24 October 2008

Within Context

"Take her this one, too. You tell her I'm also sorry. Real sorry in fact."

"Hey!" shouts Camel. "There ain't no woman in the world worth two bottles of whiskey!"

What is your first reaction?

If you're anything like me, you laughed when you read this. I found this quotation in the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and thought that it was so funny that I wrote it down in my writer's notebook. It was one of the first things that I had written, so after awhile, I began to forget about it. Later, I came back to the quote and had a very different response. At first, I remembered my initial reaction, and smiled a bit. Then, I really read it again. It wasn't so funny anymore. Now, it was addressing a key problem; the conception that women aren't worthy of certain things. I attribute this change mostly to the fact that I had only written down "There ain't no woman in the world worth two bottles of whiskey!" rather than the full quote, and I had therefore taken the quote out of context. Then I began to think more deeply, not about this particular quote, but quotes in general. In my thoughts, that it is not any one particular quote that gets a point across, but a conglomeration of quotes that create a context where a certain area is presented and weighed against. The following from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a perfect example. "He smiled and popped the golden-brown bean into his mouth. Then he choked and said, 'Alas! Ear wax!'" By itself, this has no meaning, but as a quote within the entire book, you understand that it is supposed to be funny, rather that gross or strange.

In addition to literary contexts, we each possess our own personal context, to which everything we come across in our lives is compared. It is due to these contexts that we contrive certain notions, depending upon one's individualized experiences, including gender, age, personal interests, geographical location and moral values. For example, the following quote could mean many things to many people:

I range the fields with pensive tread
And pace the hollow rooms,

And feel (companion of the dead)

I'm living in tombs.

Now, in my own context, I would recognize this anywhere as the last stanza of Abraham Lincoln's poem, "My Childhood's Home." I am a lover of poetry and I find that Lincoln was absolutely brilliant in his writing. Also, my being a citizen of the great state of Illinois would incline me to think highly of Abraham Lincoln, in general. Another individual may not have has the pride that emanates from the 'Land of Lincoln' instilled within them, but still be able to appreciate the language and effort put into Lincolns' poetry. And yet, someone else may be apt to find this depressing and therefore, a piece of garbage.

So really, it's not about those two bottles of whiskey, or even who you give them to, whether it be a woman, or not. Singularly, "There ain't no woman in the world worth two bottles of whiskey!" has no purpose. It is nothing without its context. A single quote isn't going to change the world; it doesn't even matter, unless you know the whole story. Context is what really makes the difference.