Special collection page on traditions and interpretations of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. See chapter five, "Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Politics of Literary History."

Example 2 - The Jungle, Upton Sinclair.

This novel, though written with the intention of exposing the hardships experienced by immigrant workers in the early 1900s, instead deeply disturbed the public with its descriptions of the unsanitary and oftentimes disgusting practices of the meatpacking industry. The work illicited a sharp response from President Theodore Roosevelt, who claimed that the novel consisted primarily of falsehoods. Roosevelt then sent men to inspect meatpacking factories, only to find that nearly all the claims made by Sinclair in his novel were true. These findings along with pressure from the public led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

July 31, 1906, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Elting E. Morison, ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951–54), Vol. 5, p. 340
Sullivan, Mark (1996). Our Times. New York: Scribner. p. 222. ISBN 0-684-81573-7.

Having provided these two novels and their aftereffects as testaments to the social and political change wrought by literature, I feel that I have effectively proven that literature is highly influential. That is, literature has the capacity to have a large effect on the character, development, or behaviour of society. If my opponent chooses to refute this claim, I will be happy to display how literature is influential in other facets of society.


I thank my opponent and hope to have an informative debate.

I have no objection to the definitions provided. But, I wish to narrow the scope some and make this solely about the influence of American novels on American Society seeing as there is limited space for arguments. Furthermore, pro holds the burden of proof for this debate and has to prove how influential literature is in society or the influence is null.

I also wish to add my own definitions:
Abolitionism: antislavery activism between the early 1830s, when William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator, and the Civil War

Pro begins by citing two novels, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The novel is undoubtedly anti-slavery but, this book is not as influential as my opponent makes it out to be. First of all, the abolitionist movement was not as widespread and influential as my opponent makes it out to be. Very few people were actually abolitionists and the majority of the population of the North abolitionists to be dangerous fanatics. More people were Republicans who did not want to abolish slavery but, instead wanted to stop the spread of slavery. The novel Uncle Tom's Cabin did not bring northern political leaders to abolish slavery. Just look at the 1860 elections, this was Republican vs Democrat. The Republican platform was to stop the SPREAD of slavery not abolish it outright. Furthermore, Lincoln, the Republican candidate, only received 39.8% of the popular vote (1). So a majority of the population did not even want to stop the spread of slavery. Lincoln did not even receive unanimous approval from the North. If Uncle Tom's Cabin was so influential, in this regard, why didn't a majority of the population support Lincoln? In fact, Abraham Lincoln said that if he could preserve the Union without freeing a single slave he would do so. Second, tensions between the north and south were not influenced by Uncle Tom's Cabin, political decisions such as the Dredd Scott decision, the Kansas Nebraska Act (which repealed the Missouri Compromise--the major reason there was no Civil War earlier), states vs federal rights (the biggest reason for the Civil War), and the election of Abraham Lincoln were the reasons strained tensions between the north and south erupted to war within the United States. Uncle Tom's Cabin was not influential factor in this.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

On June 30, 1906 the meat inspection act was passed. My opponents sole claim is that the novel provoked Roosevelt to send men into meat packing factories to inspect them which caused the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. First, the Pure Food and Drug Act passed Congress on February 12, 1906 before the novel was published on February 28, 1906. Second, the Meat Inspection Act. There were two main reasons for this. European refusal to recognize US meat packing laws and Roosevelt's investigation into the meatpacking industry between 1904 and 1906. Before the book was published. Political and economic pressure from Europe is much more influential to the highest levels of politics then a novel.

Literature is not highly influential seeing as it was not the major factor for beginning or continuance of either issue presented.
Debate Round No. 1


I also thank my opponent, I also hope to have an informative, intelligent debate. I agree with your wish to narrow the scope to American novels and American society.

In regards to my opponent's qualms concerning Uncle Tom's Cabin:
I concede that there were a multitude of more important factors that proved influential in the beginning of the Civil War, and you are correct in your assertion that the abolitionist movement was not a widespread one. My oppoent is also correct that the Republican platform, prior to the Civil War, was to stop the spread of slavery (in order to preserve the Union, which was Abraham Lincoln's wish as well). However, during the course of the Civil War, the Republican platform experienced a monumental shift. Lincoln, among others, saw that to win the war, the issue of slavery would have to be diverted from strictly a matter of states' rights to one of morality. The Republican platform shifted to a stance that regarded slavery as immoral (Christianity was a large influence in this). Incidentally, the major precedence for this shift to morality, with strong ties to Christianity, was, by and large, Uncle Tom's Cabin. I apologize if I did not make this clear in my earlier argument.

In regards to The Jungle:
I apologize, but I have to call out a major factual error. Yes, The Jungle was published on February 28, 1906. However, the Pure Food and Drug Act passed Congress on June 30, 1906. As for the Meat Inspection Act, my opponent mentions European refusal to recognize US meatpacking laws. This is true, of meat inspection laws passed prior to the Meat Inspection Act, but every source I have read makes it very clear that the act was the result of pressure by the American public in response to the book, coupled with Roosevelt's investigation, which was also prompted by the book. European influence is never mentioned in association with that particular piece of legislation. If I may be presumptuous, can I ask if my opponent used "Meat Inspection: Theory and Reality," by Gabriel Kolko, as a source? If so, then Kolko also makes it clear that, while the meat inspection movement was the result of European pressures, the Meat Inspection Act was really not. (Kolko asserts that the views of the public were misguided, and questions the legitimacy of the "reform movement" as well as brings up the issue that the meatpackers themselves were not in opposition of regulation legislation and the act was passed relatively painfully. Kolko, however, never denies that the novel created a controversy that Roosevelt, though he made no action upon first reading the novel, was forceably dragged into).

My opponent also states that Roosevelt investigated the meatpacking industry between 1904 and 1906. If my opponent means the investigation commissioned by the Neill-Reynold's Report, which then led to the Meat Inspection Act, then my opponent again has again misreported their dates. The report was conditioned by Roosevelt shortly after March of 1906 (as cited in Kolko's article), in direct response to the allegations made by Sinclair.

Though the true influence of Uncle Tom's Cabin is certainly debatable, such as the startling complexity of the Civil War, the fact remains that The Jungle was, in fact, the primary reason for the passage of the aforementioned two acts.

Without the publication of The Jungle, it is reasonable from a historical standpoint to assume that those two acts would not have been passed (I am not saying that similar legislation would not have been passed at a later date, but those two acts would not have been passed). Thus, that novel was the primary force in the passage of legislation that had a major effect on the food industry in the United States, something that certainly effects the majority of its citizens. If that is not highly influential, then I do not know what is.

As for Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is facetious to make the assumption that the Civil War would not have turned out the way it did without the novel, which is why the level of influence of that novel is debatable.

In any case, I have defended the influence of The Jungle, but if I might I would like to present another book that has been influential on American society, this being Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Rather than being written specifically as an instrument for social or political change, as the previous two novels were, Kerouac's novel was highly influential in the facet of society that was American Culture. Kerouac coined the term "beat generation" and utilized it in his novel. From this novel came the "beatnik" stereotype, and with it an entire cultural movement reflected in television, movies, etc. of the time. Many radical student movements cited the novel as an influence, and Bob Dylan claimed that the novel inspired him to write protest music. Civil right opponents as well as proponents utilized the novel in order to support their platform. Coupled with Allen Ginsberg's Howl (another piece of literature), the novel effectively created an entire cultural movement in the United States.


I want to thank my opponent for his response and continue forward.

Uncle Tom's Cabin:

The Republican platform shifting to stance regarding slavery as immoral was for two main reasons, first, as Pro says, Christianity was a major factor in this shift. Second, the tide of war was turning. The Republicans main priority was keeping the country together, at all costs. If this meant keeping slavery in the country, so be it. The Civil War was fought for the variety of reasons I explained above and in the first year or so of the Civil War the South was actually winning. Look at the Battles of Bull Run and the massive Confederate advance into the North within the first year. After that though, the battles of Shiloh, ending with the Confederate loss of Corinth (a key logistical point) and the Battle of Gettysburg turned the tides of war against the South, the North was now winning. It is because the North began to win the Civil War that the Republican platform changed, not because of a novel. Even the North had slavery in a way, wage slaves, who ran the Northern factories? Irish immigrants who got paid a small amount to do dangerous tasks, lived in villages owned by factory owners, and were constantly indebted to these factory owners. Is this much different from the southern concept of slavery?

The Jungle
According to the American Pageant (AP US History Edition), in the early 1900s, European countries were banning importation of meat from the United States because they, rightly believed, that the meat was tainted and packed under disgusting conditions. The economic loss that these huge corporations received was massive, an entire market basically was shut down overnight. This caused Roosevelt to want to do something which would be in the best interests of both corporation and the American, and foreign, consumer. Furthermore, according to the book Principles of Meat Science (4th ed) from pages 261 to 288, Roosevelt began his investigation in 1904, two years before the novel was published. This novel, while a factor in getting the legislation passed, was not as important as the economic factor and the investigations into meat packing factories, before the book was published, were more important factors then the novel.

On the Road
I must concede this point because there is no way to refute the facts presented by Pro.
Debate Round No. 2


I would also like to thank my opponent, both for his response as well as for the debate as a whole. It has been a pleasure debating you.

As for Uncle Tom's Cabin, I concede that the complexity of the Civil War was such that the influence of a novel is extremely difficult to measure, especially when the other factors you present are taken into account. As such, I would like to dismiss the novel.

Now I will address The Jungle. Coincidentally, I too used the American Pageant, AP US History Edition, last year. My opponent s correct, in the early 1900s, European countries were banning meat importation, and legislation was passed to rectify this, but the Meat Inspection Act was NOT passed for that reason. The Neill-Reynolds report was commissioned in 1906, which was then cited in the passage of said Act. The report was commissioned in response to public outrage ignited by the muckraking novel. I am not saying my opponent's sources are incorrect, Roosevelt may very well have began investigating meat packing factories prior to 1906. However, it was in response to the Neill-Reynolds report that the Meat Inspection Act was passed, and the Neill-Reynolds report was commissioned in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt in response to public indignation concerning the novel. Here are the sources that confirm this:

James Harvey Young's, "The Donkey that Fell Into the Privy," page 476
The June 05, 1906 issue of the NY Times:;(Which mentions the inadequacies of prior meatpacking legislation created to assuage Europe's fears).
The USDA Website:;
Harvard law website:

As my opponent has conceded my point concerning On the Road, I will nevertheless address some additional instances where American literature influenced American society.

Thomas Dixon Jr's work, The Clansman, romanticized the Klu Klux Klan and was a primary source for their ideology during the revival of the second KKK. It was adapted into the natoriously racist film, The Birth of a Nation, which provided a vision of the KKK that William Simmons (the founder of the 2nd KKK) sought to emulate. Dixon's novel portrayed the Klan with their classic white costumes and burning crosses, both of which were then adopted by the 2nd KKK. The Klu Klux Klan went on to create a reign of terror for African Americans living primarily in the South.

Thomas Paine's Common Sense while arguably unfair to the British monarchy, garnered the support needed by the Continental Army during the revolution. It brought matters of politics to the level of the common man. In a period where the grand majority of the population was on the fence about the war against the crown, Common Sense convinced much of this population to fight for their independence. Though I concede that other factors were at play during the time period, the fact remains that Common Sense profoundly influenced the view of the common man, creating enthusiasm for separation from Britain.

If we consider that religious texts are traditionally considered literature by those studying them objectively, then The Book of Mormon is an incredibly influential American text, for obvious reasons. However, if my opponent does not wish to consider religious texts in the debate, I will allow that to be his prerogative. I believe that the work, however, stands up to the definition of literature that I provided at the outset of the debate.

I believe that I have effectively proven that literature is influential in society. Though political influence is tricky, there is no doubt that American literature has the capacity to have overwhelming cultural impact, as you conceded concerning On the Road.

Again, I thank my opponent for his responses and this intelligent, informative debate.



Alrighty then I'll start with The Jungle then

It was because of European countries banning meat importation that the entire fiasco regarding food safety regulations began. Therefore, because the European countries started the movement their influence supersedes that of this novels influence. Roosevelt's investigations into the meatpacking industry between 1904 and 1906 were a direct result of these European countries banning American meat products.

The Clansman:
The reasons for the KKKs revival were social tensions of urban industrialization and vastly increased immigration. These two factors were the reason the KKK was revived. The Clansman did not cause the KKK's revival therefore, the reasons it began again are supersede the influence of the novel.

Common Sense:
First, the Continental Army was relatively insignificant throughout the Revolutionary War. At it's peak, it had maybe 20,000 men and was plagued with desertions it was the militias who played the biggest role in fighting the British. Second, only 40% of the people within the United States, at the time, supported the Revolutionary War. Another 20% were Loyalist and the rest of the people were neutral throughout the war. The Revolutionary War did not garner the overwhelming support Pro claims it does. Furthermore, the support which was garnered was better gained by depictions of the Boston Massacre or acts made by the British directly affecting the common man such as the Townshead Acts or the Intolerable Acts

The Book of Mormon
If it was so very influential in the United States, why is only around 1-2% of the total population of the United States Mormon? Because most people do not believe in it.

Literature's influence in politics is up for grabs. Nobody can argue that other factors at play when making a political decision.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by aubrey20042 4 years ago
Thanks! :D
Posted by THEBOMB 4 years ago
Aucun problème à tout moment haha

Have a happy experience on DDO haha (:
Posted by aubrey20042 4 years ago
As did I. This was my first debate, it was a very positive experience, and I thank you for that.
Posted by THEBOMB 4 years ago
thank you aubery20042, I enjoyed this debate!
Posted by 16kadams 4 years ago
I am bored and I said that. Arguments are even so far
Posted by THEBOMB 4 years ago
and I don't agree with pro...whats your point?
Posted by 16kadams 4 years ago
I Agree with pro
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by phantom 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: I find pro won on most of the books she presented. Con says that the book of Mormon was not influential because only 1-2 of Americans are Mormon. But that's millions of people and therefore is. Con did make a pretty good case against toms cabin though.