"For many years literary critics have claimed that it is not the author but the work that is important and for a reader to fully understand a text they must distance themselves from the author^1". However writing is traditionally considered a reflection of self and therefore knowledge of a writers life can add meaning and insight to a text. Writing and particularly styles of writing have transformed over many years mainly to reflect society's beliefs and values and it is because of this, readers can gain understanding by having a basic knowledge of the era and the author. So to say that the authors background is of no significance in understanding their work is in my view in correct. In July 1942 Anne Frank and her family, fleeing the horrors of Nazi persecution, hid in the back of an Amsterdam warehouse. Anne at the time is thirteen when the family goes into the secret annex and over the next two years she vividly describes in her diary the frustrations of living in such confined quarters and the constant threat of discover.
For the reader to grasp a clearer understanding of the book they must firstly be aware of the fact that the text 'The Diary of a young girl' is about a young Jewish girl who like many other Jews during World War II were persecuted under Hitler's regime. "Our lives were not without anxiety, since our relatives in Germany were suffering under Hitler's anti-Jewish laws. After the pogroms in 1938 my two uncles fled Germany finding safe refuge in North America. My elderly grandmother came to live with us" The two key words in that quote are highly important to the reader mainly due to the fact that they give a background of what was happening to the European Jews from 1938 to 1944.
For the reader to gain a full understanding of Anne's writing they must be aware of the fact that these two words were a part of her life. The word pogrom basically means death by burning and it was a practice that many Jews were subjected to in Russia prior to World War II. The phrase anti-Jewish laws is best described by Anne on page 8 of the text which says; "Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use trams; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish- owned barbershops and beauty salons; Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8.00 pm and 6.00 am; Jews were forbidden to go to the cinemas or any other forms of entertainment; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields or any other athletic fields; Jews were forbidden to go rowing; Jews were forbidden to take part in any athletic activity in public; Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools, etc" Throughout the text Anne reflects on her days in hiding and what she believes is happening in the outside world, her last diary entry (Tuesday 1st of August 1944) explains her final experiences in the annex before her family are found and taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she later dies of typhoid fever. For the reader to make full 'sense' of the text, basic knowledge of Nazi Germany is priceless in terms of creating meaning and understanding. Also acknowledgment of the fact that the author is a teenage girl and that her thoughts and actions reflect this. Joseph Heller's Catch-22 provides another example of the link between a writer and their work.
Joseph Heller is a Jewish- American novelist born in New York 1923. He served as a bombardier in the American air force during the Second World War, an experience which resurfaced in the novel Catch-22. Catch-22 is first of all a war novel and therefore knowledge about the war can again provide some extra meaning. But the most important tool in providing meaning is the recognition that Heller like so many novelist before him was writing a story on a very tragic era in modern history, one that shaped literature forms of the twentieth century. Like Heller said in 1994 " when people our age speak of the war it is not of Vietnam but of the one that broke out half a century ago and raged in almost all the world striking fear in the heart of every human being". Catch- 22 is a book that perhaps more than any other before it voiced the reaction of a generation to a conflict that had taken the lives of thousands of service men and women.
As mentioned previously Heller himself was a bombardier stationed in Italy during the closing campaigns of the war and it is through this experience he creates the fictional character of Yossarian. At the beginning of the book Yossarian is in hospital after a bad injury contemplating the war and figuring out the characters sharing the room with him. During this chapter Heller mentions the concept of censoring written letters to loved ones " Catch-22 required that each censored letter bear the censoring officers name". The censoring of letters happened throughout the entire war and was used to prevent disclosure of information about allied movements and problems being faced. In some instances soldiers were not allowed to contact family and friends because the enemy may have got hold of the letters. By understanding this concept of Catch-22 the reader can gain a better understanding of the war and in particular the life of the soldiers.
Catch-22 is another fine example of a writers life experiences being reflected in a novel, and therefore understanding the relevance of these experiences creates meaning and insight. Another very accomplished and well known author is John Grisham. Over the past two decades John Grisham has become one of the most accomplished and acclaimed modern novelist. His works, many of which have been turned into feature films all share the theme of the law and the American justice system.
Knowledge about Grisham's life does provide some meaning for the reader in terms of the language used and the characters presented. Grisham himself studied law and also served in the Mississippi House of Representatives which explains his extensive knowledge of the American legal system and why his books are based on it. The text ' The Street Lawyer' is a novel that deals with homelessness but also reflects Grisham's work as a pro- bono lawyer after graduating from university. The main character (Michael Brock) leaves a big law firm and joins a legal clinic set up to help the homeless. The clinic in which he joins, 14th Street Legal Clinic is very similar to the Washington legal clinic which Grisham worked at, in that he worked in a shabby building helping the poor". The place was a dump.
The windows on the top floor were boarded with aging plywood. Next door was a grungy Laundromat. The crack house couldn't be far away". Grisham's career and experiences come out in many of his novels and this helps in adding meaning to the plot and characters. The reflection of a writers career in a text is not a new idea, this technique was also employed by Henry Lawson when writing his poems and short stories. Henry Lawson is one of Australia's greatest writers and many of his poems and short stories reflect his years in the bush and his concerns with hardship and suffering that bush pioneers faced.
His acclaimed collection includes the poem the Ballad of the Drover, which is about a young Australian drover who perishes on his way home. Lawson was familiar with the life of a drover because he himself spent many years out in the bush". Up Queensland way with cattle, He travelled regions vast, And many months have vanished, Since home folk saw him last". Here Lawson explains of the typical Australian male in that era, many of them would travel thousands of kilometres and disappear for months even years. In 1902 Lawson separated from his wife and children and spent the next 20 years of his life drunk, unemployed and producing some poetry but his best work was behind him. The poem 'Faces in the street's ome what reflects this time in his life".
Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street, tells of the cities unemployment upon his wear beat". Despite his unhappy life Lawson has made an enduring contribution to Australian literature. The way we see ourselves and the way we view our heritage owes much to Lawson's poems and stories. The understanding of a writers background provides not just historical context but also personal perspective and frame of reference and at the same time improves the readers ability to interpret the text critically.
^1 . about / Writing / english 789/today 010 tgh 88999 KU. com Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl: edited by Otto H. Frank and Miriam Pressler, published by Puffin Books. Catch - 22: written by Joseph Heller, published by Simon and Schuster, Inc. The Street Lawyer: by John Grisham, published by Random House limited Favourite Poems of Henry Lawson: published by Child and Associates publishing Pty Ltd. The Oxford Concise guide to English Literature Short History of English Literature: by R, Bernard published by Blackwell web.