2/11/99
Engl. 108
Final Essay
Society's Influence
Throughout time society has played a major role in determining what are to be the expected and appropriate actions of a person. Social pressure is common in every facet of life. It influences our every decision in some way, be it positive or negative. Sometimes we are pressured into doing something that we would not normally do even though we know it's wrong. In the short stories "Salvation" by Langston Hughes and "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, there are strong examples of society pressuring people into doing something that they would not normally do and that they don't want to do.
The short story "Salvation" is about a twelve year old boy who is forced to lie to his family and the members of a church because of the pressure put on by the people around him. One of the first sentences in the introduction says: "That night I was escorted to the front row and placed on the mourners bench with all the other young sinners, who had not yet been brought to Jesus(Hughes 177)." The author's choice of diction in this sentence is extremely meaningful. His use of the phrase "I was escorted?" is a definite sign that he was not going willingly or was not happy about going. He says that he was "?placed on the mourners bench with all the other young sinners." To a young child the thought of being "...placed?with all the other young sinners" is probably a scary and degrading one. These are both evidences of negative pressure put on just by his surroundings, not by people or what they are expressing verbally.
Langston, the main character, was sitting next to another young boy named Westley. He was a rounder's son. A rounder is a minister who travels around preaching at different churches. This is evidence that Westley was brought up around church and probably has a good idea as to what is right and what is wrong. Even though he has this knowledge he still gets pressured into lying, which is an action he probably knows is wrong. He says to Langston: "God damn! I'm tired o'sitting here. Let's get up and be saved (Hughes 178)." This is an obvious attempt to appease the people around him and end a stressful situation. Some might call his actions covertly sacrilegious, but the expectations of the people around him were so great that he put his knowledge of right and wrong aside to do what everyone wanted him to do.
Towards the end of the service Langston finds himself alone on the mourners bench and that all the other young children had already gone up and been saved. He says: "Now it was getting late. I began to feel ashamed of myself, holding everything up so long (Hughes178)." The congregation was praying for him and calling him to come forward. The combined pressure of him being the one holding things up and the people calling him to come and be saved was enough to get him to lie in order to do what the congregation expected him to do. He says, "So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I'd better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved (Hughes178)." The fact that the pressure put on caused him to do something as bad as lying in church about seeing Jesus and being saved is terrible.
The short story "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell contains some vivid examples of societal pressure. The main character, a police officer, is subjected to negative pressure when he is faced with the possibility of him having to kill an elephant. The main character states: "The
people expected it of me and I had got to do it: I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly (Orwell 240)." This quote shows that he police officers will is being bent by
the combined will of the crowd surrounding him. This is an obvious example of the power that a large group has in effecting a person's judgement. The diction used in this sentence not only encompasses the feelings brought up in the story but also spells them out, word for word. The sources of specific conflict