Social Criticism In Short Stories Essay, Research Paper
Social Criticism in Short Stories
Although most short stories at first glance may seem to be simply fictional tales about people and situations that don?t exist, this is not always the case. Some short stories are actually the author?s criticisms of specific cultural values and social conventions veiled by an interesting plot and engaging characters. This is certainly true of three stories specifically: ?A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings? by Gabriel Garcia Marquez ?The Yellow Wallpaper? by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and ?Everyday Use? by Alice Walker. In each of these stories, the author integrates his or her thoughts about society into the fiction.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman?s ?The Yellow Wallpaper? is the semi-autobiographical story of a woman?s descent into madness in spite of and partly because of the husband?s prescription of lengthy bed-rest. This story is essentially Gilman?s criticism of how women were treated by men at that time. Men were nothing more than wardens in the lives of women. In the beginning of the story, the main character and her husband are spending time in a mansion they rented so that she may recuperate from the recent birth of her child, and calm her nerves. When her husband assigns her to stay in the nursery, the theme of male dominance over women is introduced. By choosing the nursery as the place where the main character will stay, Gilman is delineating women?s status in society as a child; basically under the care and control of an adult. The woman in the story is treated and talked to as if she were a child by her husband, ??Bless her little heart!? said he with a big hug. ?She shall be as sick as she pleases.??(681). He at no point treats her as an equal, but rather as someone whom he must take care of and dominate. This is how Gilman felt women in society at that time were treated in the male-dominant society. She presents the main character as a victim of oppressive patriarchal society that restricts her freedom, denies her creativity and prevents her from behaving as a normal human. As her journey into madness continues, she begins to see the shape of a woman in the wallpaper of her room and becomes obsessed with ?rescuing? her. The woman in the wallpaper is a symbol of her confinement and eventual liberation. In the final scenes of the story, as she tears down the wallpaper in an act of madness she exclaims, ?I?ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane! And I pulled out most of the paper so you can?t put me back?(687). She believes she has essentially freed herself and through this, Gilman is calling on women in society to free themselves and assert their liberty. The madness into which the main character descends is actually an act of affirmation, and a form of freedom that rejects thoughts and behaviors towards woman in this irrational society.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez?s ?A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings? seems at first glance to be simply a story about an angel falling from heaven, and the village coming to terms with that occurrence. A closer look reveals the author?s criticism of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. One would think that an angel falling to earth would lead people to rejoice and consider the miraculous possibilities. In this story however, the angel is viewed as a threat throughout the authorities of the church. No one suggests awe, love or even simply being nice to the stranger with wings. The hypocrisy of the church is most clearly evident in the village priest, Father Gonzaga, and his interactions with the angel. When he first examines the fallen angel he declares that ?nothing about him measures up to the pious dignity of angels?. He further dismisses the angel when he doesn?t respond to the priest?s question in Latin. He warns the villagers against exercising their faith and believing the in the angel. When the highest levels of the church are consulted, instead of offering spiritual guidance, ?They spent their time finding out if the prisoner had a navel, is his dialect had any connection with Aramaic, how many times he could fit on the head of a pin, or whether he wasn?t just a Norwegian with wings.? In his story, Marquez exemplifies the superstitious ignorance and religious dogma that is prevalent in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. In trying to keep the power to himself, Father Gonzaga instills prejudice in his followers that deprive them of really experiencing the miracle of an angel on earth. They instead are encouraged to doubt and mistreat the angel, simply because he does not look as though they feel an angel should look. Marquez is proving the point, through his tale of the fallen angel, that perhaps the church may not always be the authority on matters of faith, that maybe it is something one must deal with on one?s own terms.
In Alice Walker?s ?Everyday Use?, she veils a statement about art and culture in the story of a daughter returning to her roots for the day. In this story, Dee has returned home to her mother and sister Maggie to collect some items from around the home. She announces upon her arrival that she has changed her name to Wanjero because she ?couldn?t bear it any longer, being named after people who oppress me?. Although she feels that she is embracing her African heritage in doing so, she fails to understand that her name goes back several generations and is more a part of her heritage than any adopted African name. Later in the story, Dee wants to take some handmade quilts with her when she leaves. The manned in which Walker presents the quilt situation reflects how she feels art should be treated. Dee wants the quilts because of their aesthetic and financial value, ?But they?re priceless?, she exclaims. She is upset that Maggie is going to receive the quilts because she is ?backward enough to put them to everyday use.? Maggie however, values the quilts on an emotional and personal level. ?I can ?member Grandma Dee without the quilts.? When her mother chooses to give Maggie the quilts, and not Dee, she is saying that the way Maggie views the quilts is the way that society should view art. Walker is stating that art can only have meaning if it remains a part of the culture that it came from. Through the characters of Dee and Maggie, Walker personifies the different sides of culture and heritage. Dee represents the materialistic view in which culture and heritage are to be valued because it is trendy at the time, or because of its aesthetic appeal. Maggie represents a simple and practical view in which culture and heritage are valued because they represent one?s personal history. Although Dee thinks she knows the importance of heritage more than anyone else in her family does: ? ?You just don?t understand.?She said. ?What don?t I understand?? I wanted to know. ?Your heritage?, it is clearly Dee who is in the dark about true culture, despite her supposed worldliness. Walker shows that true culture has nothing to do with changing your name, or how you decorate your home, or how you dress. It?s about how you live and how you act. A person who holds in their heart their real heritage and culture uses it in everyday life.
Making a statement about society, religion, the government or any other facet of life does not always have to include a soapbox and a microphone. Writers everyday are making social criticisms and commentary on life through their stories, and the characters within them. Although at first glance these stories may not seem to necessarily have a deeper social meaning; the authors of each are making powerful statements and rejecting social conventions with every word.