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What is a sociocultural factor and how does it affect interpersonal relationships? A sociocultural factor is a combination of social and or cultural beliefs, customs, traditions, or morals. What affect does society have on culture and vice versa? I will thoroughly attempt to answer these questions after close reading and analyzing Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place and Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa.
In Kincaid’s A Small Place she uses a bitter and almost seemingly aggressive tone to speak of the despicable evils of the colonial past that left its mark on the now present state of Antigua.
She uses vivid imagery and descriptive details to walk the reader down the roads of Antigua and she does an exceptional job at giving the reader a glimpse into the social and cultural factors of Antigua. As an imaginary “tourist” I walk the streets of Antigua astounded at the beauty of my surroundings. I am oblivious to the lack of resources and the commonality of widespread poverty among this city.
Antigua is a beautiful city full of corruption and crime and the city is still facing consequences from the past days of colonialism. I am oblivious to the fact that there is no proper sewage system (14).
I am also oblivious to the difficult past and complications that the current inhabitants of Antigua are a part of. As a tourist, I would not understand that the current society is “dumbed down” when compared to the more intellectual society of the colonial past. I am not aware that the beauty of Antigua that is meant to be my “escape” from the daily boredom and “difficulties” that I face in America or (worse in Europe) is also the source of struggle for the current inhabitants.
The interpersonal conflicts depicted in this story are not explicitly stated, but rather meant to be interpreted by the reader. As a mere tourist, I would not comprehend that the seemingly brand new Japanese manufactured cars are running poorly due to the fact that this society does not have access to things like unleaded gasoline that we take for granted in the United States.
As a tourist, I am shielded from the harsh realities that the true inhabitants of Antigua are facing every day. I would stare in awe at the beautiful mansions as I tour the city in a taxi, not knowing that most of these buildings are occupied by criminals or outright crooked political figures. I would pay no attention to the desolate, ragged building that used to be a library prior to an earthquake nearly ten years earlier. I would also be oblivious to the fact that the library has been meant to be “repaired” in the years past, but will likely never be tended to. I should consider myself to be “ugly” not physically but spiritually because I am taking Antigua for granted without acknowledging the struggles of the everyday people that live there, for I am only there to escape my “boring” and “stressful” life in America.
Kincaid describes the common nature of racism in the colonial past of Antigua and she also enlightens me, the reader, about the fact that Antigua was a subservient country to England. She also gives an example of how the colonialism of the past affects the current sociocultural state of Antigua. The primarily black inhabitants of Antigua would construct new roads so that when Princess Margaret arrived she would not have bad remarks about the island. Kincaid is infuriated by the fact that most current inhabitants do not recognize this blatant racism and the natural inhabitants of Antigua are oblivious to the despicable behavior of the English. She also seems to take offense to the fact that the current inhabitants of Antigua only know how to communicate in the English language that was learned as a result of Antigua being colonized by an English speaking country in the past. Kincaid compares the current society with the society that was ruled by England. She notes how the current society does not seem to be as educated as the society of the past. In a somewhat pessimistic way, she almost seems to believe that things were better for Antigua in the old days when they were conquered by England.
In Aidoo’s Anowa, the sociocultural issues cause problems in a marriage. The social norms in Anowa differ somewhat when compared to the social norms in A small place. In Aidoo’s story/play slavery is still prominent and slaves are readily available to purchase. Women seem to take on a more traditional role in Aidoo’s story and this presents problems within the marriage. The husband, Kofi Ako, would like his wife to behave in a more traditional manner and just help out around the house. The couple faces many different frustrations from them being unable to conceive, to the husband buying slaves despite what his wife wants, and this causes the ruin within the marriage. Anowa’s character is seen by many to be a bold symbol of feminism, and a true depiction of contemporary Ghanaian history evolving from its more restricting past. Anowa’s actions ultimately cause the demise of her marriage and her entire life. She chooses her own suitor, thus remaining true to her own beliefs.
Her actions, however, result in an unsuccessful marriage and, inevitably, lead to death. Moreover, Aidoo’s play shows how the treatment of women mimics the treatment of people through the act of slavery, which ties economic oppression to domestic oppression. Both acts are covered up by silence and a reliance on tradition. The villagers are complicit in the slave trade, in harming their own people, just like human beings are complicit in harming one another through traditions such as forced marriage and defining social roles for women. Anowa’s fate is symbolic of what happens when freedoms are taken away, when people are forced to live not by their own choosing, but by the rules of others.
In conclusion, there are various sociocultural differences within each story. In a small place, Jamacia Kincaid demonstrates that the subservience of Antigua to the colonialist in England led to the current society of Antigua being ruined and disadvantaged in life. This creates interpersonal problems within the current society because the society is plagued by poverty, crime, and the corrupt nature of the current politicians. The social and cultural values of Antigua have been damaged and the current inhabitants of Antigua have been left at a disadvantage because of this. In Anowa the interpersonal conflict was driven by a different cause. Women behaved in a more “traditional” way during this time and normally women would remain at home completing house duties, but instead the wife in this story takes on a more progressive feminist role as she attempts to complete more tasks away from the home.
Slavery also plays a role in both of the stories, however, slavery is still active in Anowa and this creates a marital conflict within the story. The husband wants to purchase slaves to assist with work within their business, but the wife is against owning another person for any reason. The fact that she even voices her opinion over her husband indicates that she is taking on a very different social role as compared to the other women in her time period. Much of the plot of Anowa turns on the power of custom and tradition, and the consequences of not following such tenets of society. Anowa does not subscribe to most customs. She has refused to marry after reaching puberty, as is tradition in her area. Further, she has turned down every man who has asked for her hand for six years. Her attitude befuddles her anxious mother as well as her father to a lesser degree. Anowa has always been different described variously as wild and strange but her nontraditional attitudes alienate those around her.
This character trait becomes more problematic after she is finally married to Kofi Ako. She helps him start a skin-trading business and does much work for it. Traditionally women keep the home and do not do work. While Kofi Ako appreciates her support at first, he longs for a more custom-following and traditional wife. This creates a tension within the marriage which ultimately sabotages both of their lives internally. In both stories, sociocultural differences and norms play a pretty significant part. In Antigua it caused interpersonal relationship problems from a “spiritual” or mental standpoint and in Anowa it caused the destruction and ruin of a marriage and ultimately led to the death of both the husband and the wife, a true tragedy. Therefore, sociocultural factors in both of these elaborate pieces of literature served to be the antagonist by causing widespread political problems and creating a false sense of well-being in Antigua, and these sociocultural factors also drove a marriage to complete and utter dysfunction in Anowa.
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