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INTRODUCTION TO THE PAPER TOPIC: Paper 2 is based on ideas presented in three articles that we have read:
- “Wheat People vs. Rice People: Why Are Some People More Individualistic Than Others?”
- “The Geography of Thought”
- “What Is the Self? It Depends”
These articles present evidence that Non-Western (“Eastern”) and Western (European) cultures are based on very different ways of seeing oneself and the world. We will use the ideas presented in these articles to analyze two narratives in which Eastern and Western cultures come into conflict.
- “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan
- “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell
In both narratives, the narrators, who are also the protagonists, seem to be on the front line of a clash between “East” and “West.” Orwell in “Shooting an Elephant” and the narrator of “Two Kinds” are living in a world where Eastern and Western cultures come face to face. The protagonists are forced to confront the competing demands of collectivism and individualism, harmony and agency.
BIG QUESTIONS for Paper 2: How do the ideas about Eastern and Western cultural differences presented in the articles influence your understanding of the narrative(s)? OR Do the narratives SUPPORT, CHALLENGE, OR COMPLICATE the ideas presented in the articles?
DIFFERENT SOURCES, DIFFERENT EVIDENCE: you are using two kinds of sources in this paper: articles and narratives. They give different kinds of evidence.
THE ARTICLES: the experts referenced in the articles are philosophers, social psychologists, and anthropologists. The articles present concepts, theories, and research results about our topic.
THE NARRATIVES: as we saw in the power point, narratives create a kind of alternative reality through plot, point of view, setting, and characters. A good starting point for your analysis of the narratives is conflict, an element of plot.
EXTERNAL CONFLICT: the protagonists face an external and an internal conflict. The external conflict pits the daughter in “Two Kinds” against her demanding Chinese mother. Orwell, on the other hand, is called upon by the Burmese villagers to kill the elephant. Both protagonists feel pressured by other people to do things that they do not want to do, threatening their AGENCY.
INTERNAL CONFLICT: the protagonists face an internal conflict triggered by the external conflict. We could say that the internal conflict revolves around their identity, about how the conflict reveals who they really are, and about how this compares with who they want to be.
Agency is defined as “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power” (Merriam-Webster). In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, Michael Bamberg distinguishes between two types of AGENCY in stories – the “world-to-subject direction” of agency -- resembles an Eastern interdependent, relational, social conception of the self. The second perspective – “the subject-to-world direction of fit” of agency -- seems similar to the autonomous “self-made” view of the self that is more prevalent in the West.
THINK ABOUT IT: How would you characterize the way the stories portray the protagonists’ agency? Do the protagonists seem to be in control of their lives as individuals? Do outside forces play an important role in their actions and decisions? How do the protagonists resolve this tension?
CONTEXT: another important consideration is that the characters in the stories do not live in a vacuum, and this creates paradoxes, contradictions, and inconsistencies in the stories:
- Orwell is a policeman working for the British colonial government in Burma (Myanmar) in the 1930s. The elephant incident raises interesting issues regarding Orwell’s role in relation to the local Burmese people. Is he really in charge of the situation, as his position as a British colonial officer suggests he should be? Do his actions in the story always reflect the independent, autonomous identity of the “Westerner” that he is?
- Tan’s narrator is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother who is a great believer in the American Dream, which seems paradoxical given her Chinese cultural background and “Eastern” way of thinking. Does the mother really understand the individualistic mentality of the U.S.A.? Is the daughter, by opposing her mother’s demands to become a classic American “prodigy,” trying to be more or less American?
à YOUR PAPER: Choose one of the options to write about. Use three sources in your paper.
Compare and contrast “Two Kinds” and “Shooting an Elephant.” Focus on the protagonists’ struggle to negotiate Western and Eastern views of identity, agency, and harmony. Use “The Geography of Thought” for concepts related to individuality and collectivism, agency and harmony, etc.
Focus your analysis on “Two Kinds,” especially the conflict between the girl and her mother, seen in the light of a conflict between two cultures (East and West) and their views on parent-child relationships and the child’s developing agency and individuality. Use “The Geography of Thought” and one other article for concepts related to identity, individuality, collectivism, family relationships, etc.
OPTION 3: Focus your analysis on “Shooting an Elephant,” the protagonist’s conflict with the elephant and especially his struggle with the local Burmese populace, challenging his “Western” sense of his own agency and identity. Use “What Is the Self? It Depends” and one other article for concepts related to identity, individuality, collectivism, ethical action and choices, etc.
 In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, Michael Bamberg explains agency in narratives thus:
The question of (human) agency is central to the study of self, identity, and personhood. Agency can be located according to two contrasting views: it is either a ‘subject position’ that is determined by dominant discourses and master narratives … or it embodies the self-creating (if not self-inventing) subject. From the first perspective (a world-to-subject direction of fit), the subject’s actions are given to the subject by social, historical and/or biological forces, subjecting the subject and determining its action potential. From the second perspective (a subject-to-world direction of fit), the human subject creates itself; it is based on consciousness and free will, capable of making decisions, and agentively engaged in both world- and self-making, particularly in narrative self-constructions (Bruner 1990). (Bamberg)