Dominique Pierre Louis
BMCC English 101
What is the relationship between storytelling and society?
Human beings have been telling stories for years, telling them orally way before they were able to write. And it is sometimes some people jobs to tell stories. Storytelling is a way to share information in a format that helps the society make sense of an issue that is going on. Toni Morison in her Nobel Prize lecture used a compelling story to let her audience aware of the power of language, the harm, and the good it can do, by narrating a situation of a blind woman and a few young men, and used the story as a symbol and example for how words have a deep impact on the lives of humans, and relationships. While on the other hand David Foster Wallace in his speech at Kenyon College, adopted the same exact format by telling a story where he narrated a typical busy day to urge and let the graduated aware of what a typical adult life looks like, and also push them not to be self-centered if they are willing to have a happy life. I believe that the way, the form of language ones chooses to deliver a storytelling has the power to inspire, motivate a society or oppress it and keep it closed minded.
Storytelling can affect a society in many ways, for example in some society one’s might think after college that he will be able to live happily and economically stable by getting a high paying job because that the story he has been told from friends, family, and people that he networks with and sometimes from his teachers. But not knowing that after college that there is another life that might be full of obstacles, denials, embarrassments and humiliations. A job employer will have him to go online to upload a resume that he spent time crafting then right after another window show up where he will have to re-enter everything that is on the resume… A storytelling in such a situation can bring awareness, inspire the society to change his perspective and attitude about what they should expect in the actual real world. David Foster Wallace in “This Is Water”, chose this approach to let the graduated know what they will face in the real world after college by stating, “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.” (Paragraph 6),
Storytelling is also a great way to bring a community together to act towards social injustice, misrepresentation of a group, to help others to be compassionate about a situation or an issue. It’s a way to clarify what’s really matters. Storytelling can be used to let society aware of hatred, self-hate, that is going on around in manner that people could relate to. Wallace in “This is Water” let us know that “The important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. That is being taught how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” — the constant, gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”
However, the story sometimes is great but the language that one’s choosing to deliver it might be biased and have subtle oppression hid behind it. Or a language that intends to push a certain agenda. In her speech she stated that “Children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead” which is a shot at people making bad use of the languages by hurting others with it. Then went ahead to urge her audience to use language to promote positive progress and create an extraordinary and lovely world instead of using it as a weapon to bring down others. According to Morrison in her Nobel Prize speech, language is an entity, existing to limit, encourage, or inspire action. Morrison let us know that while “sexist language, racist language, theistic language” are often used, they “do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.” Morrison does not support language that destroy others and believes that when the contrary is done, and language is used in “sublime” ways, great things can be accomplished.
To finish, even though story is great tool for society, some which bring awareness, some which brings people together, at the same time there a lot of them that might be in one’s favor, we often will come across stories to preach hatred, some that is pushing a wrong agenda or oppress a certain group in the society. But it’s up to us to pay attention. When we choose to pay attention, we can make choices that will improve our quality or the quality of others around us. That is why a lot of use can relate to Wallace speech, we all have the power to choose. What makes this great is that we all can control and have a say in our everyday lives. It only depends on if we choose to think and have an option.