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Cultural Context

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Cultural Context

The cultural context refers to the type of society in which a text is set-it’s structures, values and day-to-day rituals. Comparing the texts I have studied under Cultural Context mode involves entering the world of each text and comparing the ways in which the lives of the central characters are influenced by the worlds in which they live.
The three texts I have studied are Lies of Silence (LS) by Brian Moore, Plough and the Stars (PS) playwrite by Sean O’Casey and Il Postino (IP) directed by Micheal Radford. These novelists, dramatists and film directors obviously employ their own distinctive narrative techniques. I was interested in studying a significant range of similarities in the way LS, PS and IP deliver their respective tales.

The setting is easily comparable in all texts. IP was set in a small island off the coast of Italy around the 1950’s. Communism was the main political headline in this text, where a famous Italian poet, Pablo Neruda, was exiled from his own country and forced to live elsewhere for a short while due to the fact he was a communist. During this time also, Europe was struggling to cope from World War II. PS was set in Dublin, 1916. The Easter Rising was at stake. We receive an insight into the lives of the Irish people during The Troubles. There was also a feud between Socialism and Republicanism. LS is set in Belfast in the 1950’s when the Northern Troubles were at its climax. The setting in this text is dominated by the deep-rooted political and religious conflict in the North of Ireland.

The roles of women in all texts have their equal comparisons and similarities. In IP, it had come to my mind that Mario and Beatrice’s marriage had little true strength. I got the impression that Mario seemed more keen on the Italian poet, Neruda, than for his unborn child. However, the women are strongly independent throughout the film. They are able to make their own living by working in a local restaurant. Women also seem eager to please their husbands. Pablo Neruda’s wife tried to thrill him by putting on music he enjoyed. Contrastingly, in PS, Jack Clitheroe showed little or no respect to his wife, Nora, when the army arrived at his home. It was clear that Clitheroe placed his country before his wife. This demonstrates the position of women in society during these times. Juxtaposed to IP, the women in PS are less independent. They refuse to work and therefore depend on their husbands to support them financially as well as emotionally. Nora constantly urges and pleads with Jack to stay by her side. Similar to IP, Nora makes an effort to better herself in an attempt to please Jack. Unlike IP, LS contains strong women characters. Moira courageously defies the IRA during the hostage.

As in the case in both LS and PS, IP is set in a male-dominated world. While all three texts present us with strong female characters, such as Donna Rosa, they are subordinate to men. Real power exists with the men in each text. In IP, most male inhabitants are fishermen. However, they are greatly exploited. The chief authority figures in IP are the politician, Di Cosimo and the priest. Di Cosimo fails to keep his promise to the local people that he will ensure that a waterworks supply will be working on the island. Politics is particularly evident in the lives of men in the three texts. Neruda was exiled from his own country due to the fact he was a communist. Correspondingly, the Northern Troubles in PS prompt the men to protect their country. In LS, the IRA is an organisation dominated by men. I was interested to see the men are the power figures in each text.

Religion plays an important role in the worlds of all three texts, but only in IP is religion portrayed positively and without rebellion, unlike what happens in LS and PS, which is the cause of division and abruption. However, religion brings the people of IP together. They come in unity for the blessing of the fishing boats and for a religious ceremony. They also appoint the priest a position of respect at Mario and Beatrice’s wedding. What a contrast to LS and PS, where both texts highlight the depth of the religious split leading to the bitterness and bloodshed in Northern Ireland. Sectarianism is typical in both LS and PS. In LS, Moira’s father, Joe, demonstrates this in a key moment at the dinner table. “A Catholic would never get a job if there was a Protestant up for it.” Even though religion was the principal root of Northern Irelands problems, it still remained strong and important to the people. This is particularly important in PS, where Captain Brennan placed rosary beads on Jack Clitheroes hands at the moment of his death. In both LS and PS, religion is present in the everyday, conversational language of the people. “God bless us.” This underlines the importance of religion on all three texts.

Violence also has a huge impact on people’s lives in all three texts. Violence and social turmoil were never far from intruding on the daily lives of people. I can see this clearly in LS and PS. Similar attitudes prevail in both texts, where the IRA fought a war of bombing and killing that became a routine of life. In LS, hotel bombing was seen as a means of destroying the tourism industry and one method of bringing the economy of the province to its knees. The Clarence was already bombed the year before and Dillon, as the manager, was involved with the daily task of security. This is displayed in a key moment where the occupants at the gates were waiting to be searched before entering. On the street, police travelled in armoured cars and more “combat jackets” to protect themselves from sniper bullets. This attitude is mirrored in PS, where the political culture was the dominant issue for violence. From the beginning of the text, I noticed the influence of this culture in the lives of the tenement people. A key moment of this would be when Jack is killed, leaving Nora a widow but insane. Bessie Burgess sacrifices a son and dies as a result of a sniper bullet. The failure of the rising leaves the central characters in a claustrophobic room trying to protect themselves from the horrifying events outside. However, the similarities we see in LS and PS are different in IP. Mario’s death is particularly tragic because he dies in a violent crush after leaving his peaceful island home to deliver a poem dedicated to Pablo Neruda at a communist rally on the mainland. From the points I outlined above, violence is clearly seen in the worlds of each text.

The lives of all three texts were dominated by poverty. However in LS, money was the motivation for the middle class to work because that meant constructing an efficient society and creating a lifestyle that provided comfort. I immediately see a contrast of this idea with PS, where the tenants lived in grim, overcrowded conditions with little or no privacy or comfort. Unemployment is high. Similar to IP, where people also struggle to find work and living conditions are poor. There is no running water on the island and people have to make do with a supply brought from the mainland. A key moment to demonstrate this is when Neruda asks Mario about the islands lack of running water and tells him that the islanders should make a stand to change the situation. Mario shrugs as if he feels there is nothing he can do. In Ls, the paramilitaries are associated with the poorer working-class parts of Belfast. The root of the violence, apart from sectarianism, is clear to be the competition for jobs. Northern Ireland is an economic slump in this text. This reminded me of PS, where The Troubles lead to poverty. This is demonstrated in a key moment where Rosie Redmond who lives in a single room and had to scrape a living as a prostitute. Bessie Burgess lives in a tiny attic room with its “unmistakable air of poverty”. Poverty was the reality of the everyday lives of the people in the worlds of the three texts.

Social divisions are a feature in all three worlds of the text, particularly in LS and PS where the divisions are both religious/political and class based. In IP, they are not very pronounced as the majority of people are occupied trying to make a basic living. The only time we are shown a class division between Capri and the wider community is displayed in a key moment when Di Cosimo comes in with wealth, suits and smoking. I realise that his attitude is very condescending. Pablo represents a dignified class and educated wealth. In his home, he has new technology, which is a clear comparison to Mario’s house.

The attitude of three individual characters prevails similarly in each of the three texts. A feeling of escapism and isolation is dominant within each of the characters. In IP, there are two worlds in the film that influence Mario’s behaviour. The first is the island itself and the second is the world that exists beyond the island. Mario admires this ideal world in contrast with his own simple island life. This is particularly shown in a key moment when Mario becomes animated when a postcard arrives from America. To him, this world is paradise. Similar to IP, PS acts in the same manner. Nora feels isolated as she cares little for the political situation. She is indifferent to the fight of independence and for better conditions. Personally, Nora’s perfect situation would be on the island of Capri in IP along with her husband Jack, where no political disagreements would endanger him and take him away from her. There is also a sense of escapism and a new start is set against descriptions of a sectarian Belfast that he hates and cannot wait to get out of. This feeling of pessimism is shown effectively when he sees students who have graduated and is reminded of his own hopes of being a poet, a failed dream. As a result, he is forced to fall back on the family’s hotel tradition for economic survival. It is interesting for me to see the effect on the individual in the society they live in.

In conclusion, I was interested in studying that the behaviour of the protagonists in the comparative texts is significantly influenced, in both positive and negative ways, by the cultural context of a particular text. Cultural influences prompt Michael Dillon to defy the IRA in LS, an action that costs him his life. The lives of those in the tenement that are directly affected by the Rising in PS. We also see how the culture inspires Mario to grow in self-awareness and achieve happiness in IP. If asked to choose which life I would want to live in, I would pick Il Postino without hesitation. The beautiful landscape of stunning beauty, rich cultural conditions and romance all appeal to me.

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