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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 "..placedwith 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 in the story are the will of the police officer and the social expectations put on him by the thousands of people present.

The main character says: "I had no intention of shooting the elephant---I merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary---and it was always unnerving to have a crowd following you. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him (Orwell 239)." The crowd expected him to do it, so he did it, even though he obviously didn't want to. He realized this and says: "Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd---seemingly the leading actor of a piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of the yellow faces behind (Orwell 240)." As for evidence that society has an influence on people and what they do; this statement is ample proof. His will was reduced to nothing. There is often tension between behaving honestly, in accord with ones own feelings and beliefs, and acting as the community expects.

I feel that society as a whole greatly effects the way we act. This is fine as long as it doesn't get in the way of our developing ourselves and minds through our actions. We should not be forced, or feel like we are being forced to do anything that we see as wrong but is right in the eyes of society. If society and it's views are to determine how we as members of it act and think then it should be positive pressure, conducive to our well being and learning, not degrading and dehumanizing. The ages of the characters I've mentioned have nothing to do with the effect of negative social pressure. People, no matter what their age, are open to outside influence.

Even the strongest of wills can be broken down by feelings of fear, embarrassment, and humiliation, but it's up to the us to determine whether or not we allow our free-thinking to be stifled in the name of acceptable and correct action.

Related: short story, young boy, george orwell, intention, tension

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