As literature flourishes, literary theorists have become more vigorous and their studies more rigorous. One example is Mikhail Bakhtin and his essay comparing epics and novels.
Epic is the crowning glory of poetry, most especially during the ancient times. It is a long poem with a heroic focus narrating divine interventions, deeds, and adventures of legendary figures. Common to an epic’s themes is idealism and romanticism. The Iliad composed and written down by Homer sometime between 800-675 B.C. tells us the story of the final year of the Trojan War, a conflict between the Greek hero Achilles and the Trojan hero Hector. The epic involves divine interventions of the Greek gods and goddesses as well as the love of Menelaos and Paris for Helen, whose face that launched a thousand ships.
However, we have moved past the epic era shifting today’s written works to novels. Ever since its rise in the Renaissance, we have become novelized. Novels, just like epics, are capable of elaboration in prose style. But what makes them different is that novels have the ability to engage with the contemporaries and showcase the contemporary reality. Most themes used in novels are realism and modernism. 1984 written by George Orwell during the onset of the Cold War is an example of a novel. It tells us the story of Winston Smith as he struggle and rebel against the tyrannies of the Big Brother in a dystopian society. The novel in 2005, was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923-2005 and in 2003, it was listed at number 8 on BBC’s survey The Big Read. 1984, as a novel, is what is being referred to Mikhail Bakhtin’s “discourse of a contemporary, about a contemporary addressed to contemporaries”. Although reflecting the wars, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation in the society of George Orwell’s time, it is applicable for any contemporaries because it teaches us that dystopian societies are never ideal and in fact, 1984 somehow parallels to the modern world.
Lastly, novels concerns about the present time, thus, it is the means for literary expression in the modern world. Instead of heroes with special powers, the novel features people faced with conflicts; transforming classical heroic journeys into stories of individuals journeying into discovery or self-actualization in the modern world.