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What Is Morality: Based on English Literature Essay

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Updated: Sep 16th, 2021

A person is not only a part of nature and the social world but also pertains to the deepest bases of the Universe in its spiritual sense and the difference between Good and Evil. As a free individual, every person has his own attitude towards what’s good and what’s bad. In such a situation, a question about morality rises.

So what is morality? The word itself has its source in Latin. The Latin word “moralitas” means “manner, character, proper behavior”. Nowadays morality has three main meanings. The first descriptive usage lays in a code of conduct, which is authoritative in matters of right and wrong in society, religion, philosophy, or individual conscience. The second meaning is law, rule, and direction. In its third usage morality is synonymous with ethics, the systematic philosophical study of the moral domain.

Morality is omnipresent in every sphere of human activity. For the last two thousand years, you can hardly find a literary work where the theme of morality, its norms, and standards is omitted. Let’s take English literature, for example. “Hamlet” is one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations, and it is also considered the hardest of his works to understand. No vile and amoral place than Elsinor was ever shown by Shakespeare. The walls of the palace seem saturated with treachery. Poisoning, spying, eavesdropping are the rule there. In that environment that contradicts all canons of morality Hamlet is placed. He is a humanist, a scholar, and an individual with high moral standards. Hamlet is the most intellectual of all Shakespearian characters: he is capable of reflecting on life and drawing general conclusions. It is amazing how firmly he realize the social borderline: all the negative characters of the play are aristocrats, all for whom Hamlet expresses sympathy and who are in sympathy with him, come from the lower classes. King Claudius is the most amoral character. He is a traitor, hypocrite, flatterer, coward; he hatches intrigues, and kills people. Hamlet sincerely wants to revenge Claudius for his father’s death. But Hamlet delays and goes on delaying. He knows that revenge contradicts his moral principles. In such a situation, the main question of morality arises: “To be or not to be…”

Outstanding French writer Victor Hugo in his novel “Les Miserables” also touches on the question of the place of morality in the society of the 19th century. In the novel, the author states the idea that a person who breaks the law can possess high moral standards. The main hero Jane Valjane gets long 19 years of penal servitude for having stolen a bun. After being imprisoned he hates everyone and everything. But the meeting with bishop Mariele opens a new world for him. He regenerates and starts doing good in the name of love and justice. The policeman Javer can’t imagine how the criminal with his moral values can be higher than the policeman himself and even the law.

Another Norvegian play writer Henry Ibsen in his work “The Doll’s House” pays important attention to the place of morality in a family. The main heroine Nora sees the sense of life in her love towards the nearest – her husband and children. She sincerely believes that love and happiness will last forever in her family because she and Torvald truly love each other. But her husband considers her amoral after finding out the truth about her deed. Eight years ago for the sake of Torwald Nora forged her father’s signature to pay her husband’s treatment. Torwald doesn’t appreciate long years of Nora’s silence in the name of love. He helped her to pay Krogstad’s bill not because of his high morality and love, but only for saving his own reputation. As a result, Nora sees the real nature of her husband which is empty without any hint of moral values. She leaves the house where she is just a doll. But the end of the play is opened and the only reader is to decide whether it is moral to leave the children.

Works Cited

  1. Clurman, Harold. Famouse Plays of the 19th Century. New York: The Viking Press, 1984.
  2. Haidt, Johan. When Morality Opposes Justice. Social Justice Research. New York, 2006.
  3. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature. – Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 1995.
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