Questions tagged [cultural-context]

Questions about the relation between works of literature and a specific cultural context. Cultural context does not necessarily refer to the context in which the work originated; it can also refer to the reception in a different cultural context.

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Why was it necessary to put out Patroclos' pyre with wine in the Iliad?

In Book XXIII of the Iliad, after Patroclos' body has been burnt, Achillês tells the Greeks to put out the pyre with wine: Now the people were all gathering round Agamemnon. They made such noise and ...
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Why does the fool recite this depressing verse at the wedding in "Satan in Goray"?

In the beginning of the second half of Satan in Goray, at the wedding of Reb Itche Mates and Rechele, the following scene appears: Before covering the bride's head he recited an interminable prayer. ...
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6 votes
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Why does the band follow Rechele to the bathhouse before her wedding?

In the beginning of the second part of Satan in Goray, Rechele is followed to the mikveh (bathhouse) by a band when she visits for the first time before her wedding: Chinkele the Pious daily for ...
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2 votes
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What is the "South Wind of lie"?

One of the poems in John P. Portelli's poetry collection "In Between: Malta and Canada" (freely available online from the author's website, page 91) is the short poem "The Past and the ...
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13 votes
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What is "the line children draw to represent a bird in flight"?

The expression on her face, then, had been the one he'd seen, hours later, on her sleeping face in a port side coffin, her upper lip like the line children draw to represent a bird in flight. I'm ...
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Does "sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt" imply social class?

Quote from "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle": His rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in front, with the collar turned up, and his lank wrists protruded from his sleeves ...
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2 votes
1 answer
96 views

"Even though he was a Sikh, he had no liking for sports."

In the short story "Sorrow's Reward" by Premchand (originally published in Urdu as "Sila-e Maatam"), the protagonist abandons all thought of his promised wife Kumudini and mourns ...
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7 votes
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"Anne of Avonlea": why was painting the building blue considered inappropriate?

Reading Anne of Avonlea, I see the main characters encounter a problem when by accident the hall that they cared about so much was painted blue instead of green: "Haven't you heard?" said ...
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Why does the Talkative Man's master say that one ought not to play the raga 'punnaga varali' at night?

In the short story The Snake-Song (a part of the collection titled Malgudi Days), the Talkative Man describes an event in his youth that led to him having to abandon his music: the Talkative Man had ...
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What are the "torch dance" and "garter dance", in 19th-century Germany?

From Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest, which I'm reading online, during the wedding of Effi and Innstetten in Chapter V: The dancing had continued till three o'clock, with the effect that Briest, who ...
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How did the Cutty Wren come to be the national anthem of Tristan da Cunha?

"The Cutty Wren", a traditional English folk song, is the "territorial song" (like national anthem for a British Overseas Territory?) of Tristan da Cunha, one of the remotest ...
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3 votes
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How does ancient Greek polytheism fit with Christianity in The Lusiads?

The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas), considered the national epic of Portugal, was written by Luís Vaz de Camões during the 16th century, a period in which the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were menacing ...
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2 votes
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What is the cultural history of family “kissing” in Victorian/Edwardian novels?

I read a lot of Victorian/Edwardian fictional novels, mostly books that were geared towards female readers. Often enough, family members are described as kissing each other. Sometimes a kiss on the ...
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What is meant by "Nysa" in the Lusiads?

The following verse appears in Book 1 of The Lusiads (William Mickle's translation, 1877 edition; emphasis mine): So spoke high Jove: the gods in silence heard, Then rising, each by turns his ...
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10 votes
3 answers
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What is the "Isle of the Blessed" and why should a girl see it before marriage?

In Chapter 3 of Theodor Fontane's novel Effi Briest, which I've recently started reading online, Effi and her mother are spending some days in Berlin before her marriage, accompanied by her cousin ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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What is "the seventh sphere"?

In the second part (Helen Zimmern's translation) of the Shahnameh, the youngest son Irij is killed by his brothers, who send his head back to their father Feridoun: Now when they were come to the ...
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2 votes
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Julia Wong Kcomt, "The Red Rooster"

The Chinese-Peruvian poet Julia Wong Kcomt wrote two poems for Words Without Borders about her experiences as a product of two different cultures. I'm particularly interested in the first of them, ...
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8 votes
1 answer
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What is being satirized in Witold Gombrowicz's Trans-Atlantyk?

Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz is a satire of Polish identity. However, it is difficult to know what exactly is being satirized if you're not Polish, and not intimately acquainted with Polish ...
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What is the significance of 36 in the Vietnamese poem "Learning Late Letters"?

"Learning Late Letters", a poem originally written in Vietnamese by Nguyễn Hoàng Quyên, was one of the winners of the 2020 Words Without Borders Academy of Americans Poets Poems in ...
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6 votes
2 answers
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Why is the Star of the County Down referred to as Colleen?

While listening to the Irish Rovers version of the traditional Irish song "Star of the County Down", I noticed an apparent discrepancy in her name: Near Banbridge town, in the County Down ...
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3 votes
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In the song "Whiskey in the Jar", would Captain Farrell have been British or Irish?

In the song "Whiskey in the Jar", would Captain Farrell have been British or Irish? What was the historical setting and context of the song's tale?
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What religion is suggested by the "God" in the Korean sun/moon origin story?

In the Korean folk story 해와 달이 된 오누이, translated here as "The Origin of the Sun and the Moon" from Pyun Yung-tai, Tales from Korea (Seoul, 1948), two children are pursued by a tiger and end ...
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35 votes
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Why do many Korean folk tales start with "back when tigers smoked"?

I've read in a few sources that the Korean equivalent of the "once upon a time ..." which often begins English folk stories is something like "back when tigers smoked ..." or "...
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2 votes
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Did Maupassant adapt the style and content of his stories to the newspapers that published them?

Guy de Maupassant published his short stories and novellas in newspapers and periodicals such as Le Figaro, Gil Blas, Le Gaulois and L'Écho de Paris before they were published in book form. Le Figaro ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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What is the relevance of these Igbo proverbs to the situation of widows and their children?

I've started reading the Igbo short novel Night has Fallen in the Afternoon (freely available online both in the original Igbo language and in English translation). As the translator notes, "[t]...
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22 votes
1 answer
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How did Shakespeare get away with staging witchcraft in his plays such as Othello, Macbeth, or The Tempest?

The themes of witchcraft and magic loom large over Shakespeare’s later plays. While there is no overt use of magic and spells in Othello, per se, as compared to the witches in Macbeth conjuring on ...
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6 votes
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Is Daisy's Gorilla game based on a real game?

In Part Two of R. K. Narayan's novel The Painter of Signs, Raman and Daisy visit a remote village, after which they return to Malgudi. Due to unforeseen circumstances, they need to spend a night on ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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Was the Ayah paid partly in clothes, and was this standard practice?

In R. K. Narayan's short story "A Willing Slave" (which I read as part of his 1982 collection Malgudi Days), the old lady known simply as "the Ayah" takes care of many responsibilities, but her main ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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What does Daisy's proverb about being married to the devil mean?

In the second part of R. K. Narayan's novel The Painter of Signs, Raman and Daisy are on their way back from a remote village. They have spent a night on the road, Raman sleeping under a bullock cart ...
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10 votes
2 answers
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Is Narayan really quoting a traditional proverb, and from which Indian language/culture?

In the story "Fellow-Feeling" from R. K. Narayan's short story collection Malgudi Days (which I've been reading online), a proverb is mentioned in passing: Rajam Iyer leaned back in his seat, ...
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5 votes
1 answer
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Is there any general significance to 20 May in Hinduism, or was it just personally auspicious?

In R. K. Narayan's short story "The Missing Mail", from the 1943 collection Malgudi Days, which I've been reading online, the resident Ramanujam is desperately trying to arrange a marriage for his ...
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4 votes
2 answers
324 views

Does 'In a Grove' assume that dead people don't lie?

'In a Grove' is one of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's best-known short stories, partly due to Kurosawa's film Rashomon. In this short story, we get several accounts of the death of samurai Kanazawa no Takehiro....
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0 votes
1 answer
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How can "Death be not proud" be related to the areas of exploration?

Here is the summary of the poem "Death Be Not Proud" by Jon Donne (Source - https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44107/holy-sonnets-death-be-not-proud)- “Death Be Not Proud” presents an argument ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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In A Tale of a Tub, in what sense does Martin stand between Peter and Jack?

Wikipedia has the following to say about Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub (formatting added): A Tale of a Tub is divided between various forms of digression and sections of a "tale". The "...
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4 votes
1 answer
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Is there some cultural significance in the "chhanna" or metal bowl?

The Punjabi poem "Chhanna, the Metal Bowl" is about a "flat-bottom metal bowl" which is apparently some kind of family heirloom, "filled with memories". What's so special about a metal bowl? Is it ...
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11 votes
3 answers
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How do people "kiss their teeth" in Nalo Hopkinson's novels?

At the start of the novel Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson, one of the characters, Makeda, is looking for a new place to live. A certain Milo rents out "units" in what he calls "warehouse living" and ...
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1 vote
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Relevance of the cloud chariot story to the rest of Midnight Robber?

Nalo Hopkinson's novel Midnight Robber contains a story entitled "How Tan-Tan Learn to Thief". It is one of the many elements from Caribbean culture that Hopkinson draws on in the novel. The story is ...
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2 votes
0 answers
206 views

Origin of Dry Bone in Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber

Nalo Hopkinson's novel Midnight Robber contains a story entitled "Tan-Tan and Dry Bone". It is one of the many elements from Caribbean culture that Hopkinson draws on in the novel. Hopkinson's novel ...
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15 votes
4 answers
547 views

Is it a common motif in (western) storytelling that the antagonists are located to the east?

I'm not sure if this is the correct place for this question. I was reading some Lord of the Rings-lore the other day and it got me thinking about the location of "evil" in storytelling. In ...
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6 votes
1 answer
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What is a "fetish man" in African tribal culture?

I'm translating Robert E. Howard's short story "The Hyena". It was published in 1927. There is a character called Senecoza and Howard (and the protagonist) always refer to him as "the fetish man". And ...
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5 votes
1 answer
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Was C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures" about Britain specifically or western culture in general?

I was reading the Wikipedia page on C.P. Snow's article/lecture/book The Two Cultures, about the divide between science and the humanities in academia. The Wikipedia page seems to have a contradiction,...
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4 votes
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Before reading "A Grain of Wheat," what historical facts and cultural context are useful to know?

I'm looking to read A Grain of Wheat, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. However, I'm very unfamiliar with the history and culture of Kenya, to the point where I know practically nothing about it. But I do know ...
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