City of God by E.L. Doctorow Individual and Society Thesis

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City of God by E.L.Doctorow - Individual and Society

City of God is a very interesting novel written by the American author E. L Dotorow. What makes the book interesting is not just the unusual manner in which it is written (the technique), but also the approached themes. The reader can enjoy a various range of literary pieces such as poetry, first person presentations which refer to events from the lives of other people, movie scripts, plots that have nothing to do with the other stories or accurate descriptions.

The themes which the author approaches include aesthetic considerations, historic and religious ones as well as scientific. The present paper will analyze some of the ideas from the book that are considered to be extremely relevant . The main focus will be on the concepts of individual and society and the interaction between them.

It can be stated right from the beginning that the individual lives in a bidimensional world. On the one hand, the most important instance that he must answer to is himself. As if this were not already difficult enough, the individual finds himself living as a member of a social community. In this community he has benefits, but he must comply with various responsibilities as well.

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It is safe to say that living in a community and having to interact with its other members implies playing a part. It is more than obvious that one can not expose himself to the others because there are a lot of chances for the others to take advantage of the noticed weaknesses and turn them to their advantage. This is one of the reasons for which showing your private self in a social- private context is not advisable.

The truth is that we are all creating various masks for different occasions and we wear them according to the purpose wee need to achieve. The Latin word "persona" means "mask." It is therefore easy to understand how in the social context where we interact with other people we pass from being a person to being a persona.

Thesis on City of God by E.L. Doctorow Individual and Society Assignment

There are two very nice metaphors in the book used in order to describe these two different conditions. On the one hand, there is the egret. On the other hand there is the crow. One could not be more different than the other. The egret is a metaphorical construction which offers insight upon the life style of the individual on his own.

The egret is an antisocial bird, he likes to spend his time on his own. The crow is his exact opposite, he spends most of his time in the company of his fellows. It is enough to notice the behaviour of the two species in order to draw some quick conclusions. The egret will behave in a manner which only he dictates to himself, while the crow will act noisy and messy because this is what the other crows do.

What we can understand from the analogy is that when the individual spends time on his own, it is easier to be true to himself and construct an identity for himself according to his own values. When most of our life is spent in the presence of others, people with whom we interact at close levels, it is clear that we will start acting as them sooner or later. We do this because of more than one reason.

One of the causes for the change of behaviour is the desire to be accepted and liked. Society through its mechanisms pushes the individual towards uniformization. People tend to become like the others in order to be accepted and adopted. One of the primary needs that Maslow speaks about, right after the ones of food, water and a shelter refers to the one of acceptance and belonging. The desire to belong to a group that will protect you and help you is written in the human nature genetic code as it appears.

Another reason for which the individual is most likely to act according to the behaviour patterns of the group he belongs to is to be found in the unconscious adoption of values and beliefs from the group. It is rather sad to admit it, but we are products of our environments (at a greater level than we are products of our own making). Our interaction with the other people is, other than physical, symbolical. Through communication (verbal nonverbal, intentional, unintentional) we create a metatext in which we are characters.

Through interaction we create a social role for ourselves and a status. The status that people have establishes relations of power. Caught up in a web of relations, it is normal for the individual to want to conquest a position as important as possible. Once acquired this would respond to the needs of being admired. It would also satisfy the need and desire of self achievement.

This is rather funny if we take into consideration the quantity of elements that we take from the environment and we unite to our persona even if they have nothing to do with our core values. Most often this occurs unconsciously.

The main question which arises under these circumstances is: what is the individual supposed to do in order to remain true to himself and also be able to live peacefully as an active agent of the community he belongs to?

The relationship between the individual and society is a matter which several characters from the book bring into discussion. Pem, the character who makes the speech about the egret and the crow is the one who will distance himself from the hierarchy of the Anglican church. The purpose of his unusual action is to figure out his own religious beliefs. The stake of the process sis extremely high.

When the individual develops values which are induced by the environment he will end up strongly believing in them and therefore acting according to them. The purpose of those commanding the environment is always more or less pragmatic, orientated nowadays towards alienation, the loss of solid values which confer stability and the hedonistic dedication to consumist actions. Under these circumstances we understand that the stake is actually individual happiness.

A further example of the conflict which inevitably occurs between individuality and the group is to be found in the case of the Jews living in the ghetto. They are desperately trying to preserve their own identities, while the oppressors treat them as if they were identical members of a single group.

Another interesting relation that can be discussed after having read the City of God is the one between individuality and bureaucracy. Pem is once again a relevant character in this regard. His opinion and his attitude of fear towards the bureaucratic apparatus and its instruments are based upon a personal experience.

It was the bureaucrats who performed a strong process of oppression of the people. This took place especially in the 60s when black Americans had enormous difficulty in benefiting from their rights. Another episode that marked the power of the bureaucratic apparatus in relation to the well being of the people was the Vietnam war. In this case the role of the authorities in starting it and keep sending troops to die for a lost cause was more than obvious for everybody.

A third interesting relation that can be analyzed after reading the book is the one between the church and the individual. After all, the book is called City of God. correlating the church with the bureaucratic mechanisms and all the measures which are taken by society in general in order to control the individual, Pem will refer to the church leaders. He believes that one of the most relevant examples is Augustine. The doctrine that he has in mind at this point is the one referring to baptism. According to Augustine, baptism is a sacred process through which the individual is purified after his sinful birth. The act of baptism symbolically represents the contamination with the holy spirit. Since the holy spirit is part of the divine nature, the communicated message is that those who are baptised are following god's way. And following god's way is a sure means to go to heaven.

In Pem's opinion this doctrine has oppressive consequences for both the adepts of the Christian doctrine and those who are not Christian. The fact that one needs to be baptized in order to go to heaven after death implies that those who are not baptised have nowhere else to go but to hell. For the believer this installs a strong feeling of fear.

From this point-of-view, we can speak about two important consequences. One is that the person ends up practicing his declared religion out of fear and not base don real convictions.

Fear implies a threat and people don't like being threatened or feeling unsafe. Therefore we might assume that a corollary of fear is hatred. The situation which is created is an ironic one. Christianity is based on a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

City of God by E.L. Doctorow Individual and Society.  (2009, December 4).  Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

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"City of God by E.L. Doctorow Individual and Society."  4 December 2009.  Web.  26 September 2020. <>.

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"City of God by E.L. Doctorow Individual and Society."  December 4, 2009.  Accessed September 26, 2020.