Imagine a world ruled by a fascist dictator, a world where people can be imprisoned in a concentration camp for their political beliefs, outspokenness, or simply because of the whims of the authorities. A citizen military force terrorizes the populace, and those who speak up for others' rights are brutally executed without trial or even a warning. This world is in an era of extreme militarism, mass book burnings, racism, and anti-Semitism. Then imagine that this is 1936, and this is not happening in Italy or Germany—it is happening in the United States of America.
This is the world of Sinclair Lewis' 1935 dystopia, It Can't Happen Here, a novel which accurately reflects the fears of many Americans during the Great Depression. It is especially notable in my eyes, however, because it helped me discover the important link between literature and history. Though It Can't Happen Here at first glance seems like just another outdated dystopian novel, it can also be read as an exploration of an important part of American history, masking commentary on real-life politicians and their governmental plans behind President Buzz Windrip and his Socialist ideas for sharing the wealth of America.
Realizing this link between literature and history has helped me develop a plan for what I want to do in life. I intend to pursue a career in public history, working at a historic site or in a museum. Such a career would enable me to explain to others about our history, especially the oft-neglected interconnections between such subjects as literature and history. Reading It Can't Happen Here instantly opened my eyes to these connections, showing me a simultaneously entertaining and informative way to learn about individuals' own reactions to historical events and ideas: reading novels, including my favorite genre of science fiction. Now my goal is to show this view to others, to demonstrate that history is not a dry, never-changing subject but rather one which is multi-faceted and interesting, with new information revealed through perusing old texts.