Introduction to the Comparative Course-The Cultural Context

For Leaving Cert English, you will be asked to study three texts as part of your comparative course, under different modes of comparison. Generally, you will study a novel, a play and a film. Your job is to compare the differences and similarities in all three texts under a certain mode, for example, Cultural Context, Literary Genre, Theme or General Vision and Viewpoint.

Cultural Context:

This generally means the ‘world of the text’ in which the characters live. You will be asked to analyse how the characters are affected by the cultural context in each of the texts. A good way to think about the influence of the cultural context of a text is to imagine you can remove the main characters and place them in today’s world and if their lives would be any different. So for example, if a young girl is living in 1960’s Ireland and finds herself pregnant out of wedlock, is she influenced negatively by the cultural context? The answer would undoubtedly be yes and if you took that girl and placed her in Ireland 2020, would she face the same problems? The answer would be no, so we can clearly state that the cultural context affects this young girl negatively.

Generally, we look at cultural context under a number of headings:

  • Social Class/Class structure
  • The role of men and women
  • Attitudes towards family
  • The role of religion
  • Attitudes towards love and marriage
  • Setting
  • Customs and Rituals
  • General Values

When you look at a text, you should try to identify the characters attitudes towards these headings. For example, in social class, are people treated better because they have have money and status? Do people with money look down on those who are poor? Is social status more important than happiness to the characters?

When look at the role of men and women, analyse how men and women can be treated differently based on their gender. Is the text set in a patriarchal society? Do the men have chauvinistic beliefs and are women belittled because of their gender? How easy is it for women to get what they want or is their success predicated on decisions made by men?

You should think about the attitudes towards family in the texts by asking how important Family is to the main characters? Is the happiness of their families more important than money or social status or is their family used as a means to further their social standing in the text? Some characters truly value family but in some texts you will see how little family means to the main characters.

Do the characters in your text marry for love or money and security? This is a crucial question when commenting on attitudes towards love and marriage. The cultural context in some texts will dictate that people should marry for security and a chance to enhance your social standing, rather than simply for love. When you are analysing your text, it is always a good idea to think about how different today’s world is or in some cases, how things haven’t changed.

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