In order to understand the symbolic significance of violent events in literature, itis helpful to consider the fact that every act of violence is a struggle between two (or more) forces. Consider one of these forces—what does it represent, and what might it be struggling against? Through this logic, Foster is able to determine that violent acts between individual characters in a book are symbolicof much larger phenomena, such as social and ideological battles over class and gender.Chapter 13: Historical ContextFoster argues that writing with an explicit, straightforward political agendatends to be unappealing to everyone except those living in the same time and place as the text was written, and who share the author’s views. On theother hand, “political” writing—note the quotation marks—is rich, fascinating, and important. Foster argues that “all writing is political on
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some level,” and that one way to locate political elements in a work of literature is to examine how the lives of the characters fit within the societyin which they live. Similarly, if a literary work features characters from theruling class, an author might convey disdain for the hierarchical class system by presenting these characters in an unflattering light.Discovering the political angle within a work of literature can be challenging, and it helps to bear in mind the author’s background, the historical context in which they lived, and any sociocultural traditions they might be writingagainst(for example Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving, while they hardly presented the USA as a utopia, nonetheless wrote in a way that was critical of the European tradition). Some literary scholars, particularly those who are themselves politically-oriented, argue that every work of literature is political because it is “either part of the social problem or part of the solution.” Foster doesn’t quite agree, but doesmaintain that almost all works of literature somehow address the political world around them.For this reason, it is very important to bear in mind the social and political context in which a work of literature was written. This can be especially helpful because historically, many authors—such as women and members of the working-class—would have expected to have their work judged differently based on the social and political climate in which they lived.
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