Friday, July 1, 2011

Stories as Time Capsules

It’s interesting to see how some expressions in a story capture the societal views of the time in which it was written. Reading the classics is a wonderful thing. It makes me appreciate how literature employs grammatical artistry. But there are times that sprinkled throughout a work of fiction you’ll find traces, if not full-out in your face, racism.

I’m reading a children’s book that was originally copyrighted in 1911. That was a century ago and, of course, the views were quite different then. It was quite ordinary and acceptable to make statements that today would ignite ire in many people.

For example:

“I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people. When I heard you was comin’ from India I thought you was a black too.”

“You thought I was a native!” You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people – they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India.”

Wow. I know that this is a work of fiction and that it’s the characters who are expressing this opinion within the world the writer created. I’m not going to start a debate about racism in writing and the difference between Indian ethnic groups and Black ethnic groups. However, I am stating that this novel portrays the racist attitudes and beliefs of that time.

So, the social separation between groups of people was very pronounced and very strictly observed. This has been preserved in the story like a time capsule. I have been observing stories that reflect things which we would now consider to be in poor taste. To me this is a look into the past; and it shows me, a bit more poignantly than my history lessons taught me, how the world used to be.

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