By Dhiren Sharma
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and views expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Beehive’s associated writers.
Literature has been written by mankind for millennia. Starting with Shijing poems from China from around 1000 years BC, with the the orally passed down Iliad and Ramayana, through to the Bible and Quran, on to Shakespeare and Dickens and then to modern day literature such as “Lord of the Flies” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. It has evolved and changed through these ages, and culture has evolved and changed with it, side by side, hand in hand. Literature comes in many various types- books (fiction and non-fiction), poems, newspapers, news channels, and drama. Culture also has various meanings- religious culture, national culture, and the culture of an individual human being.
Literature can affect these cultures and societies. They can have a profound impact on the readers, and often the people who read these make up a culture. For example, Christians try to visit Church every Sunday to worship Christ. This is after they have read literature (in this case the Bible), in which they learn about Christ, and want to worship him. In British culture, this is considered the norm, and people and businesses work at times supporting this.
Literature can also affect the culture of an individual human being. It can affect one’s outlook on life, and the way they practice their everyday lives. For example, The Diary of Anne Frank explains how Frank and her family lived, as they were being persecuted by the Nazi’s. It tells of the extremely close quarters they had to live in, how awful it was to not go outside for years, and it tells us first hand what it was like to live everyday, scared that soldiers will come and drag them to camps where they will be tortured and killed, purely on account of their faith. It reminds people how lucky they may be, and how nobody should ever take their lives for granted.
Literature can also affect the trend of a culture, and can affect what a certain culture thinks. For example, George Orwell’s “1984” tells of governments spying on the public. This created the phrase “big brother”, which means “a person or organisation exercising total control over people’s lives”. This started to get people worried regarding their privacy, and started a culture of people not trusting the government.
You could also argue that culture influences literature. Authors are often influenced by what is going on around them, and they transfer that into their work, and duly onto the readers. For example, Agra Gra was an African child who was a victim of racism. He wrote the poem “And You Call Me Coloured”, and it was nominated by the United Nations for the best poem of 2006. It invokes sympathy in the reader, and tries to get them to think twice before they say anything. It also helps put a different perspective on racism, and that perspective is now common in some cultures.
Literature plays a part in the development of culture, the developments of people and attitude to life. For example, Karma is a key idea in ancient Hindu and Buddhist literature. This is the idea that if one performs a good deed, something good will happen to you. In contrast, if one performs a bad deed, something bad will happen to them. This idea has been explored in modern literature, specifically in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Gilderoy Lockhart takes credit for other people’s ideas and works and erases their memories. However, near the end of the book, he tries to erase Harry and Ron’s memories, but the charm backfires and he is confined to a hospital bed for the rest of his life. The idea of Karma may make people kinder, either with hope that something good will happen to them in return, or in fear that if they perform a bad deed something bad will happen to them.
To conclude, I think that literature has an important part to play in shaping culture. I think that culture also has a part to play in shaping literature. They complement each other, and affect each other. In my opinion, without one, the other is nothing.