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Social Issues Seen From A Literary Approach

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2028 words Published: 4th May 2017

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For centuries, social issues have been the heart of innumerable works of art which deal with several worries concerning this natural aspect of human life. Through literary circles men and women of all times have given expression to what has been happening in the history of humanity in different places since writing was invented. The meaning of this vital function of literature is revealed by the strong voice acquired by their words in every sentence that is pronounced. From ancient times till now literature has shown what the authors have to say about what is going on in their own reality from different points of view in order to describe a certain social group or a specific situation that affects people’s quality of life, or directly protest against what they believe it is not fair for a harmonic development of people’s life. Starting from this premise; the two masterpieces that are going to be compared, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby” and the autobiographic “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, deals with these types of social issues presented during the course of their particular stories. That is how for both cases, narrative became a voice for who wanted to tell the world a story that had to be listened all around the world and throughout the passage of time. Due to this affirmation, it is appropriate to assure that both books cover these matters in a very similar way of accomplishing this inherent effect of literature on social environment but show us substantial differences in the social realities that both stories describe.

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First of all, both stories showed differences in the characteristics of the two contrasting social environments since both groups differed in the canons that governed the actions of the main characters. For example; in Great Gatsby’s plot the social atmosphere was surrounded by a feeling of frivolity, there was a fake social welfare state in the air determined by the purchasing power of people and materialism was breathed in most of the situations triggered in the course of the story. This fact is clearly demonstrated by the general idea of a marked division that existed between people coming from different areas of the location of the story according to the social status that each sector, both East and West Egg, represented. This distinction was frequently made in order to determine the origin of each character and the stories they had on their backs. As one of the main characters, Nick Carraway, affirms in the beginning of the story “I lived in West Egg, the-well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them…” (The Great Gatsby, p.7) referring to the notorious difference between living in one and the other side of the city, the entire action is based in this geographic and social separation of the population.

On the other hand, the story exposed in The Motorcycle Diaries showed us a completely different social environment that was moved by union and fraternity between people in its very deep essence. Although there also were social and economic differences, the main concern of the majority of people mentioned in the story was the suppression of these distinctions that made them feel divided and discriminated. The atmosphere here was of benevolence inspired by the dream of living in community all together as human beings living in the same world; this was reflected in Ernesto­’s intention of pursuing the well-being and equality of people at the same time he always showed unconditional caring and compassion for them.

Secondly, there is a significant difference between the ideologies that the main group of people of each story followed during the development of their respective stories seen in the plot of each book. In The Great Gatsby; the majority of the characters were people who do not looked for the real meaning of life showing themselves satisfied with the structure of society just as it was, from this point of view there was a certain grade of conformity due to they do not looked over reality and their capacity to change the course of their lives, they were given a certain place in society and they could not change it in their own benefit. This is reflected in the fact that every person was catalogued in a certain way that cannot be changed in spite of the injustice existing in the current social order “One thing’s sure and nothing’s surer, the rich get richer and the poor get – children.. ” (The Great Gatsby, p.102) The different attitudes, characteristics and conducts only showed persons whose ideology or, in other words, philosophy of life was completely separated from any level philanthropy or solidarity. The dishonesty evidence by the social circle that the main characters were involved into is expressed by Nick when he said “Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” (The Great Gatsby, p.65) and also when he talked about Jordan Baker: “She was incurably dishonest” (The Great Gatsby, p.64).

On the contrary, in The Motorcycle Diaries there was latent feeling of idealism in the minds of the main characters, Ernesto and Alberto. They were not happy with the social reality surrounding them, at the same time they were moved by the social injustice and they decided to do something about it starting from creating conscience about how wrong was the prevailing state of society. For this reason, they started to fight for a better world and for the achievement of essential values that would allow an improvement in people’s quality of life. This deep wish of a better world in the mind of Ernesto and the discontent with the current system are expressed in his own words in several fragments of the book like for example, during the time he known a sick woman in the south of Chile: “It is at times like this, when a doctor is conscious of his complete powerlessness, that he longs for change: a change to prevent the injustice of a system in which only a month ago this poor woman was still earning her living as a waitress, wheezing and panting but facing life with dignity.” (The Motorcycle Diaries, p. 70) also his strong dream of a unified America is reflected in the words he used in what is said it was his first political speech in Peru: “Even though we are too insignificant to be spokesmen for such a noble cause, we believe, and this journey has only confirmed this belief, that the division of American into unstable and illusory nations is a complete fiction. We are one single mestizo race from Mexico to the Magellan Straits. And so, in an attempt to free ourselves from narrow minded provincialism, I propose a toast to Peru and to a united America.” (The Motorcycle Diaries) Moreover, his nostalgia for a past world that accomplished with his ideas of unity and harmony came into his memory when he went to know Macchu Picchu “How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?” (The Motorcycle Diaries) he said marvelled at the beauty of nature and the perfection of ancient civilizations.

Then, it is obvious the existence of important differences between main characters’ lifestyles. As read in The Great Gatsby; the major figures of the story lived their lives immersed in banality blinded by ambition and the lack of morality that govern their acts leading to decadence and suffering demonstrated by phrases like “Most of these fellas will cheat you every time. All they think of is money” (The Great Gatsby, p.34). Their main concerns were to keep a clearly-defined appearance that not always was the real one so as to maintain certain status inside the social circle driven by their selfishness and individualism as read in the story “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” (The Great Gatsby, p.191) The high levels of materialism that marked this people’s lifestyles are also mentioned by Nick using expressions such as “Her voice is full of money.” (The Great Gatsby, p.128).

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On the other side, the story shared by The Motorcycle Diaries showed us a way different lifestyle of its characters. The rhythm of life lived by Ernesto and Alberto was ruled by the spirit of public service, frequently they used to interact with people coming from different places and from different realities in order to establish a close relationship with human sensibility. Their main concerns were how to make the world a better place to live untying themselves of any kind of material interest and harmful behaviours; there are plenty of examples of this affirmation during the passing of the events, such as the clear revelation that Ernesto felt when he met the couple of miners in Chuquicamata the main mining area of the country located in the north area of Chile. After this encounter Ernesto realized about the brutal living conditions that poor people has to face every day so as to survive in a very cruel environment, he felt a deep compassion for them that started to change his vision of the world just as he said in his own words “The couple, dumb with cold, huddling against each other in the desert night, were a living representation of the proletariat in any part of the world. They had not one single miserable blanket to cover themselves with, so we gave them one of ours and Alberto and I wrapped the other around us as best as we could. It was one of the coldest times in my life, but also one which made me feel a little more brotherly toward this strange, for me anyway, human species.” (The Motorcycle Diaries, p.78) As he knew a diversity of places during his journey, he met a diversity of people affected by poverty and misery: “The deeper we go into the Andes the more indigenous people we encounter, who are homeless in their own land. All across our own land” (The Motorcycle Diaries, p.78) he said when he met some native people who suffered from exploitation by the landowners in a very unacceptable reality.

To sum up, we can conclude that from the social issue point of view both works of art achieved the purpose of letting know the world about several situations happened in certain times of history in certain places in the world that marked a serious conflict between the roles that the different social actors had been playing since the beginning of time. The notorious differences between the social atmosphere in one story and the other had a strong influence in the course of the events, in this way the description of both realities represented a way of denouncing the injustice lived at those times. A precedent of both social states was the personal ideologies of the main characters; while in The Great Gatsby the main figure followed a model of human decadency to deal with daily life situations showing his conformism with the existing way of life in The Motorcycle Diaries the main character’s philosophy of life was based on caring for helpless people and the restoration of social justice through his idealistic thoughts. As a result, both characters’ lifestyles also differed widely; on one hand, luxury and selfishness were present in every relationship established between people in Great Gatsby’s story, on the other hand in Ernesto Guevara’s story solidarity and social conscience always ruled his actions. Thus, in these exposed cases, social issues were completely covered by literature not only in the mentioned subject matters, but also in a large number of situations described throughout both stories that supported the essential role of literature works in the history of humanity.


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