Context in Literature


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An overview of how understanding context can help a reader understand literature.

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Context in Literature

  1. 1. Context: A Way into Literature<br />
  2. 2. What information is missing?<br />I can’t believe I got a C+ on my test!<br />The Taliban are heroes.<br />
  3. 3. I can’t believe I got a C+ on my test!<br />Is this a better or worse score than normal?<br />The Taliban are heroes.<br />To who? When? Why? (For example, the Taliban helped to stop Russian rule in Afghanistan and were seen by many Afghanis as heroes for at least a short time.)<br />
  4. 4. Definition: Context<br />The circumstances in which an event occurs; a setting<br />Knowing more about the context of something helps the audience understand how it came about and what it is referring, or alluding, to.<br />
  5. 5. Why pay attention to context?<br />The Man He Killed<br />Had he and I but met By some old ancient inn, We should have set us down to wet Right many a nipperkin! But ranged as infantry, And staring face to face, I shot at him as he at me, And killed him in his place. I shot him dead because-- Because he was my foe, Just so: my foe of course he was; That's clear enough; although He thought he'd 'list, perhaps, Off-hand like--just as I-- Was out of work--had sold his traps-- No other reason why. Yes; quaint and curious war is! You shoot a fellow down You'd treat, if met where any bar is, Or help to half a crown.<br />Thomas Hardy<br />How do you know what war this is?<br />Vocabulary might give you clues.<br />But the best hint is knowing when the poem was written and where the author lived.<br />Understanding the conditions under which the piece was written can illuminate difficult, vague, or ambiguous parts<br />Thomas Hardy wrote this in 1902. He was an Englishman.<br />The poem is in response to the Boer War.<br />
  6. 6. What should you look for?<br />When researching both the setting and the author’s environment, look for:<br />Historical background<br />Social / Cultural biases, traditions, trends, etc.<br />Political situation at the time (and in the past, if appropriate)<br />Any other relevant information (e.g. biographical information about the author may reveal certain beliefs, life events, alliances, etc.)<br />
  7. 7. How do you determine context?<br />Background knowledge<br />Clues in the literary piece iteself<br />Research<br />
  8. 8. Your Turn!<br />1.Choose on of the following poems to examine:<br /><ul><li>The Bean Eaters
  9. 9. The Unknown Citizen
  10. 10. Bitter Strawberries
  11. 11. Dinner Guest: Me</li></ul>2. Write a paragraph (or so) describing what you think the poem is “about”—before doing any research.<br />3. Do some research on the author and the poem. What can you learn about the context in which it was written?<br />4. Write a paragraph (or so) describing how the context of the poem’s creation could help a reader to understand the poem better. Include facts about the context, as well as what it helps you to understand in the poem itself.<br />