When we talk about ‘cultural capacity’ we mean the knowledge, ideas, experiences and reflection that an individual has. If, as a thinking person, you have thought about life, then you will probably have some insights into different aspects of life. What motivates people for instance. If you have had experiences that you have reflected upon, then you may have better insights. And if you have spent time studying and understanding and then added that to your experiences and reflection, then you may have some very incisive insights.
The more knowledge, experience, thought and ideas a person has, the greater their understanding of life. Since literature texts are intended to represent real life and real human beings, more understanding life means more understanding texts. Understanding human nature, human society, human ideas enriches people’s ability to make interpretations of texts. And in critical essays, interpreting evidence and making arguments is what it is all about.
So, for example, if we are reading The Great Gatsby as a text for Higher English, we may see a piece of evidence, Gatsby’s house for instance, as showing Jay Gatsby pursuing his own happiness, and an example of the American Dream – the American Dream being that everybody can be happy in America. This interpretation we put on Jay Gatsby’s house will be because we have seen adverts, TV programmes and films about the American Dream. We will know, or think we know, that the American Dream is all about happiness, and happiness is having money. We would think this because this is the limit of our cultural capacity (knowledge, ideas, experiences and reflections).
However, knowing that the original settlers to the United States came to escape tyranny and that their American Dream was to be free, be equal, live moral lives under the guidance of God and that any success was to be attributed to God – and that showing off wealth was a sin. And then if we understood the main reasons for and the main beliefs about democracy then we may not see Gatsby’s house a symbol of the pursuit of happiness as part of the American Dream, we may interpret it as a symbol of the slow corruption of the original American Dream and the decline of democracy into materialism.
By having more cultural capacity, we can write more insightful comments in our essays, especially the analysis, which will gain a lot of credit with the marker.
Do you have to go and read books about the texts you are studying now? Yes! Well, of course not. It only takes a little background reading to increase cultural capacity quite a lot. Reading about the author, the historical period the text was written in, the historical period the text was set in and some of the main themes will have a large impact on cultural capacity, especially if you then think about these things and apply them to the text. This is why with myetutor we include a ‘background’ section when we look at popular texts so that students can have an enlarged cultural capacity and improve their analysis in essays. This is why these sections are often the most important.
The video below emphasises the importance of cultural capacity.
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