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The Societal Constraints And The Development Of Individuals In Burial Rites And Year Of Wonders

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Introduction

Both texts explore the causal effects and relationship between individuals’ agency and their respective societal constraints by focusing on the oppressive social norms and the character development of individuals produced from the vicissitudes that emerge from their condemning, judgmental societies. In order to challenge the ubiquitous social structures, both Kent and Brooks invite readers to consider how the oppressive experiences that individuals’ undergo force themselves to consider their own choices in order to subvert traditional values.

Individuals gaining strength through the means of enforced power stemming from traditional, patriarchal stability and security influences one’s choices to either conform to their societal norms or resist being manipulated by an intolerant community.

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Burial Rites

Kent explores how patriarchal values diminish the worth of women’s experiences, identity and autonomy, and how resisting these gender roles causes women to be condemned by society. Through the characterisation of Sigga being “too young and sweet to die”, Kent is able to portray a misogynistic society that favours those who fit an ideal female character – a woman that complies with the intentions of men. She presents connotations of fragility and subservience that implies that those who challenge authority and society’s expectations will be criticised, but those who are “dumb and pretty and young” are supported and will gain public sympathy. The protagonist, Agnes, is mistreated purely because of her own intellect and her curiosity of life outside of the strict boundaries of society. When Agnes mimics the patronising and derogatory judges’ tone when she states “a thinking woman can’t be trusted”, she conveys her own self-awareness to the humiliation and ostracisation she is subject to by society. Her cynical tone critiques her condemning society and expresses her own experience of public denunciation by those who wish to diminish the value of women’s identity and autonomy. This willingness to vocalise her denunciations portrays how the judgmental and oppressive nature of her society has increased her resilient character and taught her to value her own intellect and independence. In this way, Kent criticises the brutal patriarchal society of Iceland where women are valued differently based on how well they conform to these gendered expectations.

Year of Wonders

Similar to Kent’s commentary on the effect of patriarchal values, in Year of Wonders, Brooks explores how oppressive social structures based on puritanical and religious ideals can detrimentally affect an individual’s connection to society. The repetition in Anna Frith’s statement “Dark and light, dark and light…that was how I had been taught to view the world”, places emphasis on the dichotomous view of the world she had been influenced to believe. By depicting a society that only values right and wrong, Brooks investigates the belief of absolute morality and how this view devalues those who are struggling with their personal view on ethics. The diction of Anna when referring to Anys Gowdie stating “her fornication and her blasphemy branded her a sinner in the reckoning of our religions” connotes ideas of condemnation and degradation. Brooks suggests that the inherent systematic prejudices and ignorance of the justice system continually fails to exercise true justice for its participants, thereby condemning the confidence of individuals in the moral quality and authority of the power structures in society. The assertive tone of Kate when she states “because that which I do believe has failed me” conveys how individuals begin to seek alternative ideologies as the solutions to their problems within society and their losses as a result of the flaws of their own society are revealed. Thus, Brooks explores the fundamentally divulsive effect of societal structures, as individuals no longer adhere to a uniform of values. Instead, Brooks challenges the narrow-minded obsession with purity and opens the protagonists up to a larger world that enlightens them to unconventional beliefs and traditions within faith.

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