For years, children have grown up in a world where the media tells people that they are not perfect, simply because of skin colour, gender or waist size. They are taught what is considered right and wrong by the general population, and try to uphold these standards. Most people are too intimidated by the consequences to stray from society’s expectations, and therefore compress themselves and others to fit into the mold. In a flawed society, this has extremely damaging effect on individuals. One example of this impact is that these societal pressures impede an individual’s rational and independent thought process. Another effect of the pressure to conform is that the fundamental morals of a civilization are warped. Finally, the pressure to abide by society’s expectations sparks violence and rebellion within a society. These three fundamental truths are shown in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech I Have A Dream, and the movie The Help written and directed by Tate Taylor. Ultimately, it is shown that societal expectations have a damaging effect on individuals.
One way that society’s expectations damage individuals is through the hindering of rational thought. Prolonged exposure to a society’s negative standards stunts rational, independent thought. Mark Twain exemplifies this truth with the character Huckleberry, or ‘Huck’, in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the novel, Huck runs away from his home in the South with a black slave named Jim in a time before slavery was abolished in America. Together, they travel along the Mississippi river on a raft as two outcasts. Mark Twain uses the perspective of Huck throughout the novel, in order to showcase how impressionable children are, and how skewed expectation can start to warp morals from a young age. After protecting Jim from capture, Huck recalls “I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong…Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on; s'pose you'd a done right and give Jim up, would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I'd feel bad – I'd feel just the same way I do now” (Twain, 91). Huck believes he has done the wrong thing in protecting Jim, because his society has raised him to believe this. The passage shows us how moral Huck really is, despite his poisonous upbringing. Twain uses this as a symbol that racism can end in a community, if people start thinking for themselves. This can also be seen in William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. The novel begins in the middle of a war. A plane carrying schoolboys from Britain gets shot down over a tropical island, and the boys are forced to learn to survive in the absence of society. After a short time, a leader, Ralph is established, and a boy named Jack is named leader of the hunters. The boys create a somewhat functional society, however, Jack slowly begins to succumb to insanity. As leader of the hunters, Jack’s skewed leadership and expectations begin to infect the other boys on the island and they slowly lose sight of what is right and wrong. It is only when confronted with normal society, in the form of their rescuers, that they realize what savages they’ve become. Ralph, in particular, feels responsible for their drop from sanity, and when rescued he “…wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy” (Golding, 202). Ralph felt guilty, as he was their leader, and they still went savage. He though he could uphold rationality, but the prolonged exposure to the insanity that consumed the boys let morals fall away. In addition to impeding rational thought, negative societal standards have other ramifications. Negative expectations, put in place by society, spark violence and rebellion. This can be seen in Pap’s character in The...
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