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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: A Doll's House, I'm Not Scared and The Plough and the Stars for Leaving Cert English

“Understanding who holds power and who is powerless helps to reveal the cultural context in texts”.

Compare how the distribution of power within each of the three texts on your course helps to reveal the cultural contexts in these texts. (2016)

The information about socioeconomic status, gender and family is presented as separate paragraphs for each text with the odd introductory comparative link word. It reads a little more like notes on each text rather than a comparative essay. It's more important to make direct, explicit comparisons. There is no new information that this author needs to add into the essay, but she does need to restructure it, so that it gains marks for the comparisons. You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€). 

For my comparative study, I have selected the drama "A Doll’s House" by Henrik Ibsen, the film "I’m not Scared" directed by Gabriele Salvatores, and the drama, "The Plough and The Stars" by Sean O’Casey. Cultural context refers to the world of the text, and throughout this essay, I will focus on aspects of culture such as socioeconomic landscape, gender roles and family life. Power and powerlessness have a strong presence in the societies of "I’m not Scared", "A Doll’s House" and "The Plough and The Stars". By examining who holds the power in these texts, one can gain an understanding of the core values, attitudes and settings of these worlds. 

"A Doll’s House" is set in the Bourgeois society of late 19th century Norway, a place wherein respectability and status were valued above all else. In stark contrast, "The Plough and The Stars" takes place in a Dublin tenement around the period of the 1916 rising. The characters face utter destitution. "I’m not Scared" is set in a rural town in Southern Italy, 1978. The inhabitants of the town are not destitute, but they are certainly struggling with poverty and isolation. 

When it comes to the social and economic landscapes of the texts, we are presented with three very different scenarios, and the distribution of power indicates where the characters stand socially and financially. In "A Doll’s House", Helmer has secured a promotion as a bank manager, and therefore holds power over Krogstad, a lowly bank employee. He is very insulted when Krogstad calls him by his first name, “I assure you, it is extremely painful for me”, and he has the power to act on this annoyance and dismiss Krogstad. Helmer’s power in "A Doll’s House" reveals his influential position, status and wealth and therefore, sheds light upon the affluent lifestyle of the family. 

Far from the wealth and comfort of Nora and Helmer’s world are the lives of the powerless inhabitants of the tenements in "The Plough and The Stars". The people in this drama don’t occupy impressive high-paid positions, but rather the men work mainly as unskilled labourers and the women are domestics or in some cases, prostitutes. They hold no authority in these lowly positions and are thought of as “slum lice”. The utter powerlessness of the characters in "The Plough and The Stars" is a testament to their lack of wealth or education and their low social status. 

Similarly in "I’m not Scared", the characters in the film are experiencing social and economic inequality. In the time period of the drama, Italy had become a divided country. The dominant North was flushed with wealth, power and influence whereas the South, where the film is set, was seen to be poor, primitive and completely lacking in influence or power. The town of Aqua Traverse is surrounded by golden fields of grain, but the villagers have no power over this land and no connection to this source of wealth. These people are so powerless and marginalised that they turn to crime and kidnapping to change their fortunes and gain wealth and status. Evidently, the lack of power held by Michelle’s family and the other characters is a mark of their low social standing in comparison to the wealthy powerful North. 

The depiction of family life in "A Doll’s House" is heavily influenced by the power distribution in the drama. Nora’s marriage is a game, a master-slave contract licensed by society wherein Helmer holds all the power. At the end of the drama, she compares the situation to her relationship with her children, “I have been your doll-wife.” She explains that her children are nothing more than toys to her, and in turn, she was Helmer’s toy, existing only to be controlled and “perform tricks”. The unequal distribution of power in the marriage reveals the inequality in family life in the society of "A Doll’s House". 

Family life in "The Plough and The Stars" bears many similarities, as Jack also seems to hold power over Nora. She is totally invested in the marriage, though he dictates the pace of their relationship- “the pair of them used to be like two turtle doves… but I’m thinking he’s beginning to take things more quietly.” Nora despairs at the fact that her husband puts his social position and vanity above their marriage, but ultimately, nothing she does can save their relationship or prevent Jack’s continued involvement in the ICA. She is powerless, and again, this distribution of power shows the patriarchal values of family life at the time. Within a marriage, it was the husband who was afforded power and control. 

The portrayal of family life in "I’m not Scared" is far more positive than it is in other texts, but even so, Anna and Pino are not in an equal marriage. Pino is very much in charge of the household and Anna obeys him dutifully. She seems to disapprove of the kidnapping, but does nothing to prevent it. Her reaction is muted as they watch the news appeal, perhaps because she knows that she is powerless and protests would fall on deaf ears. Though Pino and Anna genuinely love each other, unlike the other couples, he clearly holds the power and one must understand this to fully grasp the complexity of the nuanced portrayal of family life in "I’m not Scared". 

In all of these texts, the role of men is portrayed negatively and the societies hold patriarchal values. In "A Doll’s House", Helmer is controlling and arrogant as he exerts power over Nora. He expresses the belief that she is his “property” and asserts financial control over his wife by gifting her small sums of money and questioning her spending, “Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?” Helmer’s dominance epitomises the role of men in 19th century society. They made the decisions, they held the power and it was thought that they knew best. Therefore, Helmer’s power reveals the authoritative role of men in "A Doll’s House". 

Similar to "A Doll’s House", men occupy a dominant role in "The Plough and The Stars". Though the primary male characters of the text are quite powerless in general, any characters who are in positions of authority are exclusively male. In act 2, we are told of the ‘Voice of the Man’ commanding the crowd to take up arms and fight for Ireland. It is clear that in the fight for Irish freedom, men hold the power. In addition, the British soldiers, Corporal Stoddart and Sergeant Tinley, who come to round up the men at the end of the play are also powerful males. Anybody who actually has any meaningful power in "The Plough and The Stars" is a man and this shows that men played the dominant role in the society of the text. 

Again in "I’m not Scared", a traditional patriarchal society is in place. For example, at the beginning of the film, we see that Skull, a boy, leads the group of children. When he has to choose someone to pay the forfeit for coming last, he chooses Barbara, a girl, and instructs her to expose herself to the boys. This situation mirrors society as a whole, wherein men lead and hold the power to control women as they wished. Clearly the power imbalance here gives an insight into the role of men in the text. 

Women are quite powerless and oppressed in all of these texts. It is illegal in the society of "A Doll’s House" to borrow money without one’s husbands consent and it is frowned upon for middle-class women to work, so as a result, women are left with a lack of financial independence. Nora has little power over the house’s finances and must beg Torvald for gifts of money. In fact, for her whole life, Nora hasn’t had the power to make decisions for herself. She says to Helmer, “I was simply transferred from Papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own tastes.” Nora’s life has been continuously ruled and controlled by men, and this is typical of the society in "A Doll’s House" wherein women are second-class citizens. 

In "The Plough and The Stars", women occupy a similar powerless role, even though they are generally portrayed as strong-willed, determined characters. While men get involved with the rebellion as a form of escapism, the women of the drama are forced to deal with the reality of everyday life. They don’t get involved in organisations or clubs, but rather, must mind their children and keep their houses in order. Nora says to Jack, “I’d be as well sewin’ or doin’ something about th’ place.” While men are afforded the power to develop hobbies and interests, women are powerless and confined in a domestic role, and this distribution of power is a mark of women’s standing in the unequal society of "The Plough and The Stars". 

Similarly, women are seen as inferior in "I’m not Scared", and have no say regarding important decisions. Anna and the other women aren’t consulted concerning the tactics of the kidnapping, although they collude in keeping it secret. They are completely passive throughout the film, except for the instance wherein Anna attacks Felice for his treatment of her son. Sadly, even in this situation, women are silenced, as Felice attempts to sexually assault Anna as punishment. Women’s powerlessness in the society of "I'm not Scared" displays their lack of independence or equality in the world of the text. 

In conclusion, it is evident from my study of these three comparative texts that understanding who holds power and who is powerless gives the audience an insight into the cultural context of the text. In "A Doll’s House", "I’m not Scared" and "The Plough and The Stars", we are presented with three different societies, but all feature uneven distributions of power, and in turn, inequality between classes, sexes and within marriages. To fully comprehend these aspects of the texts and how power influences our understanding of cultural context, it is useful to compare and contrast the distributions of power in different texts and within a variety of social groups.

Photo by Jakub Mosur via SFGate

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