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World Literature: Historical, Social & Cultural References

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
Social references and literature go hand in hand. This lesson shows, through a variety of different examples, the impact that literature and society have on each other.

Importance of Reference

It has been observed that times of great social friction tend to produce great works of literature. After all, much of American literature comes from a time or place when the future was uncertain. Globally, this trend holds, as people are especially driven to produce commentary on their times when they feel that there is something worth noting. Around the world, many great pieces of literature were a result of societal commentary, whether to offer criticism or highlight the absurdity within it.

Times of Turmoil

To see the importance of turmoil as fodder for the creative juices, we look to the great Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities. In it, Dickens highlights the differences between the rich and poor through two very different lenses: London and Paris. Paris is swept up in the French Revolution with plenty of chaos in the city. Meanwhile, with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England, London is going through changes of its own. Namely, it seems that those with means and wealth live a completely different life. One character even escapes treason charges! Throughout the book, Dickens provides his own thoughts that the rich and poor are treated the same no matter the circumstances happening in society.

Five hundred years earlier and a half a world away, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms tells the story of a completely different time: the end of the Han Dynasty in ancient China. Here again, the backdrop of chaos is essential to the story, as the tale unfolds across historical events amid the chaos of several warring states each trying to establish themselves as the successors to the Han Dynasty. Through it, author Luo Guanzhong demonstrates the importance of family and ancestry through several generations of Chinese history.

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