Historical Context

Historical context can impact literature in a number of ways. The author’s writing can be impacted by the historical period during which it was written, or the historical setting of the story. Don’t hesitate to also check our 236 free and powerful practice tests

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The next lesson: Identifying a Logical Conclusion, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.

For instance, when Charles Dickens was writing, he was writing during a period where authors were paid by the word, which meant that his novels were very, very long. And that was the result of the time period during which his work was written. He was writing long novels because he knew he would get paid more for every word that he wrote.

Dialect is something else you can pay attention to. The dialect could be what the author is used to using in his everyday life, or the dialect could be more related to the historical setting of the story.

So, dialect is something you want to pay attention to, and ask yourself, “Is this the dialect used during the setting, or is this more of just the author using his own personal dialect that he’s used to?”

Another thing to pay attention to with historical setting is major events that are going on. You want to be familiar with the time period during which the story is set, so you can have a better understanding of it.

So, one example is the Civil War. During the Civil War, slavery was the normal thing in the south. And when the Civil War was over, lots of slaves or people that used to be slaves, wanted to tell their story. And so, what came about were slave narratives, and these painted a picture of what slave life was actually like during that time. It was an actual account from that time period, and it kind of also told the relationship between slaves and slaveholders.

So, that source of writing is very valuable, and it’s become one of the most important literary genres for African-American writers. Today, people may still write from that perspective in that time period, but the actual slave narratives that gave firsthand accounts were very important.

Another thing to pay attention to with Civil War writing, slave narratives, anything from that time period are the themes. A lot of times, you’ll see themes of power, race, and equality, because when slavery ended, it was because people were saying, “Your skin color doesn’t make you more or less of a person, or a better or worse person. Everyone’s equal.” And while equal rights didn’t come about until later, it started that theme of equality around Civil War time.

Another major event that’s common is World War II. There are countless novels based around World War II events. Whether it’s based in Nazi Germany, whether it’s based in America, as people are dealing with what was going on here, but one of the biggest things that you’ll see is the topic of genocide. Destroying a whole race.

So, your Jewish/Nazi relations, you’re going to see a lot of. Anne Frank, very popular book, one that most people are going to know about was based on this. And if you know the World War II era, then you know what to expect when you’re reading. You know that the Nazis are trying to take over most of Europe. You know that the Jews are being persecuted, and you’ve already got that bit of background knowledge before you even read the rest of the book.

And, with World War II novels, you’re, again, going to see themes of race, power, and democracy, because in the end, people were going to say that having a government where some totalitarian dictator took over everything wasn’t the best way to be, and you’re going to see people highlighting the pros of democracy.

So, whenever you’re reading, really pay attention to the historical context of the story, because the historical period during which it was written is always going to have an impact, and the historical setting is going to be very important for you to understand, so that you can understand why the author gave the characters certain motivations, and why the author carried out the plot as they did.

Practice tests help you remember. Take this mini-test to solidify your memory.

Mini-test: Historical Context 

1. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing to the Northland. [Jack London]

Use the context clues to determine when this story is happening.
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2. The door opened, and some men-at-arms appeared. The leader said: ‘The stake is ready. Come!’

The stake! The strength went out of me, and I almost fell down. It is hard to get one’s breath at such a time, such lumps come into one’s throat, and such gaspings; but as soon as I could speak, I said:

‘But this is a mistake—the execution is to-morrow.’
‘Order changed; been set forward a day. Haste thee!’ [Mark Twain]

Use the context clues to determine when this story takes place.
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B.  
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The next lesson: Identifying a Logical Conclusion, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.

historical-context




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