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How Literature May Help Solve Many Cultural Issues
More than a dozen people lived in the small apartment next door. Although the apartment was clean, the children looked well fed, and everyone seemed happy, the manager simply assumed that, because the family members had immigrated into the country, they were poor or just could not find adequate shelter for all of them. Therefore, without knowing anything or doing any research about their cultural background, the manager took it upon himself to find other accommodations for some of them. However, upon returning a few weeks later, he found the apartment just as crowded as before. When asked about this, the matriarch explained that it was customary in their country for several generations of the same family to live together, so they simply had gone back to their native country, collected more family members, and returned. Perplexed, the manager shook his head and walked away. There will always be those who do not understand a culture other than their own. However, literature can be the tool used to increase cultural awareness by accurately portraying the history, customs, values, gender, and language of the culture.
According to Quappe and Cantatore (2007), cultural awareness is the "foundation of communication" and involves taking a good look at ourselves, our values, our beliefs, and our perceptions. However, more importantly it is how we perceive others. How are we alike? How are we different? Where is our common ground? In literature, by understanding the culture's background, the reader will gain a better comprehension of the who, what, when, why, and how of the story. Here, the reader will also gain an incite into the author's character and motivation.
Why cultural attributes are important
According to Madden (2007, pp. 3-11), "most literature does not intend to convey a moral or lesson. At its best, it reveals life. But like life, literature evokes our emotion and judgment." Therefore, many factors such as character, gender, personality, geography, and circumstances influence the way we think about literature. These attributes also help us identify or make comparisons to our own lives or circumstances. For example, readers may respond either positively or negatively to a certain character or author because his or her personality or culture is different or similar to those they do not like or understand. Therefore, these readers may agree or disagree with what the author says, they may ask why the author responded the way he or she did, or they may ask themselves if they would have acted the same way under the same circumstances. By presenting a different view than our own literature influences the way we believe and behave. Thus we can "view ourselves in relation to the world around us, and perhaps be better able to think critically about our responses to various kinds of literature."
Quappe, S. & Cantatore, G. (2007). What is cultural awareness? Retrieved from
Madden, F. (2007). Exploring literature: Writing and arguing about fiction, poetry, drama, and the essay (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.