Worlds Apart

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Foster brings up quite an interesting point when he describes the reaction one would expect when reading "The Dead".

"A vase with stalks of celery, American apples and oranges on the sideboard, floury potatoes. Nothing very remarkable. Unless you live, as do the old ladies who provide the meal, in preelectrification Dublin, where it happens to be the sixth of January. So if you're going to understand the ladies, and the meal, and the story, you have to read through eyes that are not your own, eyes that, while not those of Aunt Kate and Julia, can take in the meaning of the meal they have provided" (226-227)

I feel this mindset is extremely important, especially when it comes  to works written in a completely different time period. This goes back to the discussion we had when reading The Great Gatsby, in which we discussed people's outrage at the women in the book's actions. This response is normal for OUR society to have, but we have to keep in mind that the book is THEIR fictional society, one that we are most likely strangers to.

I also feel that using this way of thinking greatly increases our understanding of characters and their situations. Take for instance the romance in the new (episodes I-III) Star Wars movies. For someone who does not know about their galaxy, they would view the love between Anakin and Padme as no big deal. However, jedi's are not allowed to have wives/companions of any kind (in that sense), so their love becomes almost like Romeo and Juliet (not in the whole families hating each other way, in the secret way). Even something like this, about characters who are worlds apart, can be enriched when we see with eyes that do not judge, less ethnocentric eyes, which aim to understand.

Considering I am a psychology major, this makes perfect sense. It's only natural when dealing with others to put yourself in their shoes as a way to make diagnosis and to offer the best advice, so carrying this over to literature, in which we focus heavily on understanding the character, seems natural as well.

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Good work, Andrew. It's extremely important to be able to enter into the author's fictional world. This doesn't mean, of course, that you have to check your own values at the door. The only works that are still read and studied in literature classes are ones that still have the emotional power to mean something, but the more you know about the time period in which the work was written, the better equipped you are to recognize the significance of events and details that are important to the fictional world. For instance, a hundred years from now, will future scholars need a footnote to know what being "dumped by text message" means -- not only what it means, in terms of the technology that makes it possible, but what it means, socially, for the character who was dumped?

I agree with Dr. Jerz that while it's very important to understand the social context of a story, that doesn't mean you have to completely throw out your own values. We may be offended by how women are portrayed in The Great Gatsby, but I think we can also see how Fitzgerald might have been using these portrayals to subtly criticize the way women are treated in society at the time. This gets a lot harder to deal with in works with more blatantly offensive subject matter. For example, Birth of a Nation is a film from the early 1900's that portrays the Ku Klux Klan in a positive light but is still considered significant because of its technical innovations. You can't really chuck your personal feelings at the door, but you can still study its accomplishments on a purely technical level. To some degree I think you can do that with literature. The Iliad has pretty repugnant views of women by our standards but we can still study it for how it established literary standards and influenced later works to come.

Andrew Adams said:

I did not mean that we should not value our opinions, which I can see by my wording how that could be concluded, but more that we should realize the distinction between the times. Using my own example, we shouldn't not be angered at how women are treated in The Great Gatsby, but we should realize that the time period is different and not devalue the work because we do not agree with a particular view it has. I think Matt eluded to this point nicely.

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Andrew Adams on Worlds Apart: I did not mean that we should
Matt Henderson on Worlds Apart: I agree with Dr. Jerz that whi
Dennis G. Jerz on Worlds Apart: Good work, Andrew. It's extre