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The values and attitudes of a person can be profoundly shaped by his/her social environment. For instance, one can speak about the influence of such factors as social class, gender, education, ethnicity, and so forth. Moreover, they affect people’s evaluation of events and the moral choices of others. This paper is aimed to examine the way in which this theme is explored in the works of different authors such as Samuel Beckett, Doris Lessing, Tadeusz Borowski, and others.
The literary works of these writers may differ in terms of themes and narrative structure; nevertheless, each of them illustrates the concept of situated meaning. In particular, the writers explore the way in which the worldviews and moral principles of a person can be determined by the norms established in a particular community or a social group. More importantly, the characters are not able to question the validity of their assumptions.
Situated meaning and the behavior of a person
The concept of situated meaning is particularly relevant if one speaks about the characters of Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame. Much attention should be paid to Clov who is one of the protagonists. He is a servant in Hamm’s family. He has been living in this household since childhood. He has been conditioned to believe that his duty is to serve. It is possible to consider the following quote that can illustrate his experience, “Clov, you must be there better than that if you want them to let you go – one day. But I feel too old, and too far, to form new habits” (Beckett 794).
This character understands that he has often been the victim of humiliation. More importantly, Clov understands that he is not valued by Hamm, Nagg, and Nell. Nevertheless, he is not ready to leave them. Therefore, his subservient position has made him accustomed to poor treatment. Thus, in this case, one can speak about the influence of class and education.
Additionally, it is possible to consider the short story The Old Chief Mshlanga written by Doris Lessing. This author explores the experiences of a girl who is accustomed to believe that dignity is only the privilege of white people. For instance, the narrator makes the following utterance that can throw light on her worldviews, “The black people on the farm were as remote as the trees and the rocks. They were an amorphous black mass” (Lessing 719).
This utterance is important for showing that the protagonist perceives a certain group of people merely as inanimate objects. It does not occur to her that they may have feelings, emotions, and beliefs. This character is encouraged to believe that skin color is a mark that can be used to evaluate the dignity of a person. Yet, Doris Lessing is able to explain the fallacy of this approach. The protagonist’s encounter with Chief Mshlanga shows that many of her convictions are completely flawed. While discussing prejudiced attitudes of a person, one can also refer to Albert Camus’s short story The Guest. The literary work throws light on the way in which a person can be dehumanized only because he/she represents a certain ethnicity (Camus 754).
It is possible to consider the novella Punishment written by Rabindranath Tagore. This author illustrates life in rural India, especially the main values and assumptions of residents. The author focuses on the way in which women are forced to accept the domination of men. For instance, one of the male characters states if he loses his wife, he can easily “get another” (Tagore 895). This statement indicates that he perceives women as mere objects. Moreover, in his opinion, they do not deserve much attention. This case is important because it shows how a person can be taught to evaluate the moral worth of other people. Furthermore, in his opinion, women are inferior to men only due to their gender.
The experiences of women are also explored by Clarice Lispector in her short story The Daydreams of a Drunk Woman. The author focuses on the experiences of a housewife. The author picks the moment when the character does not need to care about the need of her husband and children. The story-teller depicts the protagonist’s behavior in the following, “She took advantage of their absence in order to begin the day as she pleased: restless and frivolous in her bed…. one of those whims perhaps” (Lispector 810). Other people may not believe that having rest is something frivolous and irresponsible. However, women are made to accept this premise. Clarice Lispector shows that gender and education can shape the moral values of a person.
Furthermore, one can certainly consider the collection of short stories This Way for the Gas, Ladies, and Gentlemen written by Tadeusz Borowski. This book gives readers deep insights into the functioning of concentration camps. This text shows that under certain conditions the value of human life can diminish significantly. Moreover, a person can be reduced to the condition when he/she only wants to have “enough food, enough strength to work” (Borowski 707).
Under the different circumstances, the reaction of a person can be quite different. Moreover, he/she may never accept the cruelty and injustice. Nevertheless, the character described by Tadeusz Borowski has become accustomed to the dehumanization of other people.
On the whole, this discussion indicates that situated meaning is critical for different writers who want to show how the worldviews of a person can be formed by external forces. The characters who have been described are not able to question the validity of their beliefs. For instance, they take it for granted that gender, ethnicity, or race determine the character of people, their moral worth, and ethical duties. Yet, they are not able to examine their views in a critical way.
Beckett, Samuel. “Endgame.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchne. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. 767-795. Print.
Borowski, Tadeusz. “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchne. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. 695-707. Print.
Camus, Albert. “The Guest.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchne. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. 754-762. Print.
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Lessing, Doris. “The Old Chief Mshlandga.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchne. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. 718-726. Print.
Lispector, Clarice. “The Daydreams of a Drunk Woman.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchne. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. 809-814 Print.
Tagore, Rabindranath. “Punishment.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchne. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. 893-899. Print.