When I started to read the classics, paying attention to my reactions and thinking about what I would write about each piece of reading, my biases started to come more into focus. I speak of my biases not in a bad way, as in bigotry and unfair stereotypes (although I’m sure I’m not completely free of those) but in a general way, denoting the culture I grew up in, and the beliefs I embraced or abandoned as an adult. We all see the world through different lenses, whether we want to or not. It’s who we are, where we came from.
I first noticed a lot of feminine anger at male-oriented literature, which got me thinking about my own world view and how it affects my perception of the classics.
So, here are some examples of what I call my biases:
· Being a female – probably the first influence in life, how girls are treated differently (not necessarily worse, just differently) than boys, family and cultural expectations, physical and other limitations, hormones, etc. Being a wife, a mother, a woman in the workforce, an old lady.
· Growing up in the United States in the mid-twentieth century – the time and place where I happen to have been, and am, by chance or some grander design. The automatic assumption of freedom of thought, and living in a democracy.
· Being white – although to be more accurate, beige with age spots. It’s hard to explain how the few students (who would now be called “people of color”) in our small town school didn’t seem but passingly different to me. I didn’t think much about it, but maybe I was just blind, and definitely sheltered. There was one Native American set of siblings, one Chinese girl, one boy and one girl who had darker skin, but I’m still not sure of their families’ ethnicity, one adopted Korean girl, one tall boy with a Japanese-sounding last name. They must have all been “assimilated”, mixed, or second or third generation, because there was no difference of language or accent, or what their daddies did for a living. But, there were no African-American or Latino children in our schools.
· Being Christian – first raised in a strict Catholic family, a minority in our mostly Protestant small town. As an adult, not Catholic but searching, later a Protestant of various stripes. Now, non-denominational, still Christian but much more relaxed about it.
· Being working-class, not so poor as to go hungry but not having many extras. By the time I was born (7th and last child) in the early ‘50’s our family, and country, was doing better financially. But my parents suffered through the Great Depression, and their experience profoundly colored my attitude toward money.
There are many other biases through which I see the world and its literature. I’m sure I’ll discover more as I continue on this journey. It seems the earlier the influence in my life, the stronger the bias. My later experiences, while they definitely tweak my perception of life, don’t seem to be etched so deeply, and seem more likely to change over time.
For me, there is no moral right or wrong to most of these world views. But when I find myself having a behavior that I don’t like, or want to change (for example, being cynical) it helps to be able to see where it came from. Who knew that discovering the classics would mean self-discovery, too? Maybe that’s the true value of education.