Historical Context Definition
Historical context can impact literature in a number of ways. The author’s writing can be impacted by the historical period during which it was written or the historical setting of the story. For instance, when Charles Dickens was writing, he was writing during a period where authors were paid by the word, which meant that his novels were very very long. That was the result of the time period during which his work was written.
He was writing long novels, because he knew he would get paid more for every word that he wrote. Dialect is something else you can pay attention to. The dialect could be what the author is used to using in his everyday life, or the dialect could be more related to the historical setting of the story. A dialect is something you want to pay attention to and ask yourself, “Is this the dialect used during the setting, or is this more of just the author using his own personal dialect that he is used to?”
Another thing to pay attention to with historical setting is major events that are going on. You want to be familiar with the time period during which a story is set, so you can have a better understanding of it. One example is the Civil War. During the Civil War, slavery was the normal thing in the South. Whenever the Civil War was over, lots of slaves, or people that used to be slaves, wanted to tell their story. What came about were slave narratives.
These painted a picture of what slave life was actually like during that time. It was an actual account from that time period. It also told the relationship between slaves and slaveholders. That source of writing is very valuable, and it’s become one of the most important literary genres for African-American writers today. People may still write from that perspective in that time period, but the actual slave narratives that gave firsthand accounts were very important.
Another thing to pay attention to with Civil War writing, slave narratives, and anything from that time period are the themes. A lot of times you’ll see themes of power, race, and inequality, because when slavery ended it was because people were saying, “Your skin color doesn’t make you more or less of a person, or a better or worse person. Everyone’s equal.” While equal rights didn’t come about until later, it started that theme of equality around Civil War time.
Another major event that’s common is World War II. There are countless novels based around World War II events, whether it’s based in Nazi Germany, or whether it’s based in America as people are dealing with what was going on here. One of the biggest things that you’ll see is the topic of genocide, destroying a whole race. Jewish-Nazi relations you’re going to see a lot of. Anne Frank, a very popular book, one that most people are going to know about, was based on this. If you know the World War II era, then you know what to expect when you’re reading.
You know that the Nazis are trying to take over most of Europe. You know that the Jews are being persecuted. You’ve already got that bit of background knowledge before you even read the rest of the book. With World War II novels, you’re again going to see themes of race, power, and democracy. In the end, people were going to say that having a government where some totalitarian dictator took over everything wasn’t the best way to be, and you’re going to see people highlighting the prose of democracy.
Whenever you’re reading, really pay attention to the historical context of the story, because the historical period during which it was written is always going to have an impact. The historical setting is going to be very important for you to understand so that you can understand why the author gave the character certain motivations and why the author carried out the plot as they did.