Culture and opinion was affected by Darwin in his well known book, The Descent of Man, 1871, placing certain races closer to apes than others, rendering some groups more human than others, adding to the foundations of contemporary racism displayed throughout cultural history, giving civilisation savage inheritance. Edgar Rice Burroughs translates Tarzan into the identity of an upper class white male. As Tarzan grows up in the wild, Burroughs proves a natural superiority of white race, in whatever environment it is placed.
Man is portrayed as the hunter, woman as the prey presenting clear gender dominance. Culture and opinion was affected by Darwin in his well known book, The Descent of Man, 1871, placing certain races closer to apes than others, rendering some groups more human than others, adding to the foundations of contemporary racism displayed throughout cultural history, giving civilisation savage inheritance. Edgar Rice Burroughs translates Tarzan into the identity of an upper class white male.
As Tarzan grows up in the wild, Burroughs proves a natural superiority of white race, in whatever environment it is placed. Man is portrayed as the hunter, woman as the prey presenting clear gender dominance. It is interesting to note, that despite Tarzan’s sexual liberty in the jungle, he is never tempted by the tribal women. The writing of Tarzan portrays a historical culture and the racist opinion of many at that time. The representation of females in Heart of Darkness confirms male dominated environment and control.
Kurtz’s African mistress is described as ‘savage and superb, wild eyed and magnificent’ whilst his intended is described as ‘a pale head floating toward me in the dusk’ (Kimbrough, p. 72,1988) and ‘her fair hair seemed to catch all the remaining light in glimmer of gold’ (Kimbrough, p. 74,1988), Conrad creates opposing images of two cultures, the wildness of the black woman and a gentleness of the white, set into literature for the consumption of eighteenth century society. For over one hundred years, this novel has been a window for readers to view imperialistic culture and the competition for Africa by their ancestral empires.
Raymond Williams believed that all culture was related to economic and social organisation and that historical and cultural changes must alter the way in which literature is perceived. Today, Heart of Darkness might be read as a message for man, supported by historical evidence rather than as merely a novel. This literature has been utilised as a base for the twentieth century film, Apocalypse Now, taking the literature, based on a culture and re-presenting it to a modern day society audience, via screen. This literature is therefore a product of the culture of the time.
Literature can be re-presented to another culture at another given time. Communication and community are the main themes of the English novel and Raymond Williams argues it is a vehicle for social criticism, offering ways of seeing that is communicable to others. Jane Austen, sets her characters amongst an environment modelled on the real life society and the culture she knew, exploring male power and female helplessenss. In Sense and Sensibility, she transports her wealthy upper middle class characters from the countryside to London, illustrating the landscape and presenting the cultural background.
Austen portrays the males as superior with strong character traits; the dashingly handsome Willoughby, the selfish John Dashwood, the ruthless Rovert Ferrars, Mr. Palmers who is rude and droll and Sir John, who only judges men as sportsmen. The stereotypical pursuits of the era and class, hunting and riding for the males, pianoforte and the constant pursuit of attachments for the females is Austen’s view of the culture of the time. A socially constructed history that saw the female as weak, too full of sensibility to conduct themselves in important situations, the women would never achieve any power outside the home.
Mr. Palmers aspires to becoming an M. P. Austen pairs him with Charlotte, ‘he was the husband of a very silly woman’, (Austen, p. 97,1980). Austen highlights Mr. Palmer’s contempt for Charlotte and her silliness, presenting the male judgment of women’s inferior status. Marianne has no moderation and Lucy has a lack of education, ‘illiterate, artful, and selfish’ (Austen, p. 120,1980). The female characters present the powerless situations of female circumstances of the time, portraying suppression by their dependence on men for marriage, which was looked upon as an important route for life.
The women in Austen’s cultured society were expected to marry well in order to survive. Marianne asks, ‘What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness? ‘ and states, ‘money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give. ‘ (Austen, p. ,1980). Marianne argues with her sister that one should marry for love but then becomes involved in a lengthy discussion of the necessary finances for the type of lifestyle which Marianne would like to be part of.
Lucy Steele receives her just dessert, when Edward is denied his inheritance and she in turn is denied the wealth she craves. Austen marries her off to Edward’s elder brother, Robert who takes over the inheritance. Again Austen has presented a marriage for money, class and status. Reinforcing eighteenth century roles, Miss Steele suggests, ‘I suppose your brother was quite a beau, Miss Dashwood, before he married, as he was so rich? ‘ (Austen, pp. 106/107,1985). For the purposes of the novel, some of the women are reactive, Mrs.
Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood represent money and status. Echoing a patriarchal rule, they control Edward’s hopes of independence and try to oppress the Dashwood females. The difficulties for women’s success of marrying for love rather than financial gain is highlighted in the novel, communicating awareness through Austen’s literature for society’s culture, emphasising the females vulnerability and powerlessness under patriarchal control. The Bronte sisters wrote under a pseudonym Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Mary Evans wrote under the pseudonym of George Eliot.
The patriarchal rule of society created a difficulty for females to achieve publication of their literature. Wuthering Heights can be viewed from a Marxist viewpoint, a pecking order of the classes; ruling class, the Lintons, landowners, the Hearnshaws, Heathcliff, the working staff of the lower classes. Heathcliff has no status and disrupts society. Edgar is always referred to as the master and presents a dominant figure, always in his library, surrounded by books and important documents. but more importantly, presents the suppression of the women in the novel.
The model upper class society attracted Catherine and drove her to choose class status over true love by marrying into the Linton family, ‘ I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in Heaven’, (Bronte, p. 80,1995). Here, Bronte highlights the prospects and expectations for women of the era, to accept patriarchal rule and to marry well in order to survive. Where the female writers including Austin and the Bronte sisters have come to the fore, culture and gender in society is expressed clearly, communicating society’s cultural background of the eighteenth century to readers then and now.
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale, presents another example of society ruled by men for the interests of men. The Gileadean women are oppressed, their role in society determined only by their biological status. It is interesting to note that Atwood bases much of her text on the culture of The Bible, mainly, The Old Testament. Atwood sends a strong message to women, not to become complacent. She does this through her literature, so literature becomes a part of culture, Atwood communicates with society, the feminist culture and indeed, all women.
A twenty-first century collection of monologues by Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues expresses tragic ordeals, happy occasions and blissful harmonies, changing environments and concerns, conveyed by women in the 1990’s. This literature, now a dramatic performance, presented globally, expresses the culture the women lived and live amongst. So the literature is transformed in performance drama, society is enlightened by the subject and often changing their ideas of the way they think, the way they think about the body, women’s roles and men’s roles in society.
Huge campaigns, supported by well-known actresses and models launched Vagina Monologues, creating an issue in culture. As the Vagina Monologues’ following increased in the late nineties, a successful charity was initiated. Society is now performing Vagina Monolgues all over the world, supporting women who are victims of domestic abuse, war, rape and patriarchal rule. The rigid class system of the Edwardian era, supplied cheap food, taxes, labour and literature for the middle classes whilst the working classes had no proper health service and only elementary education.
The First World War created a link for educated middle class men to come into contact with the working class. Wilfred Owen, inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s colloquial language, was now able to reach this wider audience, the man at war and those left at home; the lower classes. Owen informed society of the truths of war, in his draft preface, ‘My subject is War, and the pity of War … All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful. ‘ (Stallworthy p. 192,1990).
The Send Off, ‘Nor there if they yet mock what women meant, Who gave them flowers’, (Stallworthy p. 149, 1990, A. ), Owen attacks the women’s shallow patriotism and ignorance and the patriotic ideology of the patriarchal rulers. Through his poetry, Owen presented news and graphic images of the war from his own experiences as an officer, on the battlefield. He created literature, which works as a cultural text as it allows us to access the conditions of the time.
Influenced by the earlier literature of Keats, Shelley and Tennyson, Owen supplies the reader with Romantic styles, colloquialism and graphic visual images of war, proving the reality in Anthem for Doomed Youth, ‘Only stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle, (Stallowrthy p.76, 1990) and Dulce et Decorum Est, ‘Gas! Gas! Quick boy, And Flound’ring like a man in fire or lime … he lunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning (Stallworthy, p. 117, 1990). Owen enlightened society with messages, his use of symbolism exposes the conspiracy of silence, ‘Winked to the guard! ‘ (Stallworthy, p149, 1990, B. ) The British literary critic, Terry Eagleton states in Literary Theory: an introduction’, the existence of ‘… the so-called `Literary Canon`, the unquestioned `great tradition of the national literature`.
‘ Although this catalogue is a result of a decision by a particular division of well-educated, wealthy, upper class white males, it is proof in itself that literature is part of history and part of their culture. It is evident that The Table of English literature’s list of valued and important chosen readings are still amongst the texts studied today in schools, colleges and universities today, shaping their understandings, beliefs and culture.
Popular culture, for example, soap operas could be seen as a parallel of Chaucer’s tales yet the popular dramas portray a realist vision of present day society, life situations, recent trends, issues and visual images of a present day culture. Here, culture has created literature and is re-presented in the form of TV drama. Would popular culture, a culture of the masses become part of The Canon? Would Coronation Street and Eastenders be found in a Table of English Literature? Or is one particular group of society still presiding over what is good and valued literature?
Literature encompasses all of culture in its entirety and is therefore part of cultural history. Culture also provides a method for change. Culture reflects the ideology of the time and at the same time recreates it. Literature is part of cultural history, it is not only a record of history, Chaucer, Bacon, Shakespeare, Newton, De Foe, Pope, Hume, Mill, Conrad, Owen, but often ideas led literature as Darwin’s legacy. Austen, Bronte, Orwell’s l984, and Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ imposes ideas, communication, messages, and futuristic implications fashioning beliefs upon society.
Some of the key purposes of literature, to entertain, inform, instruct, recommend opinions, make us think or choose and even to uplift society are in force within society’s everyday culture. Literature is more than words on a page, it can present scientific development and exploration and represent amongst others, social, historical, political, feminist and religious views. Literature is a product of culture and is therefore a part of historical culture. Literature is affected by rules of past and present cultural trends.
Culture is affected by past and present literature. Literature allows the presentation of culture at a given time and therefore, is part of cultural history.
Abrams, M. H. , et al 2000, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 1 and 2, 7th Edn. , New York, Norton. Atwood, M. , 1996, The Handmaid’s Tale, London, Vintage. Austen, J. , 1998, Sense and Sensibility, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Eagleton, T. , 1996, Literary Theory: An Introduction, 2nd Edn. , Oxford, Blackwell. sler, E. , 2001, The Vagina Monologues, London, Virago Press.