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Literary Essay Example: The Theme of Individual and Society in the Three Novels

6 pages
1413 words
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Despite that people come from different cultural backgrounds, but they have always tried to stay together not only to escape the life challenges but also to gain collective strength against their common enemy. However, the relationship between people has been characterized by rewards and conflict. Identity, on the other hand, has greatly impacted the way people interact and relate to each other. Identity is characterized by various variables including age, class, culture, gender, language, nationality, professional, religion, and even race. The theme of the individual in society has been widely explored in the following three novels; The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Dark Child by Camara Laye, and I, Tituba the Black witch of Salem by Maryse Conde. The three authors have explored the theme of individual and society through various concepts including pride and shame identity, culture and control, global events, and institutional containment. This paper is going to examine the theme of individual and society through the above-highlighted concepts in detail.

Pride and shame in identity are one of the concepts that can be used to explain the theme of individual and society that have been widely explored through the three texts. The pride and shame in identity can be both a tool for exploitation and also a limitation to an individual. In the novel I, Tituba the Black witch of Salem explores the concept of individualism and the society. The fact that Tituba, the main character in the story was a slave makes her go through oppressive situations. She also experiences violence while in the hands of men. At the beginning of the text, she recounts her encounter with the white sailor who raped her mother. Conde presents the concept of shame and pride through the life of the character, Tituba. The author writes that men do not love, they possess (Conde 14). Tituba is a slave girl but she wishes to have a life like the rest of the people. She desires to be loved and cared for; however, she cannot realize her dream. She was born out of the fact that her mother, Abena, was raped by an English sailor on a slave ship (Mykyta 196). Tituba has grown in foster care since her mother is hanged when she is six years and her father later dies out of grief. The challenges that she goes through depict the shame and pride in her. The fact that she is identified with slaves makes it impossible for her to love and have a decent family that she has desired and wanted for long. The positive aspects of the person are the characters that are identified as pride while the negative is called shame. Conde shows that it is important to contend and bear knowing both positive and negative aspects of identity because they all help to understand a persons identity.

Institutional containment is another concept that can help understand the theme of individual and society. Due to the dynamism of the society, the human identity is also dynamic and evolving. The institution containment helps in bringing people together (Khaeleelee & Braun 2). However, due to the changes in the society, these institutions are also struggling to cope with the different changes within the society and across the world as well. In the story The Dark Child Camara Laye explains the journey of a young boy who desires to study engineering course in Paris. The author takes the audience through the life journey of the young boy as he travels to Paris to study a course that would change his destiny. Camara depicts the institutionalism of the family in the text. The family struggles to cope with the changes that emerge in the society. Education is one of the factors that cause dynamism in the family institution. Camara describes how the family must contend with the new changes that one of their family members to go to Paris. Camara writes that the decision he had to make would hurt my mother, and his own heart was heavy (Camara 19). Camara shows that the family as an institution is having a difficult time to hold its members together. The family finds it difficult to function since one member is about to leave. The family is no longer able to provide good containment for dependency.

Culture and control is also an important and integral element of identifying the theme of individual and society in the novel The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun. The author presents the constraint of being what in the text. The author tries to determine where the society draws the limit or line, especially when dealing with the changes in the society. The novel opens with the father of the main character in the story, Haji Ahmed expressing his frustrations over the gender of the unborn child. Even though he knows in his mind that the unborn child is most likely to be a girl like the rest of the seven daughters that she has, he declines to accept it hoping that this time it would be a male child that he has always desired. He says that the child to be born was to be a male even if it is a girl (Jelloun 12). This explains why Zahra or Ahmed as his father referred to her gets to take the advantages reserved for the boy child. Zharas father is afraid that his wealth would be inherited by his brothers and other extended family members if he does not get a boy child. His father intends to raise him as a man without considering her gender. She grows to become the young man that her father wanted. She dislikes the submissiveness of her siblings; she says that I dont have to remind you that Im a man of order (Jelloun 46). Her fathers frustration and desire to have a boy-child influenced his perception towards the young Zhara who grew to adopt the male features. Zhara also went too far and she could not know the line that was not supposed to be crossed. As mentioned earlier, sometimes people do not understand where to set the limit or draw the line of behavior. Culture creates the basis of identity in the society and people are expected to abide by the cultural practices and beliefs. Zharas father was just coping with the societal-cultural practices that without a male child his wealth could not be inherited by his daughters. Even though the author tries to depict the conflict within the cultural beliefs, but she also criticizes some of the vices that she believes are not supposed to be practiced. Zhara is given the role of a male child in the family which she manages to play very well. Jellouns choice of character aims at criticizing the societal stereotype kind of thinking that girl child does not deserve anything from the family. She tries to criticize the totality of boy-child that has been the case all through the novel. Zharas father does not consider her seven daughters as worthy to have his inheritance. He is disappointed and this can be seen from his proclamation that the unborn child was to be born even though he realized that it is most likely that she would be a girl.

In conclusion, identity is a process which involves different factors that change in the society. The sense of identity is linked to place, and since places change with time the identity also changes. The three texts examined in this paper show the theme of individual and society and how the two factors interact to cause the identity effect. The theme of individual and society has been discussed based on different aspects; for instance, pride and shame in identity, institutional containment, and culture and control concepts. All these factors helped to identify the theme of individual and society in the literary texts examined in this paper. However, with the constant changes in the environment, it is difficult to determine where exactly people belong. As a result, the social identity of people is fractured; thus, the fractured individual identity.


Works Cited

Camara, Laye. The dark child. Collins, 1955.

Conde, Maryse. I, Tituba, black witch of Salem. One World/Ballantine, 1992.

Jelloun, Tahar Ben. The Sand Child. Ballantine Books, 1989.

Khaeleelee, Olya. & Braun, Gaby. Encouraging the Reflective Citizen: Report of an Opus OWrkshop hel on Saturday 8th May 2004. Opus, 2004.

Mykyta, Larysa. "Sexuality and Female Friendship in Maryse Conde's I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem." International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies 5.2 (2000): 195-204.


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