Literature and Morality

“When I talk about the ‘personal moral inventory’ it’s not so much about the immorality of the war itself, but the sense of how an ordinary person is complicit in the ongoing folly of his time. Even with honorable intentions and a certain measure of innocence, you can become a part of the very thing you fear and despise. And this shows up in my fiction. It isn’t a question of the stories being moral fables. ‘Don’t do this because something terrible will happen.’ It’s more an exploration of the moral sense that dominates our lives for better or worse, the constant effort of trying to find the right thing to do in complex situations. I can’t imagine not having that kind of reckoning in my work because it’s at the center of our lives. Everyone I know is puzzling things out, trying to figure out the right thing to do. We’re all in a web of connection to friends, family, community, and the moral sense is what determines how we honor those connections. To leave that out of one’s fiction seems to me to be impossible. It’s going to be there, so it’s better that it not be there by default, but that you have some edge of consciousness about its workings.”

-Tobias Wolff


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