Race and Gender Stereotypes in Literature

Race and Gender Stereotypes in Literature

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Topic: Sociology
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Introduction

Literature is an avenue through which life experiences in society are portrayed from the perspective of the author. To achieve this reflection of encounters, the writer uses a number of stylistic features and techniques. Most of these literary devices are used to improve the quality of the message passed across to the audience.

A critical analysis of literature reveals that its application can have both positive and negative impacts on society. For example, over the years, writers have been accused of advancing stereotypes in the community. The most common aspects of these misleading generalizations include race and gender (McGarty, Yzerbyt and Spears 123).

The arguments made in this paper revolve around the subject of misplaced opinions in literature. Literary texts are used to advance gender and race-related stereotypes. In this paper, the author examines three literary texts. The three include Araby, a short story by James Joyce. The others are The Hound of the Baskervilles, a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and The False Gems by Guy de Maupassant.

The attitudes of the three authors towards gender and race are highlighted. The objective is to illustrate how stereotypes based on the two issues are promoted in the texts. Instances of generalizations are provided in the paper. In addition, this author provides an annotated bibliography. The aim is to indicate how the selected texts are related to the thesis statement of this paper.

Stereotypes

Maass, D’Ettole, and Cadinu (231) point out that any given society is made up of individuals drawn from various ethnic, racial, and gender backgrounds. Under such circumstances, opinions are formed touching on the behaviors of these people. In some instances, the traits of these individuals are explained on the basis of their background. Such thought systems are what makeup stereotypes.

McGarty et al. (231) suggest that some of these opinions are erroneous. They may be misleading accounts of the behavior of individuals. Literature is a reflection of the reality in the society. The reason is that the authors are members of the community and are affected by what happens there. As a societal mirror, literature tends to make use of this fundamental aspect of stereotyping by generalizing the conduct of characters in the text.

Maass et al. (234) point out that a stereotype can be discriminatory depending on the tone and attitude used by the author. A classic example of this includes stereotypes revolving around gender. In a text, a woman can be depicted as being submissive to her spouse. However, when there is an indication of violence towards the female character, the author may turn prejudicial.

Consequently, the depiction of a passive woman is discriminative. The implication is that women are inferior to men. Such a scenario is an illustration of how literature makes use of stereotypes. The quality of this generalization, together with its impacts on society, relies on the author.

McGarty et al. (35) are of the view that racial generalizations are common in literature. For instance, the depiction of slavery in early times promoted the stereotype that Africans are ‘inferior’ to other races.

As a result, it is not surprising to find Africans playing subordinate roles in contemporary literature. Such kind of approach is viewed as a reinforcement of stereotypes in works of art. An analysis of the selected texts will help to illustrate this point further.

Annotated Bibliography

Doyle, Arthur. The Hound of the Baskervilles. 1st ed. 1902. London: George Newnes. Print.

The text is authored by Arthur Doyle, a fictional writer. The crime series book is about a murder revolving around a hound with supernatural origins. In the book, the author uses Sherlock Holmes as the main character. Holmes is assisted by Mr. Watson.

The role of the duo is to investigate the murder in reference. Sir Charles Baskerville dies in what appears to be a heart attack. However, there are power games at play behind the scenes. The scenario forces the investigators to take the safety of Baskerville’s heir into account.

The plot of the story is a very good example of how stereotypes can be promoted through art. An analysis of the characters reveals that none of them is female. The author does not make reference to women until the element of a curse is brought into the picture.

An earlier patriarch of the Baskerville family had forcefully held a female house help in captivity. Doyle (22) uses the female character to illustrate how society has neglected women. The author promotes the stereotype of domesticated women, who are objects of sexual gratification.

According to Maass et al. (236), most stereotypes related to women address the issues of labor and sex. The inclusion of this form of generalization in the narrative makes this text relevant to the current essay. It supports the paper’s thesis statement. Evidently, Doyle is prejudicial since the main female character is tortured. In fact, her demise is believed to be the cause of Sir Charles Baskerville’s death.

The narrative is important as it helps in illustrating the place of the woman in society. In this book, Doyle provides the reader with insights into the classical perceptions of women. The knowledge will help in promoting the topic of this study.

Joyce, James. n.d. Araby. n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <http://fiction.eserver.org/short/araby.html>.

Joyce (1) uses the first person narrative to tell the story of how children transcend to puberty. The important stage in life is used to show how children prefer to have a lighter skin complexion. The author uses the innocence of these characters to highlight important themes like religion and idealization. The most important topic in the narrative is love. It is apparent that Joyce treats romance as his pet subject.

Joyce uses the characters in the narrative to depict some sort of racial stereotyping (4). The argument in the entire story is in line with the main objective of this study. The thesis statement is affirmed by the cases of racial discrimination illustrated in the book. An example of this is when the children play in the snow just to get a lighter complexion. The author tackles the subject with delight. Joyce appears to disregard the health of these children.

There are other stereotypes made evident in the narrative and which support the thesis statement of this study. Initially, most cases of racial stereotyping were associated with inferiority in relation to Caucasians. However, a different angle is introduced by this author.

The additional information suggests that people from the Arabian region are romantic. A stereotype of this nature will enable the author of the current paper to expound on the notion of tone and prejudice in literature. The same will assist in explaining how authors can use stereotypes in a positive light. The short story is quite relevant to the current study.

Maupassant, Guy. n.d. The False Gems. n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <http://www.online-literature.com/poe/212/>.

Maupassant (4) uses a number of stylistic tools to tell a love story in this narrative. The story revolves around a young man who falls in love with a maid at a dinner party. The journey of their relationship is highlighted in the short text.

The story is touching, especially to someone who values romantic narratives. Different themes are depicted, including romance and feminism. The main character later marries the lady. He is used to shedding light on the turmoil revolving around relationships.

Maupassant (3) uses this narrative to illustrate the three main traits of human beings. Using Latin as the main character, he exposes the materialistic nature of women. The author uses Lantin’s mother to show how women struggle in life.

The narrative helps to explain how women are portrayed as beauty trophies in society. All these themes are stereotypes associated with women. The story promotes the thesis statement selected for this study. The tone used by the author supports the claim that stereotypes can be used to promote certain beliefs about women.

A new element brought to fore in this story is the issue of how women may enjoy their status as objects. Maupassant (5) addresses this idea through Lantin’s wife. Her love for jewelry makes Latin doubt her faithfulness. McGarty et al. (238) explain that certain stereotypes are the creation of a particular group.

The argument is supported by those women who choose to stay at home and become housewives. Maupassant illustrates this point in a bid to show that the challenges associated with feminism may be brought about by women themselves.

Gender Stereotypes

The interaction between men and women varies from one time to the other. The engagement also differs from one place to the other. As a result, when such relationships are depicted in literature, the author relies on predetermined thoughts and opinions.

According to Maass et al. (239), the interaction between men and women has been characterized by male dominance since the classical periods. Consequently, the literature depicts men as superior to women. In such cases, the female partner is expected to be submissive to her male colleague.

The nature of the relationship may vary with the intentions of the two parties. McGarty et al. (23) suggest that when the woman appears to be too passive, the male partner may take advantage of her. In such cases, violence is likely to take place.

Violent confrontations may result, especially in instances where the woman tries to fight for her rights after a long period of male dominance. It is the responsibility of the author to point out these issues in their literary works. The three narratives used in this study manifest this characteristic.

Doyle (2) introduces the idea of crime in their story. As already indicated, the main characters in this narrative are all male. A review of their occupations makes it apparent that they are affluent members of society. Sherlock Holmes is investigating the death of a wealthy baron. The author introduces the deceased’s heir as a key player. Doyle appears obsessed with the idea of protecting this beneficiary.

Interestingly, very little is said about the baron’s wife. It is as if she never existed. The main female character is introduced as an afterthought. She comes into the scene as a flashback. The farmhand who was forced into a relationship with her master later dies trying to flee from the home. The scenario goes to show how women are treated in this story.

Another example of how gender is stereotyped in literature is seen through Maupassant’s story. His romantic narrative treats women in a very interesting manner. The story shows how materialistic women can become. Lantin’s wife is obsessed with jewelry and other forms of possessions. She lets her husband see how her ‘friends’ give her beautiful gifts. Latin becomes jealous.

The reality troubles him because he cannot afford to get her wife such items. The stereotype highlights the notion of how women are attracted to material things. Their desire for such items is ironical considering that they rely on men to purchase them. The same could be the reason why men find it hard to tolerate or understand women.

On their part, Joyce (8) relies on the main character to show how women can be used as objects of sexual gratification in the society. There is a woman in the bazaar who is preoccupied with men. The advances made by the main character notwithstanding, the woman appears to be content with her actions

In both examples, it is clear that stereotypes can be used to portray the characteristics of a group of people (Maass et al. 235). However, such perceptions are brought about by the thoughts and opinions of the author. To this end, it is apparent that writers act as ‘gods’ in their literary world. They are in control of the whole situation. They determine the opinions formed by their readers.

Through their personal prejudices, authors tend to control how their characters are stereotyped by the larger society. Today, women appear to be moving away from their earlier status of powerlessness. They are fighting for their rights in the society. A contemporary writer will find it important to address this new development in attempts to make their work more relevant.

Maupassant (3) points out that the mother of the main character’s wife came to France upon the death of her spouse. The same goes to show the struggle that women go through in society. With the help of this narrative, the author is able to address the plight of women in a conventional community. Stereotypes are important tools of passing across certain themes dominant in a society.

The challenges encountered by women are cast in a new light when some of them refuse to work. They prefer to act as their husband’s trophies. In the story by Maupassant, such women are highlighted with the help of Lantin’s wife and her compulsive desire to amass jewelry.

Racial Stereotypes in Literature

As already indicated in this paper, a conventional society is composed of people from different socio-economic backgrounds. Maass et al. (231) point out that race is a common stereotype in today’s world. At times, members of the dominant race feel threatened by the minority group.

As a result, they impose certain regulations in that society to push the marginalized group into submission. In most Caucasian societies, Africans, Asians, and Arabs are treated as minorities.

When they are subjected to fear, individuals from the minority groups are made to believe that the dominant class is ‘superior’ to them. In the opinion of McGarty et al. (21), many individuals from minority groups want to be like Caucasians. Such kinds of thoughts can be put together in a narrative.

However, the attitude of the author telling such a story will determine the suitability of the said stereotype. A case in point is Araby, where the events take place in Dublin, a Caucasian society.

Joyce (8) uses the narrative to show how society views light-skinned people like Caucasians. The stereotype is advanced by the children who are accustomed to playing in the snow for the sole purpose of getting fair skin. It is shocking how the author uses children to demonstrate this aspect.

The characters draw their colored complexion from their Arabian ancestry. With the help of this stereotype, Joyce (13) illustrates how minority groups tend to associate themselves with the characteristics of people from the majority ethnic classes.

However, not all stereotypes are prejudicial. Joyce (11) introduces a new angle to this narrative by bringing on board the theme of romance. The story appears to suggest that the main character draws his romantic prowess from his Arab heritage.

Such a move is interesting because it depicts how a racial trait can be used to enhance positive opinions in a story. Furthermore, the tone used by Joyce in this text is positive. The reader gets the feeling that the story has a romantic touch to it regardless of the ‘inferiority’ illustrated by the children.

The two examples above are an illustration of how society creates impressions about individuals based on their backgrounds (Maass et al. 232). Ethnic variations are indications of human diversity. Joyce (11) uses this concept to construct the romantic attribute of the main character.

Romance is usually viewed as a priceless phenomenon. It is interesting to note how an individual who was earlier depicted as inferior goes ahead to exhibit this worthy attribute. Such an observation reveals how an author can use their ‘godly’ powers to introduce new thoughts into the mind of the reader. It is imperative to use race to depict positive thoughts and to fight negative stereotypes.

Conclusion

The three texts analyzed in this paper can be regarded as brilliant works of art. The various stylistic features employed by the authors are illustrations of the importance of different techniques used in writing. In this paper, it was revealed that stereotypes can be used as stylistic devices in literature.

The racial elements highlighted by Joyce (8), as well as the gender issues addressed by Maupassant (11), are classic examples of stereotypes. Common opinions about certain groups are highlighted in these texts. Such opinions are usually drawn from the personal thoughts of the writer. The sentiments are passed across to the reader through literature.

It is evident that literary texts can be used to advance stereotypes. In the opinion of Maass et al. (235), the author has the power to determine how the generalization will be perceived by the reader.

The attitude of the writer can be used to highlight a given stereotype in a positive light. To achieve this, a constructive tone is employed. Joyce (11) relies on this element to illustrate romance in their text. As such, one can argue that literary texts advance stereotypes through the tone and attitude adopted by the author.

Works Cited

Doyle, Arthur. The Hound of the Baskervilles. 1st ed. 1902. London: George Newnes. Print.

Joyce, James. n.d. Araby. n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <http://fiction.eserver.org/short/araby.html>.

Maass, Anne, Claudio D’Ettole, and Mara Cadinu. “Checkmate? The Role of Gender Stereotypes in Ultimate Intellectual Sport.” European Journal of Social Psychology 38.2 (2008): 231-245. Print.

Maupassant, Guy. n.d. The False Gems. n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <http://www.online-literature.com/poe/212/>.

McGarty, Craig, Vincent Yzerbyt, and Russell Spears. Stereotypes as Explanations: The Formation of Meaningful Beliefs about Social Groups, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.