Exemplar: Fall 2019
This year, The Exemplar, continued its focal change from last year to publish exciting and new undergraduate research in the humanities produced at Dalton State. We are also continuing our journal rebranding that started last year. This academic year, we are now putting out two issues a year, one per semester, instead of only one issue a year. We are also introducing awards with this issue for best published paper at each course level (1000, 2000, and Upper Division).
Our Fall 2019 issue focuses on multiple critical consciousnesses, related to concerns students interrogate in their coursework, daily lives, and career pursuits. Concerns like race, gender, social justice, and climate change.
The first section, "Intersectional Consciousness," highlights literary readings of works by Shakespeare, Mary Rowlandson, and Kate Chopin. All the essays in this section interrogate the ways classic literary texts can be read through critical assessments of gender and race in order to come to a better understanding of the world around us through the written word. The second section, "Social and Ecocritical Consciousness," includes a collection of essays that forward a dynamic conversation between textual analysis and original research on contemporary social issues. These essays ask us to consider what is good and evil, how do we define morality, and how do we relate such morals--if they can be defined--to issues like gun violence and climate change.
Fall 2019 Awards
Best Upper Division Paper: Evan Talley, " Her Broken Wings: Edna Pontellier"
Best 2000-Level Paper: Erick Rodriguez, "Inconsistencies in the Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson"
Table of Contents
"Gendered Honor in Shakespear's Cymbeline" by Hannah Badger
"Inconsistencies in the Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson" by Erick Rodriguez
(Best Upper Division Paper)
"Her Broken Wings: Edna Pontellier" by Evan Talley
(Best 2000 Level Paper)
"The Influences of Troilus and Criseyde" by Jacob Neal
"Social and Moral Pressure: Why We Feel The Need To Show Kindness" by Andrew Augustyn
"Running the Halls of School Violence: An Ecological and Social Learning Analysis" by Christine Brown
"Applying Theory to the Social Injustices of Climate Change" by Chris Delmas
"Gendered Honor in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline"
By Hannah Badger
William Shakepseare’s, Cymbeline is often overlooked and underappreciated, with scholars more often studying the work in tandem with others, not as a stand-alone piece of art. When Shakespeare enthusiasts want to discuss honor in his plays, they often begin with his other, better known works. Cymbeline is often compared to Othello, a play that predates Cymbeline, because both works feature dramatic themes of female infidelity and betrayal on multiple fronts. To relegate Cymbeline to commentary solely in tandem with another work or to define it as merely a lesser known, repurposed Othello, as some scholars have done, is to miss a major commentary of Shakespeare’s on Roman society and gender. Because much of the play takes place in Rome, Cymbeline has been named one of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, along with Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar among others. Shakespeare is widely known for his themes of gender-bending, causing gender within his plays to be a much-discussed topic among scholars. However, in Cymbeline there is a level of complexity added because of Shakespeare’s use of the word “honor” in relation to gender. Furthermore, because Cymbeline is a Roman play and it includes Roman characters, the discussion must expand to bring Roman culture and honor into question. The word “honor” carries a different tone and meaning when applied to a female than it does when referring to a male. If modern-day scholars and Shakespeare enthusiasts want to understand why Cymbeline deserves to be considered equally as important and thought-provoking as Shakespeare’s other plays, they will have to develop an understanding of the intention behind Shakespeare’s handling of gender and honor in the play and how it is directly related to his handling of Roman culture. What it means to be an honorable man in Roman society as opposed to what it means to be an honorable woman in Roman society is deftly demonstrated through Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.
Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s last written plays, first published in the Folio of 1623, the last play of the volume (Smith 1565). Although it was originally classified as a tragedy, in the Folio of 1623, scholars suggest that this is only because there was no category for romances at the time. David Bergeron, in his article “Cymbeline: Shakespeare’s Last Roman Play,” also argues that the play could have more easily fit into either comedy or history genres than the tragedy genre into which it was placed (31). There is evidence which could place Cymbeline into several different genres, and the discussion of this evidence is important, but looking beyond the question of genre, there are also references to Roman culture throughout the play which bring into question whether or not Shakespeare intended for the play to fall into place with his historical Roman plays. Bergeron calls Cymbeline “Shakespeare’s last Roman play” because almost half of the play is set in Rome, and because there are several prominent Roman characters. It is a lens worth looking through when studying the play as a whole. Viewing Cymbeline as a historical play and a narrative of Roman culture and society changes the way readers perceive aspects of the play. Studying gender within the play becomes a study of gender in Roman society as well, which can also aid in understanding the differences between male and female honor. A study of the function of gender in ancient Roman society will aid in an understanding of how honor functions in the play.
Much of what historians and scholars know about ancient Roman culture and society is thanks to the ancient literary works written by authors such as Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. Scholars are able to obtain information regarding ancient history through the literary works which were produced during this time. Johnson and Ryan discuss gender and sexuality in early Greek literature and culture, saying that through literature, the representation of culture in the ancient world is conveyed to the modern day primarily from a male perspective. Although in their book, Johnson and Ryan are largely discussing Greek literature, they mention that Greek and Roman society were closely linked, and many of the same implications apply. Ryan and Johnson say, “From Homer onwards, the primary focus of Greek literature is the world of the male. A man was expected to be successful, to contribute to the life of his community and to protect his household and all its dependents” (1). Johnson and Ryan also observe that men were the only active citizens participating and leading in society. When it comes to marital relationships within ancient literature, they observe that, “while marital fidelity was essential for the female and ideally expected of the male, examples taken from literature consistently highlight sexual freedom for men” (2). The men were expected to marry but also expected to have at least one mistress and certainly were expected to tend to their sexual needs in whatever ways necessary. The gap between expectations placed on women as opposed to the expectations placed on men is shown in the literature which survives from ancient Rome and the literary commentary on ancient Rome, such as Shakespeare’s Roman plays.
Women in ancient Rome were restricted to a very specific set of rules and social boundaries. Women could not participate in politics and were considered to be valuable almost only in a sexual context. A Roman wife was expected to bear legitimate heirs, be the keeper of the house, and to be faithful to a husband who may or may not be faithful to her. Johnson and Ryan say that the lengths a husband would go to in an attempt at “ensuring the wife’s good behavior” perpetuated the idea that women, if not supervised, were in danger of losing the honor so carefully protected by their husbands (2). By setting up a scenario in which the husband, Posthumous, has been forced to leave his wife, Imogen, unsupervised while he flees to Rome, Shakespeare creates a perfect situation in which to showcase a Roman husband’s insecurities. The differences in treatment of men and women in Roman society open up the conversation regarding the differences in male and female honor. If the societal expectations placed on men were different from the ones placed on women, it seems logical to assume that the implications of honor would be different when regarding a man than regarding a woman.
In his book, Roman Honor, Carlin Barton explores the idea of Roman honor and how it applies to both the male and female gender as well as the difficulty in translating the Roman idea of honor for modern Western society. He argues that the definition of honor to an ancient Roman is nuanced and difficult to understand when limited to the English definition of the word. He says, “it often happened that, in the Roman world, paradoxes and ambiguities were used to point beyond the compass of words, past the confines of a limited vocabulary” (14). He goes on to explain that many Latin words had “built in complexes of antithesis” which would aid the hearer in grasping something which is untranslatable. Barton argues that because Latin is not a literal language and carries many social ambiguities, the word “honor,” to a Roman, means more than one would think at a cursory glance. Shakespeare, in choosing to emphasize the concepts of honor in a British play, cleverly invokes the Roman understanding of honor.
Barton asserts that the most powerful governing force in ancient Roman government was honor; the pursuit of it and the fear of losing it. More effective than laws, rules, or regulations, was the idea that behavior outside of the societal norms in Roman culture would be frowned upon and would result in a sense of shame and dishonor (20). Roman punishments were often intended to embarrass and shame the recipient, as punishment for a crime or political infraction was seen as a dishonor. This code of decorum which revolved centrally around honor is labeled by Barton, “The Roman Way” (22-23). In the Roman Way, honor is decorum, a style of behavior, a specific set of often unspoken rules which the Roman citizens were to live by. Shakespeare’s Cymbeline embodies many of these characteristics of Roman honor through the characters, Posthumous, Jachimo and Imogen.
The pursuit of honor in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is prevalent. For the male characters, honor is associated with an intangible characteristic. A man is honorable based on the way he himself behaves, but also based on the way his wife behaves. In Cymbeline, honor is associated with military exploits, and a person can be renowned as honorable for acting bravely in battle. In the beginning of the play, the initial characters to which the audience is introduced are two unnamed gentlemen. These characters relay to the audience that Posthumous’ father was an honorable man based on his actions in the war. They say, “He serv’d with glory and admir’d success” (I.i.32). Furthermore, Gentleman Two says that he honors Posthumous, simply based on the story told by the other Gentleman (I.i.54). It is established from the beginning of the play that although Posthumous is an orphan, he is an honorable man both because of his own behavior and because of King Cymbeline’s reputation as Posthumous’ adoptive father. Posthumous’ honor, as a part of his character, is established within the first scene of the first act of the play.
Even Imogen peers through the lens of the Roman’s ideals of honor when regarding a man as opposed to when regarding a woman. When Posthumous flees to Rome, Imogen bemoans all the things she did not get to tell him. She wishes she had gotten the chance to make him promise not to be wooed by the “shes” of Italy, but the verbiage used is important to note. Imogen says, “the shes of Italy should not betray/ mine interest and his honor” (I.iii.29-30). The insinuation that, should Posthumous find another love interest in Rome, it would be the “shes” who would be betraying his honor rather than the other way around is very telling of the handling of gender in Roman culture and Shakespeare’s plays. Blame-shifting plays an unfortunate role in ancient Roman society, causing the majority of the blame for indecent sexual or emotional behavior on the part of a man to be placed on their wives or mistresses. Ancient Rome saw a need to keep the male and female genders separate from each other and therefore created different sets of unspoken, governing rules for each gender.
When honor comes into question in Cymbeline, there is always a profound difference in the way that it is referenced in a man versus a woman. Honor in Cymbeline, regarding a female character seems to be synonymous with virtue or sexual chastity. It is not based upon behavior in the court or brave feats in battle, but rather on her demureness and faithfulness to her husband. In Act IV, Posthumous and Jachimo begin to have a conversation about the virtue of Imogen, with Jachimo disbelieving that Posthumous prefers his wife to any other woman. Posthumous is insistent in his faith in Imogen’s chastity when Jachimo subtly turns the conversation to Posthumous’ diamond ring, comparing Imogen to the ring as a diamond which may be beautiful but could not surpass all other diamonds in beauty (IV.iv. 52-53). By comparing Imogen to the ring, Jachimo is perpetuating the idea that a wife is an object to possess, to be compared to others of her kind, whose luster should be examined to determine worth and value. Posthumous, instead of reacting to the jab at Imogen’s character, responds in kind, saying, “I praised her as I rated her: so do I my stone” (I.iv.77). Posthumous tells Jachimo that Italy does not contain a person who could “convince the honor of my mistress” (I.iv.95). Again, referring to a woman’s honor as something which could be wrested from her by someone who chose to do so.
Jachimo immediately plays on these insecurities by engaging Posthumous in a conversation refuting Imogen’s honor. Jachimo asserts that no woman is above reproach when it comes to seduction. When Posthumous claims that Imogen is the most “fair, virtuous, wise, chaste, constant, qualified, and less attemptable” than any other, Jachimo states “That lady is not now living,” insinuating that there could be no living woman as virtuous as Posthumous claims (I.iv. 60-62). At the end of this conversation, Jachimo taunts Posthumous, saying that if he returns having “enjoy’d the dearest bodily part” of Imogen, then he will give over money and Posthumous can keep his diamond ring (I. iv. 149-150). But, if Jachimo returns and leaves Imogen in “such honor” as Posthumous has faith in, then “she your jewel, this your jewel, and my gold are yours” (I.iv.151-152). This constant reference to Imogen’s honor as a possession of Posthumous’ allows honor to function as an object when it comes to the female experience.
The conversation in Act IV between Jachimo and Posthumous contains possibly the most evidence of the difference between male and female honor than any other portion of the play. Jachimo continually compares Posthumous’ ring to Imogen’s honor, even further, comparing the ring to Imogen herself. The direct comparison between Imogen and the ring portrays the attitude held in Roman society that a woman, like a ring, is an object to be obtained and furthermore, that a woman’s honor is also a treasure that can be aquired. Jachimo bets against Posthumous’ ring that he can “with no more advantage than a second conference,” convince Imogen to sleep with him (I. iv. 129-130). Jachimo states that he will “bring from thence that honor of hers which you imagine so reserved” (I.iv.130-131). In this passage he refers to Imogen’s honor as a physical thing which can be taken by himself and brought to Posthumous, like a beheaded skull on a pole, to prove the deed is done. In Cymbeline, Shakespeare demonstrates a marked difference in the way honor is perceived when regarding a male character versus a female character.
Shakespeare undoubtedly had exposure to and understanding of ancient Roman culture and society. He uses this understanding to craft Cymbeline into a critique of the perception of the female gender, doing this through the idea of honor. What does it mean to be an honorable man or an honorable woman? Shakespeare answers this question by juxtaposing Posthumous’ and Imogen’s honor. By comparing the discussions surrounding honor both of Posthumous and Imogen, Shakespeare presents the audience with the harsh reality that is the gap between the treatment of men versus the treatment of women. Through Posthumous, Shakespeare gives the audience a stereotypical Roman hero. Posthumous holds the Roman title of an honorable man, in his actions, virtuous. In Imogen, the audience finds a model of the perfect woman who is chaste, beautiful, and has the advantage of being of royal lineage. In classic Romance style, Imogen stoops to marry a man below her station, but according to the text, it is not because of her honor or the strength of her love that she does so, but rather because of Posthumous’ honor and virtue. As stated by Gentleman One, Imogen’s price “proclaims how she esteem’d him” and proves that he must be a very virtuous man (I.i.51-52). The chief difference in the portrayed male honor as opposed to female honor is the fact that a man’s honor can have to do with his character, his actions, his family lineage, and other factors, while a woman’s honor, like her body, is objectified, shrunk, and compacted as though her honor could be measured in the same way one would measure the value of a precious stone, such as the diamond in Posthumous’ ring. Posthumous orders Imogen to be killed when he suspects her of unfaithfulness. Instead of trusting the honor he so highly praised and claimed to believe in, he is torn apart at the first bit of evidence which could prove him wrong. Shakespeare offers his audience the chance to see in a dramatized sense, the lengths to which a Roman man would go to protect his honor. In Cymbeline, Shakespeare juxtaposes the treatment of men versus the treatment of women. What it means to be an honorable Roman man is to have intrinsic qualities of bravery and goodness, to make virtuous choices, and to have a chaste wife. What it means to be an honorable Roman woman is to be faithful to one’s husband, diligent in one’s household duties, and quiet in social or political settings. In Cymbeline and in ancient Roman society a man’s honor is intrinsic; it is a part of who he is. In contrast, a woman’s honor is an object which can easily be taken away from her.
Barton, Carlon A. Roman Honor. London, University of California Press, 2001. Google Scholar. https://books.google.com/books?id=7OUI67hz7SwC&lpg=PP17&dq=ancient%20Roman%20honor&lr&pg=PP17#v=onepage&q=ancient%20Roman%20honor&f=false. Accessed 17 April 2019.
Bergeron, David M. “Cymbeline: Shakespeare's Last Roman Play.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 1, 1980, pp. 31–41. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2869367. Accessed 17 April 2019.
Johnson, Marguerite, and Terry Ryan. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Literature and Society : A Sourcebook. Routledge, 2005. EBSCOhost. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=116656&site=eds-live&s. Accessed 17 April 2019.
Shakespeare, William. “Twelfth Night.” The Riverside Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1569-1609. Print.
Smith, Hallett, The Riverside Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1565-1568. Print.
Xinyao, Xiao. “Oxymoronic Ethos: The Rhetoric of Honor and Its Performance in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 97, no. 3, 2018, pp. 263–285. EBSCOhost.http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=132866503&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 17 April 2019.
Inconsistencies in the Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
By Erick Rodriguez
Best Upper Division Paper, Fall 2019
Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative is a remarkable first-person account of the impact of King Phillip’s War on family units. The narrative was set in the 17th century. Rowlandson’s ideologies regarding Native Americans change during her captivity, although she is unwilling to appreciate the positive aspects of other cultural groups with the same rigor that she condemns their faults.
At the beginning of Rowlandson’s narrative, she paints a picture of ruthless Native Americans that separate her from almost all aspects of her life. Rowlandson writes, “All was gone, my husband gone . . . my children gone, my relations and friends gone, our house and home” (3). Bennet emphasizes that all that was precious to Rowlandson had been moved “to an imaginary or at the least intangible realm” (327). These statements inform the reader that Native Americans that attacked and enslaved her were cruel and lacked any remorse. Rowlandson held an extremist position concerning Native Americans people. Consequently, she is determined to purge any sense of this ethnic group’s humanity from the minds of the readers.
Besides presenting Native Americans as savages, Rowlandson equates them to servants of Satan and diminishes their way of living. Rowlandson describes Native Americans as “a company of hell-hounds” that “made the place a lively resemblance of hell” (3). The choice of words draws the audience’s attention to the flaw of not being Christian. According to Tomiak, “Rowlandson may not have been mistreated by her captors, but she does speak disparagingly of Native social customs and practices” (3). There are numerous instances where Rowlandson discusses Native American practice of slavery and dieting, which are critical features of their socio-political identity. The attack on Native American religion and livelihood appear to depict a lesser race of people to the intended audience.
Despite Rowlandson’s biased perception of Native Americans, she breaks from her rigid ideologies in the later removes. Firstly, she humanizes Native Americans when she mentions that they buried her daughter. Rowlandson attests that the natives gave her daughter a burial, as she states, “Then they told me it was upon the hill . . . where I saw the ground was newly digged” (6). This action is questionable because barbaric people would not have troubled themselves to bury an outsider. Crawford and Kelly explain that “traditional methods of burial included graves, pits, mounds, . . . and caves,” which vary depending on the tribe (573). The burial of Rowlandson’s may be interpreted as a sign of respect for the dead. This point of view is blurred by Rowlandson’s pain of losing her child, but it shows that Native Americans valued life.
Secondly, Rowlandson’s predisposition that Native Americans did not acknowledge Christianity is exaggerated. Rowlandson writes, “One of the Indians . . . asked me, if I would have a Bible” (7). The provision of a Bible without request is symbolic of recognition of the need for religion among people. It is worth noting that “the religious content and the moral purpose (and also, frequently, the element of truth) disappeared and captivity narratives became more and more formulaic, repeating and reworking the conventions of the genre” (Galisteo 45). Partly, this explains why the author may have been reluctant to explain her interaction with the natives accurately. Scenes of unexplainable and random noble acts in her encounter with Native Americans undermine Rowlandson's fundamentally negative perspective.
Finally, Rowlandson concedes that the treatment received from Native Americans was a consequence of current circumstances. Rowlandson recounts an incident of desperation when she writes, “My master’s maid came home; she had been gone three weeks into the Narragansett country to fetch corn” (13). Native Americans were struggling to feed themselves. Besides the lack of food, “they were many hundreds, old and young, some sick, and some lame” (9). The famine had taken a toll on Native American army and people. Donaldson notes that the “hardship and lack of food exerted a severe toll on the Narragansett – a toll that included the death of Weetamoo’s own baby” (9). Rowlandson discusses the issue of hunger lightly on the part of the natives. However, she acknowledges that Native Americans were doing their best to sustain the captives.
The twenty removes of Rowlandson’s narrative have some inconsistencies concerning the author’s perception of Native Americans. She begins the narratives with a strong position that Native Americans are savages destined for hell. However, small events mentioned during her period in captivity demonstrate she may have noticed that savagery was merely a tag attached to Native Americans, for example, the burial of her daughter, receiving the Bible, and the effect of hunger. The inconsistencies in Rowlandson’s narrative pose a more significant question regarding the ideal interpretation of the multidimensionality of first-person accounts.
Bennett, Bridget. “The Crisis of Restoration: Mary Rowlandson’s Lost Home.” Early American Literature, vol. 49, no. 2, 2014, pp. 327–356. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/90000858.
Crawford, Suzanne, and Denis Kelley. American Indian Religious Traditions: An Encyclopaedia. Vol. 1, ABC-CLIO, 2005.
Donaldson, Laura. “God, Gold, and Gender.” Postcolonialism, Feminism, and Religious Discourse, edited by Laura Donaldson and Kwok Pui-Lan, Routledge, 2015, pp. 5-14.
Galisteo, Carmen. ““For the Benefit of the Afflicted?”: American Captivity Narratives From Mary Rowlandson To Jessica Lynch.” AFIAL BABEL: Aspects of English and German Philology, vol. 20, 2011, pp. 41-56, pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fbe0/d9d1d8178c548578b5bb8ba8f8c8bcfc0657.pdf?_ga=2.23021883.1882759966.1569021181-692945458.1568096889
Rowlandson, Mary. Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. 1682, pages.shanti.virginia.edu/Marking_Up_Johnson/narrative-of-the-captivity-and-restoration-of-mrs-mary-rowlandson/?upm_export=pdf
Tomiak, Matthew. “The Eradication of American Proto-feminism: The Re-Conceptualizing of Gender in the Indian Captivity Narrative.” 49th Parallel, vol. 23, 2009, pp. 1-14, citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.485.5541&rep=rep1&type=pdf
"Her Broken Wings: Edna Pontellier"
By Evan Talley
Best 2000 Level Paper, Fall 2019
In Kate Chopin’s immortal words, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth” (626). The character of Edna Pontellier is one of curiosity and entrapment concerning her motives throughout her story. Women are told, in this time, to be nothing more than an accessory to a powerful man and hold the values of a "taken women." The weight of being a perfect mother and submissive wife is not for every woman, and Edna begins to feel the pressure taking her under. Edna is looked at like a bird in a cage. She is confined by the expectations of society and her relationship to the men in her life, but she is soon set free by her inevitable demise. Zoila Clark’s article “The Bird that Came out of the Cage: A Foucauldian Feminist Approach to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening” clearly outlines Edna Pontellier and her character arc by comparing her to a trapped bird. Edna’s journey to break her chains and resolve her sanity become the starting point of her flight to freedom.
Inside of Edna's metaphoric cage, she is constrained by the confines of her marriage. The introduction of Edna's marriage to Mr. Pontellier is ironically compared to the first sight of birds in the following first few pages. According to Clark, the novel opens with a parrot and mockingbird who are separated and do not communicate. This image of isolation and lack of communication alludes to Edna's marriage to a rich man. This marriage bears only fruit of suspicion and distrust. For example, readers can equate the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier as being like the relationship between a parent and a child. In the beginning, Mr. Pontellier scolds Edna for not wearing sunscreen on the beach. When Edna is upset with her husband, she pouts on the porch and ignores Mr. Pontellier entirely. In this instance, Edna feels trapped and wishes to break out by rattling not only her cage but also Mr. Pontellier's emotions. Like the caged parrot, Edna is unable to communicate effectively with her husband and more so other women in Creole society (Clark 337). Edna's isolation to her community is partly due to her disagreement of Creole values, like holding gatherings in one's home. She understands the role that she must play but seeks to make her path amidst the whisperings of those who are happy in their caged state. Edna's only outlet is that of her painting and her dreams of fleeing from her oppression. She will either escape her confinement or die bonded to a man and his culture.
While looking for ways to break the lock on her womanly duties, Edna begins a dangerous game. When Mr. Pontellier is away, Edna finds herself mixed with different types of men, resembling her "bird form" picking at the locks on the cage. Robert Lebrun, who accompanies a woman almost every summer, begins a flirtatious relationship with Edna. When Robert accompanies Edna on walks, to dinners, and in the end, wishes Edna was his, Edna starts to see a life that could have been. A life free of children, housewarmings, and wifely duties are pleasing to Edna who has lived her life for others' happiness. In Clark's interpretation, Edna's romantic affair empowers her so much, that when her husband is away, she moves into a pigeon house. Edna needed to remove herself from her pigeonhole home to assess what life she wants. Edna flies even further away because she is not only leaving her husband. Her children are unaware of their mother's wish to escape motherhood. Edna leaves the children behind because she does not worship them or wish to idolize her husband any further (Clark 338). Edna begins her self-realization because she does not want to be tied to another man. Her fantasy involves being free from any ties to her Creole imprisonment. She realizes that Robert may trap her, like her husband, and decides to go another route. Even when Robert realizes this fact and leaves her, Edna feels the loss of two loves and wishes to escape her self-inflicted sorrow.
The idea of being dubbed as a woman trying to free her captivity is highlighted by Mr. Pontellier’s meeting with Doctor Mandelet. Mr. Pontellier wishes to understand the recent changes in Edna. The doctor responds, "Woman, my dear friend, is a very peculiar and delicate organism—a sensitive and highly organized woman, such as I know Mrs. Pontellier to be is especially peculiar" (Chopin 613). The doctor is suggesting that Mr. Pontellier seeks treatment for his wife’s afflictions but to do so in a delicate manner. Edna hints of the patriarchy seeking to diagnose her insane or unequipped and removes herself from the situation. This conversation between husband and doctor becomes another reason as to why she leaves her home for the pigeon house. Clark adds onto this notion by stating that Edna is "relentlessly under surveillance by the inhabitants of her own house and even herself because she always feels aware of her role as a housewife in her home" (343-344). The discussion of Edna being a bird in a cage can also loosely translate to her role as a lady. Taking care of her children and her husband, tending to the upkeep of her domesticity, and entertaining various guests in her home all reveal just how this type of life is maddening for one who never gets to leave. Through the bars of the metaphoric cage, Edna sees others being free and owning their own lives. Unbound by society’s customs, these other people, or in this case, birds, fly toward their definition of happiness. Those who tend to live outside of their means often get more out of life and seek their destination.
The bird reference comes to fruition when Edna meets with Mademoiselle Reisz. After discussing Edna’s predicament with Robert, Reisz tells her something regarding her fight to be free. Edna tells Arobin, a minor character, that “when I left her today, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong” (Chopin 626). Reisz goes on to say that birds soar over the skies of tradition and seek to escape them. However, some are not so lucky and plunge back to earth with a broken wing. This analogy is compared to Edna and her resolve to change her circumstance. It seems that Mademoiselle Reisz can understand Edna and wishes to warn her that not all dreams are realized. Of course, Edna does not understand this warning and seeks to ignore it, furthering her descent from breaking her bondage. It is interesting that in this composition, many wish to warn Edna, but Edna seems to disregard their worries about her actions. Being involved with Robert, slowly breaking away from her friend Madame Ratignolle, and confusing Reisz’s warning with criticism are all examples of how Edna's self-determination is getting in the way of thinking rationally. Clark states the goal of being free leaves its simplistic beginning and becomes a complex state of paranoia (345). Assuming everyone has an ulterior motive distracts Edna from reaching her ultimate desire and leads to that fateful day by the sea.
Edna’s final moments are shown in her demise leading up to and including the sea. At the end of the novel, Edna leaves a party and begins to walk towards the sea. When she starts walking away from the shore, all earthly ties have been cut, and her individualism is shown to the reader. The temptation of the ocean is the final type of escape to a different life Edna wishes to have. In Clark’s article, she comments on the day of Edna's death detailing that Edna's wings are broken. Clark compares Edna to Icarus but, of course, Edna can "use her strong, yet-flawed, wings to remove herself from the world that cannot comprehend her. Chopin seems to be replacing the fall of a young man with the rise of a woman by appropriating this myth of flying away" (345). Clark furthers her argument by stating that Edna will hold no compromise and wishes to not be like the mockingbird from the beginning of the novel. Edna does not want to fly from flower to flower being labeled as submissive to a man's affections. She also does not want to enter another captive state with Robert, like that with Mr. Pontellier (Clark 345). At this point, Edna enters the sea and begins to drift further and further out towards the open water. Clark gives her opinion of this act by commenting on the position of Edna removing her clothes as an act to free the chains that bind her (346). Chopin’s writing illuminates this exchange between the sea and Edna’s final motivation by writing, “The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude . . . a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (651). The reader can finally draw the comparison between Edna and the falling bird leading up to the end of this major character.
When Edna is too deep to turn back, she begins to look back on her life. Seeing the broken bird, Edna remembers the interaction between herself and Mademoiselle Reisz. Clark states that Edna is escaping the control of Mr. Pontellier, the lives of her children, the Creole people and their culture, and Kate Chopin herself (345). It seems that Edna is finally able to live outside of her bondage and seek resolution in her actions. It is unclear whether or not this final plunge into the deep was Edna's last resort or if it was the consequence from seeking to damage her reputation and leaving her children behind. The reader’s final thought stems back to the bird and its connotation of a failed dream. The failure highlighted in the closing passages is the ill-conceived plan of Edna leaving her life behind and abandoning her sense of self.
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is a novel that seeks to redefine the nature of a woman and reassess what her true motivations are. In Clark's final notes, she draws her conclusions of how Chopin was able to show the relationship of womankind and how it drove the narrative of Edna's revelations. For Clark, Edna's camaraderie with the other women in the society could have been stronger if they were able to have a productive dialogue with one another. Being in separate cages, with different ideologies, the act of conversation was ill-fated and not realized. Clark hoped that the women would have done more to help each other rather than pass quick judgment and soon see Edna’s response to such scorn. If readers are to understand the reasoning’s behind why Edna took her life and why the bird played its part in this act, it is crucial to note that birds typically do not fly alone (Clark 346). The way to break out from an internal confine is by using the same means of how the cage was created. Clark wants the reader to note that the solution to escaping the cage is to understand it. Clark explains her solution by saying that "in the same way that we police ourselves and others to conform to patriarchal stereotypes, we should stand by each other to compliment our feminist actions, be supportive, and help others remove their different barriers once we have raised our consciousness and awakened others" (346). This quote is a rallying cry for readers to support the character of Edna and realize that her escape from what confines her is a reality that most others face. When Edna's body is given to the sea, her self-realization is known to be a woman who wished to retreat from her caged life. Edna's goal was realized, but not in the way she had planned. Death was her dénouement and her eternal flight to freedom.
Chopin, Kate. “The Awakening.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature 1865-1914 Volume C, edited by Nina Baym, Norton, 2012, pp. 561-652. Print.
Clark, Zoila. “The Bird That Came Out of the Cage: A Foucauldian Feminist Approach to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” Journal for Cultural Research, vol. 12, no. 4, Oct. 2008, pp. 335–347. MLA International Bibliography, dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2009380035&site=eds-live&scope=site.
The Influences of Troilus and Criseyde
By Jacob Neal
As the father of English literature and one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Chaucer is known for his vivid imagination and the richness of his language. With his passion for language and his great understanding of human culture, Geoffrey Chaucer was able to develop engaging and entertaining stories that continue to be praised by modern readers, writers, and scholars. As he frequently chose to discuss ideas of chivalry, love, lust, and corruption, Chaucer was quickly established as one of the most significant and relatable writers of the Middle Ages. In works such as The Canterbury Tales, The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, and Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer introduced elaborate and ingenious themes that were often influenced by both medieval society and the preeminent literature before and during his lifetime. Like prominent writers Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio, Chaucer used his love of storytelling and his dedication to literature to create stories that could confidently stand the test of time. Similar to other early writers, Chaucer was known to draw inspiration from historical events, acclaimed literature, and his personal feelings and beliefs. In his epic poem Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer expertly conceives a tragic love story within the Trojan War (Sprouse 124). While developing a familiar yet refreshing story of classic love and tragedy, Chaucer explores fortune, free will, and various types of love. As he reimagines an ancient story with many historical and cultural influences, Chaucer creates a layered story of historical excellence. To better understand the influences of Geoffrey Chaucer’s works, one must examine the literary, historical, social, and religious influences of Troilus and Criseyde.
As Geoffrey Chaucer composes a classic courtly romance, he allows modern readers to explore his many literary and scholarly influences. In Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, he introduces a medieval reimagining of Giovanni Boccaccio’s early fourteenth-century Italian poem Il Filostrato. As seen in classic stories like Virgil’s Aeneid, Euripides’s Medea, and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, it was common for ancient writers to refashion and improve the myths, legends, and popular stories of the ancient world (Mann 30). In medieval fashion, Chaucer skillfully revitalizes and modernizes Il Filostrato into a poem with historical, cultural, and even theological themes and ideas. Like Boccaccio’s poem, Geoffrey Chaucer explores the city of Troy during political turmoil, examines ideas of love and war, and includes mythological references. In the poem, Geoffrey Chaucer provides his readers with both a history of literature and a timeline of historical events. As many modern readers and scholars alike consider Troilus and Criseyde the greatest work of Chaucer, it is often recognized for its more modern values and its significance to literature.
Compared to Giovanni Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato and its literary precursor Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s twelfth-century epic poem Le Roman de Troie, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde reintroduces the literary tradition of epic poems while enhancing and enriching the original story for a medieval audience. Within Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer expounds on the Ancient Greek characters of hero Troilus and unfaithful lover Criseyde during the Trojan War. In the poem, Chaucer presents a modern story with a traditional and elegant delivery. As he uses the “aristocratic” rhyme royal form, Chaucer creates a poignantly tragic yet romantic tale that consists of five books (Sauer 203). Throughout the poem, Chaucer not only recreates a celebrated story, but he employs the sophisticated strategies of the revered writers of his time. As he clearly commends the writings of both Benoît de Sainte-Maure and Giovanni Boccaccio with his own version of Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer also pays homage to ancient Italian writers and humanists like Francesco Petrarch. In Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer applies his cultured beliefs to a traditional and potentially harmful story of ancient values. Considering that Chaucer was a courtier to King Edward III, it is often speculated that he could have met Boccaccio or Petrarch on his various trips to Italy (Pugh 4). By frequenting Italy and experiencing the society that produced both Boccaccio and Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer established himself as an enlightened writer and scholar. With his newfound admiration for the literature and culture of medieval Italy, Chaucer began to experiment with language and rhythm, develop relatable and crowd-pleasing stories, and even demonstrate Italian values. By embracing an enlightened attitude and exploring the aestheticism of Italian humanists, Geoffrey Chaucer was able to create and share worldly stories with England in everyday medieval speech and inspire future writers and readers. Because of Chaucer’s enduring interpretation of the romantic tragedy within the Siege of Troy, the central storyline of Troilus and Criseyde continues to be found in works like William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, a reader can find a familiarly brilliant story of historical and cultural significance.
While reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, a reader can determine that historical events and politics heavily influenced Chaucer. As he recreates a popular story with medieval influences, Chaucer allows both his personal experiences and his interest in history to create a current rendition of Troilus and Criseyde. Similar to other artists and writers of the Middle Ages, Chaucer’s literary contributions discuss general themes and ideas that relate to the Black Plague. Like famous medieval writers John Gower and William Langland who chose to write about the destruction and decay of England and English society during and after the Plague, Chaucer uses ideas of sickness and pain to intimately describe love and betrayal. Even though Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde were written about the same tragic love story, the two stories “emerge from very different worlds” (Gilles 2). As a survivor of the Black Plague and having experienced the devastation of England, Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde intimately explores tragedy from a more modern perspective. With the prominence of death and illness in Chaucer’s version of Boccaccio’s tale, readers often assume that he was deeply affected by the plague. Specifically, Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde comments on the tragic and diseased nature of love. In book four, Criseyde exclaims: “Who-so me seeth, he seeth sorwe al at ones,/ Peyne, torment, pleynte, wo, distresse./ Out of my woful body harm ther noon is,/ As anguish, languor, cruel bitterness,/ A-noy, smert, drede, fury, and eek siknesse” (ll. 841-845). In this quote, Chaucer portrays lovesickness and betrayal as a familiar pandemic disease. As she describes the pain and suffering in the world, the character of Criseyde begins to represent all of mankind. Even though Troilus and Criseyde does not necessarily detail the effects of the Black Plague, it explores the depth of Chaucer’s emotions and reflects similar themes found in Black Plague-related literature. With his profound understanding of loss and suffering, Chaucer recreates a story with a similar tone. Ultimately, Chaucer provides his audience with a fictional story with a historically familiar setting of death and destruction.
In his collected works, Geoffrey Chaucer’s usage of language and his personal experiences allow him to relate with his audience and to record mythological and historical events. With his personal and historical influences in Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer was inspired to create a masterpiece of literary and linguistic significance. As Chaucer’s writings allow modern readers to better understand medieval culture and history, they also prove to be a linguistic relic of the history of the English language. Historically, Chaucer’s writings are often treasured because of their impact on the English language. Considering that he wrote in the Middle English vernacular during a time where French and Latin were dominant in England, Chaucer has been recognized for popularizing the English language. Like the acclaimed literary approaches of Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer chose to write vernacular poetry to create unique works of self-expression and individuality. Because he was able to preserve the common speech of England and culturally identify with the people, Chaucer helped establish the endurance of Modern English. Within works like Troilus and Criseyde, the English language began to expand and thrive (Crystal 3). In his revolutionary poem, Geoffrey Chaucer used his passion for storytelling and history to not only provide representation for the common people of England but to emphasize the importance of historical events.
As a writer that chose to create stories for “the tastes of his public,” Geoffrey Chaucer was also heavily influenced by his social and societal surroundings (Ward 2). Like other medieval writers and artists, Chaucer wrote to impress the noble class and to establish himself as a revered writer of the Middle Ages. In his reimaging of Boccaccio’s classic poem, he provides his audience with a story that was acceptable to the medieval audience. With an emphasis on the nobility and the power of war, Troilus and Criseyde critiques and questions the role of hierarchy and political power in society. As an active member of society and a controversial writer, Chaucer chose to create a historical story with modern medieval values. Considering that the nobility significantly influenced medieval society, Chaucer discloses his personal and political views. With Geoffrey Chaucer’s portrayal of society, he allows modern readers to explore the pressing issues of an ancient society.
Within the tradition of courtly love, Troilus and Criseyde also features the role of gender hierarchy and female oppression. Similar to revealing the corruption and societal issues of medieval England, Chaucer provides an introduction to gender roles in society. As he updates the destructive story of a blameless fallen hero and his unfaithful mistress, Chaucer expands Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato and allows readers to observe the story of Troilus and Criseyde from a more contemporary perspective. In the poems of Benoît de Sainte-Maure and Giovanni Boccaccio, they criticize Criseyde and attempt to demonstrate the faithless and unreliable nature of women. Even though Le Roman de Troie and Il Filostrato focus on Criseyde’s role in Troilus’s death, Chaucer chose to modify the story to create a less misogynistic tale. With this sudden deviation from the original story, Chaucer proves to be a progressive writer. As he exonerates Criseyde and releases her from centuries of scrutiny and oppression, Geoffrey Chaucer rewrites the story to be less cynical. While acknowledging that Criseyde is a “victim of political and familial manipulations,” Chaucer describes the social issues that eventually lead to the Fall of Troy (Backman 405). By ignoring the antifeminism of the original stories, Chaucer clearly disagrees with the general accusations towards women. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, he presents a classic story with an enlightened and innovative attitude of ancient gender roles and stereotypes.
Even though Geoffrey Chaucer’s female characters derive from the traditional and chivalric roles of medieval society, he attempts to create characters that expose destructive stereotypes and provide a profound example of female suffering. In Chaucer’s epic poem, he openly critiques the aristocracy and recognizes the political affiliations between gender and war. As Criseyde is used as a political pawn during the Siege of Troy, Chaucer focuses on the roles of gender in society. In Troilus and Criseyde, Criseyde is abandoned by her family, separated from her lover, and forced to live in Greek camps. While revealing the treatment of women in society, Chaucer almost forces his audience to reevaluate both the hierarchal order of society and patriarchy. With his understanding of how the character of Criseyde has been historically construed as powerless and unfaithful, Chaucer apologizes to his female audience. In book five, he writes: “Bisechinge every lady bright of hewe,/ And every gentil woman, what she be,/ That al be that Criseyde was untrewe,/ That for that gilt she be not wroth with me. Ye may hire gilt in othere bokes see;/ And gladlier I wole wryten, if yow leste,/ Penolopees trouthe and good alceste” (ll. 1772-1778). In this quote, Chaucer openly acknowledges the social issues within Le Roman de Troie and Il Filostrato. Unlike Benoît de Sainte-Maure and Giovanni Boccaccio’s interpretation of Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer explores the emotions of Criseyde and establishes her as a fickle and vulnerable character that is led astray by nobleman Pandarus. As he emphasizes the eloquent and deceitful nature of Pandarus, Chaucer ultimately chronicles the victimization of Criseyde.
While many ancient and modern adaptations of the tragic story of Troilus and Criseyde openly condemn women, Chaucer is known for creating a more modern world-view of women and femininity. As Chaucer’s rendition is often considered less misogynistic and more hopeful than Boccaccio’s version, Troilus and Criseyde demonstrates Geoffrey Chaucer’s thoughtful and progressive nature. In Chaucer’s poem, he contemplates on the earlier interpretations of Criseyde and encourages readers to challenge societal barriers. Compared to the writings of Henryson and Shakespeare, Chaucer is gentle and almost compassionate with Criseyde. While in both The Testament of Cresseid and Troilus and Cressida, the character of Criseyde or Cressida is blackened with her faithlessness. With his philosophical and almost theological perspective, Geoffrey Chaucer allows his audience to examine both ancient and medieval society.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, he not only introduces worldly views of astronomy and philosophy but creates a story with pagan and Christian influences. With both biblical and philosophical influences, Chaucer creates a cultured poem of personal contemplation and complexity. Throughout the poem, Chaucer introduces the story through a Christian perspective. Within a pre-Christian world of pagan influences, Troilus and Criseyde explores the society of Troy and its various astrological, mythological, and philosophical influences. As Chaucer comments on the different types of love and the concept of morality, he allows modern readers to learn more about the religious beliefs of the Middle Ages. Contextually, religion plays a significant role in the language of the poem. In the poem, there is at least “fifty instances” of the expression for the love of God and for Goddes love (Arner 439). With these reoccurring phrases, Chaucer invokes God’s mercy or the idea of divine love. Because the phrases are repeated several times, it almost forces the audience to acknowledge a religious element of the poem. As the God of love initiates Troilus’s undying love for Criseyde, Troilus transforms into a faithful lover. In book one, Troilus exclaims: “Yow thanke I, lord, that han me brought to this;/ But whether goddesse or woman, y-wis,/ She be, I not, which that ye do me serve;/ But as hir man I wole ay live and sterve” (ll. 424-427). In this scene, love is introduced as a declaration of religious power. As Troilus and Criseyde observes the intense power of love and eventually betrayal, the poem fuses the classical ideas of morality and spirituality to intimately show audiences how severely heartbroken Troilus is. Throughout Chaucer’s epic poem, he incorporates philosophical and theological concepts to create a profound story of historical and cultural importance.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth-century poem Troilus and Criseyde, he uses his passion for historical events and pressing issues to recreate one of the most popular stories of the Middle Ages. As he revitalizes and modernizes the classic Trojan tale, Chaucer incorporates his favorite literary traditions with his personal beliefs to create a story with medieval values. With his sophisticated literary strategies and his inspiration from prominent ancient writers, Chaucer develops a fresh perspective of the tragic love story within the Siege of Troy. Because influence can overwhelmingly impact literature, Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde is often subject to intensive criticisms and source studies. As readers begin to acknowledge the literary, historical, social, and religious influences of Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem is not only recognized for its artistry but also its remnants of historical and cultural significance.
Arner, Timothy D. “‘For Goddes Love’: Rhetorical Expression in ‘Troilus and Criseyde.’” Chaucer Review, vol. 46, no. 4, Apr. 2012, pp. 439–460. EBSCOhost, dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=74454266&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Backman, Clifford R. The Worlds of Medieval Europe. Oxford University Press, 2003. EBSCOhost, dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=129682&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. Edited by Taylor Anderson, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform , 2018.
Crystal, David. The Stories of English. Overlook Press, 2005.
Gilles, Sealy. (2003). Love and Disease in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 25. 157-196. 10.1353/sac.2003.0015.
Mann, Jill. Feminizing Chaucer. Vol. New ed, Boydell & Brewer, 2002. EBSCOhost, dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=101097&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Pugh, Tison. An Introduction to Geoffrey Chaucer. University Press of Florida, 2013. EBSCOhost,dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=588252&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Sauer, Michelle M., and Harold Bloom. Bloom’s How to Write About Geoffrey Chaucer. Facts on File, Inc, 2010. EBSCOhost, dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=307761&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Sprouse, James R. “South Atlantic Review.” South Atlantic Review, vol. 59, no. 4, 1994, pp. 124–126. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3201367.
Ward, Adolphus William. Chaucer. Andrews UK, 2012. EBSCOhost, dsc.idm.oclc.org/login ?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=994776&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Social and Moral Pressure: Why We Feel The Need To Show Kindness
By Andrew Augustyn
This study was designed to identify whether or not the cause of acts of kindness could be attributed to pressure placed upon the individual to act. The study utilizes surveys administered to students at Dalton State College (DSC), an experiment designed to isolate subjects in situations of varying levels of pressure, the reviews of several pieces of literature that discuss this topic, and an interview on how moral pressure and kindness relate to one another. Unfortunately, after compiling the data, it appears the relationship between societal and moral pressures and the likelihood of acts of kindness occurring in individuals is inconclusive. While the literature and experiment seem to support a link, the surveys and interviews are in great opposition. Further study will be required to answer this question; however, this paper will hopefully grant insight into anyone wishing to further explore the topic.
Keywords: Prosocial behavior, Kindness, Pressure, Societal pressure, Moral pressure, Conformity
Social and Moral Pressure: Why We Feel the Need to Show Kindness
Kindness is something humans experience on a daily basis. From acts as simple as holding a door open for another person to acts as extravagant as hosting a party for hundreds of people to attend, kindness exists in all aspects of life. Yet, a puzzling question always seems to linger after experiencing one of these acts, one which most psychologists would likely consider at one point in time. Why are people kind? Do they seek personal gain, be it in the form of pleasure, satisfaction, self-esteem, or other ways? Do they do it out of a sense of social obligation because this is how they have been trained in society? Could the answer really be as simple as altruism? Is there perhaps a darker reason that they do not even realize? This study attempts to focus more specifically on a sense of societal pressure, moral obligations, conformity, or a desire to fit in with peers as one potential reason for acts of kindness, and will attempt to identify how strong of a factor this is in regards to performing good deeds.
Human behavior is fascinating, and, sometimes, it is completely puzzling. The act of performing kind deeds seems to be no exception. This study will examine several papers and logical arguments presented by esteemed intellectuals throughout history for the benefits of kindness, as well as utilize surveys which will be administered to the students of Dalton State College (DSC) for completion. These surveys will hopefully allow for some insight into what the common populace feels is the reason for kind acts. Additionally, it will survey several participants from outside DSC to attempt to gather a broader sample size. Furthermore, it will examine results gathered from a simple experiment involving likelihood of kind acts occurring. Finally, it will compare the data collected from all sources in an attempt to explain the motivation that exists behind simple acts of kindness.
A survey was created and administered to DSC students in an attempt to gain insight into what was commonly viewed as an act of kindness, and how performing an act of kindness impacts others. The survey consisted of 10 questions: two identified demographics of participants, one which asks for a definition of kindness, six which allow participants to give their opinions in various scenarios, and, finally, one question to identify individualistic or collectivist backgrounds. The questions were as follows: How old are you?; What is your gender?; Define 'kindness'; Which of the following most closely represents how you feel when someone holds a door open for you if you are not carrying anything?; What if you are carrying a heavy package?; How do you feel after holding a door open for someone who isn't carrying anything?; What if they are carrying something heavy?; Why do you think people perform small acts of kindness towards strangers?; If small acts of kindness did not occur anymore, would you care?; Were you raised in an individualistic or collectivist environment?
Twelve Dalton State students replied to the survey. Many questions asked were inconsequential to the study and were answered as expected. Specific interest was placed on questions three, six, seven, eight, and ten. These questions will be used for comparison between the responses of others in the same set of four in order to identify any deviances or uncertainties in the participants motivations for kindness.
Question one: how old are you? The majority of participants (8, 66.7%) claimed to between the ages of 18 and 24. Two (16.67%) participants claimed to be between the ages of 25 and 34. The final two (16.67%) claimed to be between 35 and 44 years of age (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Question two asked what is your gender? 10 (88.33%) are female and two (16.67%) are males (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Question three was define ‘kindness’ The third question asked to define kindness, in an attempt to search for any recurring themes in participant’s answers. This question had participants type their own responses, and the results were as follows: “something nice done or said to make the other person feel good”; “being nice to others”; “being sweet to another person; being nice”; “Showing others something that would make them happy”; “being friendly, generous and considerate of others”; “respectful to others”; “Being helpful without expectation”; “Helping someone else out”; “Performing an act for someone and not expecting anything in return.”; “being able to do something without repayment”; “Thinking of others before your self and demonstrating this mindset” (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Question four asked which of the following most closely represents how you feel when someone holds a door open for you if you are not carrying anything? Participants were given three options to answer this question: good, indifferent, and bad. All 12 (100%) of participants reported that they felt good in this scenario (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Furthermore, question five asked what if you are carrying a heavy package? – A continuation of question four. This question received 11 (91.67%) of participants claiming to have felt better in this scenario, while only 1 (8.33%) claimed to feel about the same (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Question six asked how do you feel after holding a door open for someone who isn't carrying anything? This question was designed to see how participants felt from the opposing role in the scenario. The results were the same as the previous question, with 11 (91.67%) participants claiming that it made them feel good, and 1 (8.33%) claiming it made them feel indifferent (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Question seven asked what if they are carrying something heavy? This question was a continuation of six, and was the question which carried the most weight in this study. The results were that 10 (83.33%) participants reported feeling better compared to the previous scenario, while only 2 (16.67%) reported feeling about the same (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Question eight asked why do you think people perform small acts of kindness towards strangers? This question included three pre-written responses for participants to choose from, but also allowed a fourth option to type their own answer. The results were as follows: “They feel morally obligated” (1, 8.33%); “It makes them feel good about themselves” (6, 50%); “Everyone else does it so they should do it too” (2, 16.67%) and an other category (3, 25%). Within the other category, the following responses were given: “it is the nice thing to do”; “To show compassion”; “Helping people is something nice. I never know how it can impact their day” (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
The survey contained two final questions. Question nine asked if small acts of kindness did not occur any more, would you care? Participants rated this question on a scale of five. 8 (66.67%) participants rated it as a five, most important, while 3 (25%) participants gave a rating of three. 1 (8.33%) participant rated this question as a two. No participants chose a rating of four or one (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
Finally, question ten asked were you raised in an individualistic or collectivistic environment? The responses gave a brief definition of the terminology for the participants. They were told to choose either “Independence and self-reliance are most important” (7, 58.33%) or “Teamwork and cooperation are the most important” (5, 41.67%) (Kindness Survey, personal communication, October 20th, 2019).
A brief experiment was also conducted using the students of DSC in an attempt to gather further data to understand the phenomenon of kindness. One initial hypothesis for the prevalence of kind acts is that the desire to perform such acts arises from a sense of societal pressure and/or obligation. In short, this hypothesis suggests that people feel a sense of moral responsibility to act kindly towards others. Research on this subject had already been conducted before, perhaps most famously in 1968 when two men, named Darley and Latane, created a term known as the Bystander Effect. The Bystander Effect is a term used to describe the phenomenon that occurs where the more people are in an area, the less likely any one individual is to stop and help another person who is in need of assistance (Darley and Latane, 1968). Their experiment involved an actor who would pretend to be having an epileptic seizure, and varying numbers of college students. The results showed that when another person was believed to be alone, the chance that they would offer help greatly increased compared to when other people were present. This behavior was attributed to what Darley and Latane (1968) called diffusion of responsibility. The idea was that when more people were nearby, the responsibility of each individual was lessened. If there were 20 people present when a single person needed help, to use an example through mathematics, each person would likely feel about 5% responsible for assisting the individual.
However, if only one person was present, then the amount of responsibility, the amount of societal pressure or moral obligation, which that person would feel would supposedly be significantly greater. Thus, the individual would be more inclined to assist. With this background knowledge, an experiment was developed in hopes of validating this theory further. The experiment involved dropping a large number of papers in various settings and scenarios to observe how those in a nearby vicinity would respond and record how many, if any, nearby people would stop to assist in picking up the papers. If the hypothesis has validity, then it is to be assumed that only those in scenarios with few people present in the area.
The experiment relied on randomly selected students at DSC. The results relied solely on the presence of strangers in public situations, resulting in names being unable to be given for the scenarios involved. Using averages gathered from the University System of Georgia, the average age of participants was predicted to be 24 years of age, with an average gender of 62% female and 38% male (University System of Georgia, n.d.).
15 sheets of white printer paper were used. Each page contained text, Times New Roman, 12 point font, double spaced, and structured in standard APA format. Text was shown only on one side of the papers. The objective was to make it appear as an undergraduate paper.
As the goal was to observe responses in a variety of scenarios, the procedure used varies slightly between scenarios. However, several factors remain consistent among all scenarios. Firstly, the participant dropping the papers would wait to be between 5ft and 7ft of the subject being observed. This was both to make certain that the subject would notice the action, as well as feel increased pressure to assist. In the case of multiple subjects, the participant was instructed to drop the papers near where the greatest concentration of subjects would be located. Both the duration of time before another person would assist and the number of people who assisted were recorded.
Seven trials of the experiment were conducted on the DSC campus. The results seem to align with one another. Three trials were conducted in a scenario in which there was only one other person in the area. After the participant dropped the papers, only one of the observed subjects were noted to immediately assist, approaching swiftly and grabbing the papers furthest from the participant (6/15 pages). The remaining two subjects shared a similar quality of hesitation, each observing their surroundings, noted by looking behind themselves first, before offering aid. One such subject gather 4/15 pages while the other gathered 7/15 pages. Both gathered pages closest to their starting location (A. Augustyn, personal communication, October 23rd, 2019).
The next three trials were conducted in large group settings, estimated to have approximately 20 DSC students in the nearby vicinity. The trials were conducted outside on a busy sidewalk. After the participant dropped the papers, two out of three times no assistance was offered. However, it was also noted that many subjects would intentionally avoid the area in which the papers were found, giving the participant an easier time to obtain the papers. One trial, a single person was noted to stop and offer assistance, collecting the furthest away page and handing it to the participant before moving on before the participant had finished obtaining all fifteen papers (A. Augustyn, personal communication, October 23rd, 2019).
The final trial, which was actually trial five, was interrupted by the presence of an older adult, presumed to be an instructor (the information was not obtained as the experimenter did not think noteworthy at the time, as the experiment originally wanted to examine students only). This presumed instructor was noted to have gathered 9/15 pages and was also conducted in a public scenario of approximately 20 people, none of which stopped to provide additional assistance (A. Augustyn, personal communication, October 23rd, 2019).
One may be able to simply say that they themselves, or that others, perform kind acts because it is the “right thing to do.” However, this answer is far too simplistic. It would be nice if this were the case; however, human behavior is rarely, if ever, performed based on simply altruistic means. Infact, humans rarely even know why they perform the actions that they do. Psychology is a field which seeks a greater understanding of human behavior, and even in the aspect of performing kind deeds, a desire for greater understanding still exists. This study hypotheses that a large factor for performing kind actions towards others is a direct result of social or moral pressure placed upon an individual which compels them to behave kindly towards others.
Several experiments have already been created on this topic, which demonstrates that humans are not nearly as resistant to pressure as they like to believe. One example was a study conducted that is normally referred to the Asch Conformity Experiment (Asch, 1951). This experiment involved several men who were simply asked to identify which of three lines were the longest. All but one participant was being instructed to give an answer, whether that answer was correct or not, and then observe if the participant being observed would agree simply because that is what his peers said. The experiment showed a resounding success in demonstrating how social pressure can be used to make people conform and behave in ways that they would never do under normal circumstances.
While Asche’s experiment has nothing to do with showing kindness towards one another, it does go a long way in showing that humans are able to be influenced astonishingly easily through the use of conformity, that is, the desire to behave the same as those around them. A more directly related to the subject at hand experiment was designed in 2015 by Laura M. Padilla-Walker, Gustavo Carlo, and Matthew G. Nielson. Their study sought to identify the effects of kindness in teenagers and they arrived at a similar realization that Asch had.
Conformity once again plays a major role in our behavior. Although this was not the main objective of their study, they did learn that teens who behaved kindly towards their friends actually began to exhibit less prosocial behavior than those who were kind to strangers or to family (Walker, et. al., 2015). Notes are made about how teenagers will perform acts like sharing food, allowing others to copy notes and homework, or even giving car rides to their friends are not as altruistic as they seem and are in fact attribute to a motive of conformity and the desire to fit in with others (Walker, et. al., 2015).
Peer pressure may not be the only form of pressure dictating whether or not we behave kindly towards others. Another form of pressure, which is perhaps even greater, is the sense of moral obligation. Kindness becomes more and more prevalent in society the more kindness is shown and taught. Important role models in most children’s ;ives will place a high value on teaching kindness. Parents will do this frequently, but, in the early years of education, a focus on kindness is perhaps paramount in young children’s education. From as early as preschool, children have been taught the importance of kindness (Flook, Goldberg, Pinger, & Davidson (2015). Flook, et al. (2015) had created and study the effects of a 12-week program in which children were taught many basic elements of kindness and the results were overwhelmingly positive in influencing their behavior. In kindergarten, the teaching of prosocial behavior continues and it’s effectiveness at getting results continues to be shown. Ahammer and Murray (1979) conducted a study to show children prosocial TV and engaged them in prosocial roleplay. Kirmani and Frieman (1997) also saw the value of teaching kindness towards kindergarten children, and did so with folktales to achieve similar positive results.
In order to find a more personal approach to how and why kindness is taught to children, an interview was conducted with someone named Ryan Grim, who has insight into being raised in a family with high moral values. Questions were asked to determine how he felt his upbringing impacted his own views and how many of those lessons he still follows that his parents had taught him. The objective of the interview was to find further evidence that a sense of moral obligation can be a strong factor in determining whether or not humans are kind towards others. The interview was conducted via phone call and five questions were asked.
“Was there anything unique that your parents had taught you was morally correct which others seem to disagree with?” The answer was no, but he did bring up the argument about hunting. He had stated that his parents thought it was amoral, and that he himself thinks it is morally wrong to do today. He comments that this is something not everyone will agree with. When asked for an example, he replied with a story about accidentally hitting a squirrel on the road coming home from work, and then taking it to the veterinarian for medical care (Grim, R., personal communication, October 24th 2019).
“What are your thoughts on some of the more morally ubiquitous arguments out there?” In response, he asks for further details and is told that he is supposed to simply comment on something everyone agrees with. The topic which he brings up is racism. He comments that racism in modern day time is bad, and everyone agrees; however, a hundred or even fifty years ago people were taught that racism was a norm (Grim, R., personal communication, October 24th 2019).
“Do you think that if everyone were taught or encouraged to be racist again, that it could be possible to revert that facet of kindness?” This question wasn’t prepared, though it was asked due to the interest of the previous response. The response was a pretty predictable yes, stating that if it had happened before it could happen again (Grim, R., personal communication, October 24th 2019).
“Do you think people are kind because others are kind? Why or why not?” The answer was at first no, that people are kind because they do what is right (Grim, R., personal communication, October 24th 2019).
“Would you be kind to someone even if it made you an outcast?” The answer was yes, and when asked why he again responded that it would be the right thing to do and that his parents had always encouraged him to show kindness to everyone (Grim, R., personal communication, October 24th 2019).
After compiling the data gathered, it seems accurate to say that pressure does account for kind actions performed, at least to some degree. After examining the survey, with specific focus on questions six and seven, it would appear that the idea of a truly altruistic deed of kindness is something most people don’t have. The results instead indicate that they feel better about themselves based on the amount of value which they place on the act of kindness. However, it does not bode well for the hypothesis of this paper that the amount of people who felt kindness was performed out of pressure was chosen by only one student. The experimental study instead shows very different results and, unlike the survey, supports the hypothesis. After examining the data, it seems like there is a strong indicator that placing pressure on an individual to help increases the likelihood of receiving aid. Aid was given all three times when an individual was heavily subjected to social pressure, but only two out of four times was help offered when pressure was minimized. Additionally, with the exemption of the instructor, help was very minimal in places where there was little pressure being placed on others to do a kind deed. The instructor’s aid, which seems to confound the data, may be attributed to a feeling of greater responsibility due to societal status, though this conclusion is weakly supported.
The literature examined also seems to support the hypothesis that pressure can lead to acts of kindness occurring. Asch (1951) was capable of showing that conformity can highly influence human behavior. Walker, et al. (2015) shows a direct link between peer pressure and acts of kindness in a teen to teen interaction. Several others additionally stress the value and importance of teaching kindness to children at a young age (Flook, et al., 2015; Ahammer & Murray, 1979; Kirmani & Frieman, 1997). Although teaching and stress may not seem linked at first, this study is operating under the assumption that children at those ages are still learning their morals. By teaching them about acts of kindness, they are learning right from wrong, and this moral pressure leads them to behave certain ways, kindly in this scenario.
This link between early teachings of kindness impacting a person’s moral beliefs, thus creating moral pressure in proper situations, is demonstrated through the interview with Grim. Even though he did not state to me that he believes humans are kind due to non-altruistic means. Questions one and four in the interview were of great focus, as the first revealed a strong sense of moral obligation, to seek treatment for the animal whereas most people would have likely left the squirrel. However, question four once more directly goes against this study’s hypothesis. Similar to the survey responses, the interview seems to once more suggest that the common belief of kindness’ origin stems from altruism.
To conclude, the data presented in this paper seems to be highly conflicting with one another. While some arguments seem to support that pressure is a cause of kindness, it seems the general population disagrees with this statement. The conclusion seems to suggest that either a) kindness is the result of pressure placed on an individual, but only under rare circumstances; b) pressure and kindness are directly related and the general population is either not willing to admit this or is unaware of the underlying motives for their actions; or c) there is another variable which the experiments are being subjected to or that the author of this current study is unaware of. Regardless, the results of this study appear to be inconclusive and further analysis of whether or not societal and moral pressure can be attributed to causing acts of kindness in everyday situations.
Ahammer, I. M., & Murray, J. P. (1979). Kindness in the kindergarten: The relative influence of role playing and prosocial television in facilitating altruism. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 2(2), 133–157. https://doi.org/10.1177/016502547900200203
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgements. Swarthmore College. Retrieved from https://www.gwern.net/docs/psychology/1952-asch.pdf
Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(6), 893-910.
Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4), 377-383. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0025589
Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Promoting prosocial behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children through a mindfulness-based kindness curriculum. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 44–51. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038256.supp (Supplemental)
Kirmani, M. H., & Frieman, B. B. (1997). Diversity in classrooms: Teaching kindness through folktales. International Journal of Early Childhood, 29. 39. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03174485
Padilla-Walker, L. M., Carlo, G. and Nielson, M. G. (2015), Does helping keep teens protected? Longitudinal bidirectional relations between prosocial behavior and problem behavior. Child Development, 86, 1759-1772. doi:10.1111/cdev.12411. University System of Georgia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.usg.edu/institutions/profile/dalton_state_college.
"Running the Halls of School Violence: An Ecological and Social Learning Analysis"
By Christine Brown
Pipe bombs, sawed-off shotguns, handguns, and assault rifles have contributed to the lore of school violence in America. For years, families discussed the rare school shooting around the kitchen table with newspapers clenched in worried hands. Then, the nightly news brought us stories of children running and hiding from active shooters at school. Today, the headlines broadcast the storyline over the Internet for the world to read. School violence is an emotionally charged topic that transcends all ages and races. Why does someone plan a scene of destruction and death? Why do they violate society’s moral code of child protection? Researchers have looked for answers to the problem and they have shifted blame from violent video games, to the divorce rate, to abysmal schools, to a mental health crisis. The only certainty is that the American nation has a growing issue that affects everyone.
Today’s violence in schools is not new. In 1927, the news that a disgruntled school board member bombed a school rocked Michigan. Forty-five children and adults died that day (Shah, 2013). In 1979, a bored, teen girl shot at a California elementary school, killing two and wounding nine others (Shah, 2013). Ten years later, in 1989, California absorbed the shock of yet another high profile shooting spree at a school in Stockton (Shah, 2013). Unfortunately, the next decade wasn’t a peaceful time. Stories of escalating violence littered the news and little seemed to be able to stem the destruction. Paducah, Jonesboro, and Columbine became household names, synonymous with death in the schoolyard, and fear was commonplace. After Columbine, they passed many laws to protect children, including No Child Left Behind, which included a zero tolerance policy on violence (Shah, 2013). The “tipping point” (Shultz, 2013, p. 65) for the nation came in 2012 when Newtown, Connecticut became known for the slaughter of its children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and everyone took notice.
The Sandy Hook murders created a ripple effect through Newtown and all through the nation. Everyone questioned why a young man would systematically shoot to kill innocent children. He began that infamous day by murdering his sleeping mother. Then, he assembled ammunition and guns for the drive to Sandy Hook Elementary School. The school had a locked front entry, but he shot through the glass doors and began his shooting spree. The principal and the school psychologist were the first ones to confront the attack on their school and lost their lives as a result (Mahony, 2012). Lanza ultimately shot and killed 20 first-grade children, six educators and his mother before committing suicide in the school (Schoeffler, 2014). The shock was instant for the community of Newtown and all over the nation. There was a strong sentiment that school violence was only a problem for the inner-city schools, not this “quintessentially safe community” (Shultz, 2013, p. 66). School shootings may have a long history in the U.S., but the Sandy Hook massacre clarified that we are no closer to understanding why it happens.
Violence in schools is multifaceted, but two theories help explore the reasons behind the problem, the ecological theory and the social learning theory. The ecological theory contends that an individual’s behaviors are influenced by the experiences with the surrounding environment. Uri Bronfenbrenner, a well-known psychologist, theorized that people have systems that they live within and each one can influence a person’s interaction in society (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 16). According to his ecological theory, there are four systems that impact a person, the micro-system, meso-system, exo-system, and the macro-system (Sincero, 2012). At the micro-level, the people in closest proximity, including family members, friends or classmates, the roles a person has and their activities influence a person (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 22). At the meso-level, interaction with systems outside the inner circle shapes behavior. For example, teachers in Lanza’s schools and his doctors influenced Adam Lanza’s life. One level even further removed from the individual is the exo-system. Those interactions impact his or her life even though they aren’t directly involved in that setting. An exo-system example would be the instance, in 2005, when Adam Lanza’s mother declined an offer from the school to evaluate his ability to tolerate the noisy school environment (Schoeffler, 2014). Lanza was not a part of that meeting, but the decision his mother made impacted him. The macro-system is the level furthest from a person, which includes the infrastructure of a person’s culture, socioeconomic status or belief system (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 26).
The second theory presented to help dissect the problem of school violence is the social learning theory, proposed by Albert Bandura. Bandura submitted that people learn not just through conditioning or enhanced cognition, but also through “observation, imitation, and modeling” (Cherry, 2018). This theory values the interactions people have with others in their environment. His first point was that people learn through observations from a live model, the oral instructions they hear, and symbolically through characters in print, on a screen or in the media (Cherry, 2018). Bandura also believed someone could be exposed to a certain viewpoint, but his or her own mental processes affect the assimilation of the material. He observed that exposure to a new idea or behavior does not guarantee a change in the individual. Cherry (2018) states that the steps “involved in the observational learning and modeling process” include attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation of the individual.
The ecological and social learning theory can be used to examine the Sandy Hook shooting. In Nancy Schoeffler’s article (2014), she outlines the social and academic history of Adam Lanza and identifies critical gaps in his care. On a micro-system level he had difficulty with his speech and showed signs of ritualistic behaviors at age three (Schoeffler, 2014). Difficulty in communicating with peers and family causes a breakdown in normal human development. Lanza’s interactions with the school system, occupational therapists, and his pediatrician were ineffective. The professionals neglected to share important information about his needs (Schoeffler, 2014). In fifth grade, a teacher noted his violent and graphic drawings and in seventh grade his creative writing was disturbing (Schoeffler, 2014). Eisenbaum’s article “Violence in Schools: Prevalence, Prediction and Prevention” (2007) states that a “sudden change in school attendance” and “expressions of violence in drawings or writings” are warning signs of someone capable of violence (p. 462). Because they potentially delayed or withheld treatment, the meso-system did not serve his best interests. It’s all in hindsight, but what if someone had done something more than take notice? What if they had acted on the thoughts and images coming from the child’s mind?
The exo-system level failed Adam Lanza when his mother made decisions about his medical and emotional needs without his input. Lanza was a victim of bullying, socially ostracized, and ignored by a culture that values independent, sociable, and empathic people. The macro-system in America reeks of persecution for those not conforming to the norm and it’s likely that Lanza felt that subtle pressure to conform. It’s possible that the influence of our culture impacted Lanza’s actions.
The social learning theory is important in understanding the thought processes of Adam Lanza. He spent a large amount of time isolated in his room online and “communicating about mass shootings” (Schoeffler, 2014). The official report on the shooting incident reported that Adam Lanza “had a preoccupation with mass shootings”, “two videos showing suicide by gunshot”, “a computer game of a school shooting simulation” and a “five-second video (dramatization) depicting children being shot“ (Sedensky, 2013, p. 26). His immersion into the obsession with mass murders likely provoked behavior change in Lanza. It’s possible that Lanza received a high or exhilaration from the movies and games. If Lanza believed he excelled at the video games, then the social learning theory says that he likely would have “act[ed] on the basis of these self-judgments” (Hutchison, 2017, p. 94). He studied the portrayals of murder and suicide and then acted out what he learned.
Most school shooters have evidence of deviant human behavior, including antisocial behavior, violent drawings or writings, lack of empathy for others, excessive anger or illegal substance use (Eisenbraun, 2007, p. 462). In many of the cases of school shootings, the perpetrator had anomalies that explain how they could inflict the harm they did. It may have been a biological deficiency causing a mental health crisis, a social problem like bullying or a multitude of factors that affected normal human development. A study by the Journal of Adolescent Health (2004) found a correlation between a person’s religious affiliations, grade point average and their family relationships and a person’s probability to exhibit violent behavior (Resnick, 2004, p. 424e8). When a person disconnects either physically or emotionally from other people, it causes a breakdown in the shaping of the psyche and creates a void where learning would have taken place. Humans are social creatures and there is great value in the importance of those relationships. One consistency in school shooters is a lack of empathy for other people. The shooters are killing from a place of detachment from reality and a “drive for aggression” (Hutchison, 2017, p.43).
If school shootings are the manifestation of an illness, then there needs to be an identification of the root of the problem. Teachers could informally screen children for bullying, isolation from a peer group, or schoolwork that reveals a deep-seated obsession with violence. It is important to let parents know they can talk to school counselors about problems at home. Social workers could enhance the school to home connection and clarify that help is available as needed. The key to violence reduction is early identification of maladaptive behaviors and purposeful ways to mold the brain towards healing. The human brain is highly adaptive and its neuroplasticity should prompt those working with at-risk children to act as quickly as possible. Social workers could use the research that gives a glimpse into correlations of violent behaviors in children and connect with the families of at-risk children. Using a child’s grade point average and school attendance would also identify a child at risk. Counseling, tutoring, and connections made with family members at home are all productive ways to help a child at risk of violent behaviors.
School violence is a reality for children growing up today. It is an act of violence that affects everyone in a community, and it is vital to identify early signs of deviance. School shootings may not be on the news every day, but when they happen, they are catastrophic in terms of loss of life and loss of innocence. Children need to feel safe in their learning environments to thrive and the threat and reality of violence impacts that learning. Ultimately, every act of school violence is a sign that someone needs help. Planning and carrying out a mass murder against innocent children is not a normal developmental milestone. Research on normal human development compared to deviant behaviors is important. The focus should be on a proactive stance to prevent future shootings and on methods for helping children feel safe when they go to school.
Borowsky, I., Ireland, M., Resnick, M. (2004). Youth violence perpetuation: What protects? What predicts? Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(5), 424.e1-424.e10. doi: 10.1016/jadohealth.2004.01.011
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979) The ecology of human development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Cherry, K. (2018, August 31). How social learning theory works. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/social-learning-theory-2795074
Eisenbraun, K. (2006). Violence in schools: prevalence, prediction, and prevention. Science Direct, 12, 459-469. Doi: 10.1016/j/avb.2006.09.008
Hutchison, E. D., (2017). Essentials of human behavior: Integrating person, environment , and the life course. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Mahony, E. (2012, December 16). The most detailed account yet of the Sandy Hook massacre. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-29-year-old-kaitlin-roig-saved-more-than-a-dozen-young-lives-at-sandy-hook-2012-12
Muschert, G. W., Henry, S., & Bracy, N. L. (2013). Responding to school violence : Confronting the Columbine effect. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Schoeffler, N. (2014, November 21). Serious lapses, fatal mistakes: A timeline. Retrieved from http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-timeline-newtown-adam-lanza-child-advocate-report-2-20141121-story.html#
School-associated violent death study. (2014, January 27). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/schoolviolence/SAVD.html
Sedensky, S. (2013). Report of the state’s attorney for the judicial district of danbury on the shootings at sandy hook elementary school and 36 Yogananda Street,
Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/csao/lib/csao/Sandy_Hook_Final_Report.pdf
Shah, N. (2013, January 10). The painful journey toward schoolhouse security and safety. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2013/school-safety-timeline.html
Shultz, J. M., Muschert, G. W., Dingwall, A., & Cohen, A. M. (2013). The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as tipping point: “This time is different.” Disaster Health, 1(2), 65–73. http://doi.org/10.4161/dish.27113
Sincero, S. M. (2012, March 14). Ecological systems theory. Retrieved from https://explorable.com/ecological-systems-theory
Applying Theory to The Social Injustices of Climate Change
As the world turns their attention towards many different injustices people face in the modern era, movements striving to fight discrimination, inequality, and wrongdoing have come to life. One such movement, named Climate Justice, is centered around fighting the injustice that has become coupled with global warming and climate change. The movement does not consider global warming to be simply an environmental or physical issue; it is bringing to light the ethical and political issues that have been intertwined with global warming and climate change.
The scientific community has a wide consensus that humans have a clear impact on the climate system, and the increased industrialization of the world has led the fight (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). The “greenhouse effect” is “warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from the earth toward space” (National Association of Space and Aeronautics, 2018). In the atmosphere, there are certain gasses that block heat from escaping, effectively creating a “greenhouse” that grows warmer and warmer as more of these gasses are added. These gasses include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). While carbon dioxide “is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions,” the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by “more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began” (NASA, 2018). This is seen as one of the most important facets of climate change. Along with the Industrial Revolution, the agricultural industry has grown significantly to compensate for the growth of the human population. The result of this agricultural growth is the release of more methane into the atmosphere. “While on a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide,” comparatively, there is a lot less of it in the atmosphere (NASA, 2018). With the growth of agriculture and its subsequent methane emissions, comes an increase in nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, another “powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation” (NASA, 2018). Lastly, chlorofluorocarbons, which have become increasingly regulated due to their destruction of the ozone layer, are synthetic compounds “entirely of industrial origin” (NASA, 2018).
The increased warming of the atmosphere, because of these greenhouse gases, has brought forth environmental impacts scientists have long warned about. The continual warming of the atmosphere, when held for an extended period, causes climate patterns and weather patterns to significantly change. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their “Climate Change Synthesis Report.” This report, in great detail, not only documents the causes, but also the effects climate change will have on the Earth. The report states that “it is very likely heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions” (IPCC, 2014). Along with these weather shifts, the ocean will continue to warm; melting of the polar ice caps will continue to raise the mean sea level, and continued acidification of the oceans will wreak havoc on aquatic systems (IPCC, 2014). Extreme weather events, such as forest fires, tornados, and hurricanes, will become more frequent and more powerful than ever before (IPCC, 2014).
Not only will climate change intensify existing risks, but new risks will be created on natural and human systems as well. However, these risks are “unevenly distributed” and “generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development” (IPCC, 2014). This means that not only will disadvantaged people and communities of lesser developed, semi-periphery nations be affected more heavily, but disadvantaged people and communities in industrialized nations, such as the United States, will be adversely more affected by climate change as well. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has released “The Tipple Injustice of Climate Change,” which lists just three injustices of climate change.
First, the effects of climate change are “hitting the poorest first and worst” (UNESCO, 2018). Because of worsening floods, droughts, heat-waves, hurricanes, and other “extreme weather events,” many people have already died; this death-toll is “predicted to rise to millions in just a few decades” (UNESCO, 2018). Of these climate change casualties, most of them are poorer and at more risk to be majorly affected in the long term. When an extreme weather event is predicted, many poorer individuals and communities may not have the necessary resources to evacuate before the event, rendering them more vulnerable to the immediate effects. Also, if they are able to evacuate, and a weather event destroys their home and community, there isn’t the money to rebuild their lives, sending said families further into poverty. Second, those who are most affected by climate change “did not cause it and are powerless to stop it” (UNESCO, 2018). Climate change, in most part, has been created by industrialized nations burning fossil fuels and releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Smaller, poorer countries all around the world, especially island nations, will battle higher sea levels, more powerful hurricanes, and other extreme weather events as the result of contributing almost nothing to climate change. Lastly, the countries polluting the most, and the industries polluting the most aren’t paying (UNESCO, 2018). People of color and people with low income, “far more often than other segments of the population, live and work in areas where environmental risks are high” (Vanderheiden, 2008, p. 37). These communities are often located close to “hazardous waste sites, incinerators, and industrial production facilities” (p. 37). This all culminates in reduction of clean, breathable air, drinking water, and a host of other environmental factors that do not have large effects on other, more privileged communities. This is why climate justice has made its way into the spotlight in more recent years to try and bring forth justice and awareness to the many injustices related to climate change.
Climate injustice can better be understood by applying theological perspectives to the problem. Applying theories to social problems, large and small, helps people understand how said problem became. It also helps bring forth potential solutions to social problems. Two social theories that can be used to deeper understand the injustices of climate change are conflict theory and rational choice theory.
Contemporary conflict theory, which can be traced back to Karl Marx and Richard Weber, focuses on the causes and structures of inequality. Who has the power? Who doesn’t have power? While Marx’s original theory revolved around economic inequality, Weber’s advancements included social and political structures, as well as economic power structures. Conflict theory can be understood separated into two categories: the capitalists (bourgeoisie) and the workers (proletariat). The capitalists pay workers as little as they possibly can, all while experiencing all of the profit and benefits for themselves. The system can create a false consciousness where “the workers think they have been paid for a fair day’s work, and the capitalists think workers are being fairly compensated” (Hutchison, 2017, p. 35). Furthering this information, power structures expand into political and social aspects of everyday life as well. Those with economic, political, and social power make important decisions that the bottom 99% of people have to live with. Just one example of how these power structures are working in everyday life in relation to climate change lay within Koch Industries. White House economic policy correspondent, Ylan Mui, published an article in January of 2018 about the political contributions and donations of Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, one of the largest fossil fuel burning companies in the United States. Mui (2018) describes that the Koch Brothers had “pledged to spend close to $400 million on campaign contributions and policy initiatives” in the build-up to the November midterm elections. Those with economic power have the money and will to fund politicians who will vote in favor of their industrial needs. These politicians vote for policies that allow the continued burning of fossil fuels and minimize the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. What this effectively does is creating a vast void of economic inequality that sees more people than ever living in poverty with zero way out. That economic inequality, paired with policy decisions that do not attempt to fight against climate change, but instead ignore climate change, leaves more and more communities and whole populations at risk to the effects of climate change.
The second social theory that can be used to better understand climate change and the injustices that come with it is rational choice theory. Much like social exchange theory, rational choice theory holds the view that “humans are rational (weighing rewards and costs), purposive, and motivated by self-interest” (Hutchison, 2017, p. 38). This means that humans want to maximize benefits all while limiting costs, make these decisions with purpose, and act on what is best for themselves. But, unlike the other, rational choice theory is particularly motivated by the change, or stagnation, or group dynamics when “rational actors” make strategic decisions (Hutchison, 2017, p. 39). Coleman’s theory can be useful in the exploration of public policy that would incentivize benefiting the greater population, and not just one’s self. Using this theory to better understand the actions and decisions made by those in power can also lead us to a fuller picture of why climate injustice is an issue that, like many other social issues, hasn’t been solved. Companies and industries who actively add more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere are indeed following rational choice theory. The owners and CEO’s of these companies are weighing their rewards and costs, aiming to maximize their own benefits while minimizing their costs. To maximize their own benefits, they are going to do whatever necessary to ensure policies do not limit their business by implementing stricter regulations on their carbon emissions. This also directly fits into their purpose of maximizing profits in self-interest. Rational choice theory also takes a look at the system dynamics of the actors and their decisions, which can be observed at the national level. Forming productive and consistent environmental policies that better everyone involved has multiple levels of costs and benefits that go beyond that of personal decisions (Grundig, 2009). State governments and national governments alike are affected by “a variation of net benefits” being awarded to specific parties, as well as “special interest groups” that display financial and political power over constituents (Grundig, 2009). What this leads to are more levels of rational choices that can have both positive and negative effects on the environment, depending on the policy at hand.
One criticism of rational choice theory by modern exchange theorists is the idea that if all behavior is defined through an analysis of what is best for the individual, then why do people make decisions that may not be the best for them (Brown, 2015). One example of this is can be a person’s choice of food. At any given moment, one might choose to eat ‘fast food’ instead of a healthier option. Critics would view this as someone actively making a decision to eat food that doesn’t maximize profit for the body, and instead produces cost on the physical body, but there are many different factors involved in decision making. Using this same example, if healthy food is A, time is B, and taste is C, there is constant rational process of ranking these variables. If a person doesn’t have much time (B) to prepare or eat said food (A), then B > A. If one values taste (C) over healthier food options (A), then C > A. If one doesn’t have time (B) to prepare food (A), and also likes taste (C) of fast food more than healthy food (D), then the decision process can be understood as a final ranking of B > C > A. This same rational, when placed in the hands of those CEO’s and owners that engage in practice that scientists agree are harming the Earth, can be seen as: profit (A), prestige gain (B), and effect on the natural world (C). Because climate change doesn’t affect everyone the same, and those hit first, and hardest are overwhelmingly poor and people of color, then the effect on the natural world (C) doesn’t have much effect on the rationalization ranking process because these changes do not affect them yet. Making political and social decisions that harm the planet make their businesses, industries, and selves more profit (A), which in turn gives these same people more prestige (B) in the social world. The rational decision process can be seen as: A > B > C.
When viewing climate injustice through the lens of social theories, the best in human behavior isn’t always on display. Human behavior is persuaded by power structures throughout most facets of life. Prominent figures make decisions based on financial and economic gain, political gain, and social gain, not always considering the needs of others. But, as stated earlier, the benefit of viewing social problems through theoretical perspectives is that it gives one a place to start to decrease said problem. Much like other social problems a social worker may encounter, the solution to climate injustices cannot be successful with a single intervention. Because climate injustice is centered around those with little to no amounts of economic, social, or political power, joining movements that recognize who the victims are and fight for answers is crucial. One major role of social work is played out in the political spectrum; advocating for those in need and lobbying for more helpful, inclusive policies are important. Occupy Wall Street, one movement in particular aimed at fighting economic injustices and a growing split between the top 1% and the bottom 99%, helped mold the understanding at what a social movement can do. The Occupy Wall Street Movement “[named] the source of the crisis,” “provided a vision for the world [they] want,” “set a new standard for debate,” and most importantly “[offered] everyone a chance to create change” (Adams et al., 2018). Just like Occupy Wall Street, which aimed at fighting economic injustice, climate justice names the direct sources of this crisis; those sources are economic injustice and industries that are polluting the Earth. Advocating for and joining a movement that provides a new, better version of the world goes a long way. The most important lesson of Occupy Wall Street was that it gave everyone a platform to fight for social change (Adams et al., 2018). Climate justice offers the same, an opportunity for everyone to engage in social change and force the injustices of climate change into the light. At the end of the day, climate change may not affect everyone the same, but eventually the dangers and effects will grow to involve everyone.
Using the rational choice theory to understand decisions as profit (A) > prestige (B) > harm to the natural world (C), again, allows one to find a starting point to solve the problem. One solution is to encourage scientific innovation that allow industries to work in more environmentally friendly ways. This new variable of environmentally conscious practices (X) can be “both mindful of the environment, and profitable” (Chhabra, 2016). Encouraging owners to implement environmentally friendly practices doesn’t have to cut profits. This greener industry has seen enormous profitability on many different levels, all while producing clean energy and sustainable business models (Chhabra, 2016). Adding in the new variable X, environmentally friendly practice, could change these constant rankings. If the fear of losing profit (A) and loosing prestige (B) can be taken away by implementing environmentally friendly practices (X), then the equation could begin to look more like X > A > B > C, or even A > B > X > C. As long as environmentally friendly practices can be sold to owners, and thus placed above harm to the natural world, then change could happen.
Understanding how state and national governments interact with “various net benefits” and “special interest groups” can help people understand different government entities and how these costs and benefits effect their “desire to combat world climate change” (Grundig, 2009). These differences can make it difficult, but possible, to reach and create environmental policy that has a positive effect on the Earth.
As a future social worker, what drew me towards this problem is a constant drive for social justice, matched with love for the natural world. There is no longer just the environmental effect of climate change. Climate change has evolved into an injustice for those who have been marginalized, oppressed, and disenfranchised. There is now and always will be an ethical obligation for social workers, current and future, to stand up against injustice of all kinds. “Service,” “social justice,” “and dignity and worth of the individual” are our values (National Association of Social Workers, 2018). Future generations should be able to enjoy the natural world as generations before have thus far. The natural world is one of our greatest resources as social workers. It is therapeutic, it is free, and it is unbiased.
In conclusion, climate justice is a new form of social justice that is directed to fight the injustices of climate change. The social injustices of climate change can be observed through the lens of two social theories, conflict theory and rational choice theory, that help gain a better understanding of why such problems exist. Examining climate injustice through social theories also allows for one to take the origin of the problem and form solutions.
Adams, M., et al. (2018). Readings for diversity and social justice. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
Brown, S. (2015). Rational choice – exchange theory [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/society-and-culture/social-structures/v/rational-choice-exchange
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