Culture

Miranda Cobo, Lauren Cupelli, and Treasa Kozakiewicz

Definition:

The Oxford dictionary defines culture as, “The distinctive ideas, customs, social behaviour, products, or way of life of a particular nation, society, people, or period. Hence: a society or group characterized by such customs, etc.”(OED) It is diverse in many ways including the style of art they have or even just the way they live their daily lives. Another way the dictionary defines culture is,  “The philosophy, practices, and attitudes of an institution, business, or other organization.” (OED) These characteristics are unique to the specific area or business and what makes them different from others. Finally it is also defined as, “Refinement of mind, taste, and manners; artistic and intellectual development. Hence: the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” (OED) All these definitions reflect on the importance of culture in a community. 

Etymology: 

< Anglo-Norman and Middle French culture  (14th cent. or earlier in Anglo-Norman), the development of language and literature (1549), artistic and intellectual conditions of a community and the development of their customs, beliefs, and ideas of a group (1796, after German Kultur) (OED). 

Keyword in Action:

Stories can teach us about different cultures and belief systems. Culture further educates and helps us understand the “norms” and values of various peoples from around the world. These stories are passed down from family to family line and it keeps secrets, viewpoints, and family backgrounds alive. Culture influences literature through religious ideas, moral values, language, and gender norms. The way literature is written can influence the way readers view other cultures, either negatively or positively depending on the way it is written. Reading literature has provided methods of reading about different cultures, it helps you understand what it is like to live in other cultures and get other experiences that one may not have unless given the opportunity. By reading about culture in literature, you can learn about the history of where you come from, and it can also help you grow as a person and learn more about yourself. The culture expressed in each reading we were given this semester showed what we should be thinking about each person’s certain view on life. We, as people should be taking every culture into consideration while we reading and throughout life. No culture is more important than another and no one culture should be looked down upon compared to another. 

Culture plays a big role in A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. A Raisin in the Sun was written in 1959 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and gender inequalities. The play is written about an African-American family living in Chicago. During the time period that it was written, women, especially African-American women, were not seen as equal to everyone else in society. This was something that was incredibly frustrating to the character Beneatha. She was attending medical school and she had a dream to become a doctor. Although her family supported her in paying for medical schooling, it is clear because of the culture she was surrounded by they thought it seemed far-fetched. Walter, her older brother, tells her, “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor?…go be a nurse like other women– or just get married and be quiet” (38). Walter says this because this is what he believes, and the way that he has grown up he has been told that men are dominant figures, as his mother is always talking about a “man of the house.” During this time period, it was not common for women to become doctors or find their own independence like Beneatha is trying to do. Patricia Hill Collins disscusses this idea in her book, Black Feminist Thought. Collins discusses the issues of African-Americans finding jobs and how especially hard it is for black women. However, as generations progress, the ideas of job inequality starts to become less acceptable. “But despite the harshness of their environments, the girls in the earlier sample still ‘had high hopes and dreams that their futures would be positive and productive’” (63).  

In The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston, she writes about herself feeling stuck between two cultures. In this book of memoirs, she tells her internal and external struggles of coming to find her identity. Growing up as a first-generation American, she is constantly battling between her mother telling her stories of Chinese culture and going along with American culture. In the beginning of the book, she tells the story about a “No Name Woman,” who is actually her aunt that her family has tried to banish from their memory. The story seems like something that sounds fictional to her. She wonders, “What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?” (6). As a child, the imagination is a very big part of life and usually runs wild. In addition to what goes on in her own mind, she has her mother filling it with even more information, leaving her to have trouble deciphering the real stories of her and her family’s Chinese history from the fake ones. Another example of the Chinese culture being confusing in her life is right before her mom tells her the story of Fa Mulan. She states, “My American life has been such a disappointment. ‘I got straight A’s, Mama.’ ‘Let me tell you a true story of a girl who saved her village’. I could not figure out what was my village” (45). In American culture, it is very common to see good grades as valuable. However, Kingston’s mom does not seem to care about them. Instead, she goes on to tell her about a story of a woman warrior, and it puzzles Kingston because she is trying to follow American culture. Meanwhile, her mother is trying to teach her about where she comes from and implement Chinese culture and values into her daily living. As a young girl, Kingston has a hard time finding the balance between two cultures: her American life in society and Chinese life in her home.

In summation, culture is a very important part of literature. Certain areas of the world have various practices and traditions. The social lives across the world are much different than one may think and that is what makes our society a great one. Each practice is so sacred to the people who follow them. It is passed down from generations and a way for people to learn more about their pasts. Some examples of this would be through religion or even language. We have read novels like A Raisin in the Sun and The Woman Warrior where they express different versions of lifestyles, which goes to show that no culture is the same. On the one hand you have a lower class African American family trying their best to get by while Benetha searches for any information she can find on the African culture. On the other hand you have a young Asian child listening carefully to the stories her mother tells her in hopes to find out where she comes from and the history that follows. Although they have very different pasts, both daughters are looking for the same thing, the culture and roots that they stem from. Culture is an immense part of our lives and will very likely continue to be so forever.

Works Cited 

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Routledge, 2015.

Hansberry, Lorainne. A Raisin in the Sun. Random House Inc., 1958.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts. Picador Classic, 2015.

“The Oxford English Dictionary.” The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Photo credit to unsplash.com by Adolfo Felix

Being Latina means…

My found poem is from a poem on an online poetry site. It was done by the user ninamariaselenia and it is titled “Being Latina.” In this poem, she talks about what being a Latina means to her. I chose this because I am Latina as well and I am very proud of my culture. Over the past few years, there has been a lot of media attention on Hispanic people because of the immigration policies. There has been a lot of name-calling and racism towards this group of people, and it is something that has always made me feel incredibly frustrated. To label Hispanics as things such as “aliens” and “criminals” is downgrading and although I am aware that not everyone thinks like this, it makes me upset that there are people in this day in age that do. With this poem, the author is highlighting many of the good things about being a Hispanic woman. I decided to white out a lot of the lines and choose the words that I thought were the most defining. My goal is to make people think about Latin culture in a positive light rather than negative. 

While I was creating this poem, I kept saying to myself how hard the assignment was and I was extremely fixed on making it make sense. However, I realized that Found Poems are not supposed to be properly structured with the correct grammar, it is about being creative while still conveying how you feel to others. While I was reading through this poem over and over, it made me feel empowered about my culture. I hope that other Hispanic people that read this feel the same way. This assignment also gave me a new appreciation for Zong! because writing a whole book this way must have taken a long time. It also made me appreciate the words and looking for a deeper meaning, rather than looking at the scattered words and skimming right through them. 

Toni Morrison’s Legacy

This past Thursday, I was able to attend the Toni Morrison Roundtable event. I was very surprised with the amount of people that were there, and I was even more surprised to see how passionate the speakers were about Toni Morrison. Previous to this event, I did not know much about Toni Morrison. I had only heard her name mentioned in my high school English classes, but I had never read anything from her. After listening to everyone speak about her, it made me want to look into some of her works and read them for myself. Her books seemed to have great messages, and the fact that the speakers were so passionate about it made me even more curious.

Although Toni Morrison was African-American, she was able to reach out and touch the hearts of all her readers, no matter what they looked like. For the black community, one speaker said that he was able to be conscious of his heritage and the society that he lived in. He also felt moved by Toni Morrison because he was able to relate to what she was writing about, even if it was a book based on women. It also helped him celebrate his race and appreciate the black community. 

When Professor Savonick was speaking, I was very touched by her description of Morrison’s book Sula, and it made me interested in reading it. She spoke about how Toni Morrison was able to depict female friendship, and push that women should work together rather than working against each other. I thought that this message was very important, especially in today’s society where it seems like everyone is always compared to somebody. Prof. Savonick also said that Toni Morrison’s books described that romantic relationships are only one type of relationships you could have in your life, and how working together and forming different types of relationships with people are very important in a larger movement.

I am happy that I was able to go to this event with some friends, and learn about who Toni Morrison was and why she was so important. It was nice to see all these people come together to celebrate someone’s life in a special way, and I am definitely going to look into what Toni Morrison books would be good for me to read. 

Family Feud

“A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry is a popular play that has been adapted for both the Broadway stage and the movie screen. In Act II Scene 2, Walter is upset because Mama bought a house with the insurance check from his father’s death. Mama then reveals to Walter that she still has money left over after buying the house. She tells Walter she wants him to put money into the bank for Beneatha’s education, but she also wants him to open a savings account and put the money away for himself and his business. This is a very touching moment between Mama and Walter because for awhile, they have been clashing because of the difference of opinion of what the check should be used for. Though this part is an emotional moment between Walter and Mama, the movie and the book convey it differently, and makes the audience feel a different way. 

In the play, the interaction between Mama and Walter happens in their home. Walter has been having a rough couple of days because he feels like his dreams of becoming a successful businessman have been crushed due to Mama using the money for a new home. However, Mama talks with Walter in the house and gives him the news about what she wants to do with the check. After she tells him the important news, Mama leaves the room and Walter begins to celebrate. Travis, his son, thinks he is drunk, he states “Daddy ain’t going to never be drunk again…” (107). Walter is so happy and filled with joy, that all he wants to do is talk with his son. He begins to tell his son about how they are going to live a rich and fancy life, with a big house and nice cars, and their lives are going to be completely different from where they are at now. “You just name it son…and I hand you the world!” (109).  This moment in the story is something that feels emotional to the reader because you can sense a feeling of relief and accomplishment that comes over Walter. This is something he has wanted for so long, now that he has this money available to him he feels like he is one step closer to getting the life he has always wanted to live. 

The 1961 film adaptation of “A Raisin in the Sun” portrays this scene a little differently. After Mama finds out that Walter has not shown up at his job for the past three days, she asks Ruth which bar is the spot Walter always goes to drink. Ruth responds, and Mama heads out to find him. When she finally finds Walter, they sit down at a nearby booth and have a heart to heart. They do this in the play as well, only this time the setting is different. The deal that she makes with him is still the same, except this time, Walter sits there in disbelief and actually begins to cry. Instead of Walter going and talking to Travis, he goes home to find Ruth crying, and instead he lays with her to comfort her. Although the scene does not end up in celebration like the play, you can still tell that Walter is very grateful to Mama for giving him this opportunity.

Whether it is the play or in the book, the desperation that Mama feels to fix her family is evident. Although she thought that buying the house would fix all the family’s problems, she can tell that Walter will never be truly happy if he does not achieve his dreams. This is an important scene in the story because it shows their family dynamic. Even though they do not always see eye to eye, the members of the Younger family ultimately want to support each other and see each other happy. 

  1. How does Mama’s actions affect Walter and his relationship with his son? 
  2. If the story continues when Travis is older, how do you think he will take these opportunities that are being presented to him to better his life in the future? 

Hello! My name is Miranda.

I am a freshman here at SUNY Cortland and I am a Speech and Hearing Sciences major. I am from Middletown, New York where I live with my mom, dad, and little brother. Some facts about me are that I have been playing piano for about 10 years, I like to play tennis, and I love anything Disney and Marvel. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone this semester!