Comparative | Cultural Context | Wuthering Heights, The King's Speech and The Plough and The Stars

2014 Higher Level Paper II

“The cultural context within a text often dictates the crises or difficulties faced by characters and their responses to these difficulties.”

 (a) Discuss to what extent this statement applies to at least one central character in one of the texts you have studied for your comparative course.
 (b) Compare the extent to which the above statement is applicable to at least one central character in each of two other texts you have studied on your comparative course.

(A) Throughout my studies of “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte, “The Plough and The Stars” by Sean O’Casey and “The King's Speech” directed by Tom Hooper, I have seen that the cultural context within a text often dictates the crises or difficulties faced by characters and their responses to these difficulties. We see examples of this through social class, religion and the role of women in all texts.

wuthering heights leaving cert notes

In “The King's Speech”, we see Bertie face many difficulties, which I feel are a reflection of the culture of the time. Bertie’s struggle to accept Lionel as his equal is a mirroring of the influence that social class has on him. Even after Lionel goes to great lengths to help Bertie succeed, he still struggles to see above the status he holds. Bertie insults him by saying, “I am the son of a king! The brother of a king! You’re nobody!” The harshness of his words reminds us how passionate he is about his social standing and how high in the hierarchy he is. Even someone who is reluctant to be King, just as Bertie is, he is still living up to expectations of his social class. It’s clear that these morals were put upon him at a young age, when he says, "you know, Lionel; you are probably the first ordinary man I have ever met.” Once again, we see Bertie weary of accepting Lionel’s rule of being on equal terms with each other: “What should I call you?” “Your royal Highness.” It shows the length Bertie will go to assert himself in a higher class then a man who couldn’t care less about social standing and expectation. All of this puts a strain on Bertie and Lionel’s relationship, and defiantly influences their friendship. In this way we see the culture dictate the difficulty faces by Bertie, and in this case, also Lionel.

Religion also seems to be a source of difficulty for Bertie. Considering the king is the head of the Church of England it is understandable that religion was introduced to the royal family’s lives from a young age. However, we also see other people around Bertie cause somewhat conflict when it comes to religion. The Archbishop finds it hard to not interfere during Bertie’s preparation for his crowning. “Your majesty’s function is to consult and be advised.” The assertiveness of the archbishop shows his own struggle to not place more influence upon Bertie, as he had done with kings previous to him. We also see Bertie in a fit of rage scream it’s his “Divine right” to be helped, which proves his thinking that nothing can be above him. This shows that the church has more influence then at first glance and it causes more conflict than expected.
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                Probably the biggest source of conflict for Bertie is a result of both religion and the role of women at the time. When King Edward becomes infatuated with an unsuitable woman, Wallace Simpson, it soon becomes clear that this will cause difficulties, “It’s not that fact that she’s American. It’s that she’s a soon to be twice divorcee.” As the head of the church, King Edward is expected to set a good example by marrying a woman who is respectable. For the time, Mrs Simpson was not seen as respectable. This caused major problems for Bertie, as Edward refused to oblige with the culture, forced Bertie into a position he did not want to be in. The fact that Wallace would never be allowed to be seen in a royal position shows that the role of women was taken very seriously, and it was seen that a woman should be completely loyal to her husband and certainly never divorcĂ©e. This causes major problems for Bertie which is clearly a direct result of the cultural context.

(B) In “Wuthering Heights”, Catherine and Heathcliff share an intense bond from the start and are clearly in love with one another. “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” However, even they are influenced by the culture of the times and it causes major difficulties for them. Catherine finds it extremely hard to overcome Heathcliff’s social status as he has been degraded to poverty-like conditions by their brother Hindley. “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff.” The expectation of Catherine is that she will not mix the classes together through marriage and to guard her reputation. Similarly, in “The Plough and the Stars” we see social class cause difficulty for almost all of the characters in the play. All of the main characters are living in poverty, which has various results for various characters. Nora and Jack are forced, as a newlywed couple, to live with a group of other people; Mollser has TB and Rosie has been forced into prostitution. The social class structure of the times led to these people to being in complete poverty.. It’s because of this they didn’t get the help they needed to live a better life and it’s why they were faced with so many difficulties.

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Religion also plays a big part of “The Plough and The Stars”. The whole play is set to a backdrop of Protestants vs. Catholics and it causes massive disputes for the individuals of the play. This backdrop almost sets the scene for the uprising which involves the mainly catholic nationalists vs. the mainly protestant Unionists. Even though Bettie Burgess is the only protestant in the play, she represents a much bigger group of unionists and the symbol of British rule. This obviously causes huge problems for almost all of the characters. The death of both Jack Clitheroe and Bettie Burgess are a direct consequence of this and in turn, Nora suffers major mental health issues. This is probably the greatest difficulty she faces and is a direct result of the cultural context of the time. Contrasting to this we see Catherine from “Wuthering Heights” not be majorly affected by religion. As a child, she was always at mass, which “lasted for hours,” and from the start of the novel it was seen as a negative from Catherine’s point of view. We see that as she grows up to be a woman, when Joseph, Nelly and even her husband, Edgar participate in religious rituals such as regular Sunday mass, Catherine does not attend. However it is clear that herself and Heathcliff almost make their own religious ideology together and wish for an afterlife, but only one which involves each other. However the lack of influence it has on Catherine during her life, tells us that unlike “The Plough and The Stars”, it doesn’t cause major problems for her in anyway.

However, something Catherine is definitely  affected by is the role of women in the play. We see her almost rebel against the social norms of the time. She was quite troublesome and ‘wild’ in the way she acted as a young girl and didn’t qualify as a dignified young lady, as most in her class were at the time. He was “half-savage and hardy.” However, it’s still made clear that she is still expected to meet the certain standards associated with the women of the time, such as  to marry for money and social status. “Edgar has asked me to marry him...... he shall be rich and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood.” This shows that Catherine is well aware of the expectations placed upon her and she might even want to live up to them to ensure her reputation isn’t damaged. It’s clear that no matter how much she tries to rebel against this, she knows the culture of the time is not ready to change. This causes major difficulties for Catherine as she is almost pushed into a corner when she marries Edgar for his status, yet is still deeply in love with Heathcliff. Equally in ‘The Plough and the Stars’, Nora goes through an ordeal when she fails to comply with the role of women of the times. She is harshly reminded by Jack where her place is as a woman, when she tried to run to him during the rebellion, only to be dragged back by Fluther. “What possessed you to make a show of yourself, like that?... What are you more more than any other woman?” It’s clear that the role of a woman was at home, while the men fought and probably most importantly, not to step out of place and embarrass any of the men in any way. It could be argued that Jack only pushed Nora because he was in public and was embarrassed, but this would prove even more that the culture of the day dictated his actions. This shows that no matter how much Jack loved Nora, he was still willing to hurt her both physically and emotionally if it meant putting her back in her place. This caused probably the biggest difficulty for Nora as she had a miscarriage and resulted in her dissent into madness.

Overall I feel that the Cultural context within a text dictates many of the actions of the characters and the results of the actions. Many characters go though major difficulties and crises because of the culture of the time which they find themselves in, and I think the writers and directors try to reflect that through a range of different characters, in different circumstances and different times as they go through  similar challenges.
Based on an essay of a Leaving Cert student




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