Love and Sacrifice in Literature

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The concepts of love and sacrifice are closely related and feature consistently throughout literature. To study the relationship between these ideas in more depth I have selected a range of texts over an extensive time period, these include Romeo and Juliet by Sir William Shakespeare, Titanic by James Cameron, Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. The different eras that these texts explore will be instrumental in establishing the type of connection the two concepts hold in literature. The type of love and sacrifice varies however the underlying message is the same right through the texts, that humans in the right context will make sacrifices for love. How this is portrayed in the texts also differs yet many techniques such as the relatable characters and symbolism appears in all.

The context in which sacrifice for love transpires

As shown in Titanic the context that a relationship is formed has a great impact on the relationship itself and when the conditions are not favourable the results can be tragic. James Cameron presents the idea of an unlikely love of two born from opposing ends of the patriarchal spectrum. They are thrown together on board The Titanic, the ship acting as a microcosm of the societal hierarchy existing in Britain at the time. This ship defines the classes using the third class and first areas of the ship to highlight the divide. Furthermore the other people in the character’s lives can have a great influence over their relationship. An abusive fiancée and selfish mother bind Rose, making a union with Jack all the more impossible. Obviously disapproving of Jack her fiancée questions her, “Where are you going? To him? To be a whore to a gutter rat?” This is a moment in which we see her sacrificing her previous life for her new found love as Rose replies, “I'd rather be his whore than your wife.” A similar forbidden love by family is evident in Romeo and Juliet with the lovers being born of rival blood. Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo a Montague, the two houses sworn enemy’s. To be together they must “Deny thy father and refuse thy name.” In such a male dominating era they have no option but to elope, as her father would never give his blessing to a Montague.

It can be noted in Titanic that the role of women as powerless has some effect over the success of Rose and Jack’s relationship. Living in a chauvinistic era, Rose is dependent upon her future husband to provide for her, she has little power over her life. This is a notion she deems, “so unfair” to which her domineering socialite mother replies, “Of course it's unfair. We're women.” This makes Rose and Jack’s love near impossible as to be together they must defy society. The issue of class and a female’s role is also apparent in the text Saint Joan with Joan of Arc’s relationship with god forbidden by the church as she attempts to do best by him. A woman of the land in the 1400’s, Joan’s position in society was nadir and to dress as a solider to best serve her love (god) caused uproar in the church with it being demanded she takes off her “impudent attire” and told to “dress as becomes your sex”. Also born of lower status Joan was overstepping her birthright, she was attending counsel with those much above her and treating them as equals. The influential males of the time were afraid of her becoming too powerful and developing too strong a voice, therefore they seeked to destroy her relationship with her god to ultimately break her. In both the Titanic and Saint Joan the class system and oppression of women hinders their relationship.

It is these conflicts within the character’s worlds that make their relationships problematic. It is unlikely any of these relationships could survive when it is the love against society. The prejudice against the love forces the character’s in the text to make difficult sacrifices, just as Ishmael does in Snow Falling on Cedars. His relationship with Hatsue is doomed...
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