Culture and Literature

Culture and Literature

The Dictionary of Sociology by D - Culture and Literature introduction. Mitchell (ed.) describes culture as “that part of the total repertoire of human action (and its products), which is socially as opposed to genetically transmitted.” Humans, through the years, have passed down traditions and belief systems from generations to generations through actions that almost always define their ways of life, their lifestyle and their perception of the world as they think it is and ought to be. Arts, crafts, science, goods, religion and moral systems are its usual manifestations, and literature, both oral and written, is usually the medium employed to communicate it. And as generations of people practice and live their culture, they embody it, they believe it, and fight for it, that it nourishes their memories and identities, and they act spontaneously, as if without much thought and lacking of appreciation.

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Oscar Wilde said, “The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.” The same goes for culture. Judith Ortiz Cofer and Amy Tan in their respective essays, “Casa: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood” and “Mother Tongue” described how culture affected their lives and their work as distinguished writers who are recognized not only in their native land, but also in a foreign country, particularly in the United States. Cofer in her essay talked about family and the role of women in Puerto Rico. She emphasized the role of story-telling and how familial stories helped her imagine and live the life of a Puerto Rican native as she wrote, “the women telling their lives as cuentos are forever woven into the fabric of my imagination, braided like my hair.” Not only did she acknowledge how her upbringing and the culture passed on to her through these stories shaped her identity, she showed passion and deep appreciation for it as she recognizes how it “freed all three of us like pigeons from a cage.” Just as she figuratively used Mamá to refer to her native culture, Amy Tan, through her essay, talked about her mother as she represents the culture she identifies herself with and continues to live with even away from their native country. Amy Tan, however, focused more on language and how it affected her and the rest of the Asians in their academic work. But what is stunning in the essay is how she gave a balanced and fair look on both sides of the equation. She pointed out the limiting factor of language and its importance in communication and human relations as she illustrated “empirical evidences” where her mother was maltreated and quite misunderstood because of her broken English. Furthermore, she showed how it helped her and her mother through these problems when they unfortunately interfere in their business and daily affairs. And yet, she made a very interesting point when she implied that the essence of one’s language (and consequently one’s culture) lies on “her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech, and the nature of her thoughts” – vital things that language ability tests cannot capture. Perhaps, she was referring to her literary achievements over her mastery of the English language, implying that whatever the commendations she received from her best works, what matters is not how she was able to communicate correctly, but how the reader and the audience was able to listen and capture what she intends to deliver; “I later decided I should envision a reader for the stories I would write.”

Although both authors acknowledge that English is both helpful and useful and wonderful, both also see, recognize and acknowledge that their mother culture and their mother tongue is not all the same. Indeed, language is so powerful that “it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea” that “her stories are parables from which to gleam the Truth. Thus, despite the difference in culture between Cofer and Tan, despite the difference in style and “language”, both announce to the world through a different medium how their mother culture has influenced their lives and how they appreciate, live it, and communicate it through their works. Culture is definitely at work.

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