Top 5 Books about Social Protest

Across the centuries, critics rebel via the written word.

Protest Literature's subjects can vary greatly but can include poverty, unsafe working conditions, slavery, violence against women, and unsafe and unfair divisions between the wealthy and the poor. Here are five books that demonstrate the power of social protest literature.

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The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest

The Cry for Justice
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by Upton Sinclair, Edward Sagarin (Editor), and Albert Teichner (Editor). Barricade Books.

Sinclair collected writings from 25 languages covering a period of more than 1,000 years. There are more than 600 essays, plays, letters, and other excerpts in this collection, separated into chapters with titles like "Toil," whose collective works describe labor injustices, "The Chasm," which includes Tennyson's The Lotus Eaters and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; "Revolt" which includes Ibsen's A Doll's House and "The Poet," which includes Walt Whitman's Democratic Vistas.

From the publisher: "Contained in this volume are many of the most stirring, thought-provoking and incisive writings on the struggle of humanity against social injustice ever written."

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Walden book
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by Henry David Thoreau. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Henry David Thoreau wrote "Walden" between 1845 and 1854, basing the text on his experiences living at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The book was published in 1854 and has influenced many writers and activists around the world with its description of a simple life. 

From the publisher: "Walden by Henry David Thoreau is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance."

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Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African American Protest Literature

Pamphlets of Protest
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by Richard Newman (Editor), Phillip Lapsansky (Editor), and Patrick Rael (Editor). Routledge.

The early African American colonists had few ways to voice their protests and protect their rights but managed to produce pamphlets to disseminate their ideas. These early protest writings had a significant influence on writers who followed, including Frederick Douglass.

From the publisher: "Between the Revolution and the Civil War, African American writing became a prominent feature of both Black protest culture and American public life. Although denied a political voice in national affairs, Black authors produced a wide range of literature."

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
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by Frederick Douglass, William L. Andrews (Editor), William S. McFeely (Editor).

Frederick Douglass' struggle for freedom, devotion to the abolitionist cause, and lifetime battle for equality in America established him as perhaps the most important African American leader of the 19th century.

From the publisher: "Upon its publication in 1845, 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself' became an immediate best-seller." Along with the text, find "Contexts" and "Criticism."

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Margery Kempe's Dissenting Fictions

Margery Kempe's Dissenting Fictions

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by Lynn Staley. Pennsylvania State University Press.

Between 1436 and 1438, Margery Kempe. who claimed to have religious visions, dictated her autobiography to two scribes. (She apparently was illiterate.)

The book included her visions and religious experience and was known as "The Book of Margery Kempe." There is only one surviving manuscript, a 15th-century copy; the original is lost. Wynkyn de Word published some extracts in the 16th century and attributed them to an "anchoress."

From the publisher: "In situating Kempe in relation to contemporary texts and to contemporary issues, such as Lollardy, Lynn Staley provides a radically new way of looking at Kempe herself as an author who was fully aware of the types of constrictions she faced as a woman writer. As the study demonstrates, in Kempe we have the first major prose fiction writer of the Middle Ages."

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Lombardi, Esther. "Top 5 Books about Social Protest." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lombardi, Esther. (2023, April 5). Top 5 Books about Social Protest. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "Top 5 Books about Social Protest." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).