Understanding Context

Context refers to the time period, geographical location, social conditions, historical events, and the author’s background and experiences. These factors significantly shape the meaning, themes and style of a text.

To understand the context of a story, you need to gather information. Consider the following:

  • Time period and geographical location
  • Social conditions and historical events
  • Author’s background and experiences
  • Context influencing characters, plot and themes
  • Intended audience

Time Period and Geographical Location

The time and place in which a text is set can greatly influence its themes, characters and plot. Here’s how to explore these factors:

  • Research the era – Look up key events, societal norms and cultural trends of the time period. For example, if a novel is set during the Victorian era, understanding the strict societal rules and class divisions of the time can help you understand the characters’ actions and motivations.
  • Understand the location – The geographical setting can impact the story’s events and characters’ lifestyles. For example, a story set in rural Yorkshire will have a different atmosphere and challenges compared to one set in busy London.

Social Conditions and Historical Events

These factors can shape a story’s plot and themes. Here’s how to delve into them:

  • Identify historical events – If a text references a specific event, like World War II, research that event to understand its impact on the characters and society.
  • Examine social condition – Look at the societal structure, economic conditions and cultural attitudes during the time the text was written. For example, understanding the Great Depression’s economic hardship can shed light on the characters’ struggles in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Author’s Background and Experiences

An author’s personal experiences can influence their writing. Here’s how to connect the author’s life to their work:

  • Research the author’s life – Find out about the author’s upbringing, education and significant life events. For example, knowing that Charles Dickens experienced poverty as a child can help you understand his focus on social inequality.
  • Identify parallels – Look for similarities between the author’s life and the text. Did they write about places they lived, events they experienced, or issues they cared about?

Context Influencing Characters, Plot and Themes

Context can shape every aspect of a story. Here’s how to analyse its influence:

  • Characters – Consider how the time period, location and social conditions might affect the characters’ beliefs, actions and conflicts. For example, a character in a story set during the women’s suffrage movement might be influenced by the fight for gender equality.
  • Plot – Look at how historical events or social conditions drive the story’s events. For example, the plot of a novel set during the French Revolution might revolve around the conflict between the aristocracy and the common people.
  • Themes – Identify themes that reflect the context. For example, a novel written during the Civil Rights Movement might explore themes of racial inequality and justice.

Intended Audience

A text’s intended audience can shape its content and style. Here’s how to consider the audience:

  • Identify the original audience – Was the text written for children, adults, a specific social class or a particular cultural group?
  • Consider the impact – How might the intended audience influence the language, themes and presentation of the text? For example, a book written for young adults might have a more accessible language and focus on themes like self-discovery and coming-of-age.

Remember, understanding context is like being a detective. You’re piecing together clues from the text and your research to gain a deeper understanding of the literature.

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