As against imaginative or fictional, the novel is a realistic form. It presents that segment of life and society, in more or less approximate terms, which has been seen and -experienced by actual men and women of a particular period. The concept of mirroring or reflecting an object is more significant in the case of the novel than it would be in the case of poetry or drama. There is indeed the assumption that a social situation with its problems and issues is faithfully recorded in the novel and that the reader does not come across any major flights of imagination on the part of the writer. Also, in the novel, there are no concentrated descriptions that point towards the dark recesses of the mind, the mysteries of the soul, as it were. At the time of writing, the novelist seems to have definitively concluded that his men and women are of-the dayto-day kind, working, chatting, moving around, without the high furnishings of the soul, psyche or mind. They seldom poeticise or see themselves in the heroic mould. While pursuing their ordinary goals of securing bread and butter which entails most of their waking hours, the peasants, craftsmen and traders of a specific social world are part of mundane situations. The job of the novelist is to see how these people conduct themselves, enmeshed as they are in their specific surroundings.
While reading a novel, we may feel that we have been transported to a different world with its own laws, rules and regulations. Towns and villages, markets, streets and pathways hold out as actual places with their distinct colouring and feel. Yes, the emphasis is on actuality. Not only are the people shown as speaking with their very own mannerisms, but ordinary information about their appearance, condition, opinions and states of mind also is imparted by the author in his or her own voice. This second aspect of the writer’s practice implies that the describing person, the novelist, has an opinion and a point of view according to which she/he judges without much scruple the actions of the different characters selected, consciously and with an ostensible purpose, for presentation. The judgement of the writer is biased as all judgements are. The biases obviously indicate that the writer is totally immersed in the overall fate of the characters as well as the effect of their behaviour on the life and nature of the society. In this sense, the writer can be seen as a responsible member of the actual society of that time as well as the society reflected in the novel.
The remarks of the author meant clearly for sharing with the reader, lend authenticity to the description in the novel and make the reader accept it as a truthful account. This leads to a state in which the reader is strongly drawn into the ethos of the world of the novel. In the course of reading a novel, therefore, the reader may feel that he or she is witness to an actual happening in which real people have been involved. The words in the text do not merely signify something outside of or away from them. Instead, the words are there on the page as a picture or pictures which introduce the reader to their world and bind him or her to its specific aspects. There be no wonder that the reader of the novel would get fully absorbed in the goings on of the world chosen for representation in the work. This is what I mean by the novel as a realistic form.
‘Imaginative’ on the other hand denotes an unreal thing, a ‘creation’ of the mind of a person gifted with an unusually inventive and powerful imagination. It is also 3 suggested that words in a text under the imaginative category have to be taken as tools and that the artist works with their help to fulfil his/her specific artistic, moral or spiritual purpose. This purpose may be to produce a literary work of exceptional symbolic spiritual significance.
What is fictional then? The word “invented” of “invention” is yet more meaningful in this case. It denotes that the account presented in a work bears no relation with the reality of life as we know it – it is imaginative and more, it is ‘fictional.’ In this sense, fictional would be more appropriate a term for poetry.
Isn’t fiction a “non-fact,” a lie? Most of us wish to leave the existing world of hard routine and drugdery so that we move to another in which we can do what we like, where “wishes would be horses.” We also notice that the maker of the lie, a liar, is an interesting person as against one who preaches high morality. Have we watched the behaviour of a liar closely? If we have, we would mark that a liar, a compulsive liar, is one who is mentally alert, and all the time notes changes in the faces of the listeners, who keeps track of their moods, and constantly struggles to find out what his or her audience wishes to hear. The liar accordingly modifies the lie as it is in progress. This is because of the fact that the liar is highly inventive and imaginative. But there is a difference. While poetry and drama are also invented and imagined, they cannot be equated with a lie. On the other hand, they are “high truths.” Is it not because of this ‘lie’ aspect that the novel has been associated with fiction? While poetry and drama talk about the Truth, the universal all-embracing wisdom, the novel as a fictional piece may rest content with presenting an ordinary life-situation. In this way, the irony behind the ‘fictional piece’ cannot be missed. Or can it?