Literature acts as a powerful tool for capturing moments. Its influence is visible from the very beginning of the human civilisation. Experiences of a particular time period can be restored mentally by the reading/rereading of a text. It also has the ability to create a new world filled with fantasy. Literary works produced in different genres are uncountable and the various methods used by the authors in different contexts help readers to connect with the social- political- economical- cultural scenarios of the time. In history how do we understand that one led to the other? How can we be certain that one was the cause and the other was an effect? The historian links these two facts and provides a narrative where we can see the cause – effect sequence. Therefore we can know history only in the form of narrative or texts.
Texts are necessary to understand social contexts. These texts are literature. Literary texts not only reflect an age’s themes and contexts, it shapes those contexts by persuading people to accept particular believes and opinions. We can’t separate literature as an effect of historical or social contexts but have to see literature as contributing to informing, influencing and participating actively in the construction of those contexts.
Behind every illness there is a mystery; literature discuss about mysteries. Literary perspective of Pandemic become more important because it shows how disease, death, sex are affecting humans and society, socially mentally and culturally. It is also important that by recording pandemics, literature tries to show pandemic in a literary discourse rather than in a medical discourse. Pandemics in literary discourses help the common people to understand the context. Many authors used pandemic as a narrative device to showcase the effect of diseases and deaths in the lives of creatures, mainly humans. Pandemics have been fictionalised by some writers, but the advancement of science has increased the knowledge of illness by creating an understanding that truth or reality is stranger than fiction.
Pandemics are nothing new in the path of human history and pandemic literature helps to contextualise real incidents. It mirrors people’s fears about disease and societal collapse, but it simultaneously shows that survival is possible and that rebuilding ourselves into something new is not only necessary but inevitable. A story about a pandemic is rarely about the disease itself and as a genre pandemic literature focuses more on sociology, psychology and human behavior. There is a long history of authors writing about and writing in times of pandemics. Human beings have indeed for a very long time experienced pandemics (experiencing) and they have written about it. Concept of universal fear questions the notion that humans are not in control.
At the beginning of Susan Sontag’s classic text, Illness as Metaphor, she writes, “Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.” According to commonly accepted psychological theories of illness, the sick bear ultimate responsibility for both being sick and getting well. A reading of Susan Sontag’s text says that isolation is a mode of oppression. They are being constantly watched and controlled by the ‘kingdom of well’. People who are trapped in the ‘kingdom of sick’ are treated as mere biological bodies which contain infection instead of ‘normal’ human beings. Medical gazes would follow them until they reach in the ‘kingdom of well’. Till the mid 19th century modern epidemiology was hardly in action. For most of the time people were confused about the origin and center of diseases and it’s spread. So early examples of pandemic literature focuses more on what people do during the pandemic, with a touch of moralising trend of that period.
The pandemic reached us in an unforeseen way and we’re going through a huge, collective transition. Historically distant texts felt urgent and real, with quarantines, stay-at-home orders, critical staff, and rule breakers. We started to understand the ability of literature to convey something new about the shared experience, something that was not possible to communicate through clear reporting. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that our answer to COVID-19 gave us knowledge and experience, but we discovered dimensions of our existence that were unmistakably familiar as we entered the foreign worlds of epidemics through history.