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Culture defines how groups and individuals relate to people within the same culture and people of different cultures. It appears in the form of language, religion and behaviours of communities such as traditions, superstitions, beliefs and activities. Culture is passed down from generation to generation through shared knowledge and communication. It is through culture that individuals understand their role within society and develop a mindset that conforms with the values and behaviors of other members of their culture.
‘Night of The Scorpion’ by Nissim Ezekiel explores a night when his mother gets stung by a scorpion and we are told of the event from the perspective of her child. It speaks about how all the villagers come to help the mother when she got stung by using their superstitions and try to give her hope by telling her that all the pain and suffering she is going through will reduce her pain and suffering of her next life. However, none of their tries worked so the father tries using herbs which also don’t work and it turns out they just had to wait and she would get better. At the end of the poem the mother was glad that the scorpion stung her and not her children.
‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ which was written by Moniza Alvi gives voice to a young person who has been living away from her homeland for quite some time. The voice reflects the way in which she has adjusted to her new home. The speaker receives gifts that were given to her by her aunts, who still live in Pakistan. The speaker mentions that she moved to England because she had an English grandmother and Pakistan became a dangerous place for her. It also explores the memories that she had in her homeland.
Nevertheless, in ‘Night of The Scorpion’ one of the ways in which culture is represented is in how all the villagers rush to the mother to help when they found out that she was stung by a scorpion as the poem mentions ‘The peasants came like a swarm of flies’ which shows the speed and number of all the villagers and proves that the villagers wanted to help cure and cheer up the mother (give her some hope). They try to cure her by using their religious beliefs as the poet mentions ‘… buzzed the name of God a hundred times’. This part of their culture is negative because when the villagers came they didn’t have proper medicine therefore it was just a huge disturbance for the mother because maybe she felt ashamed of screaming in pain in front of them because that will show that their superstitions aren’t effective. However, this could also be seen as a positive aspect of their culture because it proves that the villagers feel like they have responsibility to assist anyone in the village who is in need of assistance. Furthermore, there is a great search for the scorpion since they believe that every movement the scorpion makes will cause the poison to move around the mother’s blood more rapidly as the poet mentions ‘With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said’. This is a positive aspect of their culture because since the villagers didn’t have a real cure for the mother, they decided to help using one of their superstitions.
The villagers assisted her a little physically, but they were mainly focusing on praying for better things for her instead. This is proven by ‘May the sins of your previous birth be burned away tonight, they said. May your suffering decrease the misfortunes of your next birth, they said. May the sum of all evil balanced in this unreal world. ’ This, again, proves the fact they try helping her using their superstitious and religious beliefs. In addition to that, the speaker’s father tries to use more modern medicine such as powders, mixtures, herbs and hybrids. This shows that the father didn’t have similar beliefs and he trusted more modern medicine, which is inferred by the phrase ‘My father, sceptic, rationalist. ’ This show that the father was a little more educated than the locals which leads us to infer that they were not very wealthy and that might be the reason why their culture was full of different superstitions and traditions. In ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ the speaker received gifts from her aunts in Pakistan, ‘They sent me a salwar kameez peacock-blue’. The speaker clearly likes the cloths in some ways since they were described in a positive language such as ‘peacock-blue’. A peacock is a beautiful and exotic bird which shows that she thinks that the salwar kameez is beautiful. As well as her saying ‘I could never be as lovely as those clothes’ and here she describes the clothes as lovely, it is as if she wants to be part of the Pakistani culture but is restrained because she lives in English culture and has lived there her whole life.
However, there is also a lot of negative language linked with the clothes where it mentions the simile, ‘like an orange split open’ and ‘the glass bangles snapped, drew blood’ both display her confusion and turmoil of loving the clothes but also wanting to fit in with her English friends as she describes herself feeling ‘alien’ wearing her Pakistani cloths and describes them as a ‘costume’ as if she is an actress and is losing her English identity. She is torn apart about the fact that she wants to fit in with her western friends and her grandma, but also needs to fit in with her real culture and her aunts. In addition, she also describes Pakistan as ‘there was conflict, a fractured land throbbing through newsprint’ which shows that she only remembers the bad things making us think that she hates Pakistan. She was describing her country as a disturbing image and just a generally a bad place. As well as saying ‘Or there were beggars, sweeper-girls and I was there of no fixed nationality, staring through fretwork. ’ In this phrase she describes what she saw in Pakistan, how she saw beggars, sweeper-girls but still describes herself as being ‘the odd one out’. Even though those people were homeless, they still had a fixed culture and she is therefore confused and cannot decide what culture she is a part of.
In conclusion, both poems expressed the way in which culture is represented however in ‘Night of The Scorpion’, it talks about how a village handles a person getting stung and what they do to try and make the situation better whereas in ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ it shows the confusion of a girl who feels torn apart since she cannot decide what culture she is part of since she finds that her Pakistani culture is quite ‘alien’ and unfamiliar to her.
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