Literature and Community - Essay Example

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Literature and Community
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Literature and Community Whether it is intended to or not, literature has a tendency to reveal the basic structures and values of the community in which the author lives. Whether it is rigidly idealistic regarding gender roles or expected behavior or it is more flexible, these ideas come across in the way the author shapes his or her story and the lives of their characters. By reading texts such as William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” or Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, it is clear that society once held much more restraining ideals regarding how people should live their lives.
Faulkner introduces Miss Emily Grierson as a woman who has been strictly contained within the boundaries of her father’s old Southern ideals. “None of the young men were quite good enough to Miss Emily and such. We had long thought of them as a tableau; Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door” (437). As a result of his behavior and her confinement, the Grierson family becomes the town’s idealized image of what the Old South should be. As a result, the town insists upon Emily maintaining this role even after her father dies and she is left all alone. Miss Emily attempts to break out of this mold by dating Homer Barron and adopting more Northern ideals. “Her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows – sort of tragic and serene” (438), but the town sees her as defying the old order of her class. Her cousins are quickly sent for (by the townspeople) to bring Miss Emily back into her ‘destined’ role.
Franz Kafka’s story “Metamorphosis” centers on the character of Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to discover he’s been transformed into the shape of a large bug, possibly a cockroach, which reflects his position in society and the expectations they have for him. It can be argued that Gregor’s transformation is a literal indication of his feelings of separation from humanity, including the members of his own family. Despite waking up to find himself in the form of a bug, Gregor’s primary concern is to get to work so that he can still support his family as he’s been doing for five years. This is the expectation society has placed on him and he has adopted for himself. As he thinks about his condition, he realizes the level of disconnection that has already occurred between himself, his family and the rest of humanity since he took his job: “And apart from business itself, this plague of traveling: the anxieties of changing trains, the irregular, inferior meals, the ever changing faces, never to be seen again, people with whom one has no chance to be friendly” (13). As the family pleads with his manager to believe Gregor is sick, the picture of his life before the transformation becomes complete. “The boy thinks of nothing but his work! It makes me upset to see how he never goes out after supper; do you know he’s just spent a whole week here and been at home every evening! He sits down with us at the table and stays there, quietly reading the paper or studying his timetables” (21). Society and his family expects him to be little more than a workhorse, providing them with their needs and otherwise disappearing under the rug and out of the way.
In both of these stories, the rigid expectations of the community are revealed as having little or no leniency for difference. The moment something is different, Miss Emily’s hair and her dating of the Northerner Homer Barron or Gregor’s transformation, the individual becomes even more isolated than they had felt before. What these stories seem to suggest is that conformity brings about a sense of isolation in the self that is unexpressed, but expression of this self results in an even greater isolation from the community. The question is, which is more important – the self or the community – and is it possible to find a means of accomplishing both.
Works Cited
Faulker, William. f“A Rose for Emily.” Anthology of American Literature – 8th Edition. Ed. McMichael, George, James S. Leonard, Bill Lyne, Anne-Marie Mallon and Verner D. Mitchell. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2004: 433-444.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. New York: Vanguard Press, 1946. Read More
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