Cultural Context

  • Cultural context looks at the society the characters live in and at how their culture can affect their behaviour and their opportunities.

  • Think about where and when each text is set.

  • Think about the values and attitudes that matter to these characters and about how they formed these beliefs – did their culture influence them?

  • The most powerful forces in a society include religion, gender roles, attitudes towards sex and marriage, social status/class, job opportunities/emigration, (wealth/poverty), politics, authority figures, stereotypes/ethnic identity.

Sample questions – 70 marks

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“In any cultural context, deeply embedded values and attitudes can be difficult to change”

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“A reader can feel uncomfortable with the values and attitudes presented in texts”

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The main characters in texts are often in conflict with the world or culture they inhabit”

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The cultural context can have a significant influence on the behaviour of the central character/characters in a text”

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Understanding the cultural context of a text adds to our enjoyment of a good narrative”

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Write an essay in which you compare the texts you have studied in your comparative course in the light of your understanding of the term the cultural context.

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A narrative text creates its own unique world in which the reader can share”

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 In simple English you need to be able to talk about

  • how their culture affects their behaviour (or do they rebel) AND

  • what you liked/learned from exploring these different cultures.

Sample questions – 30 + 40 marks

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“The issue of social class is important in shaping our understanding of the cultural context of a text”

(a) Discuss the importance of social class in shaping your understanding of the cultural context of one text you have studied

(b) Compare the importance of social class in shaping your understanding of the cultural context of two other texts you have studied.

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“The roles and status allocated to males or females can be central to understanding the cultural context of a text”

(a) Show how this statement might apply to one text on your comparative course. In your answer you may refer to the roles and status allocated to either males or females or both. (30)

(b) Compare how the roles and status allocated to males or females, or both, aided your understanding of the cultural context in two other texts on your comparative course. (40)

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Understanding the cultural context of a text allows you to see how values and attitudes are shaped”

(a) Discuss in relation to one text you have studied (30 marks)

(b)Compare the way the values and attitudes are shaped in two other texts you have studied. (40 marks)

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Imagine that you are a journalist sent to investigate the cultural context of the worlds of the three texts from your comparative course.

(a) Write an article on the cultural context you found most interesting. (30)

(b) In a second article compare the cultural contexts of the other two

worlds with each other. (40)

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The cultural context of a narrative usually determines how the story will unfold”

(a) Compare the way in which the cultural context influenced the storyline in two of the texts you have studied (40 marks)

(b) Show how the cultural context influenced the storyline in a third text you have studied (30 marks)

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(a) With reference to one of the texts you have studied in your comparative course, write a note on the ways in which the cultural context is established by the author.

(b) Compare the ways in which the cultural context is established by the authors of two other texts on your comparative course.

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25 Responses to Cultural Context Questions

  1. Tom says:

    I dont see how i can write 7 pages in an hour of quality stuff…. writing a deecent plan usually takes me at least half an hour…

    • Be prepared in advance. All of the students I know who’ve done well in exams have been really well prepared. Know more or less the main areas you’d like to discuss and the key moments you’d like to compare. You can’t afford to spend more than 10mins planning. Four and a half pages which engage directly with the question asked are better than 7 pages which totally ignore the question asked. Of course you have to do lots and lots of preparation in advance in order to cope with the time pressures you face in an exam scenario, but you must be willing to adapt what you have prepared to respond to the question that comes up. Perhaps prepare one really good quality answer but then practice adapting it to different past exam questions. Depending on the question quite a lot can remain the same (same comparisons, same key moments) but you phrase it differently – you twist it to show how it’s relevant to the question asked. Hope that helps. Keep the faith.

  2. Mick Jagger says:

    Thanks, Very difficult tho…

  3. sab cleo says:

    can any one help tell me ” how does cultural context can effect the central characters

  4. shay1604 says:

    @sab cleo

    Question: How does the cultural context effect the central characters?

    Understanding the question!!!!!

    To start the cultural context is the era of time/region or country where the text is placed in. The characters are as said above are usually moulded by the era of history that the character is set in. So plainly put for example, look into the era of ceaser and ancient rome. If you were proved to have broken the law the sentence was death, and the cultural context of that time saw it appropriate for you to lose your life it was acceptable to use this situation as a form of entertainment. What i mean is that to understand how the character is effected by the cultural context you have to look at the era the character is set in and see if his/her actions are justified by what that persons culture deems fit to accept. What seems wrong to you may seem perfectly acceptable to a different time or country. So look at it from an outsiders point of view with an unbiased opinion and write in detail how you see how the characters are effected by the culture they live in.

    I still don’t feel like i answered your question but i hope this helped. If you want to tell me what your comparative study is and i might be able to answer your question more precisely.

  5. Peter says:

    any simple tips on how I structure my answer?

  6. rosie says:

    hi, i’m just wondering, in the cultural context essay, do i have to focus on just one central character (example: Michele, (I’m not scared) Jack (This Boy’s Life) & Manus (Translations) or can I also focus on other characters too during the essay (example: Anna, Pino (I’m not scared), Rosemary, Dwight (This Boy’s Life) & Maire, Hugh (Translations) ??

    • You can discuss whichever characters you want to. The only year where you were specifically asked to focus on the ‘main characters’ in discussing the cultural context was 2009 and even then you could have just selected the 30/40 mark split instead of the 70 mark question. So unless the question specifically asks for the impact of the cultural context of the main characters, you can discuss whichever characters you want to. Even then, you could argue that every text has more than one ‘main’ character.

  7. Conor says:

    Hi Evelyn , Any tips on structuring a conclusion for a Cultural Context essay ?

    • Of course it depends on the question. In general, however, I always think of the comparative conclusion as the place where you say what you’re learnt and how you feel about it. It’s also a good idea to mention which of your three comparative texts had the greatest impact on you personally, and why.
      So for theme or issue, how have you gained a new appreciation / understanding / perspective on this theme from studying your comparative texts? What emotions were you left with at the end and which text affected you the most?
      For cultural context, which society has the most negative impact on its citizens and why? Would you like to live there? What were you most shocked or surprised by? Do you think our society is significantly different or is it a case of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’?
      For literary genre, which style of storytelling hooked you the most and why? Plot/setting/characterisation/genre etc… – it depends which aspects you’ve discussed in your essay. Perhaps say which text stayed with you / haunted your thoughts the most and why…
      Hope that helps. Ground your conclusion in the question asked and in the texts themselves. Hope that helps!

  8. joe says:

    Just want to ask are quotes mandatory for the cultural context? Also when doing theme or issue do you have to stick with one theme because I’m studying Wuthering Heights Translations & I’m Not Scared and there are lots of themes there.

    • It’s always a good idea to put in some relevant quotes. However you could still get a C / D grade in comparative without quotes but it all depends on the quality of your answer (answering the question asked and depth of links/comparisons).
      For theme or issue you are expected to discuss ONE theme which is evident in all three texts.
      Good luck today!

  9. Ciaran says:

    Hi,

    “The most powerful forces in a society include religion, gender roles, attitudes towards sex and marriage, social status/class, job opportunities/emigration, (wealth/poverty), politics, authority figures, stereotypes/ethnic identity.” Are they the headings that each paragraph should be based on for the cultural context?

    • I’d say be careful that you don’t just write about these issues and ignore the question asked. You need to structure your answer in such a way that the ideas flow from one to the next and you need to make sure each paragraph begins with a topic sentence that is a direct response to the question.
      So, for example, you may intend to discuss each of the above. Then the question is “Attitudes towards gender roles, sex and marriage are communicated by the culture and society we inhabit, but not everyone accepts these values” – Discuss.
      If that happened, you’d have to scrap your “headings” approach and only discuss these three elements. You could bring in religion, but you couldn’t write a pre-prepared spiel on religion in general; you’d have to examine the way religion influences characters attitudes towards sex and gender roles.
      By all means, use these headings to prepare, but don’t stick to that structure if the question demands something else.
      No matter what else you do, make sure the comparative essay you write on the day engages fully with the question asked. Be prepared to adapt your knowledge and the preparation you’ve done to respond directly to the question. DON’T include info which is irrelevant to the question asked.

  10. Virginia says:

    Hi,
    I’m finding it very difficult to find aspects of cultural context that apply to all my texts. I am doing ‘How I Live Now’, ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme’. Do you have Amy suggestions? And how many aspects do you think I need to cover?
    Thanks

    • I’d discuss three aspects and the end, or four aspects. But the flow and coherence of your answer and the depth and quality of your links matters more than the number of comparisons.
      I’m not very familiar with those texts, other than Casablanca, but the texts don’t have to say the same thing.
      Is politics an issue in all three? Are gender roles significant? Is violence a feature of these societies? War? Corruption? Sorry I can’t be more help…

  11. Matthew says:

    If I prepared family life, gender roles, social status and race would I be okay? I’m doing how many miles to Babylon, Brooklyn and casablanca and I’m only looking for a C2

    • You won’t like my answer, but it depends what comes up. Sometimes (albeit not very often) you are asked to discuss a specific aspect of cultural context. If you look here http://leavingcertenglish.net/2012/12/cultural-context-questions/ you’ll see that social class and gender have been asked as specific questions in the past. Also, you may be asked to focus exclusively on the aspects of the culture which effect the main characters. Finally, you need to have 2 modes prepared of the three that are prescribed to be guaranteed a question.

  12. Iseult says:

    My question is “the cultural context can have a significant influence on the behaviour of the central character/s in a text”
    Describe how this statement applies to one of the texts you have studied as part of your comparative
    The text I have to do is the film Juno
    Im wondering what im meant to be describing as I don’t understand how an aspect of cultural context affects the character! im really not sure what im meant to be saying

    • I’m 17, I live in Ireland. I think it’s normal to go out, have 11 drinks, get shit-faced, fall over unconscious and end up in hospital having my stomach pumped – that’s ‘cultural context’ significantly influencing my behaviour!
      Or I’m 9. I live in Syria. I love football but I think it’s normal not to play outside in case a bomb explodes underfoot. That’s ‘cultural context’ significantly influencing my behaviour.
      Or I’m 83. I grew up in 1940’s Ireland. I think it’s normal to go to mass everyday and say the rosary every evening. I also think it’s normal that I haven’t spoken to my daughter for over 50 years because she got pregnant outside of marriage when she was a teenager and brought shame and disgrace on the family name. That’s ‘cultural context’ influencing my behaviour.

      Now, take the idea that what I consider ‘normal’ in my society will effect my decisions and my behaviour, and apply it to Juno…

      Hope that helps!

      Evelyn

  13. Sarah says:

    I find it very difficult having to be independent using my own knowledge of putting it down on paper answering the question, even though I have the resources to help. After all the cultural contexts question is worth 100 marks

    • Just to be accurate: Comparative is worth 70 marks not 100. Cultural context is one of the modes but there’s no guarantee it’s the one that’ll come up.

      But your main point was that you find it hard to think independently. That is the single greatest struggle we all face, in life and in education.

      I find what helps is to ask a question and stick with it in my brain until I have an answer that makes sense to me.

      So for example, I ask myself ‘why is this character unhappy?’. Then I look at some of the pressures they are under and how these pressures come from the society they live in and why their society holds these values and beliefs.

      Finally, I ask myself ‘are those my values? Why/why not? And that’s what helps me to come up with an opinion on what’s happening to this character and what it is about the society they live in that I agree or disagree with.

      And that’s how I roll.

      Asking key questions to get your brain going is the key… but you have to keep digging and digging until you cone up with a detailed and complex answer, not a simple superficial one.

      Easier said than done, I know.

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