I recently read a Tumblr thread about how important it was to understand the historical context of the books we read. It was a debate over whether we should take Lord of the Flies at face value and ONLY read it in the context it was written in (which I didn’t really understand), or use that historical context to interpret it in our own time period and cultural situation now–which is what teachers and students and readers have been doing in every single class since the book was published.
My opinion is that historical context is extremely important. A book is going to make so much more sense if you know a little bit about the period and culture that you are reading in (hence my frustration with early French lit…we’ve discussed this…I’m working on it). Even fantasy books like Game of Thrones just blow up when you understand that it was based on the War of the Roses, and the Dothraki are essentially Mongolians.
However, every single person who reads a book is never going to read THE SAME book. Because none of us is the same person. We all interpret things differently based on our life experiences, and that effects our reading. So do the current events happening around us. So yeah, historical context is extremely important, but hardly ever can we take fiction at face value. There’s way too much to be learned and gained from it.
The reason all this comes to mind is when I started North and South at the end of this week, Twitter was blowing up with the news of Rachel Dolezal–a woman who pretended to be black and became the President of the Spokane NAACP. So as I’m reading a book on Industrialism in England and unions and strikes and two classes ripping each other apart…I’m watching the social media sphere do the same thing, over race.
This quote, in particular, stuck out at me:
“I don’t know–I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down.”
I am not writing this to make any commentary on Friday’s situation. For me, I very much want to see there be a resolution to all this strife that is going on, I just don’t know how or what or when. That isn’t my purpose here, though.
Sometimes, I read a book, at the exact right time. When I started North and South, I was completely underwhelmed. It was very slow to get started, and I really didn’t understand what was going on. Then, I got to Margaret’s very impassioned speech, which includes the quote above, and it all just clicked. I even went back and reread some of it because once I got it…I got it. And putting a book written in a different time, with a different historical context (industrial unions vs rich factory owners), in a current setting (the very real racial tensions that have been escalating), made it so much more clear.
This is a very strong book. There is a bit of a romance element, but it is literally the last important thing. I’m not going to say I enjoyed it, but I definitely learned from it. And sometimes, that’s the goal.
(Oh, and Mr. Bell? I’m not the only person who thinks he’s gay, right? He almost seemed more a character from Oscar Wilde.)
Fulfills Boxall #87