Expressing Cultural Values, Ideas & Attitudes in Literature

Instructor: Joe Ricker
Cultural values, ideas and attitudes are presented by the author in literature to offer insight into the beliefs and traditions of different cultures. It is, essentially, the duty of the author to present the values of a particular culture.

Portraying Culture

The world is made up of a tremendous amount of cultures, all embracing different attitudes and ideas. Authors often expose their audience to different cultures, offering their own perspective.

Cultures vary greatly, and authors assume the responsibility of accurate representation. For example, an author should know not to portray a Hindu person eating a cheeseburger, because of the sacredness of the cow to the Hindu religion.

Literature can offer insight into what a culture finds to be right or habitual, and there are practically countless different forms of literature that illustrate cultural values.Race, gender, origin or location, and heritage, to name a few, all play a role in how an author expresses cultural values.

Race and Gender

Race and gender play a crucial role in expressing culture. Much of a person's outlook is dependent on how the culture (either the person's own or the one they are immersed in) treat race and gender. These factors can comprise the traits the author has to confront in developing characters.

The struggle between culture and race in American literature can be illustrated profoundly in African-American literature, especially slave narratives (autobiographical works by free blacks or former slaves), which rose to popularity around the time of the American Civil War.

In contrast, southern white American culture around that same time is also conveyed, exemplified by Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. Authors Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, female African-Americans, gave insight into their perspective on culture in the literary works Beloved and The Color Purple, respectively.

Regional or Ethnic Values

Culture can be expressed in literature based on the origin of the character or author, or even tied to a general location.

Things Fall Apart, by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, describes not only the culture of a tribe in Nigeria, but the affects of English white men coming in and taking over. The clash that ensues shows the differing values and attitudes of both.


American literary regionalism is a genre of literature that focuses on the specifics of a particular culture based on their location. Literature from the American South is extremely popular worldwide today. American literary regionalism dominated the popularity of literature after the 1930s and continues to be a prolific genre. Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty are famous Southern authors who have made tremendous contributions to literature that define Southern culture.

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