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Introduction to Society and Culture

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Introduction

Society and culture are broad topics connected and summarize the livelihood of human beings. The following essay answers six questions that relate to culture and society based on different contexts.

Question 1

In the beginning of this semester, we discussed definition of culture. I gave you a handout of many definitions.  Please go back and find it.  If you cannot, then research many definitions on your own.  You were asked to read the first sections of ‘In an Antique Land, by sections of In an Antique Land’, by Amitav Ghosh. How does Amitav Ghosh experience define “culture?”  Please be specific and refer to page number in your answers?

The term culture has many different definitions wide world. Different societies interpret the word culture in their own context depending on different factors such as their environment, history, religion, social activities and many more. Anthropologists and behavioral scientists define culture as the full range of learned human behaviors. According to the pioneer anthropologist Edward Tylor, in his book Primitive Culture, he defines culture as that complex whole which includes knowledge, arts, beliefs, laws, customs, morals and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as part of any society (Moore, 2012). Culture can also be defined as the beliefs, norms and behavior characteristics of a particular social, age or ethnic group e.g. the youth culture (Cheng, 2001).

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Amitav Ghosh is one of the most instinctive and influential anthropologist writers from India. In his book In an Antique Land, the writer rotates back and forth on the ancient history of Asia and Middle East and in particular the history of India. The book has a vast collection of ancient history, anthropology, sociology, philology and religion. Amitav was also keen to address odd social topic of India’s culture. Through the author’s experience while living in small villages in Egypt, he relates his perspective of the meaning of culture. While staying in Lataifa, Ghosh was invited by Ali- abu to be a guest at his home. There he meets a law student from the West, Usta Mustafa who describes the cultural practices of Indians regarding marriage, religion and food. Ustaz who is skeptical about this culture, describes marriage in India as a communion where if a man dies his wife is dragged away and burnt (page 4). He also describes their religion as a culture that worships animals especially cows and Indians use a lot of chili in their meals. Reflecting on the Indian culture, Ghosh defines culture as a way of living that is unique in a given society. Culture is a particular way of life that has been practiced and pasted on through generations. (Ghosh, 1994)

Question 2

Read the section on El Dorado in Voltaire’s Candide.  Why does Voltaire have the section? Why do cultures create ideas of utopia? What is your own personal idea of utopia? 

Candide is a French satire first published by the philosopher Voltaire in 1759.  Candide is the story of a young man named Candide who grew up in living in a sheltered life under mentorship. Voltaire’s work then describes Candide sudden misfortunes and his painful encounters and experiences of the hardships of life. Using imagery, symbolism and allegory in Voltaire’s work, he has created a utopian land called El Dorado. El Dorado is described as a land where gold and jewelry litter the streets. A land where there are no  religious conflicts, advanced scientific knowledge, no court systems and no value on the plenty gold and jewelry. (Voltaire, 2010)

Voltaire created the land of El Dorado as an embodiment of his vision of what an idea society should be. The land is a place of equality where kings greet visitors equally and nobody is imprisoned. It is a land with no organized religious beliefs and the inhabitants do not force beliefs on others hence no religious prosecutions. El Dorado, described as best of all lands, reflects Voltaire’s deep pessimism about the real world and the human nature. Voltaire has included this section in his work to show that the current society is corrupted and flawed and El Dorado depicts the ideal society.

Utopia describes a society or community that possesses desirable and perfect attribute to humankind.  It is a world of perfect economic, social and political structures.  Cultures create the idea of utopia because in many cultures wide world there are mythical stories or past memories when humankind lived a simple and peaceful life. The myths describe period when humanity lived in harmony and perfect fulfillment. In addition, cultures depict a way of life that people live. Currently, the society is marred with many flaws and undesirable events therefore people long for a culture that will be idea for the coexistence of humanity and nature at large.

My own personal idea and view of Utopia is the existence of a world where people live in harmony and peace. A world where resources are shared equally and there is no poverty, greed, oppression or crime. Utopia translates to a peaceful society with no wars where people share and help each other, a culture that has faded in the current generation.

 Question 3

Find a quote by Martin and a quote by Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide and elaborates how these quotes define their philosophies about life.   Make sure that your quote fits their philosophies.

Martin is a downtrodden scholar who accompanies Candide and Pangloss to France. Martin possesses polar philosophical attributes compared to Candide and Pangloss’s optimistic philosophies.

“…he enormous riches which this rascal had stolen were sunk beside him in the sea, and nothing was saved but a single sheep. —You see, said Candide to Martin, crime is punished sometimes; this scoundrel of a Dutch merchant has met the fate he deserved. —Yes, said Martin; but did the passengers aboard his ship have to perish too? God punished the scoundrel; the devil drowned the others...” (Voltaire, 2010)

The above quote reflects Martins belief in evil power and that the world is inherently evil. Candide sees the sinking of the ship, as nature’s way of delivering justice while Martin interprets this event as God’s justice and the devil’s cruel works.

 Martin is a pessimist in life. He believes that God has abandoned the world giving evil the advantage to reign and destroy the world. He opposes optimisms that evil is an illusion and he sees everything go that happens has an underlying evil beneath.

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 He relates that suffering is caused by evil and in his quote; he ponders on the question why other passengers on the ship had to die. He fails to see how this event is an act of justice therefore arguing that the devil’s hand of destruction is also evident in the world just like God’s hand of justice. His pessimistic idea is that the fate of humans is determined indigently by the cooperation of God and the devil. (Voltaire, 2010).

Pangloss is the long time mentor and tutor of Candide. He is a philosopher who believes in optimism as his focus and teaches Candide that everything happens for the absolute good.

“All events are linked together in the best of possible worlds; for, after all, if you had not been driven from a fine castle by being kicked in the backside for love of Miss Cunégonde,.. if you hadn’t been sent before the Inquisition, if you hadn’t traveled across America on foot, if you hadn’t given a good sword thrust to the baron, if you hadn’t lost all your sheep from the good land of Eldorado, you wouldn’t be sitting here eating candied citron and pistachios.” (Voltaire, 2010)

According to Pangloss, everything happens for a good reason. Even in the times of tribulations there is good that waits at the end. He believes in successful conclusions, states that everything is meant to serve an end, and everything serves the best end. Pangloss and Candide each endure great misfortunes, Pangloss is very optimistic through all the hardship. He sees hardships as a necessity and a stepping-stone to greater good. He states that the world is perfect and even the existence of evil is to get people to the greater good.

 Question 4

Examine one of the women characters in Voltaire’s Candide.  What does she represent for him? Do you think his position towards women is “enlightened?” Why or why not?  How would you represent this woman character now? What is different?

The Old Woman

The old woman is a character in Voltaire’s work who is a servant of Cucugena (Voltaire, 2010). She is described as the daughter of a pope. She has endured a lot of suffering more than any other character in the novel. She has experienced the death of her fiancée, rape by pirates, enslavement and cannibalism during the war. She shows strength as she tells her stories as a mere way of passing time and not seeking for pity. She does not bbelieve in self-pity.

Voltaire uses the old woman’s character to represent the female character. Using the old woman, he brings out women as weak, vulnerable and helpless creatures and this is illustrated by all the misfortunes that the old woman underwent. Although the old woman shows strength, the author does not describe this as inner strength rather than having no choice but to adjust to her gruesome situations.

The author fails to enlighten and emphasize feminism in this novel. The character of the old women who was ugly and full of miseries is not given a name. This illustrates the insignificance of women in society in the 1800s. The suffering of the old woman, in particularly slavery, is used by Voltaire to depict that women are submissive and defenseless creatures. In addition, he presents women as creatures who exists for the pleasure of men and are used by these men as they please. This is illustrated by the cases of rape by pirates and slavery.

With the revolution, women are seen as creatures of strong will and strength to take care of themselves. In the modern day scenario, the old woman would be represented as a strong woman who has fought through adversities of life and has enough energy and zeal to go on with life. This woman does not give up, and has no limits. The difference between the old woman in the 1800 and in the present modern world is that, the modern woman has been empowered through education, constitutional rights and gender equality.

Question 5

Take quotes from two of the thinkers and say why you agree or disagree with their analysis of Voltaire’s Candide.

Gayatri Spivak is an Indian literally critic and a professor of humanities in Columbia University. She quote in the movie Candide,

“The way in which women were treated is just out there."

I agree with her analysis of the movie because in the movie Candide, women were regarded as the weaker and insignificant creatures and this related to acts of torture on women e.g. rape, slavery, prostitution.

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The movie is based in the 1800s and Gayatri views that though there is a wide span of time between the creation of Candide and the present day, women are still subjected to these inhuman acts such as rape and forced prostitution.

David Damrosch, a professor of comparative literature and an author of several books, quotes that

 “Cunegonde and the Old Woman in the story are raped repeatedly. They suffer plague. They suffer syphilis. They go through all kinds of horrific events….”

I agree with him because in the movie, both Cunugonde and the old woman have been victims of Rape. They were raped in several events and have suffered very much with diseases such as syphilis and plague. Cunegonde was raped when her home was invaded and pirates raped the old woman during her capture. 

Question 6

What is a xenophile? What is Ghosh’s point in this essay?  How does it relate to life in the U.A.E? How could it relate to xenophilia? Why would you use this term?

A xenophile is a person who is greatly interest and attracted to that which is foreign like foreign cultures, people, manners and languages. This is mostly developed by varied education and research into other people’s way of life.

 In this essay, Ghosh points out his experience while living in Egypt, a foreign country (Ghosh, 2012). He states the different difficulties he witnessed as a foreigner, in particular, language barriers. However, with time, he finds a common communication means and later on, he learns to communicate well with the locals. Moreover, he describes Egypt’s growth from the historical periods and how the modern Egypt is different and this helped him to develop his literary skills (Ghosh, 2012).

Ghosh states that through Egypt he understood that different countries e.g. U.A.E have different culture hence the need to respect and embraces other people and co-exist peacefully. Life in UAE is different from the life he was used to in India. To a xenophile, one has to learn to co-exist with the communities in the foreign land. Though learning a new culture is a difficult task, it is neither impossible and develops with time. The term xenophile is used to relate the passion or great desire of a person to learn and live within a foreign land, a yearning that brings different culture together. (Ghosh, 2012)

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