In every part of the world, literature has been more or less, mirror of society. At the earliest stage, literature invariably takes the form of poetry, while prose is a much later creation, because prose develops with matured age.
Poetry is out and out a product of imagination, while prose is the fruit of intellect. The earlier from of poetry is the epic. In Italian, Greek, German, English or Indian epic we can find a clear reflection of the ancient social history of the countries. mark closely the contents of the Beowulf, the Illiad, the Odyssey, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and you will find in them a picture of the ancient life and society of the countries concerned. Even in the much later epics of England, Germany or India, you can find a similar picture of ways of life of the peoples or more recent times of those countries. Of course, poetry has more of the element of imagination than of reality, and therefore, it is not likely to be as much a faithful mirror of society as prose, or even as the drama.
Next to poetry, the drama is another mirror of society. The drama is partly a creation of imagination and partly of real life. the earlier dramas in every country are a more faithful picture of society than the later dramas, probably because the creator of poetry or drama at an earlier state of human history is far more imaginative than at the later stages which are marked by the production of prose literature such as the story, the novel, the tale and other. Of course, the essay probably the only form of prose literature which is the least faithful mirror of society although some of the essayists like Charles Lamb, Stevenson, Charlyle, Huxley, Churchill and other more modern writers of prose have reflected much of their contemporary life in their works. Biographies and histories are particularly intended to serve as the mirror of society.
The plays of Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Goethe, Aeschylus, Plautus, Seneca, Kalidas, Shaw and others are more or less reflections of their own times and peoples, although there is quite a good element of imagination in every one of the works. The drama is a tale of action put upon the stage, and naturally, it must contain some elements of real life. leaving aside the historical dramas, most of the other dramas in every country throw considerable light upon the social, political, moral and even economic life of the time and the people. The play of Shakuntala of our country or the plays of Shaw are to a great extent a mirror o the society of the ancient and modern times of India and England.
But the most realistic forms of literature are the stories and the novels. The stories and the novels which deal particularly with the problem of social, economic and political life of a country are bound to reflect contemporary history, while those of other which deal with psychological problems are comparatively more imaginary and less real. A few of the stories and novels deal exclusively with historical themes, and such works are essentially realistic and serve as the correct picture of society. The novels of Scott., Galsworthy, Bankim Chandra, Sarat Chandra, Prem Chand, Chekov, Turginev, Maupassant are of this type. Most of the modern stories and novels of Russia and India are realistic and they do reflect the society of the times of their countries. the stories and novels of America or France or even of England have still in them a great element of imagination, and therefore, they, are the best mirror of society.
But if literature is always made to serve as the mirror of society, will it not be a dull and monotonous reading? As literature is mostly intended to serve as an escape from life, it should contain a great element of imagination, because imagination is a great manes of escape from the realities of life. The function of literature being two-fold, namely, to instruct as well as to recreate it should contain both the elements of imagination and reality. if literature contained the element of reality, it would have been extremely boring to the reader, because very few of us would like to go to the there or to the screen or even to read such dramas, stories or novels which give us vivid and correct picture of human life and character. Nobody wants to see a repetition of the same joys and sorrows, the same cares and anxieties, the same smiles and tears, the same problems of life, the same human characters upon the stage or on the screen in print whom one comes across daily in one’s life.
Everybody wants to live in a world of imagination or fiction and not of reality, because everybody in his daily round passes though the same world, the same human existence, and the same human nature or character either in himself or in others. Therefore, everybody wants some kind of beautification or glorification of things which one experience in one’s own life and which are comparatively either ugly or colorless. It is imagination that makes thing colorful, while it is reality that makes thing rather charmless and even unpleasant. so it is the works of the imaginative writers that provide food for recreation to the readers because they allow the readers to have a temporary escape fro the realities of life; while the works of realistic writers serve as the mirror of society and contemporary life and times.