Blog post #4: How should we evaluate and/or utilize a work of historical fiction such as Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints?
Works such as Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel are helpful in providing different avenues of understanding for events such as the Boxer Revolution. The drawings within the graphic novel gives the events more a face, making it in some cases easier to understand and picture what might of actually happened. It is, however, important to approach the work with caution for it is highly unlikely that the specific events and narrative occurred in the event. The work is more beneficial if you pay attention the main ideas such as the the spirit possessions and foreign hatred to better understand what happened in the revolution.
A good way to utilize a work like Boxers and Saints is to pull the main ideas out of it, as I said before. Similar to children’s stories, there is commonly underlying messages within the writing that the reader has to look for and understand by the end of the reading. Gene Luen Yang’s work is similar in the fact that it is written casually as a graphic novel but the underlying messages are very strong.
Graphic novels and historical fiction having those underlying messages does make them very useful to the reader. Much like Maus by Art Spiegelman which explores the Holocaust in a similar light as Boxer and Saints, it makes difficult topics easier to digest and handle. Maus portrayed the Jewish, Nazis, Polish and others within World War II as specific animals in the story and each animal has a different stereotype behind it. For example the Jewish were mice and the Germans were cats. The stereotype behind the cats hunting the mice and the mice being afraid of the cats seems gives the story a deeper meaning than if it was humans fighting against each other. It also makes it easier to understand through the metaphor provided.
Similarly, coming from an education standpoint, graphic novels make teaching and exploring difficult topics such as the Holocaust or the Boxer Uprising less challenging and controversial. The stories carry the same weight as a text book or primary source (if read properly). However, since they are presented in a lighter manner with the pictures and stories, it seems to lighten the blow of how heavy these topics can be.
All in all, graphic novels and historical novels, if read properly and academically, are extremely useful in clearing any confusion within the event because it basically draws it out for the reader. While its unlikely one would cite a work like this in an academic environment, they can provide a good amount of information on the topic. The metaphors and large topics covered within these works makes it so the weight of the topic remains, but the way it is delivered is much lighter.
Gene Luen Yang. Boxers & Saints (blog). Accessed October 7, 2019. http://geneyang.com/works/boxers-saints.
Art Spiegelman. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale. PenguinRandomhouse.com. Accessed October 7, 2019. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/171058/maus-i-a-survivors-tale-by-art-spiegelman/.