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Cultural Context - I'm Not Scared, The Great Gatsby, All My Sons for Leaving Cert English #625Lab

“The world of a text, and how it affects the behaviour of central characters, can influence a reader’s response to the events that take place”.With the Comparative, you will end up covering the same points in many essays - but your angle really matters. The essay below tries really hard to fit a Literary Genre take onto a Cultural Context title. This greatly sabotages the all-important P of PCLM. Also, it's better to paraphrase than to misquote. You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€). 
#625Lab (a) Discuss the extent to which this statement applies to at least one central character in one of the texts on your comparative course. Support your answer with reference to the text.
In light of the above statement, the film “I’m Not Scared” by Gabriel Salvatores contains central characters that are corrupt and immoral because of the world they live in. The world of the text is revealed through many aspects which I will discuss below. These aspects affected the cha…

Cultural Context - Big Maggie, Foster, Juno for Leaving Cert English

"The success or failure of relationships is often determined by values and attitudes of the world in which the text is set." 

Compare the extent to which the success or failure of relationships in three texts on your comparative course is influenced by the cultural context of those texts. Support your answer with reference to your chosen texts.

A great essay with an in-depth analytical examination of cultural context. You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€). 

The cultural context of any text looks at the society the characters live in and at how their culture can affect their behaviour and their opportunities. Often, we will find that characters will act in a certain way or make decisions largely determined by the culture that exists at that time. These actions or decisions can impact relationships within society, families and between individuals in positive or negative ways, often determining whether they succeed or fail. The texts I have studied, and will be referring to, as part of my comparative course are “Foster” by Claire Keegan, “Juno” directed by Jason Reitman and “Big Maggie” written by John B. Keane. I will focus on the areas of money, family, gender roles and beliefs and values during my answer.

Money is presented as having a strong influence on the character’s lives in both "Foster" and "Big Maggie", it also has a significant effect on the success or failure of relationships. Though the reason the girl is sent to stay with the Kinsellas is never explicitly stated, we assume it is because of financial constraints. This view is backed up at key moments in the text. In the opening chapter Dan states that “It’s the feeding them that’s the trouble”, when talking to the Kinsellas about the kids. Later in chapter two the girl reveals to Edna that her mother “hasn’t enough money to pay the man”. (If you're going to quote, don't misquote). In contrast to her own family, the Kinsellas are financially comfortable and are able to buy her new clothes on the trip to Gorey. Money, in this text is a key ingredient in being able to experience life positively. As Dan is unwilling or unable to provide for his daughter financially, it impacts their relationship in a negative way. She learns that she cannot rely on him to be honest and put her needs before his own need to gamble. Conversely, the girl learns quickly that the Kinsellas will provide for her and give her what she needs in terms of food and clothes especially. Similarly, in "Big Maggie", money, or a lack of it, strongly influences the lives of the characters, and the success or failure of key relationships. Maggie was unable to live a fulfilled and independent life until the death of her husband as he controlled the finances. She grew to despise her husband and the rift between them developed into a chasm. Now that Maggie is in control the same fate awaits her children as demonstrated by Maurice’s words in Act 2 Scene 3 when he says, "I’m a grown man and yet I have nothing, no money, no land, nothing" (couldn't verify this quote). Much of the conflict that exists between Maggie and her children centres on their inability to control their own destinies because they are reliant on her financial aid. 

The opposite can be seen in "Juno" as money is not a decisive factor in the film. We see several shots of the luxurious interior of the Lorings’ home in the affluent suburb of St Cloud, yet their marriage breaks up. Money does not necessarily equate to happiness in this case and it does not have the positive influence it does in "Foster". Consequently, the success or failure of relationships is not dependent on money, thus it cannot be said that a relationship will be more likely to succeed in correlation to the availability of money. 

In both "Foster" and "Juno", family is presented as the bonds of love that exist between people within a home and the love and respect demonstrated impacts key relationships positively. The blended family in "Juno" is loving and nurturing, and the girl in "Foster" thrives when she goes to live with her aunt and uncle, the Kinsellas. It is clear that Edna cares deeply for the girl despite not being her natural mother as she tells the shopkeeper, “It’s only missing her I will be when she is gone” (couldn't verify this quote). Equally the girl has great affection for Edna and especially John as shown in the final scene when she jumps into his arms and calls out, “Daddy,” I keep calling him, keep warning him. “Daddy.” In contrast, her own father, Dan, refers to his daughter as “you” and forgets to leave her a change of clothes or tell her when he will return for her. The bonds of love that exist between the Kinsellas and the girl help to cement their relationship and establish a sense of trust that flows both ways. As a young child she feels safe in the knowledge that she can rely on them in times of need for guidance and support. This trust between the girl and her father has eroded over time, largely due to the fact she cannot have belief in him to be paternal towards her. For these reasons family and familial love significantly impacts key relationships and is a crucial determinant in whether they thrive or wither (this point is quite laboured, it would be better to shorten it). In a similar way to "Foster", family in "Juno" is more about showing love and care towards each other because it is what a family should do, rather than it being forced upon someone because they are related biologically. Juno knows that Vanessa will make a good mother to her child because she is committed and desperately wants to be a mother. This could be likened to the way that Edna desperately wants to be a mother in "Foster", after the death of her son. Juno, having come from an unorthodox family, recognises that all that matters is that a child is loved and cared for, as does Bren when she tells Vanessa she looks “like a new mom” in one of the final scenes. These complicated family relationships work because love and respect are the common denominator, these qualities provide the food for relationships to grow and be sustained in a positive manner. (This essay is too long, and this paragraph could do with a good bit of trimming.)

In direct contrast, there is very little if any love shown within the family unit in "Big Maggie". Maggie isolates herself from her children and attempts to control their lives to regain control of her own. She constantly threatens Katie and Gert with violence and at one point even swings Katie by the hair and forces her to her knees as a humiliating means of admitting to her affair with Toss Melch. The dissonance between family members and the apparent lack of love strangles their relationships and they crumble and decay quickly. 

In "Foster" and "Big Maggie", traditional gender roles were the norm with very little room for deviation. John Kinsella worked outside the home while Edna took care of matters inside the home, yet the Kinsellas find a way to negotiate around this, so it doesn’t impact their marriage in a negative manner. In a similar way, men in 1960’s rural Ireland were charged with looking after finances and making important decisions while the women were expected to be homemakers and caregivers. However, in "Foster", John and Edna often helped each other out, in terms of their duties, when they needed to. John helps set the table and Edna milks the cows when John is called away to help a neighbour. This contrasts with the girl’s parents. While her mother is obliged to stay at home with the children, the girl’s father can do as he pleases, including having a “liquid lunch” on the day the Kinsellas arrive. This notion that society was more forgiving of men is also present in "Big Maggie". In the opening scene, when it is alluded to that Walter cheated on his wife the Old Woman makes excuses for him, telling Maggie, “He was a good man, if he had a failing, Maggie, twas a failing many had”. In both texts society was on the cusp of great change as women were beginning to experience more freedom in terms of education. John tells the girl “I want to see gold stars on them copy books next time I come up here”, while in 1960’s Ireland women were getting greater subject choice in schools and free education. The bias in society towards men and the patriarchal society that existed largely determined that the key relationship of Maggie and her husband was impacted pessimistically.  

In contrast, Juno, set in the 2000’s, presents a world where equality is the norm between the sexes and gender roles are less defined than in previous times. Nevertheless, in a manner not unlike the previous texts, an air of sexism is present. Juno is ostracised by many of her peers and subjected to negative attitudes from both the school secretary and the ultrasound technician. Paulie, on the other hand, is unaffected and is praised for his virility. Mark speaks in a less than flattering way about his wife, “She just hates when I sit around watching movies and 'not contributing'". However, on balance because society is progressive, or at least more progressive than 1960’s rural Ireland, most of the impact on relationships tended to be in a positive regard, irrespective of attitudes outside of the relationships. (This is much more open to debate - for people who don't agree with the view of the author of this essay.)

"Foster" and "Big Maggie" are alike in that they are both set is rural Ireland where Catholicism and the church are part of the fabric of society. In Claire Keegan’s novella, we know that the church is important, especially in social terms, as John tells Edna that the girl will go to town to get “togged out” as “she’ll need something more than that for Mass”. Catholicism also bound the community together and was, in the main, a key ingredient in forming successful community ties. This is evident when John helps his neighbours and when he buys raffle tickets to raise funds for a new roof on the school, even though he has no children of his own. In the case of Keane’s play, the church and its teachings had more of a negative influence on people, especially Maggie. She felt that the church stifled her and dominated her life, a fact she admitted during her closing soliloquy, “my sex life, my morals, my thoughts, word and deed were dominated by a musty old man with a black suit a roman collar and a smell of snuff”. It could be argued that the Catholic church and its teachings had a similar influence on Dan and his wife as it appears they didn’t use contraception as it was illegal. (The sentence is incoherent: did they do it because of the Catholic church? Because it was illegal? Or because the religion informed societal values/cultural context?) As result they had a bigger family than they could care for. However, unlike Maggie who is clear about the negative influence of the church, this is never explicitly stated, merely inferred. (This is probably the best paragraph in the essay in terms of the multifaceted, dynamic approach to comparison.)

The opposite is seen in "Juno" where the society presented is a liberal and secular society where there are no moral or ethical structures evident to guide or restrict the characters. This is clear from the scene in which Juno phones her friend Leah to tell her she is pregnant and Leah says, “Well are you going to go to Havenbrooke or Women Now for the abortion?” The characters must create a moral landscape for themselves. There is less judgement of each other based on religious beliefs, and there is certainly none of the authoritarian control that Maggie tolerated in Keane’s play. Even Mark was given the freedom to decide he did not want to be a father and allowed to follow his own path, however unpalatable the decision may seem to others. 

In all three texts, the value placed on and attitudes towards money, family, gender roles and religion varied widely. It some cases, especially ‘Foster’, the differing attitudes to the same aspect of their culture by individuals meant different choices and options in their lives. What can be in no doubt from studying the cultural context of the three texts is that one if not all four areas of money, family, gender and religion had a significant effect on the success or failure of relationships. This allowed me to comprehend the unique worlds that the characters inhabited and how it shaped who they became, adding to my enjoyment of all three texts immensely.

Cultural Context - Big Maggie, Foster, Juno for Leaving Cert English

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