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    THẠC SĨ Some aspects of American culture and society in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through a number of selected short literary works

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  6. Some aspects of American culture and society in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through a number of selected short literary works

    I.1. Rationale
    I was born to a family whose members are all business people except me. My father used to be a successful businessman who traveled all around the world from Asia, Europe, America to Australia. After each trip, he told me about the places he had been to and about the people he had met with vivid examples of their culture. From my father, I learnt about the beautiful Singapore city and Copenhagen capital of Denmark whose people are very well aware of keeping their city clean and green, about fast-food and the work-oriented and individualistic people in California compared to the out-going and neighborly people in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. My father has left in me the curiosity to learn about culture of the countries around the world. Besides, my father and my brother were my first teachers of literature who blew in me the wind of passion to study literature, moving my heart with the poem “Me om” by Tran Dang Khoa, “Nguoi thay dau tien” translated from a Russian short story by a Russian writer, “Chiec la cuoi cung“ translated from an American short story by O’Henry. These literary works provoked in me the love for men, the understanding of the people, their culture and the social circumstances in and about which the works were written.
    I am now a teacher of English at Haiphong Foreign Language Center under Haiphong University. For a teacher of English, having good knowledge of the culture and society of English speaking countries is of great benefit since such experiences do help to make the teaching and learning of the target language easier, more lively and vivid. It can not be denied that the teaching and learning of a language would fail if the teacher does not have good cultural and social background knowledge to explain to his or her students the situations in which the native speakers use the language or the social circumstances in which the language is used.
    Once watching the “Sao mai diem hen” and “Bai hat Viet” competitions, the favorite music tournaments of the Vietnamese on television, listening to most competitors singing all pop songs, which originated from the United States, it came to my question that “To what extents has American culture penetrated the Vietnamese?” Beside pop music, we can witness the practice of American culture by a large number of people in our country, especially, by the young generation, through the way they sing pop, rock, Hip-hop songs, dance and dress in American style with jeans and T-shirt, through the way we eat fast-food, drink soft drinks and spend money, through the way young people think more practically about love and money and so on. No one can say how much we have absorbed American culture, however, it is obvious that American culture has more or less had an impact on the Vietnamese.
    I have recently become interested in American literature, especially the short stories. When reading pieces of literary work of this genre, I have in mind a clear mosaic of American people, their culture and society. I find it very effective to learn about the culture and society of a country through their literature since literature is the art of words made up from the “raw material of life”. Reading literature not only provokes our thoughts and imagination but also enriches our knowledge of the people, and aspects of the target culture and society.
    The twentieth and twenty-first century have witnessed a breakthrough of American economy as the United States of America has become the leading power of the world, and especially witnessed dramatic changes in American society and culture. Literary works of this time in general and the short stories in particular have done a good job to depict these changes in the liveliest ways. Short stories do not require much time and effort to read. The reader can enjoy the whole piece of a short story without interruptions or even without changing his or her posture, therefore, he or she can have a more thorough and correct interpretation of the work as well as of the cultural and social context in which the work is written.
    I.2. Aims and objectives
    Doing this research, I wish to gain an in-depth understanding of some aspects of American popular culture and society in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through highly-appreciated short stories. Once at a time, I have chance to study both American culture and society and a special cultural category, that is American literature in general and the short stories in particular.
    People may think that I am too greedy to “catch two birds with one hand”. However, I myself acknowledge that this greediness is for the sake of my students’ advantages. When their teacher of English has a thorough understanding of one of the target cultures, the students would benefit. Instead of being taught about the language, they are explained about the cultural and social contexts in which the language is used. Thus, they could use the language in a more natural way and, therefore, engage in language activities more actively.
    I have always insisted that teaching literature in a foreign language is not for the sole aim, that is to teach the language and the art of language to express the ideas, but it is for the greater aim, that is to broaden the knowledge of the students of the target culture and society. With such knowledge, my students would be more conscious of their cultural identity and practice the target culture more selectively.
    I.3. Scope of the research
    Within the limitation of a minor thesis, I only discuss some of the most prominent aspects of the culture and society of the mainstream American in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries such as individualism, American informality, racial discrimination, modern American women, generation gap and American people in the turbulent ages. These are the features of American culture and society that arise most prominently in the short stories I luckily came across.
    The literary works used for analysis are the short stories written by recognized American authors such as William Faulkner, Jesse Stuart, Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley and the new generation of writers including Charles Bowden, Tom McNeal, Jhumpa Lahiri, Bobbie Ann Mason, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Nathaniel Bellows, Julia Alvarez, Akhil Sharma and others. Besides, I include one piece of memoir and a literary essay which I find helpful to support my discussion.
    I.4. Design and methodology
    The paper is divided into three main parts:
    Part I presents an overview of the whole research, providing readers with the rationale, the aims and objectives, the scope, the design and methodology of the study.
    Part II is the development of the paper, consisting of two chapters. Chapter 1 is devoted to the literature review of the subject matter which deals with the concepts including culture and society, literature, short stories and other genres of literature, techniques in storytelling, and short literary works and their portrayal of culture and society. Besides, the first chapter also provides an overview of American society in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Such overview of American society, along with the theoretical background in the previous section are the bases for chapter 2, which discusses the main issues concerning aspects of American culture and society in the 20th and 21st centuries reflected in the short literary works. The explicative method is employed to exploit the cultural and social circumstances embedded in the literary works since this research does not aim at studying thoroughly the techniques of the writers.
    Part III gives the conclusion of the whole discussion in part II along with implications for teaching.

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