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What Defines Humanity Essay

Alberto Manguel writes about social classes, in his book “The City of Words” Mangel starts of by saying: “Language is our common denominator” by this, the author is trying to tell us that the human race is identified with its nationality, its culture, its tradition and everything else that separates each individual from other nationalities but at the same time resembles equality within one nation, Manguel establishes how each nation is in a constant fight to be the best, in every aspect; sports, economy, politics, religion, and such. Manguel recalls that these different cultures are always engaging in an “us” versus “the others” battle and that action is in fact the human common denominator.

Discrimination takes place in this book, with competition for ascension of each culture; inequity comes into play as well. Manguel mentions as an example the slaves, how the Caucasians always put themselves on a pedestal as if God has put them on top of the human ethnicity and the colored skin civilization were meant to serve them. This is in fact a major problem in some countries, even though is not widely accepted; racism is still found nowdays day. In “The City of Words”, the last chapter’s main idea is about how these constant confrontations have had a cultural impoverishment since the early Middle Ages due to a superfluous and ultimately unessential social system.

Language, as the first phrase of Manguel book says, is very important for our society, it does not only communicate but it can do wonderful things as well, such as poetry: “Another custom of the tribe are the poets. A man decides to line up six or seven riddling words. He cannot contain himself and shouts them out, standing in the middle of a circle formed by the witch-doctors and the common folk as they lie flat on the ground. If the poem does not excite them, nothing happens; but if the words of the poet move them, then they all draw away from him, silently, under a holy dread. They feel that he has been touched by the spirit; no one will speak to him or look upon him, not even his own mother.

He is no longer a man but a god and anyone may kill him.” (Manguel, 2007, 12). In this quote we can appreciate how the author is discussing about life and death depending on the words that he chooses to say, if we look at it this way, words are not just simple sounds but also what identifies us and pretty much what makes us, that is why the human being is the only alive creature that is able to reason, interact and much more and all of this is through language, that is why this part of us is extremely important but it has been loosing significance because it is an everyday action.

They say history repeats itself, that is why Manguel makes reference to all the confrontations that happened in Europe, For example when Spain kicks out all of the Arabs and the Jews, Manguel describes how both societies had to get out of Spain but Arabs were treated better than the Jews, “Jewish people who wanted to stay in the country, had to be nationalized but they were called “marranos” which is a Spanish word for pig, on the other hand, Jews were treated nicer, they were extended an invitation to remain in Spain and get nationalized and they were not mocked by the population.” (Manguel, 2007, 93). This is an example of social conflicts. Confrontation tends to arise when different civilizations meet but that is why we have to learn from history and fight against that natural tendency in order to coexist and celebrate our differences to be in peace.

In conclusion, The city of words by Alberto Manguel talks about the clashes of cultures and the natural tendency to be the best in every aspect, to accomplish this, one civilization has to be ruled by the stronger one, that is the reason why we have seen slavery happen, but it is also why God gave us the power of language, a tool used in our everyday life but so powerful that can be the difference between life and death.

Manguel has an amazing point and very well presented, the power of voice can fight against the continuous competitiveness of the confrontation and it is a shame that is getting worse with all the history that we have. The essays in this book opens the eyes to the readers so we can start being smart and learn how to use the power of intelligence and not the brutal force. A better world without confrontation nor nations classified as privileged but everyone counted as equal, that is what Manguel’s visionary book states.


Manguel, A. (2007). The city of words. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

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