Comparing Cultural Practices in Literature
Every culture has its own practices, which are what makes them unique. By reading literature that is based on a culture different than the readers, he or she can learn about these different practices. The following short stories show some of the different practices of three different cultures: Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path,” Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Yellow Woman,” and Jean Rhys’s “The Day They Burned the Book.” Contrasting the cultural practices seen in these stories to the American culture will show how different cultures approach the same idea.
In the American culture, which is mostly a Judeo-Christian community, the idea of spirits ‘walking’ the earth is largely dismissed. The basic Christian beliefs discourages people from believing in ghosts or spirits, as their belief is that upon death a person’s spirit goes to heaven or hell, it does not stay on earth. This is not a belief held in all cultures; in fact, many cultures believe in spirits who stay on earth to guide and help the living or because they were not pure enough to move on. In the story “Dead Men’s Path,” Achebe gives insight into the Nigerian culture’s practices relating to spirits. When the village’s ‘spirit path’ is closed down by a new school headmaster, the village priest tells him, “this path was here before you were born and before your father was born. The whole life of this village depends on it. Our dead relatives depart by it and our ancestors visit us by it. But most important, it is the path of children coming in to be born” (Achebe, 2001, p.328). Based on this passage, readers see that the spirit world is of great importance to the Nigerian culture. They believe spirits come in and out of the ‘human world’ and these spirits can visit the living. This is the opposite of the American culture’s belief that spirits do not ‘walk’ the earth.
In the story “Yellow Woman,” Silko addresses another cultural practice that is...
References: Achebe, Chinua. “Dead Men’s Path.” Literature without borders: International literature in English for student writers. Ed. Bozzini, G. R., Leenerts, C. A. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 326-329. Print.
Rhys, Jean. “The Day They Burned the Books.” Literature without borders: International literature in English for student writers. Ed. Bozzini, G. R., Leenerts, C. A. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 146-150. Print.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. “Yellow Woman.” Literature without borders: International literature in English for student writers. Ed. Bozzini, G. R., Leenerts, C. A. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 260-269. Print.
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