Context is all about the background of a text or the circumstances under which a text was written. In this summary, you will learn about different types of context and how they can affect the way a text is both written and read.
The context of a text refers to the circumstances under which it was written and is set. It's important to be aware of the context of fiction in order to fully understand the theme or message that the author is trying to put across. There are several different types of context which can have an effect on a text.
The historical context of a text concerns the situations and events happening at the time when the story was written and set. Authors are often inspired by specific events or periods in history and incorporate them into their stories. To fully understand a text you need to be aware of its historical context and know when and where it is set, but also when and where it was written, as they aren't always the same.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
This novella was written in 1937 and is about two migrant workers surviving during the Great Depression in the USA. This historical context is significant because migrant workers were very typical in this period. Therefore, being aware of the context allows the reader to understand why the characters are living the way they are in addition to why certain language and archetypes are used.
The social context of a text is closely related to historical context. Social context is all about how people lived, and what they believed, at the time when a text was written or is set. Knowing what was happening in the society, what expectations there were, and what was understood, when a text was written or set is key to understanding the author's intentions. Social context is particularly important when dissecting themes such as race and religion.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This novel was published in 1925 and set just a couple of years earlier on Long Island, just outside of New York. The story depicts what it was like to live in that specific place during the period of time dubbed the 'roaring twenties' due to the culture of jazz music, parties and economic prosperity. To fully understand this story, you need to be aware of what the society was like at the time, and in the place that this novel was set.
Political context is also closely related to both the historical and social context of a text as it also depends on when and where the text was written and set. Authors often choose to reflect governments, political parties or ideologies in their fictional work as a way of critiquing them or commenting on their efficacy.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
This novella was published in England in 1945 but it tells a story which is a reflection of the political situation in Russia following the revolution in 1917. George Orwell was an open critic of Stalin who was the leader of the Soviet Union when he was writing. Without knowing this background, and being aware of the political ideologies that Orwell is satirising, the novella doesn't make much sense.
Tip: The historical, social and political contexts of a text are often closely related as they all depend on when and where a text was written and set.
Writers are often inspired and influenced by other authors and their works. Many texts therefore make references to other prominent works and authors. A general knowledge of classic stories, and an understanding of the wider literary context surrounding a text at the time it was written or set, allows these references to be fully understood.
Ulysses by James Joyce
This long, modernist novel was first published as a whole in 1922. The novel directly parallels Homer's epic poem 'The Odyssey' most notably in its structure, themes and the characters. To fully understand Joyce's novel, it's important to first be familiar with the story of 'The Odyssey' and its significance as a piece of literature.
When reading a text, you also have to bear in mind the personal context of both the author and yourself. Your own life experiences, perspective and the society you live in means you bring your own unique reading to every text. Similarly, writers have their own backgrounds and experiences which affect how and what they write.
Question: What is historical context?
Answer: The historical context of a text concerns the situations and events happening at the time when the story was written and set. Authors are often inspired by specific events or periods in history and incorporate them into their stories.
Question: Why does context matter?
Answer: It's important to be aware of the context of fiction in order to fully understand the theme or message that the author is trying to put across. There are several different types of context which can have an effect on a text.
Question: What is context?
Answer: The context of a text refers to the circumstances under which it was written and is set.