Cultural Context - Wuthering Heights, The Great Gatsby and The Plough and the Stars for Leaving Cert English

''In any cultural context, deeply embedded values and attitudes can be difficult to change''.

Compare the extent to which the above statement is valid in relation to your understanding of the cultural context in at least two texts on your comparative study course.

This is a well-written essay: the sentences are short, the message is clear. Every sentence is relevant, there are no rants. The comparisons are quite detailed. Great work.

Values and attitudes are hugely influenced by the culture the characters inhabit. The era the characters exist in and the influence of society as a whole embeds these values and attitudes deeply. These are often difficult to change as it requires them to disregard popular opinion and identify as an outcast to society. (This is a very serious intro. It's a little dry, but it's beautifully clear and relevant.) The three texts I have studied as part of my comparative course are F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby'', Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights'' and Sean O'Casey's ''The Plough And The Stars''.

In any cultural context, deeply embedded values and attitudes can be difficult to change

Beginning with Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights'', the deeply embedded values and attitudes first surface when Heathcliff is introduced to the Yorkshire community. He is met with prejudices for his ethnic background and as a gypsy Heathcliff was expected to be obedient to members of the class above him. This lead to many conflicts for Heathcliff, but most of all it led to him losing his beloved Catherine. The relationship was never accepted due to the class imbalance: 'It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff'. Heathcliff encouraged Catherine to run away with him in the hope of escaping the pressures these values and attitudes were enforcing on their relationship. Catherine instead chose to be 'the greatest woman in the neighbourhood' marrying Edgar, disregarding her true love for Heathcliff. Catherine valued wealth and social status more so than true love. This is not at all unlike F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby''. Jay Gatsby, originally born into a poor family, feels his low social status and lack of wealth are barriers that would prevent Daisy Buchanan from falling back in love with him. Gatsby accumulates a fortune, organises the most extravagant parties in all of New York and builds a mansion in West Egg all in an attempt to distance himself from his underprivileged past. Gatsby assumed Daisy valued these materialistic items and his social status more than she valued Gatsby himself. (The major point of "The Great Gatsby" is that Gatsby lived in a fantasy world, not seeing that Daisy cared about nice things, not people. The reason he went after the American Dream is to bridge the gap in their social class. If the author's statement had been true, would he have continued to chase Daisy? No, Gatsby would have realised that he means nothing to her. Instead, he held onto his illusions.) This lead to Gatsby undertaking extraordinary measures to satisfy these embedded values rather than attempting to change them. (What lead him to do it was his perception that class divides are impenetrable and thus he had to "upgrade" in order to be with Daisy. In other words, he agreed that he wasn't good enough.)

Deeply embedded values and attitudes display themselves in many different forms throughout the three texts. The expected role of women is one that is near impossible to change without the change to society as a whole. Nora Clitheroe in ''The Plough And The Stars'' attempts several times to persuade Jack to not part-take in the war, but she is often met with criticism and neglect for her efforts. Her gender is an evident hindrance on her influence on Jack. Nora attempts to run to Jack during the rebellion but is restrained by Fluther and asked, "What are you more than any other woman?" and then in turn is shrugged off by Jack out of embarrassment. Nora fails multiple times in her pleas and is overall unsuccessful in her endeavor. The value of a woman's opinion being insignificant is too deeply embedded in the culture that even her husband will not listen. Catherine in ''Wuthering Heights'' faces similar challenges. The expectation of her in her culture is to be 'ladylike'. She comes under scrutiny when her relationship with Heathcliff begins to develop. Heathcliff is deemed an unsuitable suitor, and Catherine is coerced and encouraged (so was she coerced or encouraged? Can't be and.) to marry a man of similar stature to that of her own. Ultimately the pressure is too great and Catherine reluctantly chooses to marry Edgar. Catherine for a period of time rebelled against the expectations placed upon her, but the influence of society was too strong leading her to lose her battle. These scenarios are not at all unlike the challenges women face in "The Great Gatsby''. The first indication we see of this is the conversation between Daisy and Nick in the back yard of the Buchanan's East Egg mansion. Daisy hopes her daughter will 'grow up to be a beautiful little fool' grow up to be a "beautiful little fool" (be careful where you put your quotation marks. If they go over your own words, you are misquoting and will love marks.) according to her, it's 'The best a girl can hope to be'. (This is altogether a misquote. You are better off paraphrasing as in leaving out the quotation marks and just giving indirect speech. The original quote was: "I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.") These attitudes towards women continue to display themselves throughout the text. The only rebellion we see on behalf of the women may be seen in Daisy's attempt to break free from her loveless marriage. Her poor attempt failed causing devastating consequences as a result (consequences can only come as a result).

Religion with the strong values and attitudes it embeds in society can also be difficult to alter. The entire backdrop to ''The Plough And The Stars'' is the civil war between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists. Almost all of the conflict within the text is a consequence of this war. Nora couldn't persuade Jack to stop fighting as the principles regarding the war are too deeply embedded in his ego, "I'm ashamed of ya Nora, a man must fight' - can't verify this quote. His brashness and naivety ultimately lead to his death as he became a victim of the war. This can also be observed in ''Wuthering Heights''. As described by literary critic Thomas John Winnifrith, religion in the text comes in the form of Heathcliff and Catherine's love for each other. Statements such as ''existence, after losing her, would be hell'' and ''whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same'' indicate that Catherine and Heathcliff valued their relationship beyond the physical plane. Just like in ''The Plough And The Stars'', religion in this text wreaks havoc in the lives of all of the characters involved. Multiple attempts to change these values were met with failure. Heathcliff himself attempts alter his unethical religious values by marrying Isabella Linton, but it has little to no effect. The equally noticeable detrimental effects of religion can be seen in "The Great Gatsby''. The strong presence of religion in the other two these texts is incredibly destructive, but the complete absence of religion in the "The Great Gatsby'' has equally devastating consequences. The uncommonness of religion in the upper echelons of society leaves characters with no moral or ethical compass. Tom engages in multiple extramarital affairs and later Daisy does too. Gatsby is involved in illegal dealings and associates with shady characters such as Meyer Wolfsheim. Ironically, Gatsby is the one who attempts to change Daisy's values to benefit himself, but her moral compass is so offbeat she does not even attend his funeral in the wake of his murder.

More often than not, attempts to change deeply embedded values and attitudes of the characters within the three texts are unsuccessful. Values and attitudes are dictated by society as a whole and may come in the forms of social status and class, expected roles for women and religious influences. Heathcliff was unable to alter his destructive love for Catherine, Nora could not convince Jack to disregard his call of duty and Gatsby could not win back the heart of Daisy.

Leaving Cert English notes

Popular Posts