Views and values

March 1, 2017

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“Once upon a time…”

The fairy tale of Cinderella is a well-known, well-loved and well-ingrained story that was always told to me as a bedtime story. Who could forget the mean-spirited stepsisters who punished and ruined Cinderella’s life to no end? According to the dark Brothers Grimm version, the stepsisters mutilated their feet by cutting off their heels and toes to fit into the infamous shoe, and their eyes were pecked away by birds until they were blinded! It’s definitely one way to send a message to children… don’t be bullies or you’ll be punished. Which is exactly what the Brothers Grimm’s views and values were. Their construction of their fairy tale to send a message of what they viewed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is simplistically shown through the writers’ choice in determining the characters’ fate. The evil stepsisters are punished, while Cinderella receives happiness and riches because she remained kind and pure. A clear and very simple example of how texts reflect the beliefs, world views and ethics of the author, which is essentially the author’s views and values!

What are the views and values of a text?

Writers use literature to criticise or endorse social conditions, expressing their own opinions and viewpoints of the world they live in. It is important to remember that each piece of literature is a deliberate construction. Every decision a writer makes reflects their views and values about their culture, morality, politics, gender, class, history or religion. This is implicit within the style and content of the text, rather than in overt statements. This means that the writer’s views and values are always open to interpretation, and possibly even controversial. This is what you (as an astute literature student) must do – interpret the relationship between your text and the ideas it explores and examines, endorses or challenges in the writer’s society.

How do I start?

Consider the following tips:

  • What does the writer question and critique with their own society? What does this say about the writer’s own views and the values that uphold?
  • For example, “Jane Austen in Persuasion recognises the binding social conventions of the 19th century as superficial, where they value wealth and status of the utmost priority. She satirises such frivolous values through the microcosmic analysis of the Elliot family.”
  • The writer’s affirming or critical treatment of individual characters can be a significant clue to what values they approve or disapprove of. What fate do the characters have? Who does the writer punish or reward by the end of the text?
  • Which characters challenge and critique the social conventions of the day?
  • Look at the writer’s use of language:
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Characterisation
  • Plot structure
  • Setting
  • Description
  • In other words …what are the possible meanings generated by the writer’s choices?
  • Recognition and use of metalanguage for literary techniques is crucial because you are responding to a work of literature. Within literature ideas, views and values and issues do not exist in a vacuum. They arise out of the writer’s style and create meaning.
  • How do the writer’s choices make meaning?
  • How are the writer’s choices intended to affect the reader’s perception of social values?
  • Weave views and values throughout your close analysis essays, rather than superficially adding a few lines at the conclusion of the essay to indicate the writer’s concerns.
  • Using the writer’s name frequently will also assist in creating a mindset of analysing the writer’s commentary on society.

Below are some examples from an examiner report of successful and insightful responses reflecting the views and values of the writer:

(Another tip is to go through examiner’s reports and take note of high quality responses, even if they are not the text you’re studying)

When contrasted with the stark, blunt tone of Caesar throughout the play ‘You may see, Lepidus, and henceforth know...’ the richness of Shakespeare’s poetry with regard to his ‘couple so famous’ denotes how the playwright himself ultimately values the heroic age to which his protagonists belong over the machinations of the rising imperial Rome.

It is the word ‘natural’ here through which Mansfield crafts a sharp irony that invites us to rate Edna’s obsession with her own performance.... It is this satiric impulse that also leaps to the fore through the image of Edna, ‘clasping the black book in her fingers as though it were a missal’...the poignant economy of Mansfield’s characteristic style explores her views on the fragility of the human condition 

‘In Cold Blood’ provides a challenging exploration of the value placed on human life. The seemingly pointless murders undermine every concept of morality that reigns in Middle America, the ‘Bible Belt’, as well as the wider community. Capote insinuates his personal abhorrence of the death penalty and the disregard of mental illness in the justice system.

Why are views and values important in literature, and especially for close analysis?

Every year, the examiner reports emphasise how the best close analysis responses were ones that “showed how the text endorsed and reflected the views and values of the writer and were able to weave an understanding of these through the essay” (2013 VCAA Lit examiner report). By analysing HOW the text critiques, challenges or endorses the accepted values of the society in the text, you are demonstrating an understanding of the social and cultural context of the text, thus acknowledging the multifaceted layers that exist within literature. You are identifying the writer’s commentary of humanity through your own interpretation. Bring some insight into your essays!

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